On the Riviera...
Saturday saw me down in Torquay to work with Riviera Sound. I know their founder-director, Chris Bullen, from years back, but hadn’t been down to work with her in the decade since she had started the chorus. So I was delighted at last to get a chance to hear - and work with - her singers.
(One of the things we chatted about over the day was the relative merits of joining umbrella organisations versus remaining independent. It was only as I started writing this that I realised one advantage joining would have had would be that my curiosity would likely have been satisfied before now. Granted, that is an advantage that accrues to me rather than the chorus, but still...)
We had a nice variety of work to do, which helped keep everyone (just about) going until the end of the day. I do tend to think that if people aren’t brain dead by time we finish, I’ve not given them their money’s worth, but equally one wants to keep people fresh enough to do effective work right through. A six-hour coaching day is always going to be a challenge for both physical and mental stamina, but it also offers a degree of intensive development beyond what you get in regular rehearsals.
Anyway, the variety was not just that we looked at a reasonable range of songs - a total of six over the day - but that we had a range of different tasks to deal with in each. We started with one that was only recently added to the repertoire, on the grounds that it is sensible to address the least familiar material when the brains are at their freshest. Our work here was on exploring the song’s meanings and their implications for performance - putting the ‘why’ into the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ as one chorus member put it.
We then looked at a more deeply-known song, which gave the chance to do more detailed work, on individual vowel shapes and harmonies, dwelling on and refining moments in a way you can’t when people still the framework of continuity to keep of track of where they are in the music.
After lunch we spelled coaching the chorus first with coaching a smaller group under glass, and second with coaching the assistant director on her hand skills. The first of these was a great addition to a coaching day, offering a multitude of advantages in addition to the basic attention-refreshing effect of a change of activity:
- It gave most chorus members a chance to rest their legs
- For those watching, it avoided struggling through the post-prandial ‘graveyard shift’ of diminished attention; for those singing, it gave an adrenaline burst to carry them through the focus-trough into the rest of the afternoon
- It gave the chorus a chance to hear a new song and develop some insight into it before starting to learn their parts
- It gave the music team the chance to develop a more polished and unified approach to the song before they started to teach it
- It gave an opportunity to develop the skills of the music team as performers, so they can both coach and provide role models for the singers in their sections
- It gave the chorus a chance to hear the difference that a variety of exercises and coaching strategies can make to a performance
Funnily enough, I had been thinking in the previous few days about how useful it can be for either a coach or a director to work with section leaders as a chamber group as a very practical and immediate way to develop the music-leadership team, and it was great that Chris asked me to do just this. Indeed, I had been thinking about it as something that the team could do with a coach apart from the chorus (I have been thinking a lot about cascading skills recently), but as an under-glass exercise it has that whole extra layer of usefulness.
And I think the fact that Chris kept saying she was going to steal my ideas means I can steal hers too, don’t you think? That’s what ‘sharing best practice’ means, yes?