Wednesday in Windsor

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windsorwarmupWednesday took me down to Windsor to work current BABS silver medallists, The Royal Harmonics. I have arranged for them several times in recent years, but this was the first time we had made music together in person - indeed, it was also the first time I heard two of my arrangements sung live.

Part of the evening's agenda was to work on the most recent of my arrangements they had commissioned, and it was at that perfect point in the rehearsal process to coach where the singers were secure enough on it not to be wasting mental effort on memory tasks, but still fresh enough on it to be very flexible in adapting their performance.

An interesting feature of the chorus's rehearsal regime is that for the portions of the rehearsal that involved detailed work, only those singers who had already passed their voice test on that particular song remained on the risers to work on it; those who had not sat out and listened. This is a simple but striking way to use the public powers of social validation in service of the more private processes of individual development . It also means that singers whose primary need is to wrap their brains around music content get to do so rather than floundering through half-remembered passages on the risers - I noted that many of those who stood down for the song were following the music and/or taking notes on the coaching session.

I have written before about how approaching a song through global or holistic ideas in the first instance sorts out all sorts on specific details much faster than it would take to try and work through each detail in turn. In this case it was identifying the rhythmic feel of the song that worked the magic. The song has a distinct Latin feel, which brings with a particular way of carrying your body weight. It stands tall, but is also light on its feet; the song's energy comes from the hips.

It is no surprise when bringing a rhythmic character into focus significantly sharpens up the synchronisation with which it is sung: the main purpose of the exercise is to improve ensemble by having everyone sing to the same mental image via a unified approach to embodying the music. It is a pleasing side-effect of the process that you also get a better match of vocal colour across the chorus: by the same token, a shared imaginative and postural world promotes a shared approach to vocal production. When you also hear the vowels matching more closely: well, that's just magic.

Later on, we found the musical element of melody offering us similar rewards in the Queen song 'Love of My Life'. The arrangement gave the harmony parts a lot of sustained 'oo' passages to support the leads' tune, and we explored how singing these background lines a greater sense of melodic purpose and flow gave a lot more support to the foreground line.

It also significantly intensified the emotional impact of the music. The lyrics of the song proclaim an enduring, overwhelming love, and the believablity of their message lies in the extent to which the musical flow models that emotional outpouring with a sense of melodic outpouring. The degree to which the listener hears fidelity of heart in the performance is directly proportional to the degree to which the singers offer a sustained melodic flow.

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