Choral

Basses on the 3rd

Or first-inversion chords as my classical friends will be accustomed to thinking of this. This is a sonority that is very normal in classical harmony, used frequently to help make the bass line melodic, and very unusual in barbershop harmony, where you can go entire songs without encountering it. (Conversely, the 2nd inversion – basses on the 5th – is entirely normal in barbershop, but hedged about with all kinds of voice-leading rules in the classical world.) One of the things this post will explore is the reason for this difference in frequency in the two worlds, as well as reflecting on the character of the sonority in itself.

In both worlds, the first inversion has a distinctive character, more poised to move on, than the settled quality of root-position chords. In part this is due to its melodic function – it often appears mid-way in a line’s route from starting-point to cadence. But it’s also about the sonority itself, and the acoustic needs for balance. This in turn will reveal why it is used so much less in barbershop music than classical, and why it therefore has a disproportionately significant impact when it is used.

On Challenge Level, Teamwork and Locus of Control

Hello, I'm back! I've not yet delivered the second paper I needed to prepare this autumn (coming up this weekend), but I've finished writing it, and so I have space to start blogging again. It has been interesting to focus on some longer-form writing again for a change, but I'm looking forward to getting back to processing learning experiences as they happen. My notebooks all feel like they have indigestion!

I have been having a lot of interesting conversations in recent weeks about locus of control, and specifically how to help choral singers experience a sense of autonomy, rather than just being acted upon by the conductor’s authority. Some of these conversations were ones I started as part of my keynote presentation at the Hands-On Choral Symposium in Aveiro at the start of November, but others have just popped up in the course of making music with others.

Reflections on FICA19

Overall winners: Cantairí Óga Átha CliathOverall winners: Cantairí Óga Átha Cliath

I know I said I wasn’t going to be blogging until I’d written and presented both the papers I’m committed to in November, but I have some processing to do after last week’s extravaganza in Aveiro, Portgual. The event combined the annual Festival Internacional de Coros, hosted by Voz Nua choir, with the inaugural choral stream at the Hands On Symposium, running in parallel with piano and guitar streams. I was presenting a keynote at the symposium as well as forming one third of the jury for the festival competitions.

It’s the first time I’ve been directly adjudicating (as opposed to overseeing examination processes) for a few years, and it turns out that my handwriting hasn’t improved any in the interim. I endeavoured to be generous in my comments; I just hope I was also legible. I am sure the competitors will get in touch about anything that’s too cryptic!

Abcd Research Developments, Part 2

Having contemplated some broad themes in my previous post about the research strand at the recent abcd Choral Leaders Festival, I’d like to pick out a few interesting cross-references between the papers. There were four speakers reporting on projects undertaken for advanced degrees in the strand sessions, plus the plenary keynote presented by Dr Katie Overy, all of which addressed topics that would make choral practitioners say, ‘Ooh yes, we want to know about that!’

But it’s in the resonances between them that you really feel the value of a event like this, rather than just reading their findings as published articles. Not that I object to reading articles, you understand. The published format offers other strengths – the opportunity for the author to cover more detail, and for the reader to take time to think about things en route. But it doesn’t offer the same kind of creative opportunities as a live event, where the ways in which the papers bounce off each other spark insights beyond what they each offer individually.

So, here are the things that I came away wanting to think about further:

abcd Research Developments

Michael Bonshor's methodology diagramMichael Bonshor's methodology diagram

The recent abcd Choral Leaders Festival in Birmingham saw the introduction of a new research stream to this annual event. This is the brainchild of Martin Ashley (whose own research is well worth reading if you don’t know it already), as part of a wider project to facilitate a research culture amongst practitioners and develop a disciplinary community amongst choral researchers. Look out for the launch of a new journal in the coming months as another part of this initiative.

As you might imagine, a morning immersed in multiple researchers’ work filled more pages of my notebook than can be digested in a single blog post. Indeed, many of the things I noted will show more in the way they nourish my thinking over the coming months than in any immediate reporting. But there are themes that need thinking about, and this blog is where I do my thinking in public.

Soapbox: On the Value of Downtime in Rehearsal

soapboxThis post is inspired by a recent conversation about what different choral groups do by way of a tea break (or not) during an evening rehearsal. I have framed my post as one where I climb up on my platform for being opinionated, but I should let you know that the dialogue it emerges from was anything but contentious. Just a bunch of people saying, ‘We rehearse from this time to that time, and this is what we do by way of a break’.

We all found it helpful and interesting to see the range of options available. I particularly liked the one where they had drinks available for the half hour they had the hall before rehearsal started so that those who wanted to come early could socialise. It seemed a good way of balancing the needs of those who value a cuppa and chat and the task-focused shy people who would rather be singing.

On Replacement Cycles

Many years ago, someone told me that the average time that a professional comedian keeps any particular joke in their act is 7 years. Soon after that I went to see Hattie Hayridge for the second time – 7 years after I had first seen her. I recognised one joke from the previous set, and on the basis of that believed the factoid about joke replacement cycles.

I suspect that this is something that happens organically, as the comedian juggles the need for freshness with the need for well-honed material that can be relied upon to land well with an audience. Many jokes will come in and fall out again without making it past the tryout at a new material act; others may go on forever if they keep giving.

Developing Our Lexicon

One segment of our working brain-dumpOne segment of our working brain-dumpToday’s title is a direct quote from the inimitable Mo Field, who as Guest Educator at the LABBS Directors Weekend last summer, invited the assembled chorus directors to consider the kinds of vocabulary and turns of phrase they habitually use with their singers. What kind of values do they encode? What underlying messages do they give about what you care about?

Re-reading Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code earlier this year gave a nice cross-reference to his analysis of successful coaches. Distinctive and pithy catch-phrases that capture central principles of praxis are one of the characteristic behaviours that he documents.

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