Rehearsing

Top Tips for the Older Voice

Today’s title is the subject line of an email I received recently from LABBS Chair, Natalie Feddon. She had been out and about visiting choruses, as is her wont, and had met with a group of ladies whose average age is a shade over 80, and asked me on their behalf if I had any technical advice for their singers, with an eye also to supporting the many other association members round the country who are singing joyfully into their later years.

So, the first and most important thing, they are already doing: keep singing! Singing is like any other skill: the best way to maintain it is to use it regularly. That said, both physical and cognitive capacities do become more fragile with advancing years, so things we once took for granted might over time need a little more care.

So, I’ll start with a general principle, and then make some specific practical suggestions.

An Anatomy of Errors

One of my favourite phrases when rehearsing or coaching is ‘if nobody is making mistakes, nobody is learning’. Of course, it’s not the making of mistakes per se that constitutes the learning process, it’s the process of putting them right. Another phrase I over-use is ‘self-correction is my favourite sound in rehearsal’.

Anyhow, as I have mentioned periodically, I’m practising the piano regularly these days for the first time in years (decades) and as such am making a shed-load of mistakes of my own. They fall into a number of discrete and identifiable categories, and it would help my learning to enumerate them. And as this blog is where I do my learning in public, you can join in. You may recognise some as ones you make, or perhaps you make other, different types that I should aspire to.

(Another over-used phrase: ‘The goal is to avoid making the same old mistakes, but to strive to make new, more interesting ones.’)

New Technical Term: Canute Passages

There are those who attempt to make music theory into a fully-rational and systematic endeavour, but those of use working at the sharp end of music-making* know that it is messier than that. Yes, you can organise a lot of it into logical patterns that help you generalise and draw inferences, but a lot of music theory is about finding ways to identify and make sense of stuff that happens in real life.

So, from the Concrete-Experiential school of music theory that brought you the Icicle 7th (Karri Quan), the Phnert (Lori Lyford) and Swooshythroughiness (me), I bring you the concept of Canute passages.

Zoning in on Experiential States

zones

It’s many years now since I first wrote about the different zones of experience, and I recently had cause to explore these ideas with The Telfordaires’ Music Team. We are preparing to welcome a group of relative novices to join us for a 6-week Learn to Sing in Harmony Course, and this model was a really useful way to frame the way we look after our visitors.

Coaching Conductorless Rubato

The main benefit of online coaching: good screenshots of people laughingThe main benefit of online coaching: good screenshots of people laughing

I spent a rewarding afternoon on Thursday with a quartet who had contacted me for advice about how to manage rubato in an ensemble without a conductor. They formed from within a choir they all sing in so are accustomed to using the visual signals from their musical director to coordinate them, and were finding the lack of this external guide one of the major challenges of singing in quartet, especially in music that isn’t strictly in rhythm.

We split the process into two distinct stages: how to rehearse, and how to perform. The former is where the group develops a shared understanding of musical shape and a shared awareness of each other in the ensemble. The latter needs a repertoire of interpersonal cues to transfer those understandings into the performance situation.

On Trouble-shooting in Practice and Rehearsal

I mentioned a while back that I’ve been practising the piano regularly in 2022 for the first time in years. This has entailed a combination of reconnecting with past pianistic past skills gone rusty and developing skills in new ways that weren’t accessible to the younger me at previous stages in my musical journey.

It has also involved a parallel process of rediscovery and development in regard to the processes of practising. Last time I worked in any kind of structured way at the piano (as opposed to just playing the instrument every so often…and less and less often over the years…) I didn’t have the years of teaching and rehearsal experience I do now. So, I’m finding all kinds of interesting interchanges between my life helping others grow as musicians and my own efforts to re-establish some level of competence.

On Metaphors and Messing with People’s Heads

[On executing a vocable using the syllable ‘ha’ without making the tone breathy]

Don’t let the h invade the vowel. You want to keep the salt on the edge of the margharita glass, not put it into the drink.

The coaching process produces all kinds of metaphors for different aspects of musical performance, many of them emerging spontaneously from the needs of the moment. One of the things, I am told, that Amersham A Cappella appreciate about my coaching is the vividness and idiosyncrasy of some of the metaphors that pop out during the process. One of the things I appreciate about working with them is knowing that they’ll go with whatever wild imagery comes to hand: not needing to filter insights for sensibleness on the way gives an incredible sense of creative freedom.

The Performer’s Inner Family

bodykeepsthescoreI’ve recently finished reading The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk. Its primary focus is the treatment of trauma, a specialised pursuit that has no direct relevance to my personal or professional lives. But in the process of explaining the difficulties experienced by people who have been damaged by shock, tragedy or abuse, he gives many and varied insights into how our internal landscapes - our memories, our sense of self - work.

One chapter particularly resonated with an experience of musicianship I have observed in both others and myself and called out for some reflection. Chapter 17 deals with a form of treatment called Internal Family Systems therapy, and is predicated on the idea that the self isn’t a single, unitary entity, but rather a mosaic of different parts.

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