May 2010

Start as you mean to go on

This post is a theme that emerged during my visit to Bristol Fashion last week, but which wanted enough thinking about to deserve a post of its own. It is, on the face of it, a rather obvious point: that if a chorus starts a phrase well, it continues well, whereas a hesitant or ragged or inattentive start leads to a lower level of performance throughout the phrase. This resonates with my observations of how one of the ways Peter Kennedy maintains performance standards at Green Street Blues is by not letting them continue after a substandard start. But it also brings out some extra dimensions that you can only spot when you can compare the continuations from both clean and rocky starts.

Back to Bristol

bristolfashion2Saturday saw me back down with my friends in Bristol Fashion for a day’s coaching. Like last year they had provided wonderful weather, and even better, this year they had space outside in which to enjoy it over lunch. Since I last visited they have picked up trophies for most improved chorus and most improved director at LABBS Convention, and are singing with an increased sense of panache for having had their efforts validated.

Tone, Articulation & Venue

In a comment on Thursday’s post on the Cheltenham Festival, my friend Sarra remarked on the subject of staccato singing:

… it's possible that in a very echoey space with many singers unused to such an acoustic, and preparing a performance in three days, it might be what you need. Just about.

On reflection it's a bit like running a car with vital bits tied on by string. :)

This reminded me that I’ve been intending to blog someday about the relationship between performance styles and the typical venues in which they’re found. Looks like someday has arrived.

Cheltenham Festival of Performing Arts

Cheltenham Town HallCheltenham Town HallI spent last Saturday afternoon at the choral classes of Cheltenham Festival of Performing Arts. This isn’t the famous Cheltenham Festival that brings lots of big name classical and jazz performers to the town, but the community festival of music, drama and dance with two weeks of competitions for amateur performers. But while it may look more small-time in its level of artistic ambition, it’s still an event that has more than just local interest, attracting entrants from around the South of England and Wales.

Soapbox: Pointing the Finger

soapboxIn Chris Davidsons’s tele-seminar on Successful Speaking Secrets the other week, one of the participants noted as a bad habit of some presenters the mannerism of pointing at the audience. The participant felt that it made them feel like they were being told off. From the speaker’s perspective, the gesture is intended for emphasis; they probably experience it as pointing at an idea that they find important, but the listener experiences it as being pointed at themselves.

Sweet Adelines at Gateshead

The Sage CentreThe Sage CentreLast weekend saw the Sweet Adelines Region 31 convention come to Gateshead. The Sage Centre is a great venue for this kind of event, with auditoriums designed to make live music sound wonderful, and plenty of common social spaces for people to hang out together between the performances. It’s a pity, from a convention experience perspective, that the Quartet of Nations region won’t be able to come back here in future, though I’m sure everybody is delighted about the significant increase in membership that means they’re growing out of the venue.

The ‘C’ word, ‘F’ word and how to deal with stereotypes

In a post about ‘The ‘C’ Word’, Chris Rowbury opens up the thorny question of cultural stereotypes as they relate to choirs. He identifies a handful of stock images that leap to mind when people hear the word ‘choir’ and talks about he finds them limiting – both because they focus on a hackneyed subset of actual choirs, and because they carry somewhat negative connotations with them. He finds himself, not unreasonably, rather wearied with the assumptions people make about him as a choral practitioner, since they are both rather inaccurate and presuppose a rather less interesting musical life than the one he experiences.

The strategies he proposes for dealing with the limiting stereotypes of the word ‘choir’ are all sensible as far as they go.

Amersham Again

Amersham A Cappella: warming up with Lynne OwenAmersham A Cappella: warming up with Lynne Owen
I was back in Amersham this week working with Amersham A Cappella in anticipation of their participation in the BBC Choir of the Year later this month. Their director Helen Lappert is brilliant at defining an agenda for the evening, and our goals were to:

  1. Fine-tune performances for Choir of the Year
  2. Increase the magic
  3. Enhance individuals’ performances
  4. Increase projection beyond the footlights

Arranging as Playing Cat’s Cradle

The thing that makes cat’s cradle work is the balance of opposing forces. The threads can form a structure because they are held in tension by the separated hands. Bring your hands together and this tension is released, and the three-dimensional form collapses.

I find this a useful image for juggling the competing demands a song makes on the arranger. There’s a network of opposing forces in somewhat different dimensions, both technical and artistic, pulling on the arrangement as it develops. Depending on the song and the group who’s commissioned it, the demands will vary, but there will always be this sense of simultaneous, but conflicting imperatives.

Successful Singing Secrets

successfulspeakingOn Tuesday I participated in a teleseminar on Chris Davidson’s book Successful Speaking Secrets Quick Reference, which was published at the end of last year. Chris became a full-time public speaker and speaking coach about 8 years ago, when he could no longer bear the dire quality of most of the presentations he had been witnessing in industry. He has made it his life’s mission to inveigle business leaders of the world into becoming interesting to listen to.

I had a direct interest in the subject as a presenter (and one with opinions, indeed). But I also found myself applying his ideas to the roles of the musical performer and the conductor as we went through. After all, being interesting to listen to is a useful quality for a musician to have, too. My impressions are a little miscellaneous as yet – this post is about rummaging through the plethora of things that caught my attention, but I think there are also a couple of Big Ideas that may emerge as posts in their own right when I’ve had time to live with them for a while.

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