November 2011

MacCoaching Session

MacFourMacFourI had a trip up to Edinburgh at the weekend to work with MacFour quartet. They are a well-established ensemble with a consistent track record both as performers in their locality and in Sweet Adelines contest. Their goal for the coaching session was therefore to explore new rehearsal and performance techniques that will help them build on the skills they have already embedded. They have a really secure technical control over what they do, and wanted to focus the artistic and communicative aspects of their performance.

It was clear when we were corresponding to set up the trip that they are an organised quartet, and they like to have clear sense of method. So the task wasn’t simply a case of working on repertoire, but of providing them with processes and vocabulary they could apply beyond the specific songs we worked on.

BABS in Brum

The Great British Barbershop Boys perform their mammoth 'history of song' in the foyerThe Great British Barbershop Boys perform their mammoth 'history of song' in the foyer

Last Sunday saw the British Association of Barbershop Singers coming to my old home patch of Birmingham Conservatoire for their annual Quartet Prelims. This is the event at which quartets compete to qualify for the Convention in May, and at which the Youth Quartet and Senior Quartet contests are held. It has become an increasingly well-supported event in the barbershop calendar, both by quartets and by supporters.

This year they had over 50 entrants, and as a result chose to split the quartets between the venue’s two concert halls into parallel competitions. All the Senior quartets appeared in the Adrian Boult Hall, all the Youth quartets in the Recital Hall, and the quartets in the main contest were split between the two.

The Neurology of the Charismatic Aura

The importance of mythology for the experience of charisma can seem like a circular argument. In order for people to experience a leader as charismatic, the proposition goes, they need to believe in the existence of charismatic leaders. Well, er, yes.

The business management literature has gussied this up a little with the term ‘Romance of Leadership Disposition’, which is basically a measure of how much people are inclined to believe in the existence of and need for inspirational leaders. People with the disposition are more likely to find leaders charismatic, whilst those without it are the ones who cross their arms and sniff mistrustingly.

Syncopation or Rubato?

carolekingI have commented before in passing on the way that popular melodies from the 1960s onwards look - on paper – more rhythmically complex than tunes from the earlier parts of the 20th century. They appear to have a lot more syncopation, and they seem rarely to cadence exactly on the beat – instead either anticipating or delaying over the barline.

The reason for this is not, however, because popular music has particularly become more complex over time (you get examples of both simple and complex melodies throughout the 20th century), but because the processes of musical production have changed.

This All-too-solid (Female) Flesh...

Yuja WangJessica Duchen has been berating her fellow critics for getting into a swivet about concert dress. Her basic stance is: calm down and listen to the music, as that’s what matters. Which is a nice way of turning the complainers’ arguments back on them. If they object to female performers dressing in trendy and attractive clothing because classical music is supposed to be timeless and above the concerns of the flesh, then they should put their attention onto the performance instead of wittering on about mundane things like clothes.

Conducting Research: Science vs. Real Life

cond-choir-bond.jpgThe current issue of Research Issues in Music Education has an article examining the various functions of a conductor. In some ways it is an exemplary bit of research: well-rooted in the literature, clear in its rationale and methods, logical in the the drawing of its conclusions. But in other ways it demonstrates the problematic disconnect between conducting research as it appears in doctoral programmes and education journals and the lives of real musicians.

How to Get a Response from an Unresponsive Choir

It is something that all choral conductors will have experienced at some point: starting a rehearsal and finding the choir completely lacking in energy. Eyes are down, body language is closed, words are mumbled and the sound projects about 3 inches before falling to the ground. The question is: what does the director do to change this?

The first instinct is usually to inject oomph: with bigger, more emphatic gestures and a bright cheery tone of voice we attempt to chivvy the singers into life. If it is a usually responsive choir that’s just having a randomly dozy day, this will work just fine. But if the unresponsiveness is a common experience with the group, then chivvying becomes counter-productive. You can find yourself with one of two scenarios:

The 4 Es of Classical Music

overgrownvennA blog post from last week at On An Overgrown Path conceptualises classical music as a venn diagram with four elements: enlightenment, entertainment, education and engagement. The illustration plots a variety of figures from classical music at different places in this diagram, giving a neatly concise idea of their primary contributions to the genre.

Interestingly, Andre Previn is the only face to appear in the intersection of all four circles, which presents him as a more rounded musician than Beethoven. (Arguably, from this analytical perspective, he is – but you can just imagine the amused and self-deprecating murmur he would emit if accused of this.)

Charisma in Absentia: Some Case Studies

As a follow-up to my recent post on How to be Charismatic when you're not even there, I thought some examples of charismatic writing might be useful. Well, and entertaining, come to that.

First, here’s Jeremy Denk on the unmusicality of programme notes. It was browsing his blog and thinking, ‘Gosh he’s a charismatic writer,’ that led to this set of posts, so it seems a good place to start.

Confidence and Competence

I’ve been thinking a lot in recent years about confidence, and its relationship with competence. The two can so often seem to go together…but not so reliably that you can generalise about the correlation. Indeed, it is when the two seem mismatched that it feels dysfunctional. A novice who feels tentative seems as rational in their relationship with praxis as a self-possessed virtuoso. But a good performer wracked with self-doubt is a cause for concern, while an ebullient mediocrity just seems deluded.

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