May 2012

Sandy Marron on the Vocal Instrument

On the Sunday morning of the recent Sweet Adelines convention in Birmingham, delegates had the opportunity to participate in a workshop led by Sound Category judge Sandy Marron and Showmanship Category judge Judy Pozsgay. They work as a team in their own chorus, the increasingly successful Lion's Gate Chorus in Vancouver, and their material saw a wonderful integration between what are often seen as quite disparate aspects of barbershop craft.

I plan to write in more detail about the integration of vocal and movement skills in another post (it was originally part of this one, but grew into a separate one its own right), so will focus today on Sandy's approach to vocal pedagogy.

Welcome to the Thursday Club!

For the last six years I have turned down every request to coach or workshop on a Thursday because I had my own rehearsals with Magenta. And there have been some very tempting invitations! Sometimes we have been able to reschedule for a weekend, but not always. But now my lovely choir have generously agreed to move our rehearsal night in order that I can start accepting the invitations I have hitherto had to turn down.

Charisma Workshop FAQs

sistene149Here are the answers that people have asked so far about the Conduct with Charisma workshop next November.

Announcing Conduct with Charisma Workshop No. 2

sistene149Bookings are now open for my second workshop on charisma for choral conductors, so put this date in your diary: 24 November 2012.

Some places have been earmarked for people who wanted to come to the January session but weren’t available on that date, but there are plenty left.

An overview of the workshop and a booking form can be found here, and a set of FAQs can be found here.

To find out more, you can also have a look at my reflections on the last workshop, and browse an increasing body of posts on the subject.

Please do give me a shout if you have any questions about the workshop, and do share these links and/or the attached flyer with anyone you think should know about it.

I look forward to workshopping with you!

When Charisma Turns to Tyranny

There's a scene in the film The Iron Lady in which Margaret Thatcher is chairing a cabinet meeting just ferociously. Hardly anyone dares speak, and when they do she slaps them down. There is an edge of desperation in the way she wields her power so absolutely. It is a classic portrayal of how someone who was once seen by her followers as inspirational has turned into their despotic oppressor.

You see this same narrative trajectory in the relationship between directors and their choirs.

How to Catch the Butterfly?

The title of this post is the subject line of an email I received recently from a friend who is grappling with the question of how to inveigle visitors to/potential members of her chorus to return and become actual members. This is a question that all choirs face, but it is exacerbated in this case because it is a group whose members are spread over a wide geographical distance, and who only meet once a month. So the opportunities for people to 'go off the boil' (as my correspondent put it) are significantly higher than for those choirs that meet weekly.

What they do so far is to 'pamper while they are at rehearsal, follow up once or twice between rehearsal (designated officer does this).' What they don't do is issue any music or learning materials until people are paid-up members, and the email implied that not being able to practise was a significant obstacle to ignition.

There are thus two distinct but related issues lurking in here: how to keep people's enthusiasm between rehearsals, and the pragmatics of giving out chorus property.

Rituals, Habits and Anchoring

A ritual is a habit with meaning. Choirs have all kinds of habits: some good (clearing the chairs away after rehearsal), some bad (sneaking breaths in obvious places mid-phrase), some cultivated deliberately (smiling while singing), some developed by osmosis (going to the pub after a concert).

But a ritual is something both done deliberately and freighted with a specific import. It shares with habits that quality of repeated action, but it has a sense of self-awareness, of being invested with significance beyond itself. It functions to bind those participating in it together into a shared identity rooted in shared experiences. It will either implicitly embody or explicitly articulate some aspect of the choir’s values.

Sweet Adelines Back in Brum

Sweet Adelines were back in Birmingham at the weekend for the second year running for their annual convention at Symphony Hall. I commented last year about how the region’s healthy state is clearly audible in the quality of the performances they are producing, but this year’s contests were a clear step up from there.

The quartet contest was hotly contested, with a strong field of well-established quartets and experienced quartet singers dominating the top ten places. Gold medallists Echo, for example, were only in their second year as a quartet, but have the experience of two previous gold medallists within the line-up, while the second and third place quartets, Miss-Demeanour and Fortuity are the 2010 and 2011 LABBS champions respectively.

Bristol Fashion: Breath, Resonance, and the Edge of Ability

BFMAy12I spent last Sunday back with my friends in Bristol Fashion, who continue to go from strength to strength. I have been working with them once or twice a year now since 2009 and it is very noticeable that each time I return the skills we worked on during previous visits are always well enough embedded to build upon for the next set of developments.

For example, a couple of years ago, it was a significant challenge for the singers to sustain a line by bubbling. This time, we could take that skill for granted and build on it using a combination of ideas I picked up from Alison Thompson at the LABBS Education Day last week and the Inner Game principle of Will.

Making Your Nerves Work for You: An Addendum

yerkes-dodsonFollowing last week’s post with the slides from my break-out session at the LABBS education day, I received an email from one of the participants with a question that I thought other people might also be interested in. Yvette asked:

I wondered if you had any tips for when the nerves suddenly kick in on stage - for me my legs suddenly shake or on an "oo" vowel my lips start trembling?

You see what I mean? Nobody else has ever had that experience I’m sure…

The answer comes in two halves.

Chorus Iceni

iceniMonday night saw me back on my old home patch in Colchester, coaching the chorus that gave me my first induction into barbershop, Colne Harmony - recently rebranded as Chorus Iceni. They now rehearse in a hall a scant five minutes' walk away from where I lived in my last year in the town, so it felt like a return home in more ways than one.

In other ways, of course, it's a very different chorus from the one I left in 1999. As well as the new name, there are lots of new faces on the risers, bringing the chorus up to possibly the largest size it has ever been. There is also a new directing team in place since last autumn. Iam James and Nickie Williams are both experienced performers and coaches, though new to directing, so my task was to help them work on their technique at the same time as we worked with the chorus

LABBS Education Day

LABBSeduday2012Saturday saw 160 singers from 15 LABBS choruses travel from around the South-East of England to Little Chalfont in Buckinghamshire for the third of four education days LABBS held during April. Much of the day was spent with the singers forming a monster-sized chorus under the direction of Amersham A Cappella's director, Helen Lappert with coaching from representatives of each of the barbershop judging categories, interspersed with break-out sessions in smaller groups.

I was there as the representative of the Music Category, although my break-out session, as you will know if you saw my last post, was more intended for the Human Being Category.

The format of the day was quite standard for these kinds of events, and I was thinking on the way home about what makes it so effective.

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