January 2022

Chorus and Director Coaching with Welwyn Harmony

Warm-up pic: with coats, as the room is well-ventilated and it's January!Warm-up pic: with coats, as the room is well-ventilated and it's January!

Tuesday evening took me to Welwyn Garden City for the first of a series of sessions with Welwyn Harmony working with the chorus and their directing team together. There are all kinds of reasons why this kind of combined approach is useful, beyond the fact that both areas of focus are of value in themselves.

As a learning experience, a double focus gives both director and singers space to digest things, to work with a new idea or technique for a while without direct scrutiny. You actually get more total learning in this way: people are going to need some time to absorb and integrate the input anyway, so you can spend some of that processing time offering input to someone else, who will then have space to do their own processing when you switch focus back.

And seeing other people learn things is itself a powerful learning experience. It’s why putting two quartets in with one coach is a successful model, and why I like to do individual voice coaching with my chorus with two singers at a time. What you learn from doing can be different from what you learn by seeing and hearing others do.

Bellchord Hacks

Having spent a post earlier this month being opinionated about how to render arpeggiated textures in a cappella arranging, I thought it might be useful to offer some practical tips on my preferred solution, the bell chord. After all, while it gets round pretty much all the difficulties presented in singing arpeggios, it does have its own challenges.

These challenges chiefly involve how to coordinate the parts. A keyboard player or guitarist will find it easy to play each sound source in quick succession because the means to play them (i.e. their fingers) are all operated by the same brain. A vocal ensemble is blessed with a separate brain for every sound source, which is a great boon in many situations, but makes life harder for moments like bellchords.

Check out the Daffodils


You probably think it’s a bit too early for daffodils, even in an era of global warming, unless you live in one of the more sheltered bits of southern England, but the Daffodil Perspective I am referring to today is a year-round phenomenon. Elizabeth de Brito’s fortnightly podcast is a cornucopia of classical music by those female and global musicians who were omitted from our education.

If you have ever said, ‘I’d like to programme more music by people who aren’t dead white dudes, but don’t know where to find it,’ Elizabeth is systematically providing the solution to your problem. She also offers consultancy services, so if you find listening back to several years of podcasts a bit much all at once, you may find paying for an hour or two of her time a more efficient way to bring yourself up to speed.

Dynamic Times with Norwich Harmony

On Monday evening I zoomed in for an hour with the Music Team of Norwich Harmony. They are in the process of learning one of my arrangements and wanted to talk through several aspects of it as a way of both verifying and deepening their understanding of the music. They chose an ideal moment to have the session – they all clearly know the song well enough to know what kinds of questions it asks of them, but are still fluid in their conception of it.

A theme that came up in a couple of contexts was dynamic shaping. One team member remarked on the way the sheet music doesn’t contain any explicit indications (‘there aren’t any Ps and Fs’ is how she put it), but the music clearly doesn’t want to just to be all at one level.

Soapbox: On Arpeggiation

soapboxYes, I know that the broken chord is a rather niche subject for an opinion-piece to start the year, but just because a subject is a tad obscure doesn’t mean you can be vehement about it. So, here goes.

You will have noticed that a lot of pieces of music involve as part of their texture the sounding of chords a note at a time rather than all together, typically as accompaniment to a melody, though sometimes as primary thematic material. It offers a sense of flow, and a more transparent, less assertive effect than sounding all the notes at once.

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