Sunday, June 10, 2007

Playing catch up PART THREE

Following on from the last two posts, Playing catch up PART ONE and PART TWO, here are some more mundane mumblings looking back at my earlier posts from April and May. Now we’re up to date!

Sounds of silence
Rehearsals for our specially composed piece RUHE are proceeding apace. We are very grateful to Paul in Germany for his help with some of the pronunciation. Although the Koblenz accent is noticeable, at least the whole choir is speaking with one voice as it were. Also, at Fi’s suggestion (many thanks Fi for pointing us towards Sible’s 1999 restoration) we have added the percussion parts for single clave and empty maraca. We toyed with the idea of using Steve Reich’s recent addition of the sound of one hand clapping, but realised that we were simply taking too much on. So, stay tuned, and we look forward to your attendance at the premiere in July. (PS I promise to send the score out to the many of you who wrote in to request it. Unfortunately there has been a run on invisible ink recently, hence the delay).

Coach tour sing-a-long
I pointed out in Singing from the same hymn sheet that one of the reasons I had originally started a choir was that people would at least have some songs in common that they could sing together. So I was extremely heartened by our journey back from the Royal Festival Hall last Saturday. I was sitting in the middle of the coach and there was pretty much non-stop singing from the back half of the bus. Admittedly a few of the songs petered out or deteriorated into unison singing, but I was mightily impressed by the number of songs in harmony that the choir were able to sing without start notes and in full harmony! I could tell by the sound that people were really enjoying themselves and were really giving full voice to the songs. Yes, we had a few “Roll out the barrel” equivalents, but also loads of Georgian, Maori, gospel, African – and even Bosnian Sephardic songs. I was proud as proud could be!

Being in the moment
Many times things just go totally wrong in a rehearsal or at a performance. Often times it’s just not clear what the reason is so I’ve often blamed it on the weather in the past (well, you have to blame it on something!). Thinking about the phenomenon has made me believe more and more in the principle of “living in the now” or “being in the moment”. If you’ve done all your preparation and you come to the rehearsal or performance without expectation, you will always be rewarded – often in unexpected ways. But if you come to the warm-up or concert with a particular outcome in mind, you will almost always be disappointed. A hard skill to practice perhaps, but a very worthwhile one.

Different strokes for different folks
Undoubtedly the “flavour” of the three choirs Woven Chords, WorldSong and Global Harmony is very different (Vive la diffĂ©rence). So it was fascinating last Saturday to combine these three choirs into one large one and to see that the whole functioned as a completely different, fourth flavour of group. The only thing the singers had in common was that they had all learn the same songs (and many, not all, of them had been conducted by me at some point). I was worried that it would be hard to blend three disparate groups together, but it was as if we had been singing together for years! The audience on the South Bank couldn’t believe that we hadn’t really rehearsed together.

The other big difference for me in London on Saturday was the dynamics and make-up of the audience. It made me realise that so often we play to a white, middle class audience, and yet here was an audience made up of people with a much wider range of ages, races and cultures, all enjoying our varied programme. I do wish that the membership of the choirs reflected better the make-up of the community in which we work. Coventry for example is a multi-racial and multi-cultural city, and yet the vast majority of the choir are white. I really don’t know how to change this.

All those silent years
I still don’t know why so many people stop singing between school and their 30s and 40s, but I had another phone call this week from a bloke who wants to come to one of my workshops and said he hasn’t sung for 25 years!

Youth is wasted on the young
I got my copy of Sound Sense’s magazine today and almost all of the articles were about youth singing and music initiatives, or special interest groups like the disabled or the elderly. I know I might sound like some dyed-in-the-wool Tory, but I really wonder why the vast majority of people are seemingly ignored by the funding bodies. Or is it just me?

Mapping the song
I am still persisting with using a musical map to teach a version of La Bamba. I was rather wary when I first unveiled my attempt, but most people seemed to find it useful. We did seem to go faster after I started using the wall charts. Trouble is there are so many of them and it takes ages to put them up on the wall! I just hope that at some point the song will sink in and I can stop using the things. I have found though that since I’ve started putting song lyrics on wall charts, people learn the words much more quickly, even if I do end up handing out the lyrics.

Well, that’s the end of my trawl through my past posts. I hope it’s given you some food for thought and perhaps a greater overview of the topics that I’ve covered since last December. I do appreciate all of you who read this blog, even if you’re not moved to add comments.

However … do try to post a comment now and again, even if it’s just a one liner. I hope to create more of a dialogue and am always looking for new ideas and suggestions. Thanks for reading!

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Chris Rowbury


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