Chris 8th February 2014 Last month we had the delight of singing at the London A Cappella Festival (as mentioned in previous blogs ad nauseam). I think we did a great job <cough>, though that is not the point of today's ramble...
One of the unique aspects of the Festival (at least in my experience in the UK) is that one can have great confidence that the entire audience there are music lovers, singers, choral trainers and studio technicians, meaning every aspect of every performance during the Festival naturally gets scrutinised and picked up on.
How you look on stage, not just when singing, but between pieces, when you are introducing, when you move etc. is something I think about a lot. After our LACF performance I spoke to members of the audience and it was reassuring to hear complimentary words about how comfortable our group looks on stage (top tip - if a performer looks comfortable, then your audience is more likely to feel comfortable too).
If you can, take a look at this video. It’s Christina Aguilera and A Great Big World singing a song I am slightly obsessed with at the mo, live on the American version of The Voice. At about 2m 36s in, Christina feigns a classic mini-air grab with her hand. Combined with the head forever looking into the middle distance or off to the side, the effect she is going for is that of someone so enwrapped in the music that they do not notice the 3000 people in the audience or the 3 million viewers on TV. Much as I love the song, I find this totally off-putting – music performance is about bringing the listeners into your world, sharing the music and aspiring towards a joint experience between performer and audience.
In our group, we come from different musical background and have different approaches to the manner we present ourselves on stage. For me, my music journey started in churches with the odd soloist-in-a-concert job - for both of those, you do not tend to move around (much); you stand and sing and never, ever, do you make eye contact with the congregation or audience. Since we started this thing of ours, I have had to re-evaluate my posture, stance and general relaxedness and the way I once stood in a cassock is not the way I stand in my fancy Songmen suit.
It would be brave for me to suggest the other member of the group have never sung a duff note, or fluffed the odd entry, but I continue to tolerate their wild imperfections as our audiences' response to our overall performances are the marker of success I value the most. Most groups (and choirs, and soloists) probably spend the majority of their time working on the dots, but that is not the end of the story. The right notes in the write order is an essential aspect of musicianship, but “performing” is something different.
Nick 22nd January 2014Hello all Songfans/keen Blog enthusiasts.
There are many excellent things about having four older sisters.
The most newly discovered "excellent thing" is the joys of Unclehood. I first graduated to that position in May last year (those of you who were paying attention might well remember). Now my nephew, Danny, is 8 months old, and is about to gain a cousin, and me yet another nephew in a couple of weeks!
It'll be great to meet this new little one, and see him and Danny grow up side by side - their mothers are twins, so I'm sure the two boys will be very close.
Danny himself has grown such a ridiculous amount over the last 8 months (as they tend to do). He is ludicrously cute, every week he looks totally different and has learnt some new trick. He is already rather adept at playing (or rather hitting) the piano, and "singing" lovely long phrases - no doubt inspired by his mother (also a professional singer).
Another bonus of having four older sisters is that they can spend the next few years having children, and my mum won't pester me to have some for a while. Phew.
In more immediate news, the London A Cappella festival that Ben waxed lyrical about so extensively last week is looking to be a great occasion this Friday. There are literally a handful of seats left for our early evening 6:30 concert in Hall Two. Pop down if you're looking for a quick Songfix.
Better carry on learning some bad Uncle jokes.
Til next time,
Ben 16th January 2014Happy New Year, dear readers. I hope your festivities all went without too much upheaval and were enjoyed by all.
So, before I get going, you should be warned that this will be one of my more plug-tastic blogs. My previous one, whilst also wishing everyone a Happy Christmas and all that, bemoaned a poor start to England's Ashes campaign - who could've known how much poorer that was to become!
Anyway, on to the real business of my blog - London A Cappella Festival 2014.
Headlined by The Swingle Singers and featuring the cream of the a cappella world, we make our concert debut in this fantastically exciting and varied festival. I honestly cannot think of another festival which would include the beatboxing skills of Bellatrix alongside us singing La Guerre. The festival is packed with concerts and interest sessions. Our good friend and collaborator Danny Ozment is giving what looks to be an excellent session on DIY recording in the LACFextra programme. Finally, if you miss out on a ticket for an event, then there are performances in the King's Place foyer throughout the weekend.
Our concert is on Friday 24th January at 6.30pm in King's Place (personally, this is a fantastic time to go to a concert - you'll have the whole evening ahead of you!!) and the programme can be found here.
We hope to see you there!
Jon 8 January 2014Happy New Year!
It’s hard to believe that we are already a week past New Year’s Day with only 51 more weeks until we get to the next one!
Many people I know have been busy making their New Year’s resolutions whether that be going to the Gym, eating healthily, or just spending more time with loved ones.
However, rather than jump straight into future planning with them I thought I would take a little time and reflect on the things that went right last year and the new experiences I had…
The highlights of 2013 for me include our performance at ACDA in Dallas, our first tour of China, singing at Ben and Catherine’s wedding, meeting my girlfriend Alison, and all of the other Songmen performances both far and near (including our Three Choirs concert which was about 100 feet from where I live, you don’t get much nearer than that).
Great memories from a great year, and I’m pleased to say that 2014 is already looking good as the next Songmen performance is at Kings Place on 24 January 2014 as part of the London A Cappella Festival.
So, what are my aims for this year you might ask? Well, other than performing with my five best friends I really just want to be as happy in 2014 as I was in 2013. Of course healthy eating, regular exercise, and spending as much time as possible with those I love were all part of what made 2013 great so maybe there is something to these resolutions after all …
PS click here for tickets to our performance at the London A Cappella Festival
Nick 12th Dec 2013Does anyone else out there publicly grumble about Christmas ("Bah-humbug" etc.) but in the confines of their own brain actually look forward to those once-a-year happenings?
Maybe it's just me.
It's always a simple little annual tradition that's comforting enough to add an extra layer of warmth to your mis-shapen wooly jumper. For example, the faux-fatigue and don't-have-time-for-this-edness that is employed by all when trying to work out where the family gathering will be this time round. Or some unfunny word-changing in a particularly dreary carol - the same "joke" that is made every year, and only earns a polite "oh, haa..." at best. Or perhaps that telephone catch-up with your German Grandma who always gets the time difference wrong, and calls you at some ungodly hour in the morning.
Actually, that one probably is just me.
For my money, Tim Minchin sums up Christmas (and so many other things in life!) very well in this song...
In this chilly, gloomy, drizzly, illnessy, and mince-pie-stuffed time of year I think it is those little cockle-warming moments that provide sanity, jollity, and an ability to deal with such an unprecedented overload of carols.
As the frenzy builds over the next few weeks, I humbly recommend you take time to recognise these moments when they happen and think how dull Winter would be without them.
In terms of actual global happenings it's been an important week. I don't feel fully qualified to write about the importance of Nelson Mandela's life, though it has been fascinating to learn so much more detail about this phenomenal human being. From what I can glean he had such incredible levels of courage and conviction to always do the right thing - which, after he did it, seemed to be so blindingly obvious and almost simple in it's purity of rightness.
It also made me wonder what sort of other incredible people or events will we witness in our lifetimes?
Well until we find out have a lovely, cockle-warmed festive period!
Ben 5th December 2013I'm writing this whilst catching up with last night's action in the second Ashes Test in Adelaide (that's cricket by the way). I'm quite keen on cricket, if you hadn't noticed, and am crossing everything that England can bounce back after a difficult first test. Flaring tempers and a heavy defeat were all brought into perspective with the departure of Jonathan Trott with a 'stress related illness'.
I will admit to having taken quite an interest in all this. As touring musicians, we all spend significant time away from home (though not as much as an England cricketer who can spend up to 280 nights a year away from home). Some of the podcasts I have listened to on my recent travels have highlighted depression in sport and there are obvious parallels to be made with us musos.
Last week for me was one such week. On Thursday I was privileged to join the choir of Winchester Cathedral to sing for the funeral of Sir John Tavener. With over 700 in attendance, this was a very moving occasion, all in the glow of Tavener's own music. Tavener converted to the Greek Orthodox Church in his thirties and the service itself was led in this tradition. As a composer myself, I found this insightful. Knowing a great deal of Tavener's music, it brought everything into a sharp focus for me. All the drones and chants which Tavener employed so effectively made more sense than ever before. It goes without saying that the choir sang a number of pieces by Tavener. A favourite of mine was a Nunc Dimittis which he composed for the National Youth Choir just a couple of years ago. His huge coffin was taken out to the sublime 'Dona nobis pacem' from Bach's B minor Mass. A very fitting close to a service I will never forget.
I got to return to Winchester on Saturday for a very different occasion - their Advent Carol Service. As a boy in Kingston Parish Church Choir, the Advent Carols was always a highlight of my singing year. I was extra lucky this year, as I sang in my second Advent service on Sunday evening on home ground in Tewkesbury in a very fine service indeed.
So as the next few busy weeks unfold, my plan is to enjoy my musical exploits, wherever they may be, but to look forward to my time at home with my family and make the most of every minute.
I don't have another blog this year, so have a safe and enjoyable few weeks, but most of all family centred Christmas!
Lots of love,
Jon 27 November 2013Well, it's been quite a while since my last blog and during that period the nights have drawn in, Christmas lights have started to twinkle all over the country and the streets are scented with the musky spice of mulled wine and mince pies.
I love this time of year, the coolness of the air on a crisp morning, the joy of rediscovering jacket potatoes and the warmth of a fire as I huddle down on the sofa with a glass of my favourite single malt - things just don’t get any better than that.
However, I do accept that some people are not so keen on the cold dark evenings. Last weekend we performed to an audience in Upton upon Severn who recognise this, embrace the concept and as a result start their concerts at 3pm in the Winter.
Now, I was sceptical that it would have the same feel as an evening concert, but my initial trepidation was soon overcome as we were warmly received by the capacity audience. Soon after the sun had set over this riverside town our afternoon concert was finished and by early evening we were all tucked up safely at home, with me by the fire cradling the aforementioned single malt.
So, am I a convert to mid-afternoon concerts? Well, personally I still love evening concerts, but I can’t deny that the audience was great in Upton and it does make me wonder if this is something that might work in other places too and open up music to a new audience.
I guess, as we say in the Songmen, you should let the music(goers) decide.
Rob 22nd November 2013After a bit of a break, we're back with our next concert tomorrow (Saturday) in Upton-on-Severn, just over the border in Worcestershire (but we won't hold that against them). It's the first full outing of "Faith, Folk and Frivolity" - another alliterative addition to our array of programmes, and an eclectic mixture from right across our repertoire. If you're thinking of coming along, note it's at the slightly unusual time of 3pm (which means I can get home in time for the Doctor Who anniversary special!)
Today of course marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Benjamin Britten. His centenary year can scarcely have passed many music fans by, with countless commemorative concerts across the world; Britten has even, through the efforts of Britten 100, become the first composer featured on a UK coin. I heard his "children's opera" Noye's Fludde for the first time last month, and am looking forward to my third time taking part in the War Requiem next summer, marking not only Britten's centenary but also that of the start of World War I.
A driving force behind much of Britten's music, like Noye's Fludde, was his desire to make it accessible to young and amateur performers and listeners, a goal we share and strive for through our own workshops and educational programmes; Britten's own Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra inspired Nick to write his own Young Person's Guide to the A Cappella Group which we premiered at the Worcester International Festival for Young Singers this summer. We all greatly enjoy these opportunities to work with young singers, for their varied talents and boundless enthusiasm. Britten himself was only 16 when he wrote his stunning Hymn to the Virgin - who knows what virtuosity might be waiting to emerge amongst our youngest audiences?
Chris 15th November 2013HI all,
I am sure, like me, many of you were shocked at the sudden death of John Tavener earlier this week. Growing up in the choral tradition as a young chorister in the late 1980s, John Tavener’s music was as much a part of our musical performance and education as other fine British composers like Tallis, Stanford and (contemporary) Rutter.
I have always been struck by how simple Tavener kept his music. I think in the past I had mistaken that for lazy craftsmanship (why write any more notes when I can simply add a repeat mark...), but as time goes on, I think I can start to appreciate the deliberate beauty in not over-writing his music. Why introduce continual new themes and ideas in a work when you have not finished exploring the current one? Coming up to Christmas now (sorry – we are. I heard my first playing of a Michael Bublé Christmas song on the radio today), churches and halls across the land will attempt to sing Tavener’s “The Lamb” (and again at Easter) - a perfect example where a single phrase is manipulated, restated, inverted and generally explored. A deceptively hard piece to sing, yet still popular and entrancing as ever.
We recorded Tavener’s “Funeral Ikos” for our Sacred Place album late last year. I remember the recording session very well – another example of a simple, harmonically unadventurous work, making great use of gentle repetition (this time in long verses, as opposed to phrases). It was a hard piece to get our heads around. If ever there was a work where planned dynamic and performance pencil markings come to naught when you actually sing, this is it. “Funeral Ikos” is pretty much the definitive example of our "let the music decide" mentality.
For those in the UK, BBC Radio 3’s “The Choir” (a show we are not altogether unfamiliar with) was already scheduled to broadcast some of Tavener’s newest work performed by the South Iceland Chamber Choir from Southwark Cathedral this weekend. All the more poignant now. Apparently, the choir director has an email from the composer on the morning of his death indicating a change in plans around tempo of the work. Working in his art to the end.
Guy 7th November 2013Hi all!
I hope everyone had a happy Halloween and fun bonfire night...
It was great to see our good friend Mike Browne the other week when we were recording our new EP.
Mike does all the tracking and recording for our studio based work and it never ceases to amaze me how quickly he can find his way around complicated recording software (or indeed the speed at which he can set up and pack away a studio).
Mike was in charge of the recording of our album Midnight and the fact that he comes from a rock background might seem odd to some people... "Why don't you get an engineer who specialises in the voice?" "How does he understand what you're trying to achieve vocally?" You see the thing is that Mike, like many engineers we have worked with, has a deep appreciation of all types of music and his enthusiasm in the studio is amazing. He will happily sit behind a desk for 12 hours at a time and still be as keen and exact in his quality of work from the onset to the end result... which is more than I can say for us singers...
I taught Mike in my previous life as a teacher many years ago and it's so nice to see a familiar face the other side of the screen when I'm behind the mic. He makes me always want to give each take my absolute best and I feel lucky that I have played a tiny part in the well-rounded musicianship and love for all genres that Mike possesses.
If any of you readers are looking for a 'sound' sound engineer in the coming months drop me an email and I'd be delighted to put you on to him!
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