April 2021

Executive Summary of the World of Barbershop

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Last Thursday an invitation from Scunthorpe Choral Society had me giving a short presentation on barbershop choruses as part of their ongoing series of visiting speakers. I was given the remit of talking about what is different in barbershop from other choirs (there’s lots in common too of course), and with a time slot of 15 minutes, it made me think quite ruthlessly about what were the essentials to share.

So, I started off with a whistlestop account of the genre’s origins and history, which for these purposes could fit into 6 moments:

Human Beings of the Atlantic Coast

Last Thursday took me zooming over to Portugal to lead a seminar on ‘Working with Human Beings’ with the students of the Atlantic Coast International Conducting Academy. Every time I work with a group of conductors I remark on the dedication and insight they collectively bring to the discussion, and this time I was also struck by their sense of shared ethos and values.

This is clearly in part a function of the course itself: course leader Luis Clemente spoke to me before we started about the goal to produce ‘responsible’ conductors. The contributions the participants made to discussions bore this out, showing not only a high level of thoughtfulness and care in how they were articulated, but also a shared philosophy that saw the ensemble as active artistic participants in the production of music, not just the conductor’s ‘instrument’.

The PandeMusic app and How You Can Help Ongoing Research into Covid and Music-Making

PandeMusicOn Thursday I attended a session for Association of British Choral Directors members on a new app called PandeMusic. They’ve not done a major launch yet because it is taking a while to get it into the Apple Store, but it is already available for Android – indeed I downloaded and had it up and running during the session, submitting my first report in less time than it took the presenters to explain it. So I don’t think it’s premature to tell everyone else about it.

The app is a collaboration between abcd and Making Music. It is the brainchild of Martin Ashley, who gave a presentation on what it does, and why, and was developed by John Willetts, who gave a demo of how to use it.

Gesture Height and Centre of Gravity

When teaching choral conducting we generally encourage people to use a gesture space in which their ictus lands not too far above their belly-button, as this tends to facilitate a deeper-seated breath in the singers. But sometimes the physical circumstances of your performing environment necessitate a higher gesture in order for it to be seen, and the question then becomes: how do you prevent this having a negative impact on vocal production?

This post was inspired by watching a video of someone who was managing this well.

On Conducting and Emotion

I had a really interesting conversation recently with a conductor I’ve been working with about the conductor’s experience of musical emotion. He was reflecting on how he feels all the music the conducts – and ‘still feels’ it in the case of very familiar repertoire – and was wondering to what extent he should allow himself to experience that while conducting. On one hand, the whole point of so much music is to shape our feelings, but on the other he didn’t want to be self-indulgent.

You won’t be surprised to know that from a standing start, I was all for allowing himself to connect emotionally with the music. The reason we started doing this and keep doing it, the reason the singers participate, the reason that listeners value what we do is this connection. Music offers a way to access rich and varied emotional landscapes that bind us together in shared experiences. Those leading the creation of those experiences both deserve and have an obligation to participate in them.

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