National Association of Choirs Conference 2010

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Suzi Digby's seminar (featuring a podium from StackaStage)Suzi Digby's seminar (featuring a podium from StackaStage)I spent last Saturday in Stevenage at the National Association of Choirs annual conference. It was the first time I had attended the event, and as I will be presenting at the 2011 conference, it was really useful to go and get a feel for what the membership were likely to find helpful. I had taken a small trade stand to promote my workshops, and was delighted to find that the venue was organised such that the corporate delegates could also go and eavesdrop on the seminars through the day!

The programme had an interesting balance. It started with Erica Crump presenting on the rather anxiety-inducing subject of copyright, and was followed before and after lunch by practical sessions led by Suzi Digby. The day ended with Liz Whitehead from the Federation of Festivals leading a session to discover what attracts or puts off choirs from participation in festivals. So, the programme didn’t just balance information-giving with practical activities, it also included information-gathering. I rather liked the idea that conference delegates aren’t there just to receive the wisdom of the speakers, but are also there to contribute to the dialogue.

The session on festivals produced some really interesting debate, particularly about the relationship between festival participation and a choir’s regular programme of performances. There was quite a groundswell of opinion that various aspects of a festival’s framework had the potential either to interfere with or to facilitate a choir’s wider aims – from the timing of information, to syllabuses (especially the types of set piece), to the forming of massed choirs.

There was also a remarkably strong reaction against the idea of allowing choirs to perform with backing tracks. This rather surprised me – whilst I share the view that they are artistically limiting in all sorts of ways, I would rather a choir participated than were excluded because of this. Indeed, I’d like to think that the chance to hear what other choirs manage without them could help a choir relying on backing tracks to aspire to either a cappella performance or to work with live instrumentalists.

I wasn’t able to attend on the Sunday, but that was to feature another practical session, with Bob Barratt from BaBa Productions workshopping some of their new publications. This has made me re-examine my views on the concept of the ‘infomercial’, which I had tended to regard as an advert masquerading as education, but actually I can’t think of a better way to browse a publisher’s catalogue than to spend an hour or two singing through it.

Talking with other people on trade stands also gave some interesting insights into the state of economy as it affects choral activities. Choir tour operators were saying that 2010 is proving a tough year – people kept travelling through 2009 despite the recession, but even as the economy as a whole is picking up a bit, they are tending to defer trips planned for 2010 to next year. At the same time, new initiatives are cropping up – the Isle of Man’s inaugural Festival of Choirs in October this year shows a clear awareness of the interrelationship between a healthy cultural life and economic prosperity. And even in difficult times, opportunities are there for those who spot them – StackaStage was there exhibiting staging and choral risers, having started the business purely in response to requests from schools when they were visiting with a previous business that did audio-visual installations.

Helping You Harmonise readers may also be interested to know about a free newsletter produced by composer/conductor Douglas Coombes that covers a wide variety of topics of interest to the choral director. I'm attaching his introductory document for info, and he'd be most happy to add you to his mailing list if it piques your interest!

UP BEAT Introduction _2_.pdf20.93 KB

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