April 2013

On Consecutive 5ths and 8ves

consecegOne of those penny-drop moments came to me when, as an undergraduate playing through some music I had written as a younger teenager (and finding it both better and worse than I remembered - does this happen to everyone when revisiting the efforts of their younger selves?), I came across a bit I'd always had to play quite carefully to make it sound okay. It could work all right, but if you didn't place it just so, it could sound a bit naff.

In the time between writing this music and revisiting it, I had been taught the concept of consecutive 5ths and 8ves, and the importance of avoiding them. This concept now revealed to me what the problem had been with my piece of juvenilia, and simultaneously made me grasp, emotionally, why I should care about this bit of theory.

There are other schools of thought on consecutives of course. Take Noel Coward:

ABCD Conductors Day, Mark II

Delegates on the Conducting StreamDelegates on the Conducting Stream

Saturday saw the second of the days run by the Association of British Choral Directors Midlands region as replacement for the event snowed off in January. It was the first genuinely spring-like Saturday we have seen this year, and so in many ways it was a pity to spend it indoors, but at least it was good weather for travelling to and from.

For we had lots of delegates from outside the region - directors came down from Sheffield and up from Bristol and Surrey to participate, as well as from round the region itself. As a result we had a cohort of eleven delegates for the conducting stream, which is more or less perfect in size - enough people to get a genuine range of perspectives and experience, while few enough that everyone who wanted to could get some individual feedback on their own conducting.

Back on-line now...

Many apologies for the service interruption over the last two days. The hosting company was subject to a Distributed Denial of Service attack, which brought the server down, then ran into hardware trouble before restoring all the files from an off-site back-up.

The good news is that ultimately this all proved successful. I am not happy with the service level, though, in that it should have been possible to get the site up and running from a different server while they rebuilt it. More than 48 hours off-line is not good at all.

These are details that should make no difference to your life whatsoever. I am as yet undecided as to whether I need to seek alternative hosting services (balancing up my dissatisfaction with recent events and the unknown risks of leaping from frying pan to fire). But I'm really hoping I won't have to write a post like this again any time soon.

A Musical Brief, in Brief

I recently received an email asking if I would be 'willing to provide a 'musical brief' that will increase my understanding and handling of your arrangement'. I found this a somewhat baffling request, not least because the arrangement in question seemed to me relatively straightforward and I didn't know what it was that the person didn't already know. After all, isn't the performer's job to figure out how the music goes, and then perform that?

So my reply was to ask her to write what she thought it should be, and I'd tell if I thought she'd got the wrong end of the stick. This way, she'd get a brief that dealt with what it was she needed to know, and moreover, the knowledge would be stronger and more useful because she had generated it herself. (I am reminded of Nicholas Cook's point that reading someone else's musical analysis is a bit like asking someone to do your piano practice for you.)

Hecklers in Rehearsal

I recently received a message in response to my posts on Transactional Analysis last winter. (The message was actually sent back in December, but I only discovered the 'Other' inbox in Facebook this week. Fortunately most of the of the other messages I had missed were either advertisements for concerts or spam, so I haven't been rude to too many people in my ignorance.) It was from a choir director who mostly has a good relationship with her singers, but was encountering some difficult behaviour from one of them. In her own words:

My problem is one choir member who constantly breaks the flow of energy by making inappropriate comments, mocking my choice of songs, using the group as a platform for his political beliefs and generally distracting people from enjoying the singing. I have tried to discuss the issue with him a number of times but he claims to have no understanding of what my problem is.

Most people I have spoken to either don't understand my problem or, if they have any experience of running groups themselves they tell me to kick him out. I don't want to ask him to leave as he has been coming for as long as the choir has been going - 10 years - his wife also comes and I realise that the group is a very important part of the lives of everyone who comes along.

How to Hear Hippos

Scott Dorsey, over on ChoralNet, has a nice blog post about the usefulness of having a fresh pair of ears in your rehearsal room. I liked it not only because he promotes the kinds of services I offer (!) but also because it got me thinking about breadth and depth of perception, and how we balance these out.

Scott uses a delightful metaphor coined by a postgraduate class-mate of 'flaming pink hippos' as representing the glaring and obvious problems that you gradually lose the ability to see the closer you get to your work. You get so focused on paying deep attention to one aspect, that you totally fail to notice much more fundamental issues developing elsewhere.

Believability and the Morality of Art

Believability is a widely-valued attribute in the performance of song. We value a sense of honesty, of authenticity; we like to experience the performance as a genuine act of communication, of music speaking 'from the heart, to the heart'. The point of bringing music 'to life' in performance is not just to go through the motions, but to generate meaning and interpersonal connection.

One of the standard ways to coach people in how to create this experience is to ask the performer(s) themselves to believe in what they're singing. 'You've got to believe it yourself if you want your audience to believe it,' is one phrase of which I have been on the receiving end. This is fine as a starting point, but it carries some problems with it:

On Tuning and Musical Meaning

Do you ever have the experience in rehearsal where people are singing the right note, but it's sitting just a shade too high or too low for the chord to gel? If you spend any time at all working a cappella, I bet you do (if you don't, you lead a charmed life).

I’m not talking about your regular, run of the mill tuning issues here, caused by tiredness, habit or faulty vocal production. I’m talking about a specific kind of fault where an ensemble that is basically in tune horizontally doesn’t always nail the vertical tuning.

Now, you can address this problem at an analytical level, asking people to nudge their note up or down a bit to get it into true. But this approach has drawbacks:

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