Last month's National Street Choir Festival was an amazing event from which I'm sure most participants took away a great deal. Those of us who sang in it for the first time, though, possibly felt most inspired by an atmosphere where everyone shared a passion for singing and (in many cases) the politics of freedom for all peoples. Certainly, I came away from the weekend in Whitby with a renewed enthusiasm for the singing of political songs, and the togetherness that comes from participating in community-led choirs and other musical groups.
So, when I got home I felt compelled to put my interest in a cappella vocal music into more direct practice by trying to get more involved in writing and arranging music for our group, VoiceMale. This started tentatively by having a go at writing a four-part arrangement of an old children's song that Dave Mc suggested we do (I won't give away which one just yet!). We tried it out at the rehearsal last week and it seemed to go pretty well: I left a few 'clashy' harmonies in the middle section that seem to resolve nicely in the end. So, you might hear VoiceMale performing that one at a gig in the near future (click Gigs in the menu bar to see where we're appearing next).
My next little project was one I worked on before sitting down to dinner yesterday evening: a new piece written in solidarity with the people of Norway after the gun and Bomb massacre that took place there in July. When the citizens of Oslo took to the streets in response to that atrocity, Norway 's prince delivered a speech to the crowd of mourners that included the line "Tonight the streets are filled with love." For some reason, these words struck a chord with me so I decided to set them to a music in the form of a short song with an introductory section that leads into a round. I'm not 100% sure whether it quite works, yet, but that should become clear when we give it a try at one of our forthcoming rehearsals. Watch this space.
Speaking of rounds: community choirs often sing songs in this form, partially because they're fun, and partially because it means that there's just one part for everyone to learn, so getting these types of songs together can be more immediate and accessible to those unfamiliar with harmony singing. I've not really tried to write one, though, since my college days when our harmony classes demanded that we compose various little canons (the 'musical' term for pieces where parts imitate / follow one another) and back then we were marked on the technical merits of the way the parts interact. What with those days being long gone, I found writing even a modest little round this week to be something of a challenge, but I'm determined to get better at it. Perhaps I'll try a few more 'simple canons', then I'll have a go at some more challenging types of canonic / contrapuntal writing.
I'm thinking I might also write about the different types of canon in my next blog - there are many variations on this theme ...but let's see how far I get with actually composing some first!
Well , it’s been another good month for VoiceMale. The highlight for us four was performing at the National Street Choirs Festival in Whitby (see www.streetchoirwhitby2011.wordpress.com). We sang in front of an audience of approx 600 at the beautiful and splendorous Whitby Spa. Most of the audience was made up of the 30+ choirs who’d come from all around the country. So no pressure there then! We are pleased to say that we went down very well (well we would wouldn’t we!). As well as a lovely warm applause for our songs, alot of good positive comments came to us afterwards from audience members who passed by in the break and at other times over the weekend. We chose contrasting pieces. One of which was ‘Bus Story’ by Leon Rosselson and arranged by VoiceMale’s very own Damian. In our usual style, we did quite a bit of theatrical and humorous performance of this song: we stood 2 in front, 2 behind as if we were on a bus. We did bus things like reading, texting, listening to music and then sang the song about how sad it was how passengers don’t make any contact with each other. By contrast I think we made quite a bit of contact with our audience as we sung this song to them.
The contrasting piece was Tserelem. This is a love ballad from Hungary which I’d picked up over 20 years ago when I was on a student exchange. The student I was being hosted by took me to a community hall where we saw a folk band called Sebo. I arranged the instrumental piece they played into an acappela version using that wonderful eastern European drone backing to the main tune.
Thanks to Stephen for taking some good photos of us as we performed at Whitby. For more of Stephen’s excellent photos contact him on: firstname.lastname@example.org
By the way I hope you’ll come and see us at our next gigs coming up: Saltaire festival Sept 11th at Roberts Park bandstand 12.30-7pm (http://www.saltairefestival.co.uk/Whats_on_Event. ), Topic Folk Club on Nov 17th (www.topic-folk-club.org.uk) and Raise Your Banners Festival Nov 26th (www.raiseyourbanners.org)
Here at the pc, on probably the hottest day of the year so far, I'm thinking back to when the weather was not so clement, for VoiceMale's plan anyway, which was to sing al fresco at Roberts Park in Saltaire (www.bradforddistrictparks.org).
Not fancying our chances of enticing any audience type people to sit outside in the coolness and rain, we luckily were welcomed in the nearby Half Moon cafe (www.halfmooncafe.co.uk). It was strange to sing in a curved space, some listeners round the corners, as it were, but we had a good time rattling through just about every song we could muster, some with Damian, our relatively "newy", and some he sat out.
We risked a world premiere of his arrangement of a Leon Rosselson song, Bus Story, which is nearly performance ready! A good time was had by all, and on we went the very next day to a giglet at the wonderful Square Chapel in Halifax, experiencing their monthly music evening ('Square Up' - visit www.squarechapel.co.uk). There were 15 minute performance slots. We let our remaining hair down and got a really good reaction from the audience, and very much enjoyed being in the audience to appreciate some excellent musicians/singers. Last night I had a super evening with Moornotes community choir, singing at the Grassington Fringe Festival. This is all addictive, roll on the next gig!
The sky is blue & the sun shines, though a little cool, at least indoors as i sit & gaze out of my living room window in the early eve of Sat 30th April waiting for my bath to fill & ideas of what to write for VM blog. Inspiration in general is hard, never mind for music! Well I know sometimes my passion & thoughts on music are strong just like when I write poetry to which I have mainly created the few songs from, that I've produced.I love music whether by listening, practising, or performing etc; but its all mood & sometimes I just can't be fussed.But like with poetry, once started, you feel you have to keep going till you've finished it, though that doesn't always work. And work being the operative word, as you need to keep working at it until you get it right, which can really take the fun out of it at times.
Wonder if my bath is overflowing, best check as i have a bit of a history with this & can get easily distracted! : /
Its hard to find the energy after a long hard day at work then rush to get ready for singing practice, but however bad you feel when you get there, by the end of the session (even though you may still be tired) you feel alot better & the reward that you've made progress (well, sometimes that is:)
And not to sound cocky, but I was recently at a recording studio in Manchester as a 40th birthday gift I received from a bunch of close friends as a 'singing experience' to which it most certainly was. Friends can really surprise you at times with their thoughtfulness.
I went to the Recording studio this one Saturday eve with my girlfriend & another 2 couples as support to hear me sing 3 songs that you get to choose to sing & learn how it all works. So here I am in this wonderful studio where many great (& poor) artists had performed before me, I was 'living the dream'.
I was supposed to only have 2 takes of each song, but the engineer very kindly allowed me 3.I had woke that morning with a splitting bad head & a usual back ache & slightly strained throat & as I finished the 1st go at song no:1 feeling reasonably pleased, then had a panic thinking, damn! I have to sing this another 2 times, which may seem nothing to most people, & in the real world, you would have as many takes as was needed to get it right(or depending on budget:) but I had 3 & I knew i had to try & make each one good & this is the point where it becomes more like work than fun.
But I enjoyed it all, along with the photo shoot after & the editing of the raw copy as well as the proffesionalism of the staff along with the stories & anecdotes of the business, like a recent visit from 'One direction' off of the X Factor doing a Pokemon advert & with all their entourage.
And the thing i love about music & i suppose poetry is when it hits you with such strong feeling out of the seeming blue. Whether its from the melody or lyrics of a song, a smell even or how blue the sky is that sparks off that feeling of how good or how poignant or sad it can suddenly make you feel, but that connection, whatever the feeling, though hopefully good makes life come alive.
We were recently at a live mic night at the Cobble & Clay cafe in Howarth held on the 1st Wednesday of every month & has only been going for several months & it was the 1st one I went to with 2 singing friends Judy & Jennie, to which me & Judy sang a few songs.It was a great night the 1st time which urged me to get VM along to a session, which we did with just 2songs performed to a grateful audience & I thought a very good evening, though haven't heard back comments from my comrades in harmony!
And it was another great live mic night about a few months back at the Stubbing Wharfe in Hebden Bridge where we were warmly welcomed & with good feed back to keep us wanting to do more as entertaining is what its all about!!
Well, just to finish off, I best tell you about the 'Raise your Banners' Festival fundraiser organised by Keith & its title 'World in Harmony' & to be held on May 20th at Shipley & District Social club.Hope you can join us at any of our performances?
At the end of last month VoiceMale went off to Hebden Bridge to perform at the Open Mic harmony night upstairs at the Stubbing Wharf. Lovely small intimate room with loads of great accapella stuff from all sorts of combinations of singers. Many were local but one group was from Sheffield and us lot from Bradford. Me and Dave R were a bit delayed after trying to catch and free a mouse from Dave’s flat before his newly adopted cat got it – clearly saving the environment and protecting natural species was far more important than arriving on time for a gig!. We then went wrong a couple of times en route. Anyway we got there with 15 mins to spare to get our name down for doing our 4 songs we’d prepared.
All the groups did a couple of songs in the first half and a couple more in the second. To rapturous applause we seemed to have gone down well (again if you don’t mind me saying!). Positive comments received included how energetic we all were (ie not just standing still all the time) and how we engaged with the audience rather than look at music or words or stare into space – something we try to work on consciously. It was our second or more performance with the new line up (ie with Damian) – so a well done to Damian especially!
Have a look at some of the pics of the Open Mic night we performed at and maybe come along yourself one day: (the picture of VoiceMale is the one of the 4 men!) http://www.harmonyopenmic.org.uk/
As an aside during our busy rehearsal times you might be interested to know about the odd diversions we end up having in the chats in between or even during singing! Here’s a few (some are singing related but not all) and I quote:
“ Sorry I’m on the wrong note. I’m wondering is it him or me...we do diverge at one or two moments”
“You know what....I might get a bike from me mate and he might teach me archery!”
“Are we all to agree that we will sing ‘an’ instead of ‘and’?”
“That was rubbish – let’s do it again!”
Hopefully when it’s my turn to write the next blog I’ll have some more ditties for you!
Perhaps too many weeks have passed by since Jan 1st for me to be still harking on about the New Year, but with the changing of the calendar came some significant changes in my ‘musical’ life which I think are worth mentioning. For a start, the first month of 2011 ushered in a renewed interest in the musicology – the scholarship of music as a historical, cultural and social phenomenon – as I started my MA in Music through the Open University. The course promises to offer fascinating insights into many aspects of music, how it is itself influenced by musicians and audiences, and how it influences others through its power of political and emotional expression.
The focus of my studies for the beginning of the course is on Historically Informed Performance (or HIP for short!), and this links to another new and exciting musical challenge that I hope to take on this year: namely to start writing songs that might contribute to VoiceMale’s ever-expanding repertoire. HIP, you see, springs from the musical mindset that all performances should first-and-foremost strive to recreate the original intentions of the composer. But the truth is that this effort often conflicts with the creative process of putting together a performance that’s personally expressive and relevant to an audience at a given place and time. The matter is complicated still further when you consider pieces that are written by and/or performed by groups of people rather than by individuals, which brings me onto my song writing aspirations for VM…
I’ve had an idea for a song that’s been swimming around my head since my wife and I visited Japan last November and we read these words about the Peace Bell in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial park:
May it ring to all corners of the earth
To meet the ear of every man,
For in it throb and palpitate
The hearts of its peace-loving donors.
Taking as my lyrics these words and others from inscriptions around the park, I’ve started working on a song of peace for VoiceMale to sing. To be honest, it’s been a long time since I’ve written anything so challenging as a piece for four-part unaccompanied male voices, so I’m a bit daunted about it, but also excited to be creating a new piece with a specific group in mind. One thing I do have to bear in mind, though, is that VM have a very pragmatic approach to rehearsals: once I’ve introduced the song to Keith, Dave and Dave to sing, I need to accept that it belongs to them as well as to me, and will be open to tweaks, changes and (most likely) improvements. My song should be a living, breathing work for us all to sing and contribute to – there’s no room for VM to try to recreate an authentic aural facsimile of my original intentions as they were when I conceived the piece.. I just hope that my fragile ego can take the hit and enjoy the collaboration!
This month I have been mostly - getting back into musical gear after the 3 week "lay off" made obligatory by the seasonal festivities, and the British global cooling. My dedication to musical prowess was manifested by, (or maybe lots of you did the same!), spending Xmas Day finishing a rather bizarre D.I.Y. project in my flat - making a sound reduction "booth" so I can play guitar and sing at modest volume without hacking off the neighbours in the flat above.
Songs that VM (VoiceMale) were practising BC (before christmas) have seemed a distant blur (or oasis) and it will take longer than usual to "crank up", as we've resolved to improve the detail in our finished songs - a slow grind, but we think everyone who hears us will notice the difference!