Keeping your choir going during lockdown – the Notorious way!

Notorious online

Like groups all over the world my choir, Notorious, has had to cancel forthcoming rehearsals and concerts for at least the next couple of months.

It was only at the start of this year at our first January rehearsal when a number of my singers came up to me to express how much they had looked forward to coming back to choir after Christmas and how important to their life weekly choir rehearsals were.

So it was no surprise to me that this week on Tuesday 17th, on what would have been a normal rehearsal night, when we trialled our first online, coronavirus defying rehearsal that we had a great turnout and even a few old members who have moved away joined in!

I know lots of people are starting up new choirs that bring 100s of disparate people from around the world together and they can only hear the choir leader and themselves (a very honourable way forward) . This is not what I’m talking about here – we want to maintain the established relationships of our choir and actually find ways to sing together and connect in a genuinely interactive way.

I’ve had countless people wanting me to tell them how it went and what we learned so here goes…

  1. We did one hour on Google hangouts meets, everyone logged on successfully using a link we sent them.  That was the first relief! Instead of watching people coming into the room I could see their faces and names popping up on my screen one after another.
  2. We had a mini meeting about how we wanted to keep meeting whatever it takes online and we all agreed to keep trying until we found a solution
  3. I led some physical warm ups with everyone on mute except for me (it took some members longer to figure out the muting than others – but we got there in the end).
  4. Then I led some singing warm ups that I do that don’t require people to be in time with each other – we did these with everyone’s mics on and it was a great test of how many voices you could hear at once. The warm up is supposed to highlight some voices at different times and it was clear that different timbres of voices (some of the men’s voices for example) were picked up better by hangouts than others.
  5. Then we tried some singing together of a piece we all know. The latency of the sound (the time lag) between people meant it didn’t work -but we had fun trying!
  6. We then had a comfort break and did 40 mins on Zoom and tried the same piece. Some more success here but still not possible to get the sounds together – or get a satisfactory sound.

So….

  1. Lots of learning done. We can warm up together, even sing in a limited and experimental way (one of our members is a composer and is considering writing a piece especially for Zoom!)
  2. We are trying again next week in our planned rehearsal slot – and in between now and then I am testing a number of other platforms with small groups of the choir (our trusty committee!).
  3. We are going to experiment with having sectionals online using learning tracks – so sending a separate link to each voice part with learning tracks so they can learn together – then come together as a whole choir and singing along with a backing track (but only hearing ourselves).
  4. We might try some vocal technique lessons – and even invite guest speakers in…
  5. We are going to look at phone conference calling to see if the latency is less – while having a video option live and silent on our computers….
  6. We are going to try and make music for about an hour a week and then have another 30-60 mins of social activity online (like name that tune, or notation bingo), designed each week by different members of the choir.

Whatever happens we are going to meet each week, catch up, sing and have some fun together. It won’t be exactly the same as being in the same room – but we will get as close as we can.

My phone was filled with messages of thanks afterwards from members who had found the whole experience uplifting and encouraging. So we won’t be giving up on this approach any time soon!

Oh and I tried online conducting… (it didn’t work!)

Clare conducting online

 

Dr Carol Coombes OBE – Does that make sense?

Today we say goodbye to Dr Carol Coombes OBE – a great friend and incredible mentor to me and so many other people I know and don’t know.

Lot of other people have already said it better than I can – but Carol was a one off. The world may have lost her last week but she lives on through her incredible Babies and Grandbabies and also through all of us who have been so inspired and encouraged by her passionate support and positivity.

I know that Carol was there through many big decisions in my life and will continue to be there in all that I do and choose to do even now she has gone.

She always had a way of making you feel like you could do it (whatever it was!) and a had way of encouraging you to look at things differently and most notably – more positively!

Her wild tangents would make you wonder where she was going on a topic… then somehow lead you back to exactly what you needed to hear.

Then she would always say: ‘Does that make sense?’ … it always did! Well mostly – sometimes not right away – but she was a wise woman and sometimes you had to take time to catch up with her.

In recent months even with her ailing health she would still find time to leave me voice messages rejoicing in my new job with Young Voices or my daughter’s Prom pictures. She would giggle and celebrate even when (by her own description) her giggles sounded more like Barry White.

Not to mention her amazing campaigning around her own cancer treatment choices and wellness. More here if you want to hear it from her directly: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQM98IVvy6s

Thank you Carol – you made so many good things happen, and made so many of us what we are today so the world will continue to be a better place as a result of you for many years to come.

I really like this summary of her achievements here:
https://theaws.co.uk/dr-carol-coombes/

Lest We Forget

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I had the honour and the pleasure of producing the UK’s first ever National children’s remembrance concert on 3rd November 2018.

The project was conceived by author and academic Ron Dawson who felt it was essential  to involve the next generation in the remembrance and commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of the end of WW1 in 2018.

Over 2500 young performers played, sang, danced and acted their way through a moving and beautiful concert highlighting all the people that were affected by the First World War. The project was made possible by music hubs and teachers around the country all pulling together through rehearsals over several months and then coming together in one special event in Birmingham. Thank you everyone!

Here is our coverage on BBC’s Newsround and some images from the show:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/45966336

 

 

Notorious 20th Anniversary

This post feels more personal than most. Probably because notorious is my baby and because it turns 20 this year and we are having the ultimate celebration!

In 1997 we designed notorious to be the kind of choir we wanted to sing in. Nothing like it existed then – and call me biased but there are few choirs like it even since the growth of choirs in recent years (people who leave to live in other parts of the world often complain they can’t find a choir quite like ours).

Gig in a Coffin Factory

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We wanted to sing a very wide range of music – basically anything that took our fancy! And we wanted to sing in unusual venues.

We also wanted to be a choir that strives for high quality performances but at the same time remain a non-audition choir.

I’m pleased to report that I think we are still holding true to these aims 20 years on and from the 7 people at the start we now have a regular 35 turning up each week – so we must be doing something right. We’ve sung in coffin factories, caves, municipal tips and all sort of crazy unexpected places and we still sing the music that takes our fancy – skilfully enabled by our arranger Richard Salt.

We never wanted to be a big choir so we do keep a waiting list if we go over 40 singers in a term – but this is the one rule we are breaking for our anniversary year! We have invited old members to join us for one special BIG version of notorious for the climax of our celebrations.

Notorious as backing choir for The Twang

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On 25th November 2017 at Town Hall Birmingham- for one night only – notorious will be a choir of over 70 singers.

Booking Town Hall was a big and brave step for a small non-funded charity like notorious – but we did it and 2 weeks from now we will sing Faure’s Requiem and Rutter’s Magnificat- and I for one can’t wait!

Tickets are going well – but Town Hall is a big place and we need every supporter to turn out and join us for the show – so please do join us.

I can promise the most electric atmosphere! Rehearsals all term have had a level of excitement never seen before and I’m really pleased with the hard work everyone has put in to make the music sound wonderful..

It would be lovely to see you all there.

Tickets can be purchased here.

News Coverage from 1997

First gig at the Roundhouse Birmingham

Chorus Advisor for Interkultur

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I’m happy to let everyone know that I am now working for Interkultur as one of their Chorus Advisors to the UK.

My role is to help UK choirs sign up for Interkultur events around the world. Just let me know if any of the events here take your fancy and we can take it from there!

I think that there are lots of great choirs in the UK who would enjoy going to these events and in some ways the UK is not as well represented as I would like. There are competitions,  non competitive festivals and sing along events. Lots and lots for choirs to do.

Contact me anyway you already know how or use my Interkultur email address: clare@chorusadvisor.interkultur.com

BM to BM – my week of music

As an 18 year old bassoonist all those years ago – I set off to start a music degree with the idea I would become a music teacher. I loved music and I wanted to share that passion and teaching seemed the best way to do it.

Until halfway through my degree my bassoon teacher Philip Brookes pointed out that all the festivals and events I was running as a volunteer student could be a career option. What?! I could be paid for what I do for fun?

Well yes. And the other thing I couldn’t have imagined is the variety of places that option has taken me to. This week is a case in point and I wanted to share it.

So this week I am embarking on three very different musical projects. All of whom make me very excited and proud to be involved! But they couldn’t be more different.

So number one: BCMGBenedict Mason (BM) performance in Aldeburgh. We premiered this piece in Birmingham last month. It is provocative and challenging (for audiences and stage managers alike) and it’s a total privilege that BCMG have asked me to help (in a very small way) to make such a complex piece happen. I love the idea of working with people like Benedict and being part of the team that make his ideas come to life!Benedict Mason

Number two: Young Voices Germany. This is our second year running a Young Voices Concert at the Barclaycard Arena in Hamburg. It requires me to dust off my very basic GCSE German when speaking to the security staff backstage and involves 6000 German children singing their hearts out to pop medleys both in English and German with an array of great guest acts including We Are Scientists. And their very excited parents in the audience. I love this job because their is no energy like the energy in an arena when a Young Voices gig is on. And I call the shows in Germany. It’s a buzz and a half.

Foto: Lichtw3rke

Foto: Lichtw3r

Number three: Well it’s time to admit it. My beloved choir Notorious has been asked to be the backing choir for Barry Manilow (BM) at the Genting Arena in Birmingham next Saturday. We come on for the 3 finale songs complete with choir robes and cheesy moves. And. Well. We are all more excited than we like to admit… barry-manilow-2015_960x360-2

So I’m looking forward to a week of music. All of which I will enjoy and if you had told me I could do this I would have become a producer on the spot… Oh wait…

So…Benedict Mason to Barry Manilow in one week… Here goes!

Arts International Fund News

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I received some great news in the post a couple of weeks ago to confirm that I had been successful in securing support from the Arts Council of England to undertake a residency with Interkultur – the world’s leading organiser of international choir competitions and festivals on three projects next year.

The first one will be International Choir Competition & Festival Bad Ischl  followed by the Sing’n’Joy Vienna 2016 3rd Choir festival  in late April, early May 2016.

And finally I will work on the World Choir Games in Russia in July 2016 with the added opportunity to help with a massed choir tour to St Petersburg and Moscow.

I will work as a member of the event team to learn about international events and to make contact with choirs and conductors from around the world to bring back to the UK as well as provide a link to UK choirs for Interkultur for future events.

This is an amazing opportunity for me to meet more choirs and I am very grateful to Arts Council England for their support! More updates as they happen!

When being helpful isn’t always possible

My natural disposition is always to help people out when I can. I don’t mind if it’s a bit of a challenge – I love problem solving making something happen against the odds… I know about choirs and I can get you a choir for your event and at this time of year I am totally ready for these kinds of phone calls…

But… I have my limits.

Twice in the last 24 hours I’ve been approached but different people involved in the BBC music events happening in Birmingham this week.

Both asking if I can supply a choir at 2/3 days notice. And both without a budget.

I have a problem with both for different reasons and have said no twice (which is against my general instinct of saying yes and being helpful). I’ll tell you why:

The first call was to supply a 30 piece choir for the BBC Music Awards Show to mime (yes mime!!) to someone else’s music. 

  • Problem no 1 –  Miming. Really? I can imagine the conversations now. ‘Clare I saw your choir on the telly the other night… They don’t usually sound like that – it was great!’‘Erm, it wasn’t us… We were just miming’. No just no. You could ask anyone off the street.
  • Problem no 2 – 3 days notice and the choir were needed for a morning rehearsal on a weekday and an early evening recording of the show. I simply couldn’t get amateur singers out of work at this sort of notice!
  • Problem no 3 – No budget. If amateur singers are going to be at work when the job needs doing I would need to find professionals. They need paying. End of conversation.

The second call was for a gospel choir at two days notice to sing on Thursday lunchtime at a drinks reception.

  • Problem no 1 – 2 days notice and the same as above applies if you want an amateur group they will be at work at lunchtime on Thursday and if you want professionals I’ve got a lot of ringing around to do!
  • Problem no 2 – No budget. If I’m going to put aside this afternoons paid work to ring around all my gospel colleagues I need to be paid. It is what I do for a living. And the singers need paying! I’m not ringing people and asking them to sing for free at a drinks reception at the Genting Arena where I’m quite sure they’ll be paying for the drinks being served!!

The quote of quotes though is that the second caller said ‘well we have the money off the BBC for this and we have to be careful what we spend BBC money on so we can only offer expenses’. When was it appropriate for BBC money to fund a drinks reception but not the artists that perform at it??

I’m a very helpful person. I love getting people out of a fix. But if you’ve left it until 2 days before to call and don’t have a budget, or anything in fact, to offer the musicians. Don’t ask me to help.

I post this not to upset the BBC as I have many helpful and lovely relationships with the BBC  but out of principle… I’m genuinely upset I couldn’t help and just wish they hadn’t even asked!

Icon of Freedom Festival

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I have just finished a week of working on Icon of Freedom, a festival dedicated to the life and work of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Who? Well you may just ask that as she is very well known in her home country of Mexico but not so well known here. So we thought we would raise awareness through Icon of Freedom at the Oxo Bargehouse.

Sor Juana de la Cruz is a 17th Century a self-taught scholar and poet and nun from Mexico who was known in her lifetime as “The Tenth Muse’. The festival helped UK audiences to find out why her poetry has endured through the centuries and still speaks to audiences today on subjects as diverse as gender equality, science and freedom of expression.

The event was a lovely partnership between the SHM Foundation and Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana who worked together to present visual art by young Mexican artists, food and fashion events inspired by Sor Juana’s life and work.

My role was to produce an event featuring Sor Juana’s poetry with responses from contemporary UK artists and Mexican visual artists. We put together two shows of spoken word, poetry and music to celebrate and explore her work.

For Juana’s poetry was read in Spanish by Sandra Lorenzano from Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana and in English by actor Naomi Frederick who had just finished playing Sor Juana at the Globe Theatre. We also worked with contemporary UK artists who presented their own responses to the poetry: Sarah Sayeed  musician; Vivien Ellis and Giles Lewin, early music duo, Amerah Saleh,  soul poet and Chandra Chapman, composer.

There were also visual arts installations from contemporary Mexican artists and photographers, Derzu CamposAlex Aceves BernalCannon Bernáldez, Mauricio del Razo, Maru Rojas.

 

Young Voices First Show in Germany

Foto: Lichtw3rke

Foto: Lichtw3rke

In June I had the pleasure of being asked to Produce the first Young Voices show in Germany. It was the first time I’ve worked on a show where I don’t speak the language (my A at GCSE didn’t get me very far!) but luckily most people spoke English very well. But it did raise challenges when I didn’t actually know what the presenter was saying on stage even though I had written the script! But as ever Young Voices had put together a first class team of musicians and production staff so it was really a joy.

The acid test was to watch the faces of the children, teachers and parents in the show and it was great to see everyone smiling and loving every minute! I can’t wait until next year (and I’ll use the next 12 months to brush up on my German!).

Hamburg Young Voices