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.


  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


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!

The pain *ahem* training has started! Sponsor Sound It Out…

Well I’m officially following my marathon training schedule now. I’ve brushed off my running shoes, stopped buying wine and started pounding the streets.

Yes – I’m hoping to run the London Marathon on 22nd April 2012. I have a place and I have an organisation to support. I am, of course, running to raise sponsorship for the wonderful Sound It Out Community Music who are in my opinion one of the best arts organisations in the West Midlands. Shame the Arts Council didn’t see it like that when they did their review of National Portfolio Organisations – but I have followed the work of the team since they were told they would lose their regular funding – and I have to say I’m impressed.

Matt and the team have pulled out all the fundraising stops and brought in new money from place like The Big Lottery Reaching Communities Programme.

I have a particular soft spot for the personal crusade of Nicola Briggs who took it upon herself to set up the Tamperine project. She is getting famous people to support Sound It Out by signing and ‘tampering’ with a tambourine which will be auctioned off to support the work of Sound It Out. She’s had quite some success so far with names like Ricky Gervais, Judy Dench, Kylie Minogue and Bill Bailey (where are all the famous Brummies I ask myself?).

If you know someone famous – or fancy paying lots of money for a Tamperine – look here to see how you can get involved!

So, in my small way running the London Marathon is my way to not just raise some money – but also make some noise about this wonderful organisation that changes people’s lives with its projects.

I’m not doing very well on the sponsorship front – I need to see those pounds go up so I can be motivated to shed a few pounds of another kind and keep the training going…. So *anything* you can spare however small would be great.

Sound It Out and Being Helpful updates…

I have moved all the Sound It Out blogging and campaign blogs over onto the petition site – which will now be your one stop shop for all things Sound It Out campaign based – (if you like the site it was built for me by my friend Gaurav Vaz – who I would recommend highly if you need a wordpress based site put together quickly and cheerfully!)

The next campaign update will be on Tuesday 26th April – so watch out for that!

Also as many of you know I do monthly surgeries for people who want to ‘pick my brains’ for free. They are now based at the mac in Cannon Hill Park Birmingham and then afterwards I go to the Birmingham Music Network and people are welcome to come with me. The next couple are as follows:

April 28th 10 am – 3pm + TMN

May 26th 1pm – 3pm + TMN

You can just turn up or let me know so I can reserve you a slot as that helps I have found! As ever if you want a bit of free advice or to grab me ‘cos I’ve been too busy – come along and buy me a coffee! Then if people want my time outside of this for advice and project support I’ll charge an hourly rate.

Thank you!

Thank you to everyone who came to Sing for Sound It Out today – you were brilliant and everyone’s enthusiasm for the cause was completely solid despite the rain! I’m still recovering somewhat – but I have a lot to blog which I will do later. For now here are some pictures and a copy of the letter we delivered to the Arts Council:

The letter to Laura Dyer at the Arts Council (feel free to write your own!)

SIO campaign letter

More soon folks…. and there will be more!

Campaign Update

Here are the details for Monday’s Sing for Sound It Out:

Time and date: Monday 11th April 2011 1pm – 1.30pmish

Place: Outside the Arts Council Offices on 82 Granville Street Birmingham B1 2LH. I will be waiting over the road on the pavement from 12.30pm – don’t turn up before this time. You will spot me holding some banners!!

The Plan: To sing 3 or 4 simple songs. Email me (if you haven’t already and I’ll send you the words and the music to swat up on. They are  simple and can be learned on the day – but in case you want to come prepared. Anyone can sing the stuff and join in there will be plenty of us and it’ll be fun!

The Point: to hand in the petition names so far to the Arts Council with a letter asking them to reconsider their decision to cut Sound It Out’s ACE funding by 100%. We want to make our point peacefully and respectfully and let the Arts Council know how much Sound It Out is loved and needed.

Wear: Anything you like but if you have clothes that incorporate any of our logo colours (light blue, green and and yellow) then wear them!

Bring: yourself! and if you are so inclined video cameras and stills cameras and put the piccies up on your facebook and twitter pages if you have them!

In advance: Tell everyone you know to sign the petition -we need as many names as possible by Monday.

Youtube: I’m hoping to film the event and pop it on YouTube with some interviews of people involved. Please let me know if you would rather not be filmed. We can then all share that video on all our facebook pages and get the word out after Monday as well…

THANK YOU EVERYONE – you’ve all been amazingly supportive so far!

SIGN for Sound It Out

See what I did there?

So now – even if you are not one of our merry band of people Singing for Sound It Out on Monday 11th April 2011 at 1pm outside the Arts Council Offices – you can still have your voice heard…

SIGN for Sound It Out here –

We are asking you to sign up to this –

We the undersigned wish to ask the Arts Council to reconsider their decision to cut Sound It Out’s regular funding by 100%. We believe that amongst the difficult decisions ACE have had to make this one is a mistake that will effect the lives of many. We want a reassessment because Sound it Out is important and integral to local communities and the                                                                               music sector nationally.

And spread the word too – wouldn’t it be ace if we had 1000 signatures before we even sing a note next week?

Sing for Sound It Out

UPDATE – We are doing this on Monday 11th April 2011 at 1pm….

Thanks to all of you will already have seen my blog post about Sound It Out losing 100% of their Arts Council funding (see below) . Thanks so much to you who have left messages of support – they are so heartfelt!

A few of us have been plotting what to do to show our support more vigorously and we have decided that we should Sing for Sound It Out and try and form the largest choir we can to sing our thoughts… (probably one lunchtime outside the Arts Council offices in Brum).

It will be a peaceful and yet moving way to show our love for the work of Sound It Out. I am not in the business of attacking the Arts Council – they have a bloody horrible job. But they are wrong on this one – and they need to know why…

Message me if you are up for it and send me your email address so I can keep you posted on the details:

Sound It Out

This is not a blog from Sound It Out (SIO) – this is my view and my initiative. They found out this morning that they will no longer get regular Arts Council (ACE) funding from April 2012.

I must first declare my relationship with Sound It Out over the years. But to get to the point – I’ve put that at the bottom of the blog in case you want to know…

The team who run Sound It Out now, led very ably by Matthew Daniels are some of the most skilled I have had the joy to work with. I won’t use the ‘hardworking’ label – as loads of people are hardworking but a bit rubbish. This lot are dedicated *and* brilliant at what they do.

The projects they design and create are thoughtful and of the highest quality. They work with musicians who are highly skilled at working with music and place them with groups of people who wouldn’t normally get to participate in music making. Very often these projects are simply life changing for people involved and at the very least they are high quality musical experiences for them that they will probably never forget.

My theory – though I could be wrong – is that SIO have been cut by ACE as they are extremely good at fundraising (so I know it won’t be the quality of the bid that went in) and so ACE think that Sound It Out will be able to get the money from elsewhere.

Not true. The ACE money is one of the only pots of funding that pays for core staff. Without those staff there is no-one to raise all the other funding. It’s quite simple really. Most of the other funding SIO can apply for – won’t pay for people just projects…. But someone has to run the joint and what SIO does well is the quality control.

Unlike larger arts institutions that run large scale events, Sound It Out can not get sponsorship or corporate support for it’s work and can’t charge lots for tickets at it’s event because it is all about access. My experience of the company tells me that they have explored every avenue of alternative funding and are looking at more income generating schemes possibly more than some of the companies that have been successful with the ACE money.

Anyway – whatever the reason – this is a bad decision in my view and will lead to a lot of people missing out on some very transformational music projects. Can we do anything about it?

I would like to gather on this page – comments from people who know SIO. Anyone can comment of course – but I’d prefer it if this didn’t just become a debate about the pros and cons of funding in general. I want to gather feedback from those who have been involved or been touched by the work of SIO. Even if it doesn’t help their cause it might be useful to gather a bit of feedback for the company in these circumstances.

My past relationship to SIO should you want to know:

In 1994 when I was serving chips in the mac cafe as a student it was the then Director of Sound It Out who gave me my first work experience. Then when I graduated I worked for the CBSO Education Team 3 days per week a job that I was chuffed to get. However, after that I worked as a project co-ordinator for Sound It Out– which is when I realised just how good proper music workshops could be. Don’t get me wrong the CBSO education dept in 1995 was good – but Sound It Out‘s musicians blew me away. OK so they didn’t get to play with Simon Rattle – but their skills when put in a room with a bunch on participants was awe inspiring. Since then I have had all sorts of relationships with Sound It Out and then between 2005 and 2010 I was Chair of their board of trustees. So I’ve seen the organisation grow and evolve. I left to give myself some more work life balance and as a past trustee can’t work for the organisation or gain anything from it – so I have nothing personal to gain from this campaign.

Being Helpful – an update

My being helpful sessions are to continue even though I’ve sometimes had to move the date to accommodate work. I’m going to experiment with holding the next few at mac as the parking is free and it’s a bit quieter…

You can email me and book a slot or just turn up – but reserving times seems to avoid people having to wait.

So the next couple are:

March 31st 12noon – 3pm + TMN (I currently have someone booked in for 2pm so avoid that)

April 28th 10 am – 3pm + TMN

May 26th 1pm – 3pm + TMN

As ever if you want a bit of free advice or to grab me ‘cos I’ve been too busy – come along and buy my a coffee! Then if people want my time outside of this for advice and project support I’ll charge an hourly rate.