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

 

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!

Icon of Freedom Festival

Icon-of-Freedom-feature-image-400x400

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

Voices Now 2015 – the best yet (in my opinion!)

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Last week we ran the third Voices Now festival at the Roundhouse. As Creative Producer I got to work with all the choirs to put together the programme for the weekend.

Voices_Now-3884

This was a completely different way to put the festival together from previous events and involved Kathryn Tickell, Sam Lee, Omar and Akala as guest artists and curators and the event was shaped by them, the choirs and our expert choral leaders Osnat Schmool, Chris Samuel and Stephen Layton.

The results were outstanding. The collaborative environment suited the choirs – who all shared songs and ideas and worked with the guest artists to put together some unforgettable moments that took my breath away. We also had a range of sell out workshops, two Making Music Open Stages that were busier than ever.

Overall 45 Choirs, 2000 participants , 45 different Open Stage performances, 9 workshops and 3 mains stage shows.

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The Build up to Simmer Down 2014

Steel Pulse

Planning has started in earnest for Simmer Down 2014 and it promises to be a very special year. The headline act this year are Steel Pulse for who this will be a very special homecoming performance. Other acts include Apache Indian and Musical Youth.

My job now is to get all the permissions and infrastructure in place and make sure the event runs smoothly so everyone can enjoy this amazing line up on the day.

Come along and have enjoy the party….

Young Voices

Hallelujah Concerts 2013

I’ve recently started work with Young Voices and in December 2013 had the pleasure of tour and stage managing the YV Hallelujah Choir Festival in Dublin.

It was an amazing way to learn how Young Voices works! There were approximately 3000 children per night for four nights so I soon got used to dealing with thousands of children arriving and departing in short spaces of time.

Since then I worked on the UK tour at the O2 in London, LG Arena in Birmingham, Motorpoint Arena in Sheffield and the Phones4U Arena in Manchester. It’s great to be part of the team and the excitement and atmosphere of each night can’t be described – you have to be there:

Crowd Out with BCMG

Davd Lang

I’m very excited to be working with Birmingham Contemporary Music Group again. I last worked with BCMG in the late nineties running their urban and rural touring which is still one of my favourite jobs of all time. It used to involve me driving round deepest rural Shropshire and finding unusual and out of the way places for BCMG to play. We had a lot of fun.

And I expect that this new project will be even more fun. We are working with Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang from New York – who has written a brand new piece for 1000 voices.

My job is to work with BCMG to look for 1000 people of all ages to build an all-singing, all-shouting super group.

Then on 8 June 2014 – those involved will give the world premiere performances of Crowd Out at Birmingham’s Millennium Point, in one of the largest vocal events the city has ever seen!

Whether you prefer to stand out or become lost in a crowd, this is a fantastic opportunity to have your voice heard in the first ever performances of a brand new piece of music by one of the world’s leading composers, which will be led by Simon Halsey, one of the world’s top choral conductors.

Crowd Out has been written for people of all abilities – so anyone can take up the challenge and enjoy the thrill and satisfaction of giving voice to this distinctive new piece. This is your, your choir’s, your community group’s or your sports team’s chance to become part of the Crowd Out community and be at the centre of a major arts event in Birmingham and enjoy a truly unique experience!

David Lang has produced the first draft of his score and we will be trying it out with him at the CBSO Centre on Sunday 3rd November at 13:30 and you are invited to come and try it out with us!

So let me know if you fancy it… I guarantee a musical adventure… my email is clareedwards@mac.com

 

What a weekend of singing

BBC Singers and Harrow Schools  Photo Credit: Stuart Leech

BBC Singers and Harrow Schools
Photo Credit: Stuart Leech

I’ve just completed one of the most exhausting and most exhilarating weekends of my life so far. Voices Now at the Roundhouse was such an inspiration. So many people coming from around the country from York, Derry, East Anglia and Bristol and beyond to sing together under one roof.

Hilliard Ensemble, Excorde, The Renaissance Consort and Eo Nomine Photo Credit: Stuart Leech

Hilliard Ensemble, Excorde, The Renaissance Consort and Eo Nomine
Photo Credit: Stuart Leech

I have many highlights – but as ever the making music stage was inspirational with an even higher standard of singing this year and groups that had travelled from far and wide to be there; the daytime workshops over the weekend including a Dads and Lads workshop led by Tim Rhys Evans and the Sing Like a Bloke workshop led by Chris Samuel and of course the culmination of our project with the Hilliard Ensemble and our new commission from Eriks Esenvalds all have to get a mention.

Thank you to everyone who came to the Roundhouse. It really was unforgettable.

City Songs Performance Photo Credit: Stuart Leech

City Songs Performance
Photo Credit: Stuart Leech

Celebrating Benjamin Britten’s 100th Birthday

Benjamin Britten 1913 - 1976

Benjamin Britten 1913 – 1976

I’ve been very excited since last Thursday.

Thursday 22nd November 2012 marked the beginning of a year of amazing musical events to celebrate the Britten Centenary up to what would have been his 100th Birthday on 22nd November 2013.

There are massive celebrations under the Britten 100 banner that covers all the events happening across the world during the next year and Birmingham has it’s own festival called Birmingham Britten. There will be performances of Peter Grimes on Aldeburgh beach and all sort of special one off events that I am hoping I can get to.

As a massive fan of Britten – he is partly responsible for my passion for choirs – I have been waiting for 2013 for years. I have been planning Notorious’s Festival of Britten for as long as I can remember and we have some amazing projects coming up.

My 2013 starts with me singing with Ex Cathedra in A Boy was Born at Birmingham Town Hall on Saturday 12th January. A Boy was Born is one of my earliest choir members when I sang in a performance in Coventry Cathedral. It is am amazing a cappella work and quite difficult to sing – I can’t wait even for the rehearsals it is such an amazing piece of music.

With Notorious we have cooked up a year of exciting projects starting with a performance of Britten’s cabaret songs on 24th March 2013 at the Kings Head pub in Bearwood.

Then we are hoping to commission a new piece of music for a very special piece inspired by Britten (more on that later!) then we finish our celebrations with a Benjamin Britten Birthday Party concert at St Paul’s Church in Hockley on 22nd November 2013. We will be singing my favourite Britten piece – Rejoice in the Lamb alongside other classics like St Nicolas and the beautiful Hymn to St Cecilia. Continue reading