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

 

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

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!

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!

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!)

Voices_Now-8477

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.

Voices_Now-3827 Voices_Now-5114 Voices_Now-0136

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:

Voices Now on tour!

The Holst Singers and Together One Voice in Omagh

Well the Voices Now Festival is only a couple of years old and so it is all new for us to take the idea on tour. However, following our first ever festival at the Roundhouse in London in 2011 Valerie Whitworth, who had travelled over from Northern Ireland to take part, went home determined that Voices Now should come to her home.

Lots of things happened after that but the result was that we were able to take our new commission by Ēriks Ešenvalds over to be part of the City of Derry International Choral Festival as well as doing concerts and workshops in Omagh and Enniskillen.

For this adventure I also worked with the Holst Singers and The Roundhouse Choir – and although I have no direct association with them – I felt a huge sense of pride taking with me such amazing choirs. We also had the amazing Imogen Heap working with us improvising between Eriks’ songs. Here was the result in Derry:

We then went off to have a day in Enniskillen and a day in Omagh with the Holst Singers:

Holst Singers in Enniskillen

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