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

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

 

Simmer Down 2013

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I’m still recovering from Simmer Down in July. The busiest, craziest most exciting day for me as producer.

I’ve been working with The Drum and the partners of the Perry Barr Arts Forum for 5 years now on an event in Handsworth Park and 4 years ago we called it Simmer Down and it just gets bigger every year!

As well as an amazing line up of acts on the main stage including Birmingham’s own XOVA and the legendary Half Pint we had workshops, craft stalls, jerk chicken and children’s activities.

My theory that the sun always comes out for reggae events was again proved true and we estimate that at least 10,000 people from Birmingham and far beyond came to the day.

We are now working on Simmer Down 2014 and want your views and opinions and feedback from this year so we can make it even better – so please take the time to let us know what you think here.

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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

The Flyover Show Birmingham 2012

The Flyover Show 2012

The Flyover Show 2012 was our biggest and best yet. I have been running the show for  5 years with Artistic Director Soweto Kinch and in that time we have seen some amazing musicians under Hockley Flyover, from Ms Dynamite, Tumi, Julian Joseph, Eska, Akala and this year Maxi Priest and Wordsworth from the US.

The build up to this year was amazing – we created a new website for the show and it seemed to make a huge difference as we began to do the on the street marketing it became apparent that people knew about the show and were looking forward to it.

The day itself was really enjoyable too. For me highlights started early in the day when dancers from Birmingham Royal Ballet performed under the flyover. Their dance was so beautiful and the reaction from the crowd moved me to tears.

Birmingham Royal Ballet – photo credit Karl Dixon

There were so many talented and great performers on the line up that day that the crowds were enthralled and the atmosphere maintained throughout the day. In particular Wordsworth MC who flew over from the US was particularly good and he had a great rapport with the crowd even jumping into the crowd and serenading members of the public.

Wordsworth in the Crowd – photo credit Karl Dixon

By the time the sun had gone down the area underneath the Flyover was practically full and Maxi Priest performed to a capacity crowd.

Maxi Priest – photo credit Rob Gilbert

Simmer Down 2012

Simmer Down Crowd 2012

One of my favourite days of the year is becoming The Simmer Down Festival in Handsworth Park and this year’s event on Sunday 22nd July 2012 was no exception. I run the day with The Drum who artistically direct the event and Perry Barr Arts Forum who helped develop the event originally and still pull together every year to involve the local community in the event through workshops and other activity.

This is the fourth year I’ve worked on this event and it just keeps getting bigger and is becoming a key event for local people and reggae fans in the city.

This year we had our biggest headline act yet- ASWAD and we were also really lucky to have a glorious day of sunshine in a summer that was generally very wet and miserable. We had a record turnout with approximately 8000 people in the park that day. The smell of jerk chicken in the hot summer air and the sound of reggae from the stage and the sea of smiling faces made my 17 hour day as enjoyable as it was tiring!