Ready to return?

Many thanks to the 25 or so members who took part in Monday’s zoom meeting. A lot of interesting, relevant discussion took place. Here is a recording of the evening for anyone who wants to watch. My multi-tasking skills weren’t up to managing the waiting room and recording so the beginning of each meeting is missing.

Here is the current regulation regarding amateur singing:

Confirmed that from 14 September non-professional performing arts activity, including choirs, orchestras or drama groups can continue to rehearse or perform together where this is planned activity in line with the performing arts guidance and if they can do so in a way that ensures that there is no interaction between groups of more than 6 at any time. If an amateur group is not able to ensure that no mingling takes place between these sub-groups of no more than 6 (including when arriving at or leaving activity or in any breaks or socialising) then such non-professional activity should not take place.

The meeting decided that all members should be surveyed to find out how many would like to return to singing. Please complete this simple four question survey, especially if you are keen to return, before the committee meets on 30th September. If you don’t respond it will be assumed that you are not ready to return but the more responses that we get the more informed we can be.

I refer you to the last Notes from the Podium and stress that nothing will be put in place until all risk assessed measures are in place and we can be sure that our activity is as safe as possible. It was also decided that we wouldn’t meet on 28th September.

The plan for the foreseeable future:

30th September – committee meeting followed by communication of the relevant decisions from the Chairman. 

w/c 5th October – resumption of singing through Notes from the Podium. I am aware that some of you won’t have sung for long time and will be losing “condition”.

12th October – A.G.M. online

19th October – Choir Zoom meeting which may include some singing activity supported by off-line material for those who don’t zoom.

Keep safe and try do some some vocalisation of some sort.

A light on the horizon?

Welcome to a new season of Notes from the Podium. I hope that everyone’s Summer was as enjoyable as circumstances allowed. It has been a difficult Summer for all of us, not least your committee who have been working hard on your behalf. My personal thanks to them all.

You will have received Eileen’s letter earlier this week in which she said that the committee had met last Monday. At that meeting a plan for the resumption of some singing was worked out. Since then the government has issued new guidelines and restrictions that appear to disrupt the plan along with a marked increase in infections nationwide that has affected people’s confidence.

The Association of British Choral Directors and Making Music have informed us that the new restrictions may not apply to leisure groups meeting in covid secure venues with detailed risk assessments. More information will come out on Monday that may well give us the flexibility to make our own decisions or tie our hands even further.

In spite of all that I wish to share with you the plan so that we can discuss it and be prepared to implement it as soon as circumstances allow.

Here is the plan:

We will start with a choir Zoom meeting at 7:30 on Monday, 21st September giving us opportunity to inform, question and comment on whatever the situation is at that point. (It can’t be earlier as Vicky and I are away 13th to 20th September). I hope that as many people as possible will be able to join us. The link to the meeting will be sent separately. The meeting will be recorded and made available to everyone. If you can’t attend please pass any questions, comments etc. to a member of the committee or me. Some of you are desperate to sing “live” again; some of you are understandably reluctant to take the risk at the moment and some will need reassurance that measures are put in place to minimise risk before committing.

I must emphasise that each of us has responsibility for our own safety and to the rest of the group and must make our personal decisions in that context. 

Monday, 28th September the first live meeting. (This will probably have to be reviewed/postponed).

The Minster have informed us that the State Chamber will be unavailable for the foreseeable future. The plan is that we will use the Methodist Church to start with. When we can go ahead we will have to check that the Methodist Church would still be happy for us to go in and that it is covid safe. There will be a restriction on numbers. Personally, I would be uncomfortable with anything over 30 (although current regulations allow more). We might have to consider two “sittings”.

Initially my proposal is that we meet for no more than an hour; that we maintain a minimum of 2 metres distance and not sing at full volume; wear masks on arrival but make an individual choice when singing.  (I won’t wear a mask in rehearsal but will be 3 metres away from the nearest singer.) There should be no sharing of music, pencils or anything else. Only one person in a toilet at any time. The venue will have its own risk assessment ensuring that everything is clean before we go in and when we leave there will be things that we have to do to help keep it safe.

There are other things to think of:

There will have to be system in place to record who is present.

How do we (I) react if more than 30 people want to come?

Repertoire and copies.

Not everyone will be allowed to come and there will be those who don’t want to come at the moment. Rehearsals will be recorded; I am looking into cost effective ways of live streaming so that those who are unable to attend can remain connected. I will also provide lockdown-style Notes from the Podium, but perhaps not every week.

We need to remain alert and flexible.

There will be no completely risk free solution; everyone is free to make their own decisions. Your committee is risk aware but not risk averse.

Over the past month I have lost count of the hours that I have spent reading guidance, advice, scientific research papers and all sorts of “fake news”. The other weekend we had an Association of British Choral Directors virtual Festival at which we heard at length from respected authorities on this issue and I am attending a webinar on the latest developments on 12th September. I feel that I am personally well informed to help keep us all as safe as possible.

Everything will be place for us to enjoy meeting and singing together, even if it is not as we knew it, as soon as possible.

Please feel free to get in touch if you have any questions and comments.

I am excited at the prospect of meeting you in person and making music, I hope that you are as well and that it can be soon.

In the Summer Time

We are now into holiday season, even though it doesn’t seem much changed from the daily routine at the moment, so this will be the last Notes from the Podium for the season. I will take a few weeks off to assess the situation and come up with a plan to keep us all connected in September.

It doesn’t look like there has been much progress towards singing together in person so I have to devise something that will keep us interested from week to week but will have the flexibility to adapt to an ever changing situation. Any suggestions, ideas etc. are most welcome, it is a new situation for us all.

In the meantime there is plenty of material in the Notes from the Podium since March for you to revisit and to keep your vocal chords in trim. There is also lots of material on line to explore, if you find anything good let me know.

Your committee met by Zoom on Monday evening. Eileen will be communicating with you at the end of the month but there are one or two points to mention.

The Minster and the State Chamber will be closed to all musical activities until at least January; which includes our rehearsals, concert and Carols for Everyone. At the moment we are planning to resume singing in the New Year …but….we will have to be alert and flexible. We can’t go ahead with anything until government guidelines permit. As soon as we can we will start to meet in small groups for short sessions in spacious, well ventilated venues (any ideas?). My hope is that we can at least meet for some socially distanced open air informal Carol Singing in December. There will be another members zoom session in September for a catch up and pooling of ideas.

The A.G.M. will be held online on the second Monday in October. Three committee members will reach the end of their term of office and will need replacing.

Vicky and I went down to Cheddar for a week to catch up with Matthew and his family and this week we are spending a few days in York to see Edward who, being an actor/musician has not worked since January. I hope that you all are managing to keep in touch with your loved ones and that you have a good Summer.

Keep safe, keep healthy, keep singing and smile.

See you soon.

Where do we go from here?

It was great to see so many of you at our zoom meeting on Monday. The discussion as interesting and I came away very encouraged that so many of you are keen to get back singing as soon as possible even if in reduced circumstances. For those of you who weren’t able to join us it was recorded and can be viewed here. There were about 25 attendees all told; thank you all for your interest and contribution.

We discussed the possibility of meeting to sing in the open air or in a large barn space. There was some confusion as to what was allowed. I have since studied the government guidance on the performing arts. The relevant statements are:

Organisations have a duty of care to volunteers and non-professionals to ensure as far as reasonably practicable they are not exposed to risks to their health and safety.
It is against the law for gatherings of more than 30 people to take place in private homes (including gardens and other outdoor spaces).
Singing and playing wind and brass instruments, especially in groups, are considered higher risk activities because of the potential for aerosol production and the absence presently of developed scientific analysis to assess this specific risk.

The full guidance can be read here.

As a result I’m afraid that at the moment we can’t take the risk of any kind of meeting until the guidance is updated. Thans to Cathy for the offer of a venue.

In the mean time I will review all of the suggestions that came out of the meeting and with your committee work out a strategy so that as soon as the guidance is relaxed we can sing together.

Vicky and I are taking the caravan down to Cheddar, near Matthew, this week so there won’t be any Notes from the Podium next week.

Iris – Vicky’s latest painting

Sometimes I feel

Well, here we are, July already. I hope that everyone is keeping safe as restrictions begin to ease.

Those in high places have, at last, begun to address the Arts with the money announced to support professional organisations and venues. It may mean some progress on a resumption of amateur music making, but don’t hold your breath. Last week I promised a zoom session; it will happen next Monday 13th July from 7:00. It will be an opportunity to meet and share thoughts on what has happened so far and explore what may or may not happen going forward. A link will be sent out at the end of this week.

Thanks to those who have attempted to record Sing with me. I would like a few more before compiling something. You can do as much, or as little as you can. There are four repetitions on the master track; you don’t have to fill all of it. If you just do one I can copy and paste it as necessary. The final version may well be longer!

Feel the spirit is full of very resonant themes for today. This week I want to share Sometimes I feel like a motherless child. This tune has a lot of interpretations and has contemporary relevance, search YouTube and you will find some. In John Rutter’s version (pages 8 and 9 of the sample pages) the soloist features but all the chorus sings the tune at some point. 

I have concocted a “sing-a-long” version for you to learn the tune. The music is here and the audio is here.

In the audio there are the two printed verses plus an extra in which you can repeat the first verse, make your own up, join in with my improvised humming or just take a rest. The chorus is repeated at the end.


Sing a song of love

100 days of COVID-19. I hope that you are all well and doing some sort of singing. The news has been full of the beginnings of some scientific research which I hope will clarify the singing situation. I am going to set up a zoom session (non-singing) at some time during July for anyone that wants to join and chat informally about the situation.

This week we are looking at the Kyrie of Mass in Blue and there is another recording project.

Mass in Blue Kyrie is on the first four pages of the sample pages. After a couple of pages of scene setting introduction it settles into a straight jazz rhythm. The movement is based on loads of repetitions of an 8 bar chord sequence with a simple minor melody over the top. There is a change of key and mood when the word Christe is introduced. It is largely in unison with countermelodies, Christe is more harmonic.A lot of jazz is constructed like this with a repeated rhythmic and harmonic sequence over which written and improvised strands are woven with varying complexity.

The melody needs to be sung legato and sinuously with very expressive long notes. Sing the opening with the recording and then listen to how the movement unfolds. You should be able to hear the melody coming back and join at various points.

I promised you another opportunity to participate in a collaborative recording. It is a Sing with me by Ken Burton, director of the London Adventist Chorale. There are three separate melodies. Learn just one of them or as many as you like. There are two audio files; one with all the melodies and one with just the piano part. Feel free to record whatever you like, including an improvised part if you like. If you only want to record one section that will be fine.

To make a recording you play the audio track through headphones at a high volume and record yourself singing along on phone, tablet or computer then send me the resulting file.

Have fun.

Striding up the mountain

Hope that you are enjoying the return of the sun; prepare for downpours tomorrow.

You will all have received a letter from Eileen this week outlining where the committee stand after our virtual meeting last week. It is a great sadness that we have had to further postpone the Verdi Requiem. We have all invested so much time and energy on it: I am anxious to reassure you that I am determined that we will perform it at the earliest available opportunity.

In preparation for last week’s meeting I submitted my thoughts on the immediate future to the committee which informed some of the decisions. You can read it here, it may help you to better understand the situation.

Thanks to those brave souls who submitted recordings of Saints Go Marching. I have spent a happy hour putting them all together with the following result – it’s not bad for a first attempt. Some people said it was fun so I’ll put another one out next week. I hope that a few more of you will have a go this time.

I’ve not yet decided what the piece will be but there might be an opportunity to use skill learned from this weeks Improvisation session. Please have a go and have some fun.
Here are the words for the Improvisation:

Striding up the mountain Sliding down the slope Jumping in the puddles Skating on the ice

To A Wild Rose

Blessed is he

As we stretch now into the fourth month of restrictions I hope that you are all keeping safe as those around us are taking more risks.

Thanks to those of you who have had the courtesy to feed back on these sessions, it is nice to know that some of you are participating.Thanks for a few more When the saints this week. I will put it together for next week.

This week let’s have a look at the Benedictus of Mass in Blue. You can listen to it here. Here are three pages of the vocal score. Here are the riffs.

The structure of the first part of the Benedictus  is quite simple. Each part has a separate tune (called a riff) and the piece is built up by each part joining in in turn. It is constructed from the bottom. In the performance the bass of the accompanying trio plays the bass riff then the basses sing it. The tenors join in as the basses repeat their tune, then the altos and finally the sopranos until every one is singing. In the vocal score it is hard to see but if you use the riff sheet it is easier to follow. Will Todd extends the movement by changing the key and then adding the soprano solo.If you haven’t got a copy you will only be able to follow the first couple of minutes but you should be able to hear the riffs coming back.

In the Hosanna section you become the backing group to the soprano’s extended jazz improvisation.

Enjoy listening and singing along this week. More improvisation exercises next week.

Start to Improvise

What a change in the weather this week, we had to put the fire on Sunday evening. This last weekend should have been the Gate to Southwell Festival, it would have been cold and miserable. We had a “virtual” festival of our own watching  some of the acts that would have been here on Youtube, at least we were warm and dry!

Many thanks to those who have accepted the task that I set last week. I have been sent five recordings to put together, I was hoping for a few more than that. I am going to put it all together next weekend, so get those recordings in – the more the merrier, it doesn’t take long and it doesn’t matter about the quality!
Here are the links to the music and the audio.

Mass in Blue is an unusual work and will be great fun if we get into the spirit of the style. To that end for the next couple of weeks we are going to have a go at some improvisation. 

“To improvise means to make something up on the spot, or figure it out as you go. … Improvise comes from the Latin word improvisus, meaning “unforeseen, unexpected.” Think about when something unexpected happens to you — you have no choice but to react in the moment, or improvise.”

Watch the video and join in. Pease do it more than once and be as creative and unrestrained as possible – the only mistake that you can do is to not respond.

We’ll also sing a version of the song Every time I feel the spirit. In John Rutter’s work (10th and 11th pages of the Sample  ) he combines it with  another tune, the chorus only sings the chorus. This is your chance to learn the whole tune. 
Every time I feel the spirit music.     
Sing along video.

Have a good week.

First of June

First of June, First of June

Hope that we can sing together soon.

Welcome to this week’s Notes. I am going in a different direction this week. We have done a lit of excellent work on Verdi Requiem over the past ten weeks.

Our next planned concert after Verdi is Will Todd’s Mass in Blue and John Rutter’s Feel the Spirit. This will be a very different kind of concert requiring a change of outlook and technique for us and a light, cheerful concert after the gloom of the past three months.

For soprano solo, SATB, piano, bass, drums and optional alto saxophone Will Todd’s Mass in Blue is a dynamic, uplifting, and highly popular jazz setting of the Latin mass. The work features driving grooves and blues harmonies, with provision for short piano solos (notated or improvised) and great moments of musical interplay between soprano soloist and choir. It is a worthy centre-piece for any concert. We will be accompanied my Will Todd himself and his trio, and they will also be at our Margaret Austen Singing Day.

For mezzo-soprano solo, mixed choir, and orchestra or chamber ensemble – we will be accompanied by the Will Todd trio – Feel the Spirit is a cycle of seven familiar spirituals, expertly arranged by John Rutter. Equally suitable for concert, school, or church use, the vivid and expressive arrangements can be performed individually, or as a complete cycle that showcases the rich heritage of the spiritual. The work brings new life to such well-loved titles as Steal away, I got a robe, and When the saints go marching in.

Not many of you will have copies yet so I will be referring to sample materials from the publisher’s website.

Mass in Blue Feel the Spirit 

There are also Mass in Blue learning tracks.

Performances involving the composers can be found on Youtube:

Mass in Blue Feel the Spirit . Both performances can also be found on Spotify for those of you who prefer that.

A bit of light, easy singing for you this week.

Download the music: Saints go marching

We will sing verses 1,2,4,6,8 and 9. Notice that verse 6 is slower and in a minor key.  Sing one or two of the counter-melodies instead of the tune in verses 2,4 and 8. Counter-melody 1 is suitable for everyone; 2 is best for sopranos and tenors (but it is not too high for altos and basses to have a go). 3 is for basses and altos. Invent some harmonies for verse 6 and have fun with the last four bars.

Here is the accompaniment track to sing along with. Why not record yourself singing it? (either video or audio) – then send the recordings to me and I’ll put them together into a collaborative performance.

To record play the accompaniment track as loud as possible through headphones, and record yourself singing on a computer, phone or tablet. Send it to me.

I suggest that you don’t listen to the recording – you probably won’t like it. The final compilation will be audio only; I have neither the skill or equipment to produce multi-tracked video. It will be just for fun and won’t be put on social media or any other platform apart from this one.

Have a good week.