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Chris 25th October 2011

Hola!

Regular Songmen supporters will know that we are now in Spain, having come to Basque country to participate in the International Choral Grand Prix Competition and Festival. The festival is based around Tolosa, though we are staying in Zarautz, a beautiful coastal town in the north of the country, about an hour east of Bilbao and 15 miles from Tolosa.

This festival is something we have been preparing towards for a while. In addition to two major competitions in sacred and 'profane' (secular) music, the festival organises a number of public concerts across the region and we are looking forward to sharing our music with a fresh audience.

None of us has been in Spain before (correction - Guy has been to Ibiza, but I do not think a clubbing holiday really counts...) so we were not too sure what to expect and realised pretty quickly that our language skills are not yet up to the task! Rob is our usual language expert and has coached us in renaissance-era French and contemporary German, but we are already resorting to dumb arm jestures and pleading looks to get our way!

Music-wise, we feel we have brought a really strong programme for both the concerts and competition; cornerstone is Janequin's "La Guerre" which Rob and others have blogged on already. We will also be performing "Classical Gas" by Mason Williams, originally written in the 1960s for classical guitar and orchestra, which Ben has expertly arranged for our voices. It uses no words, but we imitate the sound of the original through appropriate nonsense words and sounds - we have found it goes down a storm in British concerts and we hope the appeal translates to audiences here.

We'll put some stuff up on our website and Facebook pages over the next few days to help give you all a taste of what we are up to, but for now, here are a couple of photos taken this afternoon:


Rob, Ben and Guy standing in front of the Bay of Biscay


Rob, Ben and Guy


The local Music School where we are based

Music School in Spain


One of the many town squares - out hotel overlooks the central band-stand

 

Guy 18th October 2011

Friday night saw some of us heading to London (I LOVE London by the way having spent some very happy years there learning my trade as a singer) to support our good friends Voces8 at their new cd release launch party. The disc is called 'A Choral Tapestry' and it, if the concert preview of it was anything to go by, will be fabulous. You can buy it direct through the Voces8 website and from Signum Records.

We also caught up with some of our friends in The King's Singers and got to know a new and exciting a cappella group called Apollo5. The future of British a cappella really is in good hands I feel!

We're off to Spain on Tuesday for a series of concerts and to take part in the Tolosa International Choral Contest. We're really looking forward to making new friends in Spain and we'll let you know all about it when we get home.

We're hoping to hear the first edit of our sacred album 'A Sacred Place' in the coming weeks. At the moment it's in the talented hands of Robin Tyson, our producer, and Dave Hinett our engineer. The recording process was hugely enjoyable and we're hoping the hard work will pay off and we'll have a fabulous album for your cd racks (it will be available in the new year).

I was going through the millions of photos on my iPhone yesterday and came across this one of Ben and I before our recent concert at St. John's Worcester. Who is right? Answers on a postcard please ;)



Until next time, big love!

Guy

x

 

Ben 12th October 2011

So much has happened since my last blog a month ago it's difficult to know where to start!  I guess a good place would be our recent adjudication of Dean Close School's House Music competition. What a feast of exciting talent! It certainly made our job difficult but to see so many young people enjoying their singing was a joy! I should add that the delicious dinner we were served beforehand was also magnificent!
 

As the group's arranger I have been trying my hand at composing more original work for the group. My setting of Crux Fidelis will appear on our forthcoming album 'A Sacred Place', and you can hear Inland Waterway here www.youtube.com/watch?v=-j9Es1vRJ2I.  More recently I have discovered a poet from South Africa who has inspired my next project. I discovered the poetry of Fr Harry Wiggett during my week at the Edington Festival of Music in the Liturgy in August.  The poem in question, based on a window in St George's Cathedral, Cape Town, really leapt out at me and I felt drawn to set it for the group. Since then I have made contact with Harry and would already consider him a good friend. He is a man of pure faith and getting to know him through his poetry and email correspondence has been so far a privilege. The great thing is that the poem already set is one of a series of nine, each reflecting on the Gabriel Loire windows in Cape Town.  I look forward to sharing the whole set of pieces with you in the coming months.

Until then, happy listening!

Ben

 

Rob 7 October 2011

As the newest member of The Songmen I was thrown in at the deep end, with a CD recording six weeks after I joined, and a daunting pile of music to learn ‘off copy’ for our first concert. Nine months later I’ve finished my second CD with the group as well as dozens of concerts.  But in addition to all this there’s an enormous amount of work to do ‘behind the scenes’, and though we all come to The Songmen first and foremost as singers, we each bring what we can to the groundwork. We’re very fortunate to have a range of useful talents within the group including an experienced businessman and a qualified accountant.

For my part I’ve taken on the ‘early music’ programming for The Songmen, which is an area I’ve always had great interest in. One of my first tasks was preparing an edition of Janequin’s La Guerre for the group, which Ben C mentioned in his last blog. This was originally a four-part work, with a fifth line added (in Janequin’s lifetime) by Philippe Verdelot. Preparing this for The Songmen meant re-working the piece into a new six-part version (though unlike Verdelot, without writing any new material!), and also researching the pronunciation of 16th century French. My principal source for this was Singing Early Music by Timothy McGee, an excellent reference work which covers the sounds of the main European languages as they developed through the Medieval and Renaissance periods. No doubt I’ll be coming back to this for our forthcoming early French programme, ‘La Mort et la Gloire’, which finishes with La Guerre but starts two hundred years earlier with some of the earliest polyphonic music including Machaut’s glorious Messe de Nostre Dame. Hope the rest of the guys are looking forward to it as much as I am!

Rob x

 

Jon 28 September 2011

There are many things I love about being a Songman, and those of you out there who also perform know that there is nothing to compare to singing a great gig to a truly appreciative audience.

I am pleased to say that this was exactly our experience at St John in Bedwardine last weekend. We had a wonderful time singing to a capacity crowd, made lots of new friends and now look forward to hearing the sound from their soon to be restored bell tower resonating throughout Worcester in the future.

You will probably be aware that we are very keen on education and regularly work with various schools and groups to provide workshops and master classes in A Cappella singing.

Prior to becoming a Songman, however, whilst I had been on the receiving end of much education during my life, I hadn't really been significantly involved in the passing on of "wisdom" to others.

Therefore it was with some trepidation that I joined my colleagues on our first workshop a few years ago.  Before we started we asked the groups to perform to get an idea of what we were working with and they could sing ... really sing ... and they had some great ideas. I realised at that point that this was going to be great fun! 

The day flew by, the groups were great and it was an absolute pleasure to work with them (passing on a few "tricks of the trade") to help them take their performance to the next level.

Since then we have done a lot of education work and, as you can tell, I love this side of the Songmen. I'm really looking forward to working with the groups at Dean Close School in Cheltenham next Saturday culminating in the judging of their House music competition.

I don't yet know which House will win, but I already know one thing - we'll all have great fun finding out!

Take care

Jon x

 

BenC 21st September 2011

After a really busy summer, here we are approaching the first concert of the new season. I'm really looking forward to this concert, not least as it's only round the corner for me, so a great opportunity for family and friends to join us, but also as we're performing Clement Janequin's La Guerre.

One of the biggest pieces in our repertoire, I think to really convey this piece to an audience you really have to inhabit it. How do you do this you may ask? Well for me it is a matter of living it for a period of time, not just in rehearsals but also away in your own time, as well as finding out what the piece is about.
 
La Guerre describes the Battle of Marignano, between the French forces of Francis I against the Old Swiss Confederacy in 1515, which resulted in a French victory. One of the first things we looked at was the language, luckily Rob is a dab hand at this and we've spent a great deal of time working on our pronunciation of the Old French used in the piece. For me some of my favourite discoveries have been the vivid word painting used by Janequin to tell the story, and the way that he's used subtle phrasing of words to create the insults that would have traded sides in the run up to the battle. The battle scene is the climax of the piece. Starting with the firing of an Arrow, and then brilliantly portrayed by Janequin's writing.

If this has whet your appetite and you would like to hear us perform this wonderful piece please come and join us for our concert this coming Saturday, 24th September at St John-in-Bedwardine Church, Worcester.

Ben C

 

Chris 14th September 2011

The new season has begun! Rehearsals are back in full swing and we are looking forward to resuming our educational outreach program for the new academic year by visiting Dean Close School, Cheltenham in a few weeks to adjudicate their House Music competition.  Competition adjudication is a personal favourite of mine and I am always impressed by the enthusiasm we see in kids as they perform on stage. Dean Close is a great school (The Songmen have had an association with the school since we started) and we are have set our expectations very high for the night.

The International Choral Grand-Prix competition in Tolosa in October is still very much in our sights. In addition to competing, we will also be performing a series of concerts in and around the Tolosa area.  Though the competition is, of course, going to be exciting, live performance is what we love best, so it’s great to get a chance to share our music with a new audience in a country I have never visited before. I may need to practice some of my Spanish before we fly out!

But before all of that, our next concert is a little closer to home; St John’s Church, Worcester on 24th September (check out the concerts page and do come!).

Phew, with all that too look forward to in just the near future, the new sacred album we recorded in Toddington only a couple of weeks ago already feels like a distant memory. The album is going to be brilliant and we can’t wait to share a few exclusive clips on the website later this year... ;-)

Chris

 

Guy 29th August 2011

Tomorrow we begin a week's worth of recording at Toddington Church. What is especially exciting is that we'll be working closely with Robin Tyson (Grammy Award Winning Producer and director of London's Podium Music) and Dave Hinett (sound engineer extraordinaire). Both Robin and Dave are hugely respected (and very important people in our industry) and we're over the moon that they are collaborating on this project.

This new thirteen track album will sit in contrast to the studio album that we recorded a few months ago (also out in the new year) and will see us going back to our church roots. It's going to be a varied mix of sacred pieces taking the listener on a journey from the Spanish and English Renaissance right through to brand new modern commissions written especially for us.

I'm sure it will be a week of long days and plenty of hard work but to be honest that is just what we thrive on as a group. This last year has been particularly busy for us and this is the perfect way for us to kick off the new season - focussed, careful and, above all, immensely enjoyable work.

There will be plenty of video blogs from us during the recording process so keep your eyes on Facebook (www.facebook.com/thesongmen) and our videos page (www.songmen.co.uk/videos.php) where we'll post them as we go.

See you on the other side!

Big love,

Guy
x

 

Ben 21st August 2011

It’s a very odd feeling thinking that two weeks ago we were rehearsing together in a practice room at the Musikhochschule in Lübeck.  For the second time it was a tremendous five days.  We have been working very hard since our last visit to take on the advice and techniques which the King’s Singers have made their trademark in order to grow as a group and it was great to hear from the horses’ mouths that all this working is really paying off. This was particularly the case with our inspiring mentor, Paul.

One of our key focusses for the week from a sound point of view was to broaden our dynamic range and it took a masterclass with the newest King’s Singer, Johnny, to really put us through our paces while preparing a performance of Stanford’s miniature masterpiece, ‘Beati quorum via’.  Whilst we did not go on to perform this in the final concert of the week, it gave us the confidence to challenge ourselves to really step outside of our ‘airy’ comfort zone to produce a corporate, electrifying pianissimo.

We are very lucky as a group to have a broad and capable skillset, and this was proved with our choices for the final concert, which took place last Wednesday evening.  I refer to Rob’s stunning piece, ‘Nolo mortem peccatoris’.  Rob wrote this long before becoming the latest Songman, but it’s become an absolute favourite of the whole group.  Look out for a video of it on YouTube which will appear soon.

Right now, I am sitting at my dining table working on my second new arrangement this week.  I’m really excited about sharing these with the group and then everyone else. 

In the meantime, don’t forget to listen to four tracks from our forthcoming album, ‘Midnight’. 

Enjoy!

Ben

 

 

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