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Chris 17th April 2013

Hi all,

Newswise, it's been an incredible week. The bombing of the Boston marathon on Monday was so totally unexpected and shocking that it initially did not feel real. I was lucky enough to visit Boston (many, many years ago) and thought it was a wonderful city; quite European in places but with the welcoming and cheerful outlook that Americans seem to do so well. It came home to me the wide-impact the event had when later that night my New York chum (who was in NY for 9/11 and London around 7/7) messaged me to let me know he was alright, but had been in Boston watching the marathon that day and had only decided that morning not to take up the offer to watch from a friend's office overlooking the final-line... Rather than dwell on his bad luck, I felt very much that to come so close to three tragic events and come away safe and well makes him pretty lucky in my book and I have been reflecting a lot the past few days on generally how lucky most of us are.

The other big media story (in the UK at least) has been the public spectacle that is the funeral of Margaret Thatcher today. Its seems fairly odd to say this, but, politics aside, I am looking forward to catching-up with the service online later to hear the music, which I have been told was exceptional. We like to think that Britain has the richest and finest history of choral music in the world (you may disagree!) and this is demonstrated so well in large and public events like today's funeral or even Wills and Kate's wedding in 2011.

You might be surprised to hear that, as a group when we are on the road together, The Songmen infrequently listen to choral music and our tastes are really quite diverse. Guy, regular readers will know, has a mild obsession with the Zak Brown Band and has been overdosing on all things country and forcing us to enjoy selected highlights with him on numerous occasions. I am just a tiny bit massively in love in UK rock/pop group Bastille at the mo (finally having the tremendous public success they deserve), though Mallory Knox is coming a close second for me. However, on our 3 hour drive back from Essex the other night, we managed to listen to the complete Flight of the Concords comedy radio shows. All that said, the current Songmen favorite (well, probably Ben's, Guy's and mine and the others are too polite to object) for the past year or so has been the soundtrack to the recent Muppets film. Remarkable because I think only Ben and I have actually seen it! (last week's blog has a link to a little video of Ben's wedding speech from the other week given in the form of us singing an adapted Muppets song...).

So, next time you hear some music you love, in whatever style it is that works for you, pause a moment to think of the Boston runners and spectators injured or killed, and their families, and join me in reflecting on how lucky we are sometimes to have friends safe and the simple, universal pleasure of music.

Cx

 

Guy 10th April 2013

Hi everyone,

As the others have mentioned in their blogs we had great fun in Dallas at ACDA (American Choral Directors Association) where we made lots of new friends and sang to some incredibly appreciative audiences.

The highlight for me was working in tandem with Phil Lawson in a masterclass/demonstration we held for Hal Leonard (a big music publisher if you didn't know) where we performed some of their and our catalogue and talked about how we make our unique sound as a group. The 600 strong audience got to ask us questions at the end about our style (vocal not fashion - that would have been pointless as Jon and I hadn't bought our Stetsons by that point!)

It was really lovely to work alongside Phil who has been a bit of a hero of mine since my voice broke. I followed his career during his many years with The King's Singers and love singing his arrangements and compositions when Ben (who organises our repertoire) lets us. He's a real friend of the group and many of you will know that he produced our latest album 'A Sacred Place' which you can buy from our online shop.

Our next concert is a rescheduled gig for Southend Music Society (it was snowed off last time) and we're all looking forward to returning there for our second concert. The venue is a lovely ex-cinema, modern and light and the audience sit in a wide (rather than deep) formation in front of the stage. This makes it the perfect venue for Jon and myself (the extremities of the group) to have people to look at when we're singing. We stand in a banana formation and angle slightly inwards meaning in other venues Jon's and my natural sight line can often be at a wall. It will be nice not to have to sing with a turned head for a change!

Anyway, there's lots to be getting on with: learning a brand new programme for our Ireland tour next month, organising our Italian Masterclasses in August and preparing for our Three Choirs Festival debut - it's all very exciting.

I'll leave you with a video of us singing at Ben and Catherine's wedding which took place on Saturday. I had an ace time until the late night dancing got a but manic and I spilt my suit trousers right up the middle!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2BLgZyWr8qw&feature=youtu.be

Enjoy - it's fun (and a great arrangement of Ben's). Sadly you can't see my beautiful purple shoes though.

Love,

Guy
x

 

Nick 3rd April 2013

Hi guys,

A belated Happy Easter, April Fools, and British "Summer" Time to you all.

I must brag a little in this blog. I have recently visited 3 foreign continents in 4 weeks. Of course it's terrible to boast about these sorts of things, but it was such a fascinating month that it's hard not to keep waffling on about it at any given opportunity.

First was a holiday in Marrakech, Morocco - an incredibly intense but beautiful place, where you end up being more suspicious of the people who aren't trying to sell you stuff than those who are. If you ever find yourself over there I recommend a maximum of a couple of days in the city, and maybe get out to this brilliant cookery course run by a highly eccentric frenchman.
www.faimdepices.com

Next was Dallas which, you've no doubt heard all about in previous blogs, unless you're new, in which case just scroll on down! A great week was had by all, and it was lovely to meet so many people and make tons of new friends. We'll be back soon hopefully!

Lastly was a trip to Japan, to the picturesque town of Shizuoka, nestled in the foothills of Mount Fuji. I spent a week here working with a brilliant amateur choir, who were performing the Mozart Requiem. They did a stunning job, accompanied by the equally stunning Tokyo Conservatoire Orchestra. What was especially notable was the choir's immaculate tuning and clear sound - gained by incredibly well trained ears. This unfortunately made it hard for me to find things to work on with them!

Now I'm back in the home land for a while, it's time to catch up with everything here. First and foremost it's Songman Ben's wedding in a mere 2 DAYS!!! Even I'm nervous, so God only knows how he's feeling...
It should be a great day down in the beautiful setting of Tewkesbury Abbey. I'd better go and sort out what I'm wearing. Guy has made mention of a Lime Green suit...

Nx

 

Jon 27 March 2013

One thing you can say, the British weather is never predictable and, as I sit at my computer to write this blog, I look out of my window at the British Springtime. A time of Easter bunnies, ducklings and daffodils but at the moment consists of chilling winds, icicles and the occasionally flurry of snow!

Only a short while ago I was walking around in a summer shirt and Stetson in the wonderful city of Dallas, Texas. I love our trips to the US, not just for the weather (which was great), but also the people we get to meet. Their passion and sheer excitement in performing is tangible and rarely have I felt so welcome or made so many friends in such a short time. I suspect the memories of that trip will be with me a lot longer than my rapidly-fading tan!

While in Texas I also discovered that Tex-Mex food is great, a 32oz soda is huge, America brews some really tasty beers, and Stetsons are cool (something that Guy wholly agrees with me on, the other members, well, let's just say they are less keen but I'm confident we'll win them round eventually).

We've been back in the UK for a little over a week now and personally I have been working to get over the almost inevitable jet-lag. However, rather than let us rest this weekend, Ben decided to keep things interesting and Saturday was his Stag do which, for those not familiar with the custom, is a day of celebrating his final days as an unmarried man. Now, I won't go into too many details but suffice to say much fun was had by all and, in case you're wondering, I was victorious in the Go-karting but I have to admit it was a close run thing with Guy and Chris coming in to round out the Songmen one, two, three!

Following the excitement of the past few weeks I will be pleased to have a relatively quiet Easter weekend, possibly sorting the Songmen accounts, but more likely enjoying too much chocolate and hot cross buns!

Oh, and if the lack of sunshine is getting you down, then I believe it's best to book a Summer holiday. I can thoroughly recommend Italy and, almost coincidentally, it just so happens that we are running a week long Masterclass in Todi in late August (details here) - why not sign your group up? The only thing I can promise is that you will enjoy some beautiful Italian sunshine, taste some exquisite Italian food, meet some wonderful people and take part in what is going to be a truly special week.

Take care

Jon xx

PS - if you are in need of an instant pick-me-up our new album A Sacred Place is now available on iTunes and Spotify, and of course CD! x

 

Ben 20th March 2013

As the dust settles on one of our greatest experiences as a group yet, ACDA Conference 2013 in Dallas, it falls to me to tell you all about it.

Before I go into that though, I must talk about something Chris and I did the two weekends before we went away. We were both lucky enough to adjudicate for regional finals of Voice Festival UK, a competition celebrating a cappella around the UK. Chris went to Birmingham and I went to Oxford and London to hear the best University groups in each area and select which ones were to go through to the Big Weekend, which was last week. The festival involves workshops and masterclasses as well as competitions for schools, universities and a community competition for over 21s. The talent and variety on show was so impressive and there were a wonderful array of group names. The winning groups for me were the Oxford Alternotives and All the King's Men, and Chris chose Sons of Pitches as the best group. Overall winners in the final were Vive who will appear on this Wednesday's One Show (for those of you in the UK!).

Back to Dallas. Rob mentioned our two Ecumenical Services which we shared with Palmetto Voices and First Union Methodist Choir - both large groups who showed just how energy and commitment can be used to create powerful performances.  I've yet to witness a choir that sings with more gusto than Palmetto Voices, under the leadership of Sonja Sepulveda, and the FUMC sang with great commitment and clarity under Dana Effler. YouTube clips of our songs will appear soon but it was so nice to share what we do with new audiences. Working with Philip Lawson again was such a treat for us and the 600 or so delegates who attended our Art of A Cappella Singing 'special interest' session greeted us with great warmth and humour. We also managed a few impromptu sets by the London A Cappella booth!

Aside from singing, we met a selection of former King's Singers, including Simon Carrington, Bob Chilcott, Gabriel Crouch and Robin Tyson (more of a reunion with Robin!), Ben met Eric Whitacre and English composers Ben Parry and Francis Pott also popped by to say hello!

We got some sightseeing done, going with Phil to Dealey Plaza - he's a bit of an expert on things JFK - and we even started a new dance craze, the Texas Shuffle.

Now we are back in England, we are delighted to be able to tell you that copies of ‘A Sacred Place’ have now arrived and are available from our website and soon on Spotify and iTunes. I won't go into it now as I've waffled on enough this week but if you've caught some of the previews you'll know that you are in for a treat when you buy your copy.

Next time I blog, I'll be a married man, so wish me luck (and, more to the point, Catherine, my bride-to-be - I think she knows what she's in for!)

Till next time.

Ben x

PS one last thing: if you've not already read about our Masterclasses in Todi, Italy this August, this could be the thing for you. Click here to find out all about it. 

 

Rob 14th March 2013

A big Dallas "howdy" to all you readers of the Songmen's first blog from the United States!

Sadly I haven't heard anyone actually say "howdy" yet, or seen any stetsons, although I'm told that the new series of Dallas is being filmed just a few blocks away. We've been too busy to investigate up till now though...

It's the second day of the 2013 American Choral Directors Association conference. We spent the first day meeting, greeting and overcoming jetlag, and today is our busy performance day. This morning we held a demonstration session on "The Art of A Cappella Singing" with our good friend Philip Lawson, presenting three pieces from our repertoire and including a rare Songmen demonstration of "how to sing badly"! We were lucky to have an attentive audience who asked some astute questions, and I for one enjoyed the opportunity to have a more two-way interaction with our audience.

After lunch we had the first of two runs of the Ecumenical Service in the beautiful Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe. This was a moving 90-minute musical journey through the church year, for which we were joined by Palmetto Voices and the Chancel Choir of the First United Methodist Church of Dallas. I'll have to cut this short as we're just about to head back for a repeat performance.

Looking forward to a slightly more relaxing couple of days in Texas before we fly back on Sunday!

Rob x

 

Chris 7th March 2013

Okay, I know I'm a day late in doing my blog. But some things are worth waiting for. Like our new album, "A Sacred Place", which hits the market next Tuesday. I am this moment looking at a copy of the album sitting on my desk (or to be accurate, I'm looking at the corner of our album, the rest being covered by the soft fur of a grumpy Dennis-the-cat, reminding me in his own subtle way it's his tea-time. Does he not understand I have a blog to do???)

Following up our début album "Midnight" was a tricky prospect. If you have not heard it yet, go to iTunes, Spotify, whatever, and take a listen. It was, and continues to be, an album we are immensely proud of. It showcases our interest in jazz and swing (mostly!) and I still get a buzz whenever I hear it.

Though the lighter-side of our repertoire is important to us - we are not defined by any one style and our musical passions go wider.

For example, performing the complete Victoria Lamentations in a late-night concert last year in Merton College Chapel, Oxford, was a musical highlight for me (not least because it was _my_ edition especially for mens-voices...), but equally so was the road-trip Guy and I took to Hammersmith Apollo in London last year to see the mighty Steel Panther rock. our. world.

Similarly, Ben writes our finest pop and jazz arrangements, but his contemporary sacred works are simply stunning and he continues to amaze us with the quality of compositions he churns-out like a machine (check out his Silence and Sound on A Sacred Place)

So, following on from Midnight, a well-crafted studio album which we are ever grateful to our friend, Bill Hare, the godfather of a cappella, for producing, when we came to record A Sacred Place, we wanted to show a different side to the group and knew we were in good hands when Philip Lawson agreed to produce.

Philip is a tremendously experienced and careful singer (if you don't know his biog, then frankly you shouldn't be reading our blog - look him up and come back later) and his enthusiasm to bring out our best performance is infective and inspired us during our recording of A Sacred Place and we are so pleased to have had his support and musicality during the recording process. We are looking forward to seeing Philip next week in Dallas, US, when we perform at the ACDA conference and also host a session with him on "The Art of A Cappella Singing", but I'll leave titbits on that until next week's blog!

A Sacred Place is out next week. You will be able to buy it everywhere online and stream from Spotify, but for the full experience, do order a copy from our website - our shop will be updated shortly - and take a look at our brilliant cover and sleeve notes.

Finally, I've run our of space to properly talk about our masterclasses in Todi, Italy, this summer. They will be AWESOME and I'm already excited - more in a future blog, but until then do take a look at our brochure!

 

Guy 28th February 2013

Hi all,

We're now literally hours away from taking receipt of the 1st batch of our new album 'A Sacred Place' and we're all mightily excited about seeing (and hearing) the finished product. For me it's been a real labour of love as not only did I sing on the thing but I also played a big part in the editing of the material and the design of the sleeve. I really hope you, seasoned reader, will purchase a copy as soon as it's available (details on how you can buy it are imminent).

Also, Chris has done a great job in preparing some of the tracks as YouTube videos so if you haven't seen/heard them already then do check out our channel here: http://www.youtube.com/user/TheSongmen?feature=watch

I thought you'd like to know about my week in music:

For those of you who know me (and perhaps to the chagrin of my esteemed colleagues) you'll be well aware of my 'eclectic' taste in music. I spent last Friday night hammering out Take That and Ed Harcourt hits on the piano at the Saville Club (thanks @Alex Hilton for inviting me and @Clare Godson for not letting me get away without playing, and to @everyoneelse for not throwing things at me!). On Monday I was fortunate enough to listen to the US's best Country songwriters at Shepherd Bush's Bush Hall, and for the rest of the week I have happy indulged in my current favourite genre - good old folk music. I was brought up on it - my Dad was a HUGE folk fan and I always admired his beautifully natural tenor voice and his ability to pick up a melody. I remember accompanying him (badly) on the piano as a young boy as he practised 'Danny Boy' for a Butlins talent show competition (which he won - A FREE HOLIDAY!) and him telling me that my piano playing was far too elaborate for the song. At the time I thought he was mad and that my broken chords and suspended 2nds lifted the song up to uncharterd heights. I was of course wrong and over the years he taught me a great deal about how beautiful and simple music can be and that more often than not there is no need to over-state a musical idea; "It will do it itself if it wants to lad".

Looking back I like to think that the wisdom of this totally untrained musician that was imparted on me years ago has sent me on my life's musical journey in good stead and even now in Songmen rehearsals and concerts I find myself thinking back to his wise words, "Keep it simple", "It's all about the words", "Don't over-phrase" (he'd have never used the word 'over-phrase' but you get the jist).

Anyway, I've been strumming away on my guitar at every possible opportunity for the past couple of days and written a couple of songs and re-learned a few old ones which has been great... but don't tell the boys... they think I'm learning Palestrina... off copy...

Speak soon

Guy

x

 

Nick 20th February 2013

In a quiet corner of a hard-working German industrial town, in the back room of an unassuming factory, nestled away behind a BMW engine production-line, sits a small machine that is quietly, but furiously printing off as many copies of "A Sacred Place" as it can before its engine conks out.

We are all eagerly awaiting the first batch of our new CD, like a dog waiting to gnaw at the leg of the Postman every morning.

This one, as I'm sure you are all aware, will be very different from our first disc "Midnight". If you haven't listened to any of the sneak previews then look here for some William Byrd...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uSmBdIi_8CQ

and here for some of our very own Ben Sawyer...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NCc8fgkw6EE

We would love to hear your comments and opinions!
As soon as the hard copies arrive we will be able to send them straight out to you, so keep checking the website and our facebook/twitter page for delivery status updates!

In the mean time, Guy and Ben are planning some more education projects, Rob is editing some more luscious Poulenc, Chris is working tirelessly on logistics for our forthcoming US trip, and Jon is hard at work on the accounts. That means that I can sneak off on holiday to Morocco unnoticed!

Nx

 

Ben 13th February 2013

Last time I wrote a blog, I seem to remember mentioning that I was yet to decide on a New Year's resolution and, as I write this, I am in a very similar position regarding Lenten abstinence. I didn't even manage a pancake yesterday due to my dietary requirements (my fault really as I could've quite easily made some mix without 'normal' milk).

What I have done, however, is sorted Valentine's Day. My gift to Catherine will be a day of peace and quiet as I, along with the rest of the chaps, will be making a welcome return visit to Bedford Modern school to run workshops, adjudicate the Junior School House Music competition and sing in a joint concert.

Before that, I am off to St. Peter's Catholic School in Gloucester to help lead three days of workshops (obviously I'll be missing day 2!) for over a hundred young singers. Regular readers will remember that I was chorus master for a huge chorus which travelled to London to perform at the Royal Albert Hall back in November for Music for Youth 2013. A number of the lucky students who went on that trip will be joining us today, along with some new singers, so as I type, I am excited at the prospect of being present for the birth of another choir!

With that in mind, just a little reminder that those of you who have read recently will be keen to know that our Masterclasses in Todi, near Perugia, Italy this coming August, are open to individuals as well as existing groups and the idea is to start a new choir that week, so keep an eye on our website for more information as it becomes available.

In the meantime, Happy Lent and happy singing!

Ben

PS If you haven't already, have a listen to this sneak preview from 'A Sacred Place', our new album due for release in the next few weeks. There'll be others soon so keep an eye on the website for further previews.

 

 

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