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Ben 21st November 2012

Last Wednesday, I was lucky enough to go to the Royal Albert Hall for Gloucestershire Music's Massed Ensemble performance in this year's Music For Youth School's Prom. I was chorus master for the 480-strong choir performing a new piece by Gloucester-based composer, Philip Harper who also conducted the performance of his piece 'Journey', telling the story of Dick Whittington. Fortunately for me, I did not have to be responsible for getting all the singers, members of the 150-piece orchestra and their instruments as well as the hordes of family and friends travelling to support the performance down to London from Cheltenham. I believe a wapping 70 coach-loads travelled from Cheltenham that day.

What I did get to do, however was lead rehearsals in the run up to the concert, training this huge choir in some of the fundamentals of choral singing. Interestingly, from a choral point of view, some of the techniques I was teaching the singers were polar opposites to techniques used by The Songmen when we rehearse and perform.

The Music For Youth concert itself involved schools groups from around the British Isles and was as diverse a concert as I have ever been to. One other thing my choir did manage to do was to start a Mexican wave in the Hall which took six laps around the auditorium with the audience happily joining in! The ten minute performance of 'Journey' opened the second half and brought the house down. I won't start mentioning other items because I'll undoubtedly miss something out but two highlights (oops - about to mention other items!) were the string group from Penzance which opened the concert with an electric performance of a movement from a Shostakovich String Quartet, seamlessly merging into some rap with the strings backing; and singing 'Land of Hope and Glory', led by the City of Belfast Youth Orchestra with a 13-year old in charge of the great Royal Albert Hall organ!

Ultimately, this event epitomised what I talked about in my previous blog regarding large group singing and its power to bring people together and in many cases provide a once in a lifetime experience which those taking part will always cherish. I took a rehearsal for the choir at Tewkesbury School the following evening and those that made it in (having got back at 1am the previous night, some were understandably rather tired) were brimming with enthusiasm (more than usual). 

Right, I better get a move on - we're off to Keele University Chapel in a hour or so to premiere our 'Colour and Light' programme.  We're singing Poulenc's wonderful 'Chansons Francaises' for the first time along with some German part-songs alongside a great combination of sacred works, madrigals and folk songs. All in all a great programme!

Hope to see you soon!

Ben x

 

Jon 14 November 2012

It's quite apparent that, here in the UK, the nights are drawing in and winter is approaching fast.

I have to admit, however, that I do love this time of year … the fireworks, the freshness of the air, the glass of single malt (or cocoa if that's more your thing) by the fire and the general feeling of snugness in my apartment distracting me from the darkness that is outside.

However, while it may be dark outside we're looking forward to performing a new programme titled "Colour and Light" at Keele University Chapel on Wednesday 21 November 2012 and, whilst I don't want to give too much away, what I can say is that it is a fantastic selection of music and I don't think I have ever sung in more languages during a concert (Rob, our linguistic expert, has been working us particularly hard and at the last count we were up to six!).

So if you wish to dispel those winter blues, firstly wrap up warm and take some vitamin D, secondly why not come along and be one of the first to hear this great new programme - tickets are available to purchase online here.

But, if you're already looking towards Christmas (and in case you're wondering, yes, it is less than six weeks away) and you're looking for that perfect gift … well, let's just say that our new batch of Midnight albums is ready and waiting …

Well, after that shameless plug, I'm off to settle by the fire with a book and a glass of Jura …

Take care

Jon x

 

Rob 8th November 2012

Like the rest of the guys, I've been busy preparing lots of new Songmen repertoire, including our fantastic set of Poulenc songs ready for their first outing later this month, and some fresh sacred editions for next year. So it was great to take a little break from that this weekend.

Only a couple of weeks after our recent Eaton Square concert, I found myself back in London on Sunday evening, for a musical evening of a rather different kind. Now, the Songmen all love singing, and are partial to the occasional beer, but generally keep the two quite separate. Not so for me as I partook in a long-overdue meeting of the Merrie Fellowes Catche Clubbe.

Henry Purcell, one of England's finest composers, is famous for his sacred anthems and court odes, but less so for his array of bawdy drinking songs called catches. All are sung in rounds in three or four parts; many of the lyrics are quite unrepeatable in polite company; some even have bars rest with indications to drink. Thus the fine gentlemen assembled at The George Inn rattle through this lofty repertoire, proposing a toast and drinking liberally before each one.

Filled with Purcellian inspiration, I returned home the next day to edit one of his works for the Songmen – unfortunately not one we sang that evening. I'm thinking about it though...

Rob x

 

Guy 31st October 2012

Happy Halloween y'all!

We've had a week off which has been nice but that's not meant The Songmen haven't been busy. Ben has been working on educational material (and visited Tiffin School) where he led a boys a cappella group in a day of masterclasses, Chris and I have been dealing with business things, Rob has been sourcing and editing some wonderful madrigal ideas for a forthcoming programme, Nick has been busy solidifying the group as 'Twitter Kings' and Jon has, of course, been busy dealing with the group's complicated accounts.

We've all got specific job roles within the group and singing, rehearsing, and recording is just a small part of the necessary work that goes with being an active, touring group. Everything from organising foreign travel to choosing new and exciting programmes is dealt with by members of the group. We do of course have wonderful agents in Ikon Arts Management and as our schedule gets increasingly busier we find ourselves relying more and more on their expertise and vast knowledge of our industry to help us progress and grow. Thanks to them then!

Whilst it's all too easy to get wrapped up in the day to day running of the group it is always nice to have new experiences to look forward to. At the moment I'm totally excited about our forthcoming trip to Dallas, Texas early next year where we'll be taking part in the ACDA conference.

This summer I visited Las Vegas and had a brilliant time - I love the States and have to admit that since returning I've been listening to rather more country music than would be deemed healthy. I'm already sourcing a Stetson hat (seriously) which will be the perfect accompaniment to my cowboy boots that I bought many years ago which I used to wear on stage when I played and sang in a rock band. I'd love to wear them on stage again but as The Songmen is a strict democracy I have a sneaking suspicion that the vote for me to do so will result in a 5:1 whitewash. Shame.

Speak soon.

Guy
x

 

Chris 25th October 2012

I risk sounding like a broken record, but, yet again, it’s been a busy week. It’s hard to believe that is was only 7 days ago that we performed in Eaton Square, London; a concert we had been looking forward to for absolutely ages. We had a good day, grabbing some public rehearsal time in Sloane Square at lunchtime and serenading the volunteer ladies there selling Christmas cards (already?!?!) and also gaining an impromptu lecture from a most pleasant chap called “Sailor”... then on to St Peters’ for the evening concert. It was a great night and the audience was especially fab. I was really pleasantly surprised by the wide range of ages and dress-sense in the audience. It was also great to have Nicola, Costa and nearly the whole office from Ikon Arts Management there to support us too.

After a minor driving issue (involving a most obliging bathrobed-Vicar and stupidly late drive back to the Cotswolds), we made it home for just a day, before packing up again and heading to Linton, Cambridgeshire at the weekend, via Oundle School, where there was a chance for some more rehearsal, this time of some new French and German works for later this season. Regular readers will know that it’s always a treat to head to Oundle as we get to see former Songman, Alex Eadon, who is Master of Choral Studies at the school. Oundle really is a remarkable place – one of those beautiful, stone-built country towns where town and school are totally intertwined.

Saturday night was a concert in Linton which went down very well, though it is always slightly unnerving having a former member of the group sitting at the back, directly in my line-of-sight.... However, he seemed fairly pleased!

Back home now, my life is directed towards more domestic matters. After two years in our house, Mim and I finally got around to having our bathroom and W/C gutted and “done-up” proper. What should have been two-weeks work is slipping towards four now, and with no functional bathroom in the house during this period, I am ever so grateful that Guy and Ben live not far from me and I have been imposing myself on them for showers on a regular basis! Dennis the cat continues to be the most awesome and cool creature on the planet, though, like me, I think he thinks it’s time for the plumbing, tiling, building, electrics and painting work to conclude and the house to come back to some semblance of order! Maybe by my next blog?...

C x

 

Nick, 17th October, 2012

I write this on the eve of our Eaton Square Concert series debut. It's always exciting for me performing in London as the audience seems to often contain a large friend/family contingent. Tomorrow is no exception - two (of four) sisters, one (of one) mother, and a bunch of University friends who I can introduce to my little outfit. (the Songmen, not our large enough Moss Bros suits...) I hope anyone in the area can pop down and enjoy our Sacred, Soul and Swing programme.

Living in London offers myriad cultural delights, and with the occasional evening off, I like to sample them as often as possible. Last week I saw Hedda Gabler at the Old Vic one night (http://www.oldvictheatre.com/hedda-gabler-2/), and Looper at the cinema the next night, both of which were stunning in their own distinct ways (but end surprisingly similarly). Just to make sure the chalk and cheese weren't without another totally different art form, I decided to head to the Oxford Lieder Festival (http://www.oxfordlieder.co.uk/) which runs for the next week and a half.

There were some truly stunning performances in Oxford (and will be many more, in particular Sophie Daneman last night whose subtlety and control was remarkable given how expressive her performance was. It really made me appreciate the vast capabilities of the human voice. The smallest gesture or change in tone can transform a meaning or bring a totally new light to the text.

Gushing superlatives aside, it also got me wondering about the potential for some Songmen Lied arrangements... Hmmm.

Right. Time for me to brush off my 16th Century French Soldiers uniform as La Guerre gets another outing tomorrow night.

Hope to see you there!

N

 

Ben 10th October 2012

My blog this week relates to something that has been on my mind for quite a while: where has all the singing gone?  

Now this might seem a bleak question to be pondering but, even in an age where we have such things as Gareth Malone encouraging people who wouldn’t normally sing to join a choir, and Government initiatives funding excellent vocal projects across the country, there seems to be a gap which has developed when it comes to people singing together.  I was very lucky that throughout my schooling, aside from all of the singing I did in choirs, we had regular access to large group singing through House competitions and regular hymns at assemblies. Many schools still do this but in recent work I have been doing, the act of large group singing is just not happening, and if it does it is limited to primary schools, Independent schools, faith schools, and a small minority of comprehensive schools. This could be down to finding the space, the time or the energy to select and deliver such activities, but I believe that access to regular singing does contribute to creating more rounded individuals.

Now, I have a very simple philosophy when it comes to this: if you have a voice, you can sing and there is no other activity that can involve in one space more people at once than singing.  Even the London Marathon with its thousands of participants is a collection of individuals working on their own or in small groups.

With singing comes confidence - it’s such a personal thing to share your voice with others and for some it is a massive hurdle for people to cross.  Others claim they ‘can’t sing’ or are ‘tone deaf’ but with perseverance, confidence and good listening, these are again problems that can be solved.

Having said all that, I was privileged yesterday to spend two hours working with a group of girls from Whitecross School in Lydney (birthplace of Herbert Howells) who will be joining a massed choir of up to 500 for a performance of a new work by Philip Harper, ‘Journey’, which will be performed as part of Gloucestershire Music’s contribution to Music For Youth at the Royal Albert Hall in November.  In addition, I regularly go to Balcarras School in Cheltenham where I have set up a Sixth Form Boys a cappella group and Year 7 Boys Vocal Group, and have spent the last couple of weeks working with a group of boys preparing their songs for the House Shout at Dean Close School in Cheltenham.

It’s a start anyway, and if you read this and think you could do with some help regarding vocal work, whether it’s in a school or a workplace, do get in touch on ben@songmen.co.uk.  

I guess what I’m trying to say is that having a good sing is something which galvanises people into getting together socially to create experiences of any standard and when people are willing to learn new techniques and skills, anything can be achieved.

As far as The Songmen go, we are just over a week away from our first full concert in central London at St. Peter’s, Eaton Square and the next edit of ‘A Sacred Place’ is just around the corner, so it continues to be full speed ahead!

Hope to see you soon and look forward to hearing about any singing you might be doing!

Ben

 

Jon 3 October 2012

Well, it's my first blog of the new season and I have to say it's great to be back! We've already performed to some really lovely audiences across the country and it looks like being the best season ever.

However, one experience that I'm really not used to is feeling quite ill. To be fair, it was only a cold/throat infection but rather inconveniently it did settle on my voice for a week or so.

While sounding like the Songmen equivalent of Barry White is cool, it did result in me temporarily losing my mid to top end which is particularly troublesome in some of the earlier music.

Now, in the Songmen we have a rule - no deps. When you book the Songmen you get the Songmen and we don't ever "dep" in a substitute.

This is partly practical (we do a lot of our concerts off copy) but mainly artistic - we have spent a lot of time developing the blend, style and communication within the group and those are things that can't be replicated without serious work.

So, even with half my normal range (but with some great bottom notes) the show had to go on … and it was fine … I can honestly say at that moment I was more proud than ever to be a Songman! You see, the boys had my back all the way, compensating where necessary and concentrating especially hard to make sure everything worked. In fact, Guy commented how much he enjoyed one of my floaty high notes in La Guerre!

You'll be pleased to hear that I'm back on top form now, having a little look at some Poulenc just for fun and effervescent Vitamin C has become my new best friend!

In other news… well, "A Sacred Place" is on target and we have just taken delivery of a fresh new batch of Midnight CDs, hot off the press and ready and waiting to be sent to you - remember Christmas is less than three months away :)

Oh, and finally don't forget to add our Eaton Square Concert on 18 October 2012 to your diary - you won't want to miss it and you can get your tickets here.

Take care and stay warm!

Jon xx

 

Rob 26th September 2012

After the hustle and bustle of the weekend before last (I think Chris racked up at least 10 hours of driving), this weekend was more relaxed with just a "home" concert as we returned to St John-in-Bedwardine in Worcester. Some of the pieces we've been adding to our repertoire over the summer made a first appearance and seemed to go down well with an appreciative audience.

Having said that, I rather enjoy travelling, and spent a rare few days away for non-singing-related purposes recently, heading out to the west of Ireland to visit my sister (not, as Chris suggested, just to check out new Songmen venues!) I've flown out there several times, so this time I took the train, ferry and coach, taking in some scenery for once. Here's a shot of the rolling hills of Kerry, with a future Songmen venue nestling amongst them...
Ballyferriter

In the meantime, spurred on by the anticipation of our forthcoming sacred album (has anyone mentioned that yet?), I've been further building up our sacred repertoire, with some new Songmen editions including pieces by Monteverdi and Palestrina. This is the life!

Rob x

 

Chris 19th September 2012

Our new season kicked off in high style last Friday with our performance in Kings Place, London. If you have not been there before, I recommend a visit. Its a large music and arts venue in central London (as well as being the office building for the Guardian newspaper) and on Friday nights it gets packed out with both concert goers and just cool people hanging out, which meant we had a really good mix of audience and a chilled atmosphere.

We gave a mixed-style set, mostly taken from our Sacred, Soul 'n Swing programme, which seemed to go down well. It was especially nice for me as my folks were able to come and hear us - it was the first time they had heard us with Nick in the group and they have given him their approval. Phew!

After an altogether too short a sleep, we were up at the crack of dawn, heading north toward Sowerby, Thirsk in North Yorkshire, where we had the great privilege of leading a rehearsal workshop with a scratch choir of all abilities, working on a few pieces in fast detail. In the evening, we performed a concert, but gave some of the time over to the choir to sing two of the pieces we had worked on: Mozart's "Ave Verum Corpus" and Paul Mealor's "Wherever you are", the song made popular by the Military Wives choir last Christmas. We had a really great day in Yorkshire and everyone was particularly friendly. It would be wrong to say the best bit was getting to drive a minibus from London to Sowerby to the Cotswolds all in a day, but I simply love driving minibuses and vans, so it was a fairly awesome day for me!

Also at the mo, Ben has been working on the last edits for "A Sacred Place" with Guy, who is finalising the album design and booklet, which we are hopeful to release in a month or two. We have all been preparing our new "Colour and Light" programme, planning our next recordings plus also fleshing out some exciting projects for next year that I can't share with you yet! Jon has also been working on the Songmen accounts.

So, its busy, busy, busy. On a more domestic note, Dennis the rescue cat appears to have settled in well at home. Indeed, this week he has been a tremendous help keeping an eye on the builders who we have in demolishing a chimney and renovating our bathroom.

Dennis the cat

 

 

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