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Guy 12th September 2012

Hi everybody,

We're busy listening to takes and edits of our new album 'A Sacred Place' which is coming on nicely. We've been very fortunate to have the skilled hands of Andrew Mellor at the desk and Philip Lawson as producer and we're thrilled with the results so far. We're really looking forward to the disc's release which is relatively imminent once I've finished the designs for the CD sleeve. That's my job as The Songmen's resident designer.

Designing and capturing the sound of the group in a visual format is a challenging but very rewarding job and is something that I can very happily get lost in if I'm not careful - I have to set myself strict deadlines! The turn around of this disc and project is quite quick (we recorded in August and hope to be in a position to release the final product by the end of October so it's all hands on deck for me). I hope you (and the group and our management team) like the fruits of my labour!

Along with that I'm preparing for concerts in London and Yorkshire this weekend which I'm really looking forward to! Bring on the new season!

Love,

Guy

x

 

Ben 5th September 2012

Good afternoon everyone!

This week has been a funny one for me. With all of my former colleagues and teacher friends gearing up for a new term, I have found myself spending my time in a wholly different way. For instance, rather than planning lessons for the coming weeks, today I could be found at my laptop working on sleeve notes for our upcoming sacred album, 'A Sacred Place', and programme notes for our concert at St. Peter's, Eaton Square in October. Interspersed with this has been some time spent on a set of Responses I have been working on as well as planning and delivering some vocal workshops and taking a choir rehearsal. In other words, finding my feet as a freelance musician and, more importantly, full-time Songman!

In my blog before the Summer break, I paid tribute to my girlfriend Catherine for her support over the transition from full-time employment to full-time enjoyment (!). I thought I would take up this opportunity to let you all know that while on holiday in Dublin, I popped the question and thankfully Catherine said yes! So something to really celebrate!

We're just over a week away from our first concert of the new season and I'm really excited. We've got a new programme 'Colour and Light', which will be debuted in Worcester on 21st September, but before that, we will be taking 'Sacred, Soul and Swing' up to Yorkshire for Sowerby Music, where we will also be helping the good folks up there to found a new community choir - what (apart from getting engaged!!) could be more exciting!!

We'll let you know how it all goes, or, if you make it there yourself, look forward to hearing what you thought.

Till next time,
Ben x

 

Chris 29th August 2012

Well, it's me again.

When I said it was the Songmen holiday period, I really meant it. Rob has just returned from Ireland (and managed a sneaky scope of our concert venue in Dingle, Kerry for the Féile na Bealtaine Arts Festival next year). Similarly, Ben has slipped off to Dublin and is catching up with an old friend of his and mine, Stuart Nicholson, Director of Music at St Patrick's Cathedral. Nick barely seems to spend more than two consecutive days in the UK at any one time meaning I've completely lost track of which exotic country he is currently visiting and Guy has been beating the house in Vegas. I think Jon is the only Songmen not to have escaped this sceptred isle, but as last week made clear, the Songmen accounts need his particular attention.

It is with great pleasure that I can finally confirm our CARA-nominated debut studio album, MIDNIGHT is now available to purchase and download from all major online retailers including iTunes and Amazon. And if streaming music is more your thing, then you can also hear it from Spotify or Rhapsody.

Though, to be honest, we spent so much time making such a fresh and cool CD inlay and booklet, that we would much rather sell you a physical copy of the CD, available through our shop on our website. You could even treat yourself to a signed copy....

Those blatant plugs aside, here's some more as we look towards opening the 2012-13 season at Kings Place, London on Friday 14th September followed by an exciting day of music making with Sowerby Music on Saturday 15th September. This season looks to be our biggest and best ever, so do keep an eye on our concerts page for details of all our forthcoming public performances over the coming months.

 

Jon 22th August 2012

Regular readers of the Songmen blog will know that technically we are on our Summer break, however, even when on our holidays things don't stand still …

The editing process on our latest recording is progressing well, and work has been started on the artwork and wording for the sleeve and take it from me that it is all looking very exciting!

Ben has his usual creative juices flowing and we've already received a few new arrangements and original compositions that are going to feature in future concerts and recordings - and they look ace.

And me … well, I'm preparing the Songmen end of year financials … yes, less glamorous than the album and composition, but they need to be done and as the resident financial expert of the group the accounts fall as part of my duties!

Nevertheless, although we are all busy I also know that we are enjoying our period of downtime, and making full use of it to catch up with friends, loved ones and life in general.

In fact, my parents came to visit at the weekend and I treated them to a "healthy" chocolate desert I've been working on which involves Avocado and Almond nut butter. Mum really liked it … Dad, how shall I put this… well, he was less convinced! Ah well, I guess it's a good job I'm a singer and not a chef!

I hope you all have a great Bank Holiday weekend.

Take care

Jon x

 

Chris 8th August 2012

Well, I am officially knackered. As Guy and Nick mentioned in their blogs, we recently spent a thrilling, yet exhausting week in hotter-than-the-sun Provence, France. All of our concerts went really well and the French audiences were a delight to perform for. We were especially impressed by their enthusiasm to own a little bit of Songmen magic and we easily sold-out all the copies of Midnight we took to France. But DON'T WORRY, you can still purchase your very own copy from our shop page and in a few weeks, we hope to have it available for online download too.

In addition to performing at least once every day we were there, we spent all the remaining time polishing music for our new album of sacred music that we began recording this week. It is, of course, great to be working with Philip Lawson again, as producer, and though this is the first time we have worked with Andrew Mellor, our engineer, we are really pleased with the way the recording is going so far and we can’t wait to share it with you all in the (hopefully fairly near-)future.

Today is the last day of recording with Philip and Andrew, and then we break for a few well-earned weeks of summer hols. Much as I love the guys, after an intense few months together, I am really looking forward to spending some time with Mim and she and I escape to Venice tomorrow – it’s my birthday tomorrow too, so getting some together away is a great birthday treat. But the most important thing happening in the Monk household in the next couple is weeks will be the arrival of Chairman Meow, better known as our new cat, Dennis, a 8 year old black and white rescue dude. He is pretty awesome.

Here are a few photos from Provence; firstly, a concert poster from Bonlieu.

Concert poster

Us at the reception for the Festival des Chœurs Lauréats, joined by our guide, Michèle Lemesle, our tireless driver, Guy Balandras, and the Festival Director, Christian Balandras. Not visible in the photo, but also at the reception and perfoming in the Festival were Collegium Musicale from Tallinn, Estonia and EST, from Tsu, Japan.

Festival des Chœurs Lauréats reception

And the view from the spot where we stopped for lunch a couple of days, a man-made lake with the bluest water I have ever seen. And yes, we did take a quick dip!

Lakeside view

 

Guy 1st August 2012

Hi everyone,

***Edit: (I think) I have invented a new word whilst writing this blog. If anyone has ever heard the verb 'e-stumble' please let me know before I submit it to The Oxford English Dictionary for their consideration.***

I'm sitting in our minibus, on our final morning in France (and our final morning of touring of the 2011-2012 season) watching Rob, Ben, and Nick moisturise. The Songmen really are modern-day men!

It's been a busy and enjoyable week for us with 8 concerts in 7 days, receptions, business meetings, and rehearsals (for our recording next week). Today we fly back to the UK for a couple of days respite before the recording and then we're firmly on holiday for the rest of the summer.

I'm really looking forward to catching up with all the Olympics news and cheering on Team GB when I get home - I'm also hoping that the athletes inspire me to get back in the gym; something I've missed not having access to this week.

When we're on tour it can be easy to lose track of what's going on back home and so when trawling the BBC website to get my fix of the daily news I e-stumbled upon a cool app which matches you by your height and weight to an Olympic athlete.

So, some of us on the back seat of the bus this morning are having a laugh at the fact that Nick keeps being matched to a plethora of slightly-framed Asian athletes and that Jon can be quite closely linked to a female judo participant!

This is who Nick, Ben, Jon and I are most closely matched to:

Nick: Yunghyun Yim from South Korea competing in the 50k walk.

Ben: Harry Martin from Great Britain competing in the hockey.

Jon: Sergio Sanchez from Guatemala competing in the shooting.

Guy: Daniel Awde from Great Britain competing in the Decathlon.

Fun and games!

Hope to see you at a concert next season.

Guy
X

 

Nick 27th July 2012

Apologies to all the regular readers who woke on Wednesday morning with Christmas-day-esque excitement in anticipation of the latest songmen blog. The last few days have been pretty manic, and this is the first moment of respite we've had to consider telling you what we're up to.

We're currently firmly embedded in rural Provence, enjoying the local apricots, almonds, peaches, figs, and of course cotes du Rhone wine - which is quite nice...

The locals are being treated to eight Songmen concerts in seven days. Our double performance day was yesterday with a lunchtime visit to the stunning Avignon, and an evening concert in a beautifully tranquil monastery in Bonlieu. These are all part of the 20th Festival des Choeurs Laureats, which also featuresthe Collegium Musicale from Tallinn, and the Ensemble Vocal from Tsu in Japan.

For the rest of the week we'll be keeping our tans firmly un-topped up, rehearsing for our forthcoming recording. The disc of mixed sacred repertoire is shaping up to be something really quite special. Keep your eyes peeled in a few months for its release.

I should get back to our rehearsal room. Time to delve into poulenc's excellent huit chansons for a new programme in the making. We'll hopefully get some time soon for a spot of culture while we're down in this stunning part of France.

N

 

Ben 18th July 2012

A couple of weeks ago, Chris wrote in his blog about coming to the end of an era as he left Tewkesbury Abbey Schola Cantorum.  Now, I am jumping on that bandwagon, and here's why: this Friday will be my last day as Head of Music at Tewkesbury School.  I have a unique promotion - I am being promoted to the role of full time Songman!  

I've loved my time at Tewkesbury School and at the other places I've taught over my nine years in the profession but since making it public at school of my intention to put all my energies into our great group, I cannot tell you the number of people who have responded by congratulating me and saying something along the lines of 'you have to follow your dream' or 'you don't want to end up thinking 'what if?''.  In our age of constant news coverage we are bombarded with news of events which make the question of 'what if?' all the more pertinent.  Regular readers will know that I am quite the cricket fan and I was recently struck by first the very untimely death of 23 year old Tom Maynard, and then by the forced retirement of a cricketing great, South African Mark Boucher, following a freak eye injury in a warm up match for the series against England.  Just two things that have helped me to put things in perspective.

Finding myself on this path, something I would never have dreamt of four years ago when I joined The Songmen, has given me so much: my own singing has developed and evolved, I have discovered that I am quite a handy arranger and I am building a decent reputation directing choirs and workshops (I am starting to lose count of the number of times I've been compared to a certain Gareth Malone!).  

Looking back though, so many of my new experiences have been born through achievements in my work life. Highlights have including putting on performances of Britten's 'Noye's Fludde', training my school choir to sing great works such as Bernstein's Chichester Psalms and Poulenc's Gloria and being MD for a sold out run of 'Oliver' at the Roses Theatre, Tewkesbury.  Sorry if this is turning into a bit of a CV but the important thing is that these experiences have all fed into what I am embarking on now. 

At risk of this becoming a effusive, overblown Oscar speech, I must pay tribute to my partner Catherine who has provided unwavering support while I am busy turning our everyday life on its head! Being a 'Songman widow' is not easy but she does it with good humour and provides me with a great sounding board for my fairly regular madcap ideas.

Right, that'll do.  I've reached the point of being excited having passed through bravery and scared!  

Just have to learn my introductions for our French tour next week now.  

Au Revoir!

Ben  

 

Jon 11 July 2012

Wow, what a couple of weeks for sport!

Spain gave the world a master class in football with precise passing, inspirational touches of creativity and a real team spirit that made them unbeatable.

Murray poured his heart into the Wimbledon Men's single final, but passion wasn't enough as he was beated by a very determined Roger Federer.

Mark Webber and Red Bull bided their time in Formula 1, chasing down Ferrari's Fernando Alonso to win the British Grand Prix and keep this year's championship the most exciting ever!

They were all wonderful spectacles, exhilerating and special. But this made me wonder - what is it that made them so special?

Yes, they were all fantastic displays of precision and accuracy, but what made them really special were the more human aspects - the heart, creativity, determination and team work shown by those involved.

So, are these the same things that make a great A Cappella performance as well?  Well, it is certainly true that if you only have one or two of the above it doesn't quite work, but even if you work hard at all of them I'm not sure that it would be enough.

You see, after our performances people always come up to us and say how much they enjoyed the evening, and how we all look like we're having such fun ... and the truth is, they're right - we are having fun!

Fun is the magic ingredient in both a great performance and life in general, you can apply all of the other things but if there isn't any fun the mix just isn't quite right.

So, this weekend I'll be having fun performing with my friends, why don't you do something fun too?

Take care

Jon x

 

Rob 5th July 2012

I can hardly believe it's July already, and only three weeks until we're on tour in the south of France (8 concerts in 7 days!) But today I'd like to mention a couple of things closer to home.

Last week we brought our educational outreach work "home", to Tewkesbury School, for the first time. I've long been familiar with the school as a Songmen rehearsal venue (ever since my audition there two years ago), but this was the first time I'd seen it "in action", filled with hundreds of pupils...

With six houses and six Songmen, we each drew a house and a song out of the hat to work on. I was quite glad I'd seen the contents of the hat well in advance, as the song I ended up with – Jessie J's "Price Tag" – was not part of my usual listening fare (it doesn't get much airtime on Radio 3).

Working with the whole of Years 7 and 8 meant we had almost 100 children apiece, a very different experience from the groups of 20-odd we've worked with in the past. Still, the same basic performance principles apply, and the improvement over the course of the day from all of the houses was really impressive. The scores were really close in the final sing-off, but a special congratulations to Keller House for claiming the cup (solid silver, we were assured!)

Another Tewkesbury event awaits later today – the last service at the Abbey for not only Chris, but also a couple of Bens: former songBen Coops, before he heads off to Winchester, and outgoing director of music Ben Nicholas. All six of the Songmen have sung many services at the Abbey, so it's a poignant event to see so many of the guys leaving for new challenges.

Next challenge – brushing up on my French!

Rob x

 

 

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