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Chris 27th June 2012

If you are reading this, that means the internet is now functioning once more in Monk Towers, even if it's slower than an asthmatic snail going up a particularly steep hill. It’s amazing how even a few hours lost access to Facebook and BBC News makes one feel disconnected from the world. I guess you just get used to things being a certain way and any change to that is odd.
 

I was planning on writing something this afternoon about all the exciting Songmen plans that are beginning to fall into place for 2013-14, but I am actually feeling a little more reflective about a big day for me next week and changed my mind.


For those that don't know me well, for the ten years I have lived in Tewkesbury, I have sung regularly at Tewkesbury Abbey - simply one of the most beautiful churches in the UK and (in my opinion) one of the finest acoustics you will ever find. I have been very lucky that the demands of the Abbey to date have never conflicted with the work of the Songmen, which is why I don't often talk of it, but as we become busier and busier, it is clear that I need more time to dedicate to our group's continued success, so I am stepping down from the choir to concentrate 100% of my attention on the Songmen.


Next Thursday is my last evensong at the Abbey and the last day I am a layclerk.


Its a very odd feeling leaving something you are used to being a large part of your life (I have sung professionally in church choirs since I was a nipper and been a layclerk in one place or another for 16 years!) and even though it is by a country-mile the right decision for me, it's a big moment in not just my musical history, but my life in general.


By coincidence (or divine design?...) Philip Lawson dropped by Tewkesbury this week (we will be working with him later in the year) and during the course of our obligatory late-night curry, I was aware of the number of times he spoke about his decade or so as a layclerk at Salisbury Cathedral. Its interesting that even with nearly another two-decades performing, recording and touring the world with the Kings Singers, he would still so fondly recall stories of his (relative) youth in a Cathedral Choir.


I wonder if Philip felt back in 1993 when he left Salisbury Cathedral the way I do now; leaving something so very familiar and cherished to embark whole-heartedly into something equally new and exciting?


I will always be grateful of my time as a layclerk, it has taught me how to sight-read, taken me around the world for free and I can now even occasionally tolerate a modicum of organ music, but at its heart, for me it has always been about having the opportunity to sing regularly for people and that’s one of the most important things I keep with me in the Songmen.


So, as we plan the wonderful and thrilling future of the Songmen, I am taking just a moment to reflect and be grateful to the British Catheral choral tradition. I might be leaving it behind for something I enjoy even more, but without it, I would not have even had this opportunity to do so.


C x

 

Guy 19th June 2012

It's been a good week for the group. A couple of great concerts, rehearsals for an upcoming recording in August, and of course England progressing through the first round of Euro 2012 (as group winners nonetheless!).

Chris and Ben came round to mine tonight to watch the big game and we happily watched England triumph over Ukraine which was, although nervy at times, a great game. I've been a football fan all my life (my Dad used to play for Cheltenham Town) and England's progression from the group stage tonight was extra special for me to have Chris sharing the experience with me and Ben.

Chris, for as long as I have known him, has been particularly against any type of enjoyment of sport but tonight he could be seen leaping from his seat on a number of occasions shouting for our team in his silky baritone voice. He even dazzled us with some England team facts and spoke about the team as if he'd been a seasoned supporter for years. For those of you who know Chris you won't be surprised at his newly (and very quickly) acquired knowledge of the beautiful game as he's a particularly quick learner (he's just re-learned all of the group's baritone 1 parts since Nick joined us a few months ago as our new low baritone).

Watching England play under Hodgson's (our manager) guidance got me drawing comparisons between the England team and The Songmen.

We work together as a team. We all take responsibility for the group's success and work hard when we're on the pitch (or in our case the concert platform). I feel as lucky as the England team to be part of such a consolidated squad and know that our success is certainly down to an underlying organisation and passion for what we are doing.

To be a great Songman is not about being the Torres of Spain or the Rinaldo of Portugal (exceptional solo players) but rather being great team players like the Scott Parkers and Joleon Lescotts of this world - the players that get stuck in and work their socks off to make the team a solid, orgainsed, and undeniably passionate unit.

So, who knows, maybe our next stop will be singing the national anthem at the final in Kiev on Sunday 1st July... step aside Russell Watson and Katherine Jenkins...

Hope to see you all soon,

Guy
x

 

Nick 13th June 2012

The expression "Christmas has come early" is normally meant in a positive way. Today as I received the first few carol arrangements to be added to our repertoire, I felt that this was perhaps stretching the festive glee a bit too far. Fortunately they look like some cracking arrangements - more B. Sawyer gold.

In other Songmen news: Anyone strolling through Spitalfields Market at lunchtime today would have found it hard to miss our dulcet tones wafting through the stalls.

We gave a full hour of the Songmen's finest to lunching bankers and tourists alike, as part of the Spitalfields Music Festival. This vibrant festival runs through til the 23rd, and has some of the finest musicians in the country performing- the Monteverdi Choir and Britten Sinfonia among many many others. 

If you can't make any of this lovely live music in East London, then feast your ears on the live recordings that we've now put on this website.

Nick




 

Ben 6th June 2012

Well where do you start after a weekend like this?! Our TV screens (well, the ones in the UK) have been full of wonderful images of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and millions have turned out as a sign of the esteem with which Her Majesty is held by her people. We didn't get to watch the extravaganza that was the Jubilee Concert on Monday evening but we did get to celebrate with a lovely audience in Dorchester-on-Thames in our concert as part of the sixth annual English Music Festival.

The whole week is taking on rather epic proportions for me though. This afternoon, my younger brother, Joe will marry his fiancée Alex and I am momentarily shirking my Best Man duties by writing this. Having said that, I've written my speech and haven't lost the rings. Well, not yet anyway! As a wedding gift, I will be presenting Joe and Alex with a copy of our new recording of 'Be Your Husband', a song which Joe suggested to me for a new arrangement and one of the pieces we sang for Aled Jones a couple of weeks ago. This track will be available in due course as part of a studio EP to follow 'Midnight' and we look forward to sharing the other tracks with you in the not too distant future.

On Friday, we travel to the beautiful Iford Manor near Bradford-on-Avon to open the Iford Arts Festival 2012. This will be a first outing for our live 'Midnight' programme which provides a companion to the album. The evening promises to be great fun and a little different from the usual concerts we do. It's more of a musical party and we are joined by jazz group 'The Amigos' while the audience enjoy supper in the wonderful surroundings. I believe there are some tickets left so don't miss out!

And you thought that would be all!

There's more – next Wednesday we make our debut at the Spitalfields Music Festival in London. You can hear us between 12.30pm-1.45pm at Bishops Square and the best thing is, it's absolutely free! A perfect lunchtime excursion.

Right, I have a brother's nerves to go and calm (I think I'm more nervous actually!!), but look forward to seeing you soon at one of our concerts!

Ben x

P.S. We're also over the moon that John Rutter seemed to enjoy our album – he's included it in his favourite CDs of 2012 in the latest BBC Music Magazine!

 

Jon 30 May 2012

This has been a really special week: the Olympic torch was carried past the window of my apartment, The Songmen made their Radio 3 debut on Aled Jones' show "The Choir" and, somewhat unusually for the UK at the moment, the sun has been shining!

So, all in all, it has been a pretty good week!

It is also amazing that this weekend the Queen will celebrate her Diamond Jubilee having reigned for 60 years, quite an achievement! As part of the celebrations it will be great to perform at the prestigious English Music Festival at Dorchester on Thames.

While discussing this upcoming concert with Aled he mentioned our Englishness and particularly our "English sound".

Now, this isn't something I have ever really considered.  It is true that most of us started out as choristers performing in the magnificent Cathedrals and Abbeys of the UK (with the exception of Rob, but he is just natually talented!), but we have so many friends all over the world who have influenced us with their styles of music, so is our sound still truly English?

In a word ... yes ... how could it be anything different?

That doesn't stop us learning from others, however, and sharing our love of music at every opportunity - and that I find truly exciting!

If you missed our performance on Aled's show you can check it out on the BBC iplayer for the next four days and, if you would like to hear some of our selection of English music, come and see us perform in the Abbey at Dorchester on Thames on Monday 4 June at 9.30pm.

So, all that is left is to say congratulations to Her Majesty the Queen on her Diamond Jubilee, and I hope you all enjoy the celebrations and have a great long weekend.

Take care

Jon x

 

Rob 23rd May 2012

It was an exciting first for The Songmen yesterday, as we headed down to London to record at the BBC's Maida Vale Studios!

This was for our upcoming appearance on Aled Jones' show The Choir on BBC Radio 3. We had some airtime on The Choir earlier this year, when Aled played a track from Midnight (have you got your copy yet?) but we were delighted to be invited to appear on the show in person.

Our first radio interview was a new experience for the group, but Aled's easy-going manner meant that before long it just felt like a friendly chat – just leave it to the production team to worry about broadcasting that chat to the nation! Of course, we weren't just there for the talking, and there's Songmen music old and new to look forward to during the course of the show. So tune in this Sunday at 5pm – more information on the show here – or catch up on BBC iPlayer for a week after that.

In the meantime, here's a snap of Aled and us in Maida Vale Studio 2!

Rob x

 

Chris 16th May 2012

It's late-Wednesday afternoon and I’m sitting in my study looking out towards the hills in the distance. The sun is shining, the clouds are fluffy and all seems right with the world. When we escaped to Italy a couple of weeks ago, the UK weather was terrible and the sun in Perugia was just what the doctor ordered. Now we are back, the weather seems to have sorted itself out, which is good as we have a couple of months back home before we next head abroad to Provence in late-July.

Nick’s already mentioned the mammoth pile of music he is learning and I really would not feel too sorry for him as the rest of us have been hard at the books learning new repertoire for the coming months too. We have recently made our CARA-nominated jazz and swing album, “Midnight”, available through our website (to those who have ordered a copy, they are on their way to you now – we didn’t quite expect the demand to be so high immediately!) and nearly all the songs on the album provide the basis for our new Midnight concert programme, many of which we have never performed live. Added to which, Ben Sawyer does not seem to be able to stop arranging (if only he wasn’t so good it at!) and we have recently begun working on some simply beautiful new folk and easy-listening pieces to start sharing with audiences over the coming few months (and, shhh, perhaps record...)

The coming couple of weeks are looking quite busy; next week we are off to record some tracks and be interviewed by Aled Jones for his “The Choir” radio programme, which we are all looking forward to. I am sure next week’s blog will have more to say about it, but it has a special meaning for us as Aled was the first to play a track from Midnight on his show back in January, so it’s great to get the opportunity to head to the BBC and perform for him live in the studio.

Oh, finally, this is my first blog since Coops' last concert - and, my word, he sang a blinder! -  and I'd just like to add my thanks to him for everything he contributed over the past couple of years. Cheers, big guy. You'll be missed. x

C

 

Guy 9th May 2012

Hi all!

We've just got home from a trip to Perugia in Italy which was not only thoroughly enjoyable but also hugely important for the group for two main reasons:

Firstly we caught up with some very good friends of ours - the very talented choir Vivae Vocis Concentus (http://www.vivaevocis.it), their director Franco, and their dedicated and wonderful manager Annarita (who was hosting us). We also caught up with the brilliant choral trainer, composer, arranger and general a cappella superstar Philip Lawson (http://www.philiplawson.net) who was running a series of choral workshops and masterclasses for four choirs - Vivae Vocis Concentus, Dodecafonici from Rome, Thomas Tallis Choir from Noale near Venice and Voceversa from Biella. We were invited as special guests and headlined their final concert, performing in a beautiful deconsecrated church with huge acoustics.

We didn't take part in the masterclasses ourselves but we did find time to catch some of the action. It's always inspiring to see someone like Philip at work - he gets the absolute best out of the choirs he works with and what I particularly noticed was his real determination to help them perfect things like blend, interpretation and tuning. The groups' perfomances in the first half of the concert on Sunday really was testament to his (and of course their hard work) and they all performed their socks off.

Philip and I had several interesting conversations over the three days and I enjoyed listning to his stories about his lengthy service to The King's Singers and his time as a director of music at a school. I (being an ex-head of music) found that we had an awful lot in common to talk about. I'll definately be trying some of his masterlclass techniques at our upcoming education workshops... it's so useful to share good practice!

The second (and by far the most important) feature of our trip was that it was Coops's last concert. He handed in his notice to the group several months ago and has shown nothing but a huge devotion to the group right up until the end. He even found the energy to learn the off-copy premiere of Ben's new arrangement of Skye Boat Song in which he had a solo and managed to perform his solo in Londonderry Air so beautifully that he had several members of the audience in tears. After the concert we attended a reception at which we sang with Coops for the last time. I'm not going to lie, it was pretty emotional.

Coops has been a brilliant colleague and friend over the last couple of years and I know that I speak for all the group when I say he'll be greatly missed!

Of course, we're thrilled to have welcomed Nick into the group - he's already put in many many hours into learning our repertoire and we look forward to a long and fruitful partnership with him now that he is a fully inducted member of the group.

Anyway, I'm off now (I have a rare free evening) during which I will mostly be preparing music for our June concerts and our Aled Jones 'The Choir' performance and interview that we're doing in a few days.

Take care now!

Love,

Guy
x

 

Nick 3rd May 2012

This is not only my first Songmen blog, but my first ever blog, so you'll have to excuse any blogging faux-pas.

So as the rest of the group grab their sun-screen, beach towels, and patent Songmen swimwear for their upcoming trip to Perugia, I'm left at home to carry on doing what I've been doing since I joined the group a few months ago – memorise music.

Learning music off copy is a very useful skill to develop. Unfortunately, having spent pretty much all of my professional career so far relying heavily on my sight-reading ability, memorising music has been quite a challenge.

The good news I've discovered is that, not only does it get easier and easier with every piece (perhaps with the exception of Janequin's La Guerre), but it also completely transforms the performance. It allows thinking about what the notes are to be a secondary process, and performing the music to become primary.

Anyway, I'd better get back to this vast pile of songs. At least it distracts me from wanting to be in sunny Umbria with the other Songmen...

Nick

 

Ben 25th April 2012

Last week, Jon spoke of our excitement at welcoming Nick for his first concert with us.  This was our third visit to St Mary's Church, Dymock and the first of these visits was the very first appearance of the then 'Severn Songmen'. 

Personally, Dymock has taken on a different significance.  When I moved to Gloucester in 2007, my now departed grandfather told me that his mother was born there.  A couple of years back, in true 'Who Do You Think You Are?' style, I did a bit of research and found a beautiful cross-shaped gravestone dedicated to the Causon family.  It's amazing to think that over 100 years later, their great great grandson is singing in the same church to an appreciative audience!

Moving on, we're all starting to learn Italian this week ready for our impending trip to Perugia. We're really excited about seeing our friends from Vivae Vocis Concentus in a week or so. Read about our trip in a couple of weeks time.

That's all for now!

Ben x
 

 

 

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