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Music Notes Society News

24/05/21

A Worldwide Choral Workshop

Choral outreach with knobs on!

By Gaynor Haliday

How I love a choral workshop. Learning new vocal techniques, the sense of achievement having mastered a tricky piece of music, the camaraderie, the opportunity to catch up with other choral buddies…oh wait…

‘When the world recovers its voice again, we’ll sing’ sang we, hopefully, in November 2020.

But it’s now early 2021 and the world hasn’t recovered its voice yet. In fact, things have gone decidedly downhill. We need to sing, we need to engage with other singers. But we’re all under instruction to stay at home. Still.

Ever the leading lights, the HCS committee and professionals come up with a grand plan to raise our spirits. A choral workshop is announced for 20 February. Of course it has to be on Zoom. (Who knew such a thing existed back in March 2020? Not I.)

If I’m honest, I’m a little sceptical of how it might work. I’ve attended every Zoom rehearsal and they’ve been OK. Well better than OK actually, as I’ve certainly benefited from them, but they’ve been fairly short and sweet (for which the dog is thankful – he’s none too impressed with the strange noises that buzz from my laptop or my singing at my desk). But will a three-hour workshop hold my attention? I wasn’t sure that it would and as texts from a friend confirmed, I wasn’t alone in my cynicism!

Thankfully, some very clever people had thought this through.

‘We’ll work on Mozart Requiem.’ A good plan, something most of us are familiar with. But for three hours when we can only hear ourselves singing along with a recording?

‘I can sing along to a recording with the music anytime on my own,’ I mutter to myself and the dog.

‘Roderick Williams will be joining us.’ Well that gives it a new perspective…

‘Joyce will being teaching us new vocal techniques and Chris Pulleyn will accompany the workshop.’ This is beginning to sound more promising.

Now this might appear as though I’m ‘dissing’ (as the young things say) Greg. Not so. I’m taking it for granted that he’ll be running the show with his usual professionalism, skill and cheerful enthusiasm.

‘And we’ll invite anyone to join in. Anyone. Anywhere. For free.’ Ooh – choral outreach with knobs on!

The day dawned and I squirrelled myself away in my office, found my Mozart score, shut the dog out and logged into Zoom.

‘Who’s here?’ I wondered, peering at the laptop screen and scrolling through page after page of faces. And page after page. Wowser! Nearly 500 singers. Many of whom had got up at daft o’clock while their families were still in bed, just because, like us, they wanted an opportunity to sing with other choral folk. Even if those other choral folk lived on another continent.

Starting with a vocal warm-up and exercises with Joyce it was clear that this was a novelty for some singers. ‘How do you lift your soft palate?’ queried some via the chat facility. They soon learnt!

On to the Mozart. Lovely Greg knew exactly how to pace this. A bit of note-bashing of tricky phrases, lots of help from Chris Pulleyn and then a sing through, movement by movement. I sounded fabulous and was note perfect – even in the runs (winks).

A break to chat with Roderick Williams, trapped as he was in Amsterdam’s lockdown, having only packed for a week’s stay and with no shops open to supplement his meagre wardrobe, thankful for hotel laundries.

‘How will you feel when you get to sing in front of an audience again?’ someone asked.

‘I’ll probably cry.’ Me too.

‘Roddy, you’re breaking up, you’ve frozen …oh. He’s gone.’

We wave at our screens, ‘Bye Roddy!’

More vocal coaching, more music-making and the afternoon flies by. I haven’t been distracted at all (well just a tad by the chat facility …).

‘We’re going to hold another workshop on 27 March,’ announces Greg at the end of what everyone agrees has been a lovely afternoon of choral work.

I hurriedly write it in my diary, Google and wall calendars. I don’t want to miss it. Another 400-plus attendees join us to work on Bach St John Passion, the week before Easter. We’re not as familiar with the piece as with the Mozart, so Mark Seow, an amazing expert, is introduced to speak in depth about Bach and the text. Another talented soloist whom we’ve worked with, Iestyn Davies MBE, is invited to join the workshop. He speaks about his journey from baritone to counter tenor and how singing in that register enables him to express the music in a unique way. And of course we have some more vocal coaching from Joyce and choral direction from Greg. Another well-structured, well-paced and very enjoyable afternoon flies by.

So what do these two online workshops tell us?

Well, I’d say that they show how worldwide the choral community is. That we’re all in a similar frustrating position. Locked down, unable to rehearse and make music with our usual choral buddies; we’re all desperate to learn some new music and to sing as a choir. Itching to get back on stage.

Yet wasn’t it amazing and enriching to meet with other singers from various parts of the globe? It’s not an opportunity we’d have in normal circumstances, so perhaps we should be grateful for the situation that presented itself. Well we should certainly be grateful for those who have the ability to think ‘outside the box’ and create these opportunities. And I’m sure many of those who joined us were hugely envious of the talented team we have to coach us.

I bet there’s more than a few who’d like to become members. If only they could be physically beamed across the world…

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