Sunday, 19 February 2012

One giant leap outside the comfort zone

It is now less than a month to go before my Grade 4 singing exam so time then for a run through of the required songs with the accompanist for the exam, Nest Harrris who is based in Quorn. It seems the usual procedure when entered for an exam through Caroline is to have a couple of practice sessions with Nest before the exam proper just to get the tempo sorted and to meet her and for us to get to know each other a little bit.

So all very relaxed? Well yes, it should be, but you know me! This is definitely one giant leap outside my comfort zone and going to sing with a new pianist made me a bit apprehensive. When Anna-Ruth and I arrived (Anna is taking her Grade 7!), it was Anna to go first, while I sat in Nest's front room. I could hear Anna's stunning voice which made me feel a tad inadequate, and when I heard Nest correcting some of Anna's minor errors, I did wonder what she would make of my efforts. I thought Anna sounded splendid, but Anna thought otherwise, but isn't that always the way? Are we singers ever happy with our performances?

My turn came all too quickly and naturally I had a minor attack of the jitters! Don't ask me why, it just happens okay? Caro mio Ben started a bit hesitantly, but I gradually got going and made a decent  fist of it I think. What struck me straight away was the quality of sound produced by Nest's piano. I do confess to being a bit ignorant of the instrument. I would've called it a 'Grand' piano, but have no idea in truth what the difference is between a 'Grand' and  a 'Baby Grand' piano. Size presumably, but whatever this was it produced a quite gorgeous sound! I've always thought a piano was a piano, but here was something I'd never heard in my life let alone attempted to sing with.

Despite my obvious nerves, Nest was very complimentary, particularly regarding my 'accuracy'. I always feel like I stay in tune, but worry about the quality of the tone I produce, but to be complimented in that way after my first nervous effort was very reassuring and helped me relax a bit. An Die Laute followed and due to my nerves, my mouth was by this time a bit dry. Now if one is going to get one's tongue around the German language, one needs a bit of saliva I find! You just try eating four unbuttered Cream Crackers and then attempt to sing 'Nachbarn aber, nachbarn nicht'. Pretty damned impossible I reckon. I hope a bottle of water is permissable in the exam room, because a good swig will be required before this one I think. Nest played it beautifully and I started to relax and get into it. We ran through the second verse again, in a vain attempt to get my tongue around the previously mentioned horror line.

One thing that Nest does at the end of each intro, is to turn her head slightly and nod at the point when one is meant to come in. I  confess that I was totally unable to follow the piano part and was unsure where to come in, but the nod was very helpful! I passed on this bit of information to Caroline later and suggested that she does likewise in lessons. Sadly, the response was "it ain't gonna happen". Harsh Caroline, very harsh! ;-)

Finally, we did Do I love You Because You're Beautiful from Cinderella. This all too brief piece went okay and again I felt a bit humbled to be standing singing to this beautiful sound. Anyway, Anna and I will have one final session with Nest on the Friday before the exam, when I will attempt to sing without copies, as I will have to in the exam. Scary stuff!

I followed this up on Saturday afternoon with another lesson with Caroline where we ran through the same songs, plus the unaccompanied folk song Barb'ra Allen. I am really going to have to practice this one hard. As I said last time, I feel horribly exposed singing unaccompanied and it felt no better on Saturday but I guess the more I practice the better it will be.

And what of the aural tests and stuff? Hmmm. Commenting on the dynamics, and tempo of a piece shouldn't be too bad, but I am struggling a bit in identifying major and minor keys. It all seemed glaringly obvious to Anna and Olivia, but not alas, to me. Just when I thought I had it sussed I got one wrong! So I think I need to have a play on Anna's piano and try and get it clearer in my head.

Clapping a rhythm is something I am totally rubbish at. My claps are a bit - no, not a bit, a LOT, pathetic! And sight reading is err, how shall we say, 'mixed'? But, at the end of the day, to use a football cliche, the biggest obstacle to me doing well in this exam is myself. If I can just relax, chill out and enjoy it, I will do well. I know it and simply hope that on the day I can. At one point in the lesson, Caroline said 'you're panicking' and she was right. She stopped short of giving me a good slap, but it's probably what I need sometimes I think.

But what the heck, it's all good, challenging stuff and something I wouldn't have considered at all possible just one year ago. Even Nest herself said that she thought I was incredibly brave to be even considering doing an exam at all! Whatever happens, I've got to just enjoy the experience and that's the ultimate aim.

See you next time,

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Sometimes life's coincidences are just spooky!

There are times when one wonders quite what the 'big fella upstairs' is playing at. Sometimes it seems things are afoot that are just beyond mere coincidence. I say this as a result of a phone call this evening from Caroline who had just read my previous blog. She referred to my reference to a certain Alfred Deller, a counter tenor whom I happened to stumble upon in my desperate search for useful rendition of Barb'ra Allen.

After trawling through literally hundreds of versions of the song and gradually despairing of finding an example that matched the arrangement that Caroline had supplied me with, I found a recording of it by one Alfred Deller. Now, it appears there is a rather extraordinary link between Mr Deller and The Caroline Sharpe Singers. Alfred Deller apparently has sung with another counter tenor of some repute called John Whitworth and examples of their work can be found on Youtube.

John Whitworth has a daughter called Vicki, who just so happens to be a member of Caroline Sharpe Singers and even has singing lessons with my wife Ruth. How bizarre is that?

What next? Is Paul Alfie Boe's brother-in-law? I wouldn't be in the least bit surprised!

See you next time.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Aural tests and singing unaccompanied

The singing I don't have a problem with. Learning the words and remembering them on the day is a challenge, but I can cope with that. Even the German is sinking in, though the pronunciation might need a little further work. No, what bothers me a bit is the aural tests and the sight reading. Caroline assures me I am quite good at sight reading, but I don't feel quite so confident.

Getting the pitch instantly right I find a bit tricky at times and the leaps from a low note to a higher one particularly so. But, a little exercise I've been given should help. Practice, practice, practice! Caroline sent me several links to some websites (see the links in the right hand column of this blog) which should help, though I did find myself arguing with the aural test site. I think I disagreed with what constitutes 'smooth notes' at one point.

My latest singing lesson included a first attempt at singing Barb'ra Allen unaccompanied. Oh Lord! I hadn't thought about it before, but being given a starting note and told to just 'sing' is strangely scary. To be quite honest I felt like I was standing naked on top of Rivington Pike on a cold windy day! For those not familiar with the aforementioned Pike, it is a hill of relatively modest size near Bolton but on the top of it one feels horribly exposed and invariably subjected to a biting cold wind. Well, that's what singing unaccompanied feels like to me at any rate. It's strangely comforting to have an accompanist at your side and I hadn't realised just how much until last Wednesday.

Meanwhile, I have at last found a useful rendition of Barb'ra Allen to listen to on Spotify (a music application linked to Facebook). There are hundreds of versions of the song, but I've only found one as per the version Caroline has given to me and it is by a counter-tenor called Alfred Deller. I'm really not too sure about counter-tenors. The vocal sound is quite impressive, but it just doesn't 'look' right somehow - a big hefty bloke singing with a high pitched voice? I suppose it's just not 'the norm'. I guess I just need to listen to a bit more of the counter-tenor voice of Mr Dellor and perhaps Andreas Scholl, another such singer of some repute.

This morning (Sat. 11th) brought another Caroline Sharpe Singers rehearsal and when Ruth, Anna-Ruth and I arrived (a tad late due to Poppy walking duties and Trinity parking issues) we were confronted by a packed room. Crikey, the way things are going, we'll need a bigger practice venue! If everyone turned up there would about twenty members now I think. So it would seem the key to recruitment for us chaps in the male voice choir is for each member to persuade family, friends and neighbours to come along. Sounds easy?

During this rehearsal I had the job of 'poking' newbie Paul, should he feel tempted to drop an octave! Let's just say after the first run-through of I Believe, Paul may well be somewhat bruised in the upper arm! But it seemed to work and he sang with more confidence second time, so much so that Caroline is now thinking of adopting the 'poke therapy' in her lessons. Be warned!

Anyway, lots of homework is now required for both CSS and for my upcoming exam. Next Friday will be my first exam rehearsal with the accompanist Nest Harris. I'm not panicking, really, I'm not.    Eeeeeck!?!

Cheers for now,

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Caroline Sharpe Singers and a fish called 'Bob'.

What is it about singing? Its capacity to lift the spirit is quite remarkable and must represent the best possible therapy to help counter the debillitating effects of life's stresses and strains. Heaven knows, with the black cloud of redundancy hovering overhead, I might just need it all the more in the coming months.

Anyway, let's not dwell on all that just now. There's much more exciting stuff to discuss, such as the aftermath of the Long Eaton concert, a splendid singing lesson with Caroline and an excellent rehearsal of the ever growing Caroline Sharpe Singers.

So, what of the concert in Long Eaton? Opinion within the choir is still divided regarding the new concert attire, which I continue to find a bit strange. If anyone still needs convincing perhaps a word with some of the audience might be a good idea. Even the most staunch opponent of any change from the traditional blazer and tie, must surely concede that it went down well with the audience. Feedback that I received suggests that we immediately appeared less like a group of old men which has got to be a good thing hasn't it?

I personally believe that with many choirs seemingly struggling to attract new blood to their ranks to keep themselves going, we perhaps all need to modernise our outlook. Choirs as a whole must inevitably move with the times or perish. A simple costume variation won't change things overnight, but it's a start and a good step in the right direction, I think.

On Wednesday I had another lesson with Caroline and this one was just great. On rare occasions I do manage to relax and just 'sing' and this was once such occasion. During the week after listening to An Die Laute over and over again on Youtube, the first verse has at last sunk in. All I need to do now is repeat the same for verse two and that's that one sorted. Caro Mio Ben is there or thereabouts and Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful is easy-peasy, so I really do believe I can have a decent stab at this Grade 4 exam in March! There's a small matter of singing Barb'ra Allen unnaccompanied, but I'm sure I'll have it cracked, he said confidently!

After all the exam stuff we finished off with a 'fun song' to quote Caroline. She handed me a copy of Bring Him Home. As Facebook followers will be aware, Mr Boe is currently a bit of a favourite of mine, particularly the rendition of this song in the 25th anniversary performance of Les Miserables. One day I will sing this song - properly, you see if I don't!

On Saturday morning it was another Caroline Sharpe Singers rehearsal and our ranks have now swelled to amazing numbers! Word is clearly getting around and friends are coming along to join in the fun! If recruitment is this easy for CSS, one wonders why the LMVC struggles to achieve the same? Hmmm!?! Anyway, the new pieces are starting to sound really good particularly Canon in D. Just wait for our next concert!

And before I go, I guess I'd better explain the reference to 'a fish called 'Bob' in the title. Well, another local singer of some repute, Neal Chantrill, is expecting a baby any day now. Actually, his wife Renata is - obviously! Anyway, it means there is no room anymore for the fishtank and it's occupant 'Bob'. Now, being a former fish keeper myself, I couldn't ignore Neal's plea for a good home for poor Bob, so I answered the call! Tomorrow I will pop over to Shepshed to collect Bob and his tank! So an unexpected and exciting end to a fine day.

I'll let you know how Bob has settled in to his new home next time.

Cheers for now,