Non Verbal Scaffolding

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A break this week from the wine and cheese cantata cause I've reached the difficult third section and tripping over myself - the notes want one thing, the words want another, the larger piece a third. I have learnt these things are surmountable and can lead to lovely results, but not yet my friend, not yet. 

A little while ago, I shared some sheet music for the rockin thirteenth century piece Alle Psallite with more sophisticated parts here. This week a very bright and committed young teacher asked me for some thoughts on running short workshops on singing. This sort of thing comes up eh? You get asked to run a little singing or choir workshop for beginners and maybe you've got an hour, and you want everyone to have fun, walk away with a feeling of mastery and accomplishment, and learn a useful idea or two about healthy technique. The big challenge here is repertoire! There's nothing boringer than note bashing and for a short workshop it's a total sapper of valuable time and enthusiasm. The more you can dispense with sheet music the better too. When I prepare for these sorts of workshops I think through what repertoire I can select and how I can teach it without sheet music and with minimal note bashing.  A tenant of Kodaly philosophy is to use non verbal communication to maximize the amount of time everyone is making music -at uni we had a prac where we had to teach the class a song without talking. To prepare a workshop I plan and rehearse non verbal scaffolding to help my singers pick things up quickly. I made a short video to show this. I'm pleased to say it's about three minutes long! If I tried to teach this song by note bashing with sheet music, it would take hmm ten times as long! 

the continuing saga of the cheese maker - wine and cheese cantata part 2

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this is the second part of the Wine And Cheese Cantata. Sheet Music and rehearsal tracks for part one can be found here

This is a silly work - I'm writing it with the simple agenda of being great fun to throw together and sing.

In this week's section we meet the Wine Pairer. who I imagine is a nervous fastidious person who cares very deeply that things are done the right way - particularly when it comes to pairing wine. 

And some rehearsal tracks for y'all

The piece starts with a solo for the wine pairer.

And then moves to rousing chorus work.

Blessed Are The CheeseMakers - second post

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As we were drinking wine and eating cheese, one of my dear friends with one of my favourite voices to write for/with asked if I'd write a cheese work. Given my darling husband's brie is ripening in the fridge as we speak, I was inspired to write a brie work. I think we'll call it a Cantata, and expect it to take about 20 minutes. Check out last week's post for the libretto and character list.

Now Bach banged out a cantata a week, in between all the other shit he was writing, so I think it's important to respect the tradition of writing cantatas as quickly as one is able. I didn't write the whole work this week, but I did make a respectable beginning. Here's part one. 

And here's my computer's idea of what it might sound like

And some rehearsal tracks for the keen folks:

Blessed Are The CheeseMakers

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My next project is to write a bit of fun and nonsense about wine and cheese. My darling husband's brie will be ripe soon and I think a musical work is called for.

I've finished the libretto - so that's today's offering. I might start on the choruses so we'll see what we can get to you by next week.

Cast
Cheesemaker
Wine Pairer
Judge Most Imperious
Fruity Merlot
Chardonnay
Champagne
Bright Spark #1
Bright Spark #2
Bright Spark #3

 

COMPANY
Cheesemaker. Cheesemaker. Cheesemaker. Cheesemaker.
Let us see, let us see. How did you make brie?

CHEESEMAKER
Curds in a mold. Stored in the cold.
Til they went crusty. Til they went musty.

COMPANY
Curds in a mold. Stored in the cold.
Til they went crusty. Til they went musty.

CHEESEMAKER
The cheese is complete. And ready to eat.
Gooey, superb, and ready to serve.

COMPANY
Yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum Give us some. Give us some. Give -  us - some.
Yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum Give us some. Give us some. Give - us - some.

WINE PAIRER
Proceedings must cease. Do not eat the bries
Are you barbaric or just puritanic?
You have no pairing, no flavour matched sharing.
I insist and decree, before you eat brie
You must first secure a sore grape liquor:
A complement fine of mellifluous wine.

COMPANY
Most agreed. We concede. We adhere,

WINE PAIRER
Now draw near!
Your task is most onerous. Your burden is great.
To find wine harmonious, to find brie’s true mate.

COMPANY
Our task is most onerous. Our burden is great
To find wine harmonious, to find brie’s true mate.

CHEESEMAKER
This is more cultured than milk in a vat.

WINE PAIRER
A judge most imperious will sure help with that.

COMPANY
This is more cultured than milk in a vat.
A judge most imperious will sure help with that.

JUDGE MOST IMPERIOUS
I can indeed arbitrate all things good and fine
I will now administrate selecting of wine.
Bring forth the candidates. Come here! Form a line.
Then I can speculate which one truly shines.
First Candidate. Put forward your case.

FRUITY MERLOT
I’m fruity merlot, with spice you can savour
I’m plump and full bodied, with soft flirty flavour.

COMPANY
She sounds divine. Merlot is our wine.
Merlot it must be, to drink with our brie.

JUDGE MOST IMPERIOUS
It seems the vox populi speaks with one voice.
So I must align with the people’s first choice.
My ruling is merlot!

BRIGHT SPARK #1
We can’t decide yet.
Let her sit furlough, while others we vet.

COMPANY
Don’t drink the merlot! We can’t decide yet.
Let her sit furlough, while others we vet.

JUDGE MOST IMPERIOUS
Ah yes well. Harrumph harrumph harrumph
Second candidate. Come forth and explain.

CHARDONNAY
I’m a white Chardonnay. All peaches and cream
And nuanced oak tones, a splendid brie team.

COMPANY
She sounds quite perfect but so does Merlot
Oh such wine conflict! We simply don’t know.

BRIGHT SPARK #2
Reject the dichotomy. We still have an option three.

JUDGE MOST IMPERIOUS
Indeed and well said. Third candidate. Step forth and speak out.

CHAMPAGNE
I’m filled up with bubbles and giggles and fun.
I’m the life of the party, you know I’m the one.

COMPANY
We do like to party with bubbly fun wine.
But Merlot’s so arty and Chardonnay’s fine.
Now our heads hurt and our spirits are low.
We’re dumb and inert cause we simply don’t know.

JUDGE MOST IMPERIOUS
What a disaster. What a cruel fate.
Without a clear winner I must legislate:
Leave us cheese master. Remove the cheese plate.
There’ll be no more laughter. I’ve cancelled this date.

COMPANY
What a disaster. What a cruel fate.
Without a clear winner he must legislate:
Leave us cheese master. Remove the cheese plate.
There’ll be no more laughter. He’s cancelled this date.

BRIGHT SPARK #3
May I interject? May I intercede?
I’ve found, I suspect, a way to get bried.
If you can’t choose one wine to pair with this brie,
The problem is simple, why not drink all three?

COMPANY
If we can’t choose one wine to pair with this brie
The problem is simple, why not drink all three?
With joy we’re delirious. But judge most imperious
What do you think of this triple paired drink?

JUDGE MOST IMPERIOUS
Reject the monotony of wine/brie monogamy.
Refuse the dyadic. Drink wine in triadic.
My judgement is final. My judgement is clear.
The best wine with brie, is all of them here.

COMPANY
Reject the monotony of wine/brie monogamy.
Refuse the dyadic. Drink wine in triadic.
His judgement is final. His judgement is clear.
The best wine with brie, is all of them here.

CHEESEMAKER
Yar yar yar yar

WINE PAIRER
The best wine with brie Is all of them here.

THE THREE WINES
The best wine with brie is all of us here.

COMPANY
The best wine with brie is all of them here.
Good night and good cheer.

creating a melody using AABA form

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I've been  sooking in bed today, feeling a bit poorly, watching project runway on netflix. I have a total lack of interest in fashion, but I've been quite excited by the thoughts and language used in clothing design. There are criteria - clothes need to be authentic and not costumes; clothes need to sit  beautifully on the people wearing them, clothes need to be tailored and crafted and the craftspersonship needs to be excellent,  there needs to be balance, ratio, excitement, simplicity. The worst things the designers can do is make clothes that are overdesigned and gimmicky. Gimmicky clothes are dismissed as "student". Ouch.

It got me thinking about the craft of composing. There IS craft, despite the post modernist legacy we have inherited where it's become awkward to acknowledge this. I started thinking about the simple design issues in composing which led me to jump on the white board and share some design thoughts - using AABA form to start creating a melody. 

Turning

I am still recovering from the mad push to finish Singing The Dots and am taking a few weeks off writing. So no new arrangement for you!

Instead - a virtual concert!

During the Adelaide Fringe Emlyn and I had a concert and I'm really thrilled that he recorded it - singing some of our favourites together. It was our first full concert since my vocal damage was diagnosed back in 2016 so it felt like a big step and we were both a bit nervous. And I am excited to say we did fine and my voice hung in there really well.

When we sing we try to give over completely to the song. We don't think about anything other than - are we in the song? I think these recordings capture this. Plus *cough* a five star review if you please! That's a pretty nice way to re-enter performing!

Please enjoy. x And let me know if any of these songs tickle your fancy and I'll try to write down what we do, for you.

 

Singing The Dots

Howdy. It's been a long time. And I'm really thrilled to announce that I finished Singing The Dots.

This is a collection of sixteen songs I've composed - specifically created for adult choirs to use to learn sightsinging. This means choirs can sing choral repertoire and develop musicianship.

There are two books - one for choristers and one for choir directors. Each song has explanatory notes and exercises.

If your choir would like to learn sightsinging - please help yourself. Thanks to support from the Australian Kodaly Scholarship, Singing The Dots is available for free.

Enjoy!

Fire Songs and Summer Change

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I've been focusing on an acappella song cycle for the stunning Bethany Hill. Have you seen her singing the piece I wrote for her?  (featuring the beautiful singers of 'the Jupiter Choir'.)

When Bethany asked me if I could write an acappella song cycle for her, I thought of the ancient celtic Goddess Brigid - about whom I knew very little other than she had fire hair. Which seems like a good match for beautiful Beth. I've finished the work and as Bethany hasn't performed it yet, the sheet music will stay an alluring mystery for now! But I would love to share the story I uncovered of Brigid, and the text I created.

Brigid is a triple Goddess - of healing, blacksmithing and poets. Which was a great point of departure but isn't enough information to create poetry.  I got stuck for a while til I discovered the irish myths in the Book of Invasions - written circa 1100. This gave me some more biographical detail for Brigid, and allowed me to map the events of her life onto the three rhealms under her care.  This idea wasn't mine.  As she's a Goddess of poets, I had asked Brigid for inspiration. (sure I'm an aetheist but I figured why not?) And this idea of structuring her story around her three aspects was hers. Once she gave me that, I was able to create the text. This is Brigid's life story.

Fire Songs is an acappella song cycle of the Celtic Goddess Brigid. Brigid is an ancient Goddess from the pantheon of Irish celts, and a living Goddess, followed in contemporary pagany. She is often represented as a triple Goddess with care over the domains of healing, blacksmithing and poets. Brigid holds a goblet for healing, fire for the forge, and a harp for the poets. In this cycle I have drawn on myths of early celtic belief. I imagine Brigid growing through her life experiences. I am interested in how her life forged her - how her story created the attributes she needed to become the “exalted one” for her people.

When Brigid’s people, the Tuatha De Danann (the people of the goddess Danu) arrived in Ireland they set their entire fleet on fire to signal their intention to stay. The original inhabitants of Ireland - The wild, fierce warriors of the Fomorians - not surprisingly didn’t care for this, and immediately clashed with the Danu.

In the ensuing battles, the Danann king was killed. His son had lost an arm in battle and was incapable of succeeding his father. Brigid, the king’s daughter announced she would marry Bres, king of the Fomorians, in the hope this royal marriage would provide a king for the Danann and heal the wounds between the two peoples.

Peace was never secured. Bres, a Fomorian was a cruel, oppressive king to the people of Danu. But Brigid chose to stay with him. I imagine Brigid made an informed, wise decision. I think she continued to believe her marriage would bring peace. I suspect the poet-seers had told her that it would cost her dearly, but her eldest son Ruadan would be the light that restored peace to Ireland. Brigid assumed her marriage to Bres was the price she needed to pay and used her knowledge of blacksmithing to harden herself against Bres’ cruelty, giving herself the fortitude to stay and guide their son to fulfill this destiny.

Brigid passed on to Ruadan the Danann skills of blacksmithing. He proved an excellent blacksmith - combining the raw strength of the Fomorians and the skilled craftsmanship of the Danann to create mighty swords.

But the enmity between Bres and the people of Danu grew. Bres finally betrayed Brigid when he led the Fomorians to outright war against her people. In the terrible second battle of Mag Tuired, her beloved son sided with his father, turning against the Danann. Ruadan died in that battle.  

Throughout the night following Ruadan’s death, Brigid’s anguished cries rang out across Ireland. At dawn her keening softened and her voice fell on the land like rain.

When the sun rose, Brigid reached into the sky and pulled a thread of sunlight down for the poets to spin into words and tell her story. The poets sang of her dedication, sacrifice and grief. The intensity and sorrow of the songs so moved the warriors, they finally laid down their weapons.

With harps and songs, the poets of Brigid brought peace to Ireland. Brigid’s own time at the anvil was complete. Her red hair turned to flames as she stepped into the sky, and ascended from woman to Goddess.

And here is the text...

I.  WEDDING SONG

Tonight.
My wedding night.
My wedding robes.
Woven from the grass that grows on the hills. that grows on the hills.

Tonight.
Tonight.
My wedding night.
My wedding wreath from the sham-rocks and flo-wers that grow be-neath my feet. that grow beneath my feet.

My groom
A mighty king.
The flame in his eyes burns with the fire of the night.

And you. oh my people.
And you Oh my people.
Whose red blood has flowed down to the water deep in my wells.

Tonight. Wine will flow. 
Tonight war will cease.
When the daughter of Danu marries her enemy.

The deep wounds will open.
The water will clean.
Tonight will begin with a dance.
Tonight will begin with a dance.

II. WEDDING DANCE

(this one doesn't have words! It's a jig. )

III. FORGE SONG

come.
Ruadan, Ruadan, Ruadan my son.
Watch for the colour. See, my bright one?  
There in the flames, white as the flesh of an apple.  
Deep. So deep. My son. Deep in the heart of the fire.  

Ruadan Ruadan Ruadan my son.
Watch for the iron. See, my true one?  
See it grows bright. Bright as the sun of high summer.
Deep. So deep. My son. Deep in the heart of the fire.  

Now take the hammer See, my own one?  
Strong in your hand. Strong as the ox of the farmer.  
Deep. So deep. My son. Deep in the heart of the fire.  

Strike true. Strike true. Strike true my son.
Strike true. Strike true. Strike true my one.
Over and over and over my son.
Over and over and over my one.

come.
Ruadan, Ruadan, Ruadan my son.
Come see the blade. See what you've done.  
See the straight line? Straight as the path of my arrow.  
Deep. So deep. My son. Deep in the heart of the fire.  

I have my own blade to pattern
I have my own fire to burn.  
My son is the true light of Danu for him I stay true.
I stay Deep. So deep. I stay deep in the heart of the fire.  

IV NIGHT SONG

Ah
Cuisle mo chroi Cuisle mo chroi (trans - pulse of my heart)
Beat of my heart.
My son. my son. My beautiful one.
Cuisle mo chroi Cuisle mo chroi.
You turned on your people. You turned on me,
And now you lie slain.

Cuisle mo chroi. Cuisle mo chroi.
Beside you the sword we made at the forge.
The forge of the Danu.
Cuisle mo chroi Cuisle mo chroi
Beat of my heart.
My son. my son. My beautiful one.

Never again. Never Never again. will you hold it.
Never again. Never Never again. will I hold you

Cuisle mo chroi Cuisle mo chroi.
Beat of my heart. Beat of my heart.  

V DAWN SONG

The Dawn
night turns again.
Light comes again.
Sun rise again in the sky. 

Sunlight
I reach up my arm reach up to the sky.
I take a single thread of sunlight. 

For you. oh my people.
For you. oh my people.
Take this thead in your hands.
Take this thread In your hands.
Spin it in to a song of light

Let your song rise up
Let your song rise up in to the sky
and the fighting will cease
This bloody war will cease.
finally I will bring peace. 

____

So that's the text. And she'll be premiering in January at the Mornington Peninsula Music Festival if you happen to be in Victoria and would like to be there - drop me a line and I'll find out the details.

____

Because I've been working on pieces for professional singers I feel like my composing is going in a few directions at once. I've been feeling like I need to revamp this website to reflect this - an area for community choir pieces, an area for discussing the opera I'm working on (the revolutionary one where the heroine not only doesn't die, but grows in wisdom, strength and emerges victorious), an area for the choir sightsinging songs I will be publishing in the new year, care of a wonderful scholarship from the Australian Kodaly folks, and other pieces I'm writing. So I'm going to take some time over summer to reshape this website. and be back in the new format by the end of March 2018.  I hope you have a wonderful Christmas period and new year. See you in 2018. x

 

 

 

 

Nativity - the final instalment

We are underway at Voices In The Wilderness, my community choir, with the nativity. I was worried it was cheesy but once real voices sing it, it's actually just lovely. I think I've left the best for last! When I played it to Emlyn last night, even with sibelius doot doots instead of humans singing, he cried. In the right way. 

This is part five. the previous parts are here: part four, part three, part two, part one.

I'll aim to put it together and publish it as one piece after I've test run it with my lovely choristers, and made any adjustments. I would like to put a little time into the piano in a few places too.

This one looks like there are lots of parts.  But it's not as alarming as it looks. The soprano and alto parts only split for the last few bars of the piece. The bass 1 and 2s separate during the section where the kings are singing, and then are together until the last few notes, where if you are a lucky choir you'll have someone with a bottom C.

Since the sopranos and altos don't sing in the first section, their rehearsal tracks begin at bar 40. 

Enjoy!

Nativity Part Four and Songs For Our Weddings Recording

CHECK OUT THE SCRATCH CHOIR - Current working title Corinthian Singers who performed and raised money last weekend in Brisbane for their brilliantly themed concert songs for our weddings. In the promo, they said "from Byrd to Beach Boys and Everything In Between" and I'm thrilled to say one of the in betweens was my When You Stand With Me. Which they not only did wonderfully but did acappella! 

 Blake Anderson Photographer

Blake Anderson Photographer

Thank you David for sharing that wonderful recording with me. 

Sheet Music here.

Now to this week's installment of the nativity. This section is 83 bars or there aabouts, and there are 100 bars to go. So maybe two more parts will do it. Because it's the end of October and I want to get this out to you, I'm embracing the 80/20 rule of near enuff. There's nothing like it being nearly 1am to get a healthy attitude of "that will do" eh?

A chance for a soloist here. It's not particularly high, so anyone angelic could do it.

Nativity - part three

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My lovely choir are attacking this nativity with their usual good humour and adventurous spirit. We haven't looked at this bit yet though! Time for Rock! Hopefully that'll be alright with everyone. 

Enjoy.

If you have a pianist who likes to jam you may wish to repeat bars 27 - 30 twice, and give them a moment to really let loose - with my blessing. Either with the choir singing or as a piano solo. No pressure though, if that's not their thing.

This is the third in the series. Part One Here. Part Two Here.

Rehearsal Tracks

Like This

This song isn't a song for choirs - it's a solo but I just wanted to share it with you.

The soprano is Sidonie Henbest, premiering this piece live at my recent concert of sacred music. The text is Rumi.

Her voice. I won't try to explain it. Just listen.
Maybe pour a glass of a Shiraz, get some dark chocolate, dim the light.

You can contact Sidonie here http://sidoniehenbest.com/
Thank you to Mark Sandon for such a sensitive accompaniment.
And the beautiful live recording by Ray Thomas and Peter Day
13 August 2017 in St John's in the Wilderness Adelaide

When someone mentions the beauty of the night sky,
climb on the roof and dance and say,
Like this.


When someone sings the poetry of clouds uncovering the moon,
slowly loosen the strings of your robe.
Like this.

If anyone asks what "God’s fragrance" means,
lean your head toward them.
Keep your face close.
Like this.

If anyone wonders how Jesus raised the dead,
don’t try to explain the miracle.
Kiss me on the lips.
Like this.

When lovers moan, they’re telling our story.

If anyone asks you how the perfect satisfaction
of all our sexual longing will look,

lift your face and say,
Like this.

How did Joseph’s scent come to Jacob?
How did Jacob’s sight return?
A little wind cleans the eyes.
Like this.

When You Stand With Me

There's not much we can do about the plebisite in Australia at the moment. All voters are being asked by mail if they would support a change to the law to allow same sex marriage. You can imagine the sentiments being expressed for and against in various media and social media.

One of the awful aspect of this is how it must feel for the folks being voted on. What an exercise in humiliation. I'm sorry. I'm sorry you have to go through this and all the virtiol it has stirred up. 

Anyway this is the best thing I can think of to do. If you and your choir feel the same way, please sing this. I know I'm totally hetero normy and I hope you will forgive that I wrote a story which isn't mine.

The licence is free. Sing it. Photocopy it. Share it. As you wish. I hope it helps.  

I'm talking to a dear friend and professional tenor about making a recording of this, so we'll see where that leads.

UPDATE:

Here's a solo version. In a higher key which I think would be better for soloists.

 

x

Nativity - part two

Key Sig: Starts in D, moves to E

Time Sig: 4/4

Parts: SATB plus piano

Complexity: comfortable medium for community choir 

Now to the next exciting instalment of the nativity. Part two of probably eight. 

You'll find sheet music and rehearsal tracks for part one here.

This is a 15 or so minute work I wrote nearly 10 years ago. I found it recently and am brushing it up a section at a time. If you're an adventurous sort you could follow along, teaching it to your choir one week at a time, as I release the instalents - hoping that the succeeding sections will be good. hahaha.

I have so many recordings to share with you from my recent sacred concert and also from my community choir who have nearly finished recording the entire Il Festino. What I might do is make some separate pages of these on this site. Some of the songs came up so incredibly and  will mean you'll be able to hear real live people singing some of the pdfs I've shared here.

Nativity - part one

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Key - C major

Time Sig - 4/4

Parts - SATB and piano

Complexity - medium. Perfectly manageable for a robust community choir.

 

Maybe you are much more organised than me, and you have all your Christmas music sorted. Well good for you - and if that's the case, this may be something you can consider for 2018!

I wrote this nativity the best part of ten years ago, and put it on with a choir I was directing at the time. I came across it a few weeks ago and thought I'd brush it up to do this year.

It's about 35 pages long, and goes for about 15 minutes. I started working on it last week, hoping I could be clever and release the whole thing yesterday - but I'm learning - these things take time. So I'll brush up a section a week, and you can follow along! Maybe there'll be seven or eight sections - I'll start at the beginning and work forward - and we'll be done by the end of October!

Here are the rehearsal tracks for section one.

The Morning Star

I'm thrilled to be able to share with you the first recording from last Sunday's concert. The Morning Star, composed for Bethany Hill and choir.

Bethany's luminous voice and exquisite musicality were such a joy to write for. She is an early music specialist and has shared with me recordings of some of the music she most delights in. This music has such life and brightness, so I have tried to write for her with that flavour.

I felt Bethany would love the vibrancy of Hemiola and made changing meter a feature of this song. To me the brightest of modes - the lydian - communicates the exquisite aching beauty of starlight. But because Bethany is a celt I wanted to give her a thread to her musical home, so also drew on the Mixolydian. And I tried to write colatura that was simply her voice dancing. 

One of the features of Bethany's beautiful voice is how it just keeps going up and up and up, and I had to consider that to compose for this requires care. If her whole line was stratospheric it wouldn't be obvious, the high needs to come from somewhere (lower obviously) to be brought into relief. (think of how much preparation Mozart gives our ears for the Queen of the Night.)

For the text, the starlight in Bethany's voice, drew me towards the music of the spheres. The ancient idea that the celestial bodies were contained on concentric rings around the earth and these rings move, creating music. This thrilling idea means we are surrounded with music from these spheres, but because it is a constant sound, we don't hear it. Researching this concept led me to text from Walt Whitman. I took several lines from his poem Salut Au Monde and also drew on Shakespeare's Seven Ages of Man. I wanted the biblical idea of the morning star as an Angel, and I wanted her singing to be her agency of love for the humans she watches over.

When I wrote for the choir, I tried to convey the sense that the work was a chorale or hymn of the earth. That it was people singing, to their star, and their star singing back to them. I wanted a slight shimmer of dissonance for the humans. We struggle. And now is a time that feels slightly volatile and uncertain. My favourite choral writing is Rachmaninoff's All Night Vigil. I am inspired by the way he builds and drops his choral sound - from a roar that fills the entire sky to the tiniest thread of sound - the light of a single candle. It's so thrilling and I relish how he can do this and make it magnificent and not in the least affected. 

This wonderful choir was formed for this concert, and I am filled with gratitude for the singers who made this work possible.

Thank you to Ray Thomas and Peter Day for the recording. 

Bethany can be contacted via facebook.
The sheet music is here.

The Morning Star

I am the song of the planets turning.
I sing the longest day. I sing the midnight sun
as she turns on slanted rings. I sing the sun.

Sing Gloria.

I am the song of the earth.
I sing the oceans to the shore. I sing the four winds to the far lands
I sing the storm rising in the desert. I sing the earth.

Sing Gloria.

I am the song of the pulsing breath. The lovers’ ballad
The soldier’s oath. The crone’s ancient story
I sing the baby’s sleeping sigh. I sing the breath.

I am the song of the planets turning and I sing the pilgrims home.

Sing Gloria.

And In The Centre We Dance

We come spinning out of nothingness.
Scattering stars like dust.
The stars form a circle
and in the centre we dance.

Rumi

I have neglected this supposedly weekly blog while I've been madly finishing up solo pieces for my concert next weekend. Rather than hold off another week before I get back to you - I'll share one of these pieces.

I wrote this one for Emlyn (husband/baritone) many years agoc as part of an Oratorio and have reworked it for the concert, where we will do a few pieces from the original work.
The Oratorio was called Letters For A Queen and follows the journey of Merchior to Bethlehem.

It's quite chilly in our house which means the piano's tuning has come completely undone, and Emlyn has taken to wearing a blanket cape. We are recording the concerts next weekend so you will be able to hear it done properly but I thought you might like a sneaky peak. x

I'll be back in a couple of weeks. Hopefully with some wonderful recordings to share.

If you live in Adelaide and want to come, book through https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/and-in-the-centre-we-dance-tickets-36086536803?aff=es2

 

 

Find My Way for Choir

Next week Emlyn and I are off to Melbourne to run a workshop and choir for this concert - supporting the Australian Cancer Council. Seems like a good concert to bring out Find My Way. I think we will do the verses as solos and then the choir join in where I've written it out for four parts. I shared this song a few posts back - as a solo. The words are inspired by some of my mum's recent reflections on her experiences dealing with breast cancer.

If are in Melbourne and would like to be involved, please book online. And come and introduce yourself won't you?

Then a significant number of choristers from my gorgeous Adelaide choir Voices in the Wilderness are bringing Banchieri's Il Festino to Newport Festival, with medieval instrument accompaniment from Ray Smith and his near missus Kerryn, If you're around Saturday 1st July 2pm, please come!!! At the Newport Substation.

Yesterday I presented a workshop in sightsinging, thanks to the support of the SA Branch of the Australian National Choral Association. I shared some of the work I've done so far for the Kodaly scholarship - composing choral pieces that carefully and sequentially develop sightsinging skills. The folks at this workshop sang the songs gorgeously! And the songs worked - it was exciting indeed. (You can never be totally sure until real singers try it out.) We sang Find My Way, and it made me cry. 

 

Find My Way

Key: D Major

Time Sig: 4/4

Complexity - Fairly Simple - tune has only d,r,m and s and introduces tika tika (semiquavers to the fancy folks) It's a bit of a pop song - I think it suits piano or guitar accompaniment.

Primary Singing Lesson

About five years ago I stopped teaching private voice lessons in primary schools. My instincts at the time were that while I was not doing any harm, I wasn't doing anything particularly useful. I believed little people gained more from singing in an excellent children's choir than they did from private vocal lessons. After that, in my own studio, I only took on private primary students who needed remedial lessons - little people who were doing something that was interfering with easy, in tune singing. Once they had sorted out whatever it was, I sent them off to a choir and said - see you in ten years!

Then last year, I watched James Cuskelly in the documentary "When We Sing", working with little children. James' work with tiny children is so joyous and intelligent and musical. And for the umpteenth time in my life, James inspired me.

I thought - what is the goal of teaching singing to primary children? To lay the foundation that self expression through the voice is natural. That musical expression through the voice is natural. That musical learning through singing is natural. In a nutshell -  I could take the lessons from Kodaly training with James and Reka and Rachael and others at UQ and bring them to private singing lessons.

And then, in the way of these things, early this year, two jobs just happened to come up at primary schools so I went back (or forward) to teaching private primary lessons.

So here's how I now approach primary school singing lessons. The lessons are divided up into seven sections. If you are following along the top of the piano, we work from left to right.

1. Quick Chat

A wise music teacher once pointed out to me that instrumental tutors have this great opportunity in a child's week - we offer one on one attention from an adult. This can be a rare and special thing. She said to remember this on the bad days - when we feel like we haven't given students a PROPER music lesson. We gave them attention and that is a great thing. With this in mind, I like to start with a chat! I ask kids what they've been doing - it's an open question and usually encourages some information sharing.

2. Warm Up Songs

ladybugs.jpg

This begins by handing the student their ladybug shaker. If they need reminding - it's the ta beat on the foot, a titi on their ladybug and a groovy version of a pentatonic song from Sing It Yourself - 220 American Pentatonic Folk Songs. This is about a few things. Singing with a feeling of beat. (If you've ever made music with singers who don't have a deeply felt beat you'll know what an issue this is.) And shared beat. I have my own ladybug shaker and I wear my noisy shoes so my beat is loud and clear. We are jamming together - working from one beat. We sing together and sing these lovely pentatonic songs in tune. I use American songs because American folk and gospel songs are the grandparents of the pop music the kids listen to. So the kids are at ease. There's a lot to do - keeping the beat, and titis, and singing and jamming with someone else. When kids have mastered this we can introduce different ostinatos on the ladybugs! For kids who are real naturals, I get them to try the challenging experiment of titi on the feet, ta on the ladybug. To keep 'em on their toes!

During this and the next segment, I can notice any issues and address them through modelling while we are singing. For eg, if the kids are tense I start wobble dancing. If they are flat I brighten my face. If they are shouting, I change the words to a light "voo" and they follow me.

3. Rounds

in a private lesson, rounds are brutal. Little people have to learn to hold a part by themselves. That's tough! So this is what we do - taking as many lessons as needed for each step to be secure. Of course for the naturals, we skip steps. (This is another great gift private tutors have - the learning tempo can be completely suited to each student.)

  • learn the round in unison
  • sing together, with the piano doing the second part
  • sing in canon, with me singing very quietly. Sometimes we 'go into our corners' or I step outside the teaching room! The kids usually smile when I tell them - this isn't normally OK but just now, please ignore your teacher! Sometimes the kids need revision of little bits that are going wrong. Sometimes I stay at the piano and give them an occasional, scaffolding note.
  • If you've sung in ensembles you know the feeling when everyone listens as they sing, and sings into the group sound. There is this magical feeling of traction as you click in. This is the last step, as the kids get used to singing in harmony and start to be able to sing and listen simultaneously. I slowly increase my volume and build the sound with them. It makes me a bit teary just thinking about it. 

4. Animal Noises

This seemingly silly segment is where the technical work happens.

We do mimicking and generally for my beginning kids I noodle around in F pentatonic, making up little tunes. Going down to middle C and up to top F - a comfy range for new trebles. 

For onset, we have monkey noises. To stop harsh glottal stops, we make sure the monkey is a little baby monkey. "Now when humans sing they go 'ha-ha-ha' but when baby monkeys sing they go 'a-a-a'. Can you be a baby monkey?" (For thoughts on teaching onset to young voices, and many other wise thoughts on singing pedagogy, please check out Karyn O'Connor's magnificent resource SingWise.)

For light mechanism we have the sooky pocket cow. "As you know normal sized cows go "MMMOOOO" but tiny little pocket cows (gestures) go "moo". I don't know why, but pocket cows are very sooky little creatures so when they say "moo" it sounds quite sooky. like this...". The kids like mooing to Brahms' lullaby. As time goes on, and depending on the student, we can glide from this little sound into a bigger sound and talk about it how this feels like gently stretching a hair elastic. 

For brightness we have the pussy cats who sing "Meow" and "Ngeow". And as time goes on and depending on the student, I get the kids to notice how the M and NG help their voice feel into their forehead and how the vowel feels in the same place.

For slowing exhallation, we sing the snake song. Counting the first S's off on our fingers - I start with four beats on s and build up over time.
ssssssssssssuper Sally snake
sssssssssssslithers on the sand
sssssssssssslithers in the sun
ssssssssssssuper Sally snake
For kids who have body awareness we notice how their trunk feels as they sssss and stays the same during the other words. For kids who don't, I just model the movement of the ribs staying out, using my hands, during the song and remind myself these brilliant little people mastered an entire language by the time they were five just through modelling.

I've been slowly collecting animals for this segment. I took the photo of the top of the piano a while ago, when my collection was limited to the chickens. Spotty chicken is chest voice - starry chicken is head voice. When the kids are pushing up in spotty, they have learnt to feel it and grab starry. They either just hold her, or toss her in the air. Sometimes we throw the chickens at each other, to get a feeling of forward sound. (But only with some students - I use throwing more with high school kids because I'm always concerned that little ones can easily turn this into pushing.)


5. Musicianship/Theory

If you teach using a Kodaly approach you will know that all elements of music theory can be taught through singing songs. If you haven't studied Kodaly - you should sort that out! I went to the Queensland Summer School. It changed my life. (There are other wonderful courses around Australia offered by different Kodaly branches.) Kodaly is a wonderful wonderful method for teaching theory to singing students. If you can't get to a summer school, invest in The Kodaly Method 1 by Lois Choksy. For other instruments, musical literacy is a standard part of lessons. It's important that we honour singing students by giving them the same power of literacy.

When I first taught primary singing, I made a theory book for singing students. On my list of things to do is rewrite this. As I'm planning to do a new, much revised edition, I'll share the old one here for you for free. 

6. Conscious Singing Technique

In an adult lesson, this segment might consitute half the lesson. For kids, this segment is the smallest part of their lesson. I like to introduce one tiny idea, being very careful the idea is simple and easy to do. We get it, then we apply it in a song. It might be lifting the pillars of fauces. "You've seen on cartoons that dangling bit in the back of people's mouths? And there's these arches either side of them? (Drawing if necessary) When you lift them up it feels like smiling on the inside - between your ears. (Thanks go to the mighty David Jones for this imagery).(Gesture, model) You do this when you've just been given a lovely surprise present and you say 'oh thank you'. Try it...". "Let's do it together in this song...". During my first stint of teaching primary school, years ago, I also made a tutor book for this. I also plan to significantly revise this. (Is it Oprah who says - I did as good as I knew how. When I knew better, I did better?) There is a lot I'm planning to do better - but it'll get you started!  

7. Singing Proper Songs

I've got a collection of songs I love teaching kids. We sing through a song or two from this collection, applying whatever technique they 'got' during the lesson. (I'm sure you have your own collection.) Or we just sing a song through because they've done enough application work and it's good to just sing. Finally some kids bring in their own pop song backing and the last three minutes of their lesson might be spent in karaoke with them trying to emulate a highly curated and worked into sound created in a studio for non pedagogical reasons. I figure the world will keep turning if we do this for three minutes, but I've never managed to come between the kids and the sound of the recording - they just try their darndest to emulate the sound they hear. Which means I can't teach them anything during this time. But it does mean they connect their singing with the song that currently matters to them, and share that with me, and that matters.