Saturday, 24 June 2017

Choral Chameleon Institute: Day 1 (...ish....)

Here I am again! In the US of A on another musical learning adventure, this time taking place at the Choral Chameleon Institute in Brooklyn, New York! One look at the course schedule, and it's obvious it's going to be jam-packed - so, naturally, I have prepared for this by being a tourist and enjoying what NYC has to offer!

"New York, New Yoooooork!"
After spending a day in London during one of the hottest days of the year (the tube was disgusting, need I say more....), followed by an long haul flight over to NYC, and after waiting what seemed like an ice-age for the damn Subway train to show up, I finally got myself settled into my AirBnB flat in Brooklyn, with a quick walk around the area for some food and to get my bearings. The following day I decided to got for the longest walk EVER, first spending the morning taking in the sights of Brooklyn, specifically round Brooklyn Bridge Park. What's rather lovely about this area is how green it is, and surprisingly peaceful for being in a city! The big main roads are noisy, sure, but overall, Brooklyn has a calm feel to it, which is just what the doctor ordered right now! On this morning adventure I even found a piano, just sitting there on the pier facing the financial district of downtown
Manhattan. Naturally, I immediately sat at said piano to play and sing some jazz, because that's what it's there for, surely! It turns out there are about 50 pianos dotted all over New York, as an effort to increase creativity and increase the 'humanity' of the city, which I think is a great idea, and I love to see more of this everywhere - Guernsey has attempted something like this in the past, with one piano in the Market Square, but we really could do more - there's 10 parishes for crying out loud! One in every parish, open to the public to be played and enjoyed by all - I think it's worth doing! After my musical detour I decided to make my way to over the Brooklyn Bridge, which is a hell of a walk I can tell you, but absolutely worth doing if you're ever in NYC - the views alone are fantastic, and there is a tremendous sense of achievement when you get to the other side! After a brief rest I made my towards the financial district in order to see the 9/11 memorials: two large square shape pools, each with plaques around the outside to list the names of all the victims, from the towers, planes, and emergency services. There was something about these memorials that felt very respectful, tasteful, and powerful, and I'm not ashamed to admit I was moved to tears by them - perhaps the recent stream of attacks and horror we've had in the UK hit me while I was reading these names, because that's the power of a name: it puts a face, even a blurry one you can't see because you didn't know the person, onto the tragedy, which makes it terribly effecting. Continuing on my first day of exploration, I made a heroic charge through Greenwich Village, Soho, China Town and Little Italy, eventually giving in to the agony my feet were in and making my way back to Brooklyn via the Subway for a much needed night in of rest.

One World Trade Centre
 For my second day of exploration, I took the Subway into Manhattan to pick up, vaguely, where I left off, at the Washington Square Park Arch, and then decided to make another heroic effort to walk all the way to the Empire State Building via a few of New Yorks park squares. Once again I was delighted to find music creativity alive and well in these little hubs of nature, as several of them had stages set up and bands performing - the Jazz trio I heard in Union Square Park were fantastic! Making my way past the Flatiron building, I finally got to the Empire State Building, and took in a little time to shop around the so called 'Garment District' of NYC. Just to put these 'heroic' walks in perspective, I spent a minimum of 8 hours walking across both of these days, which, at 3mph average walking speed is some fair mileage I can tell you! Needing a little respite it was back on the Subway to head to Rockefeller Centre and walk past Radio City Music Hall and down to the infamous Time Square, where there was a fabulous area of raked steps to just sit on and people watch. Although it's easy to see why it's so iconic, housing the many theatres of Broadway, the Time Square area was not my favourite place to be in New York - very noisy, garish, and if the ladies who were roaming the streets in nothing but knickers, high heels and red white and blue paint  to 'cover' everything else were anything to go by, clearly, anything goes on Broadway. Personally, I'd rather take the West End of London any day! But that said, what better way to finish of my day with a Broadway show: Avenue Q! The show itself was brilliant, with a capsule cast and
Just chilling out at Times Square
band, and a delightful reference to modern times, I thoroughly enjoyed my time laughing heartily and enjoying my broadway experience. Interestingly, the New World Stages, where Avenue Q is staged is actually a multiplex of theatres (about 5 I think!), which are built underground, which means several shows can take place in one building at any one time. A fantastic idea in theory, but my love of 'theatre' just left me feeling a little cold in this modern looking 'cinema' style building - I just wish it looked a bit more like a classic theatre is all! 

Finally, after a hectic few days of touristing, it was time to get down to business with the start of the Choral Chameleon Institute. After a welcoming breakfast, there was no hanging around, it was straight down to business with a group singing session. One of the things which has already thrown itself at me as a challenge is the use of Solfege; a musical system by which to sing notes - many of you non-muso's will actually know it, as it is the lyrics in 'Do-Re-Mi' from the Sound of Music! And, although I have actually played the part of Maria in said musical, I didn't actually learn Solfege to do that song - I learned the notes and the Solfege was just 'lyrics' to me! There's also a whole other debate of 'Fixed Doh' and 'Moveable Doh' which I won't get into now, but will revisit at a later date after much needed processing and discussion! Following this session was brief one-to-one sessions to gauge our ear-training levels, followed by music analysis; a hardcore session revisiting Bach Chorales and their theoretical elements, many of which I have not done extensively since I did my GCSE music! I can only thank my mother for hammering that information into me so well, because boy was I rusty! My initial comparison to this course so far is, there's SO much more in the way of academic involvement, but at the same time, it is still a safe and welcoming space of learning and exploration, and the positive vibe is palpable for sure.

Now, I'm attending this course as dual concentration, which means I taking part as both a composer AND a conductor. The composing part I feel confident enough with that I can get a piece I'm happy with out in this week-long time frame, and, even with the Solfege quandary to get my head round, the theory side of things I also feel confident about..... but conducting... that is a whole other ball game right there. I've only been chorally conducting for 9 months, so I am feeling like a guppy in a sea of sharks, and safe to say, I've left my comfort zone on this one! But what's really great is that this Institute already has a vibe of safety about it - there is no judgement, just compassion and a will to do your best, and guide you. The staff are passionate and approachable, and there's just the right amount of eccentricity to make everything feel fun amidst all the intense work being thrown at us. That said, I need to do some serious alone time with my conducting scores and really find my 'conducting hat', so to speak - watch this space on that one!

Time to get cracking! Scores, coffee - let's go!
Following that mental mind-bend was my first one-to-one lesson, which consisted of 'tell me about yourself' and discussing which text I might use, and how to approach it. Undecided thus far, but I have a few ideas swimming around which are starting to present their potential. Rounding off the teaching for the day was a Dictation lesson, where essentially we spent time applying ear-training techniques and theoretical knowledge of Bach Chorales in order to be able to dictate them, as in, write them down from just hearing them. I'm a little rusty, I admit, but much more back in my comfort zone with this one - however, I feel like Solfege and I are fast becoming frenemies in this Institute - my natural instinct is to just sing any sound (like 'Doo', or 'Dah'), because, as I have perfect pitch, I hear the note I need in my head anyway. Applying these 'new' words to these notes I already hear in my head is proving to be my issue: it's like trying to read and speak a new language and translate in your head all at the same time, and it's rather annoying! We did end the session with a rather fun (operative word) little exercise which I urge my muso friends out there to try - singing 'Row Row Row your boat' in canon with playing it on your instrument (piano usually best - clarinet could pose a problem....) - Now, I can do this quite happily with the words.... with Solfege, I want to murder things...... this is going to be an emotional roller-coaster of a week I can see.... But, all in all, a great start to the course, rounded off by a excellent social dinner - what better way to get to know your fellow composer/conductors than over food and drink eh?

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