Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Choral Chameleon Institute: Day 4

Boy, what a day Monday has been! The full spectrum of musical knowledge and human emotion went into it for sure, and I think I've just about come out the other side - not entirely unscathed, but relatively intact!

Brain fried yet?....
Beginning the morning with ear training (as so many of the mornings here do), I think I've decided what my issue is with Solfege..... and that is that it is literally just requiring me to rename everything, and actually, for no good reason that I can see (or hear). If I was a complete beginner, then sure, I would relish the need for notes to be named in some way so that I could try to reference - but my problem is, they already ARE named! I use the musical alphabet! And if you compare the system of the musical alphabet and Fixed Doh, the only difference is what each note is called. There is no additional benefit to me singing 'Re' instead of a D, or a 'Sol' instead of G - I actually tried this in my own time, by sight-reading a piece using letter names, and then sight-treading another (similarly difficult piece) in Solfege, and what I found was that with letters I had no problems at all, but with Solfege I kept singing the wrong syllables, found my pitch was wavering in places, and I even just reverted to letter names at one point because it's so ingrained! I think my real bugbear is that, with the course participants that have learned Moveable Doh, I can see the benefit in them learning how to use Fixed Doh, as it's a variant of the system that they already use that they may come across - for me though, like I've said before, it's like asking me to think in French for no reason!

Soon after we were off to meet the Choral Chameleon Singers for the first read-through sessions. Up first was conducting, which meant that Tegan and I were to conduct this professional group of singers for the first time. In total honesty, I was terrified. This is so far out of my comfort zone I have to admit, my anxiety levels are through the roof, and I found myself retreating into myself when it was my turn to conduct, which those of you that know me would probably have been really shocked to see! Perhaps it's the fact that these are professional singers who really know their stuff and I, as the amateur am expected to lead them.... perhaps it's realising that Tegan is so much more experienced and at ease with this than me that I feel not up to par..... or perhaps there's some other mental block that's going on - whatever it is, I know I need to take some time and figure it out, because the concert is on Friday and I really don't want to suck at this! All that said, the faculty we had on hand were superb, and were really able to get the needed teaching across: at one point I was surrounded by the choir singing at me, and having to run around and look them all directly in the eye, really listening to each individual voice, which was just the right amount of silly to sink in as an important lesson! The singers themselves are also truly lovely people, who you can tell are willing you to do well, and want to help you in anyway they can, always giving feedback with a compliment as well as a suggestion.

In session with Choral Chameleon (or half of them at least!) 
After a short break to compose myself (ha, pun intended), the choir split in half so we could begin to read-through everyone's first drafts of their piece, using two separate groups. I was up first, and I soon realised just how much more comfortable I am having a choir sing my music at me, rather than lead them in performing the music - I just felt much calmer and my piece really started to come to life. Although it's not finished yet, I'm really pleased with where it's going, and several of the choir, other composers and even the faculty were saying how wonderful it's already sounding. A fab little pick me up to get me back in the zone, and I can't wait to hear my next draft, and indeed the finished article with the full ensemble on Friday!

Yaaaaay! Singing Nerds! (Me with Justin Stoney,
post-vocal workout)
Taking a little detour from the Institute, I spent the afternoon back in Manhattan, as I had booked myself a singing lesson with Justin Stoney from New York Vocal Coaching. I came across Justin's youtube channel from my research for my Singing Teaching Diploma with The Voice College, and found I really liked his approach to both teaching and singing, and found it complemented everything I was learning and my own approach to music on the whole. So, I thought, why the hell not book myself a lesson with him while I'm in New York?! And I am SO glad I did, as it was a truly awesome lesson. Justin is every bit as knowledgeable and compassionate in person as he is on youtube, and we were able to jam in about 5 lessons worth of material into my one session, getting sounds out of my voice that I didn't know I could do! He was also really complementary on my voice on the whole, and seemed rather impressed with my vocal range, which was just an awesome icing on the cake, and just the boost I needed before having a good old stomp through Central Park: a glorious piece of nature in the middle of a busy city - fabulous!

What really struck me today was just how much of a different person I was in each of these four activities - in Ear Training, I would be more confident if I was allowed to do it my way (haha!), but generally speaking I'm solidly comfortable - in conducting I could not be more uncomfortable right now, which is actually somewhat of a shock to me! It's not even that I think I can't do it, because I know I can - there's something else going on which needs working out.... With composing I'm more than happy to sit and listen to a choir sing my music and then talk about it - and well, having a singing lesson and nerding about the voice is basically my life, and it was clearly the happiest and most energetic I'd been all day! It just goes to show that every musician has their strengths, weaknesses and underlying anxieties, and, harkening back to Vince's masterclass on Sunday, it really is all about knowing yourself if you're going to succeed.

A little bit of the good stuff at the end of a very busy day....