Blogs! | - short courses & residential study breaks in great locations

A selection of articles from bloggers within the community

  • Dillington Cider

    Dillington Cider

    Listed on January 27, 2017 by Dillington in Blogs!

    We are now thrilled to announce that this year’s harvest has been sent to Burrow Hill Cider to produce our first batch of cider, which will be ready in February.

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  • Renowned Coull Quartet play at Benslow Music Hitchin

    Renowned Coull Quartet play at Benslow Music Hitchin

    Listed on January 26, 2017 by Benslow in Blogs!, Music

    The Benslow 2017 concert season kicks off on Friday 3 February 2017 with the anticipated return of the Coull String Quartet

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  • Anglia Leisure Learning for Short Residential Weekend and One Day Leisure Courses in Arts, Crafts and Hobbies

    Anglia Leisure Learning for Short Residential Weekend and One Day Leisure Courses in Arts, Crafts and Hobbies

    Listed on January 25, 2017 by Anglia Leisure Learning in Blogs!, Crafts & Textiles

    We are currently firming up on the schedule of weekend leisure courses for 2017, which will include many leading tutors who have worked with us for years, along with a variety of new tutors to bring a range of different course topics.

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  • The top 10 forthcoming courses at Madingley Hall

    The top 10 forthcoming courses at Madingley Hall

    Listed on January 18, 2017 by Madingley Hall in Blogs!

    We have compiled a 2017 top 10 list of forthcoming University of Cambridge Institute of Continuing Education (ICE) courses at our home, Madingley Hall.

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  • What’s coming up at Hawkwood

    Listed on January 14, 2017 by Hawkwood College in Blogs!

    Developing confidence and well being at Hawkwood - highlights of forthcoming events and course programmes

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  • Sing Africa!

    Sing Africa!

    Listed on January 12, 2017 by in Blogs!, Singing

    Spend the weekend with Chris Rowbury learning harmony songs from across the African continent! No experience needed – just a love of singing. An opportunity to sing and move to infectious African rhythms.

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  • Dillington News January 2017

    Dillington News January 2017

    Listed on January 12, 2017 by Dillington in Blogs!

    With the festive season now a distant memory, we turn our thoughts to the new year and the new programme. Judging by the high volume of phone calls we have already received, the programmes have started arriving.

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  • Not just a boat building school!

    Listed on January 11, 2017 by Boat Building Academy in Blogs!, Crafts & Textiles

    The Boat Building Academy on Monmouth Beach is not just a boat building school. It also delivers intensive and highly practical woodworking courses, running from two days to 12 weeks.

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  • Love books?

    Love books?

    Listed on January 11, 2017 by The Grange in Blogs!, Crafts & Textiles, Writing

    There are a few places left on our Beginners’ Bookbinding course, April 6th - 9th. For further details please call on 01691 623495 or visit the bookbinding page of our website :

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  • Guitar players – have fun and get inspired!

    Guitar players – have fun and get inspired!

    Listed on January 10, 2017 by Guitar Weekends in Blogs!, Music, Offers

    Our full schedule of 2017 guitar courses is now on the website and we are extending our Early Bird Discount offer of £25 for new players booking via - just quote LC17 and book before 15 February 2017.

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  • New programme of creative writing retreats

    New programme of creative writing retreats

    Listed on January 9, 2017 by Arvon in Blogs!, Writing

    Arvon, renowned for its creative writing residential courses set in inspiring rural locations, has just released its 2017 programme. Email to receive a copy of the latest brochure

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  • Christmas present ideas

    Christmas present ideas

    Listed on December 4, 2016 by Knuston Hall in Blogs!

    Did you know you can buy a Knuston Hall gift voucher for any amount which can then be used towards the cost of a course – so Christmas is solved!!!

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  • How to plan a singing workshop when you don’t know who’s coming

    Listed on June 27, 2016 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    Most weeks when I lead my choir I know which singers are going to turn up.

    ABBA, Brussells May 09 (1)

    But when I run a one-off workshop, I often don’t know who will be coming. How can you be prepared for the unknown?

    I have a singing day coming up where all I know is that there are currently 43 singers booked. I don’t know how many men there will be nor if the women like to sing high or low.

    I run a monthly drop-in singing morning locally. Because people don’t need to book in advance I never know exactly how many singers there will be until I arrive on the day.

    Sometimes I know exactly how many singers will be coming to my workshop and how many of those will be men. But until I get there I won’t know how experienced they are, how many of the men are tenors, how quick they are at picking songs up, how many – if any – sopranos there will be and so on.
    How can you be prepared for all possibilities?

    The simple answer is: you can’t.

    You can, however, make sure that you have plenty of flexibility.

    Here are some things you can do to prepare:

    • don’t make assumptions – if you assume you’ll have an equal distribution of voice types or plenty of singers to tackle that complex five-part arrangement, then you risk ending up being disappointed and probably struggling.
    • have a few simple songs – whatever the number of singers or how experienced they are, it’s always a good idea to have a few simple songs up your sleeve: rounds, two-part harmony, chants. Even with an experienced group there is plenty of work you can do around simple material.
    • allow for alternative arrangements – when you’re planning your workshop, have an alternative in mind for each song. Can you drop a part if necessary? If you have no male tenors, can you change the key so women can sing the tenor part? If you end up with all women (or all men), can you adapt your arrangement easily?
    • lower your expectations – since you’re heading into the unknown, it’s best to keep things simple and flexible. Don’t take all complex material or hard songs or songs with lots of parts. Maybe take one, but be prepared to let it go. Mixit up.
    • don’t pander to the worst case – on the other hand, don’t assume the worst. If you just take simple stuff and you end up with an amazing group of singers who pick stuff up very quickly, you might be left with not enough material.
    • try not to rely on handouts – if you’re going to use sheet music or printed lyrics, you might be in trouble if you don’t know how many singers will be coming. Try to avoid handouts entirely (I put A1 size sheets of paper on the wall with lyrics written on them) or make sure there is somewhere to copy more at the workshop venue.
    • what’s the worst that can happen? – having no expectations is really, really hard. It’s very difficult to hide your disappointment if only a handful of people turn up. Imagine the worst possible case and then it’s bound to be better than that! I ran a workshop once with just three other people. In retrospect I used material that was too hard. With the experience I have now, I could make it work much better. The absolute worse case is that you might have to cancel or reschedule.

    You might also find these other posts useful:

    Planning ahead: leave space for the unexpected

    Best laid plans – dealing with the unexpected in singing sessions

    How do you deal with planning for the unknown? I’d love to hear your ideas.

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    Chris Rowbury



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  • Eden Summer & Arvon – Liz Flanagan

    Listed on June 20, 2016 by Arvon in Blogs!

    One evening in March, I found myself sitting in the guest reader’s chair at Lumb Bank, facing a...

    The post Eden Summer & Arvon – Liz Flanagan appeared first on Arvon.

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  • Choir committees and how to handle them 3: the advantages of a good committee

    Listed on June 13, 2016 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    I’ve written about the things that can go wrong with choir committees, now it’s time to celebrate the good bits.

    show of hands

    A good committee can be a huge benefit to any choir.

    In previous posts I’ve looked at what a choir committee is for and what can happen when a committee goes bad.

    Now it’s time to look at how a good committee can really benefit a choir.

    If you’ve made sure you know what your committee is for, laid down clear guidelines about the committee’s remit, carefully chosen the committee members and put safeguards in place to prevent things going bad, you can sit back and reap the benefits.

    Here are a few of the many things that a good committee can bring to your choir:

    • chance give back to your choir – being on the committee gives choir members a chance to give back to the choir rather than simply being a passive member with no sense of control or destiny
    • sense of ownership – the option of being on the committee and of having  a group of choir members to represent you can give a real sense of ownership of your choir and bring it together as a true team.
    • frees up your choir leader – there are lots of niggling, but important, practical tasks that many choir leaders end up doing by themselves. With an effective committee, this workload is taken away giving your MD time to focus on what they’re good at: leading your choir.
    • puts members’ skills to good use  – there is a huge reservoir of skill in any choir. Each choir member brings specific practical skills with them, often connected with their day job. Utilising this rich seam of talent can be really powerful.
    • enables growth and development – it’s easy to have great ideas for your choir — foreign tour, commission a composer, get funding, buy new risers, put on a big concert — so it’s wonderful to have a small team of people who can actually get on the case and make it happen. Your committee doesn’t have to do all the work themselves but can set up different teams of choir members to be responsible for particular developments.
    • gives choir members a voice – individual choir members can feel that they disappear in a large choir and are not being heard. If you have a committee you can have an informal chat with a committee member, write a formal letter, propose an agenda item at the AGM, suggest a project to be discussed at the next committee meeting and so on. In this way you can feel that your voice is being heard.

    I’m sure I’ve only scratched the surface here and there must be many more advantages in having a choir committee. Do feel free to leave a comment and share your own experiences.

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    Chris Rowbury



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  • Memories and Vulnerability at Lumb Bank

    Listed on June 7, 2016 by Arvon in Blogs!

    In the couple of weeks before my ‘Memoir: Shaping narratives’ week at Lumb Bank, I suddenly felt too...

    The post Memories and Vulnerability at Lumb Bank appeared first on Arvon.

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  • 9 Steps to Begin Beautiful Patchwork – Your Free Guide

    Listed on June 7, 2016 by Anglia Leisure Learning in Blogs!

    Considering starting patchwork? Or want to expand your knowledge of this great hobby? Then fill in the form below and download a copy of the booklet 9 Steps to Begin Beautiful Patchwork to discover just what you can achieve. Liza Thanks for signing up! FREE GUIDE : 9 Steps to begin beautiful patchwork Sign up […]

    The post 9 Steps to Begin Beautiful Patchwork – Your Free Guide appeared first on Anglia Leisure Learning.

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  • Choir committees and how to handle them 2: when committees go bad

    Listed on June 6, 2016 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    Having a good committee can be a huge benefit to a choir.

    Цифровая репродукция находится в интернет-музее

    But having a bad committee can be horrid and even destructive. Here are some common problems and how to deal with them.

    A democratically elected choir committee can be a wonderful thing, but it depends on who gets elected, how effective the committee member are and if they share the same vision as the choir as a whole.

    things that can go wrong

    Here are four things that can go wrong with committees.

    1. the bad apple – sometimes an apparently benign choir member turns ‘difficult’ when they get elected to the committee. They may be dictatorial or disruptive or make meetings long and complicated or simply be out of step with all the other committee members. You can seldom see this coming until the person gets elected!
    2. committee as dictator – things may be going smoothly but then a new committee is elected and tries to take over the choir. They start making unpopular decisions, try to take control of creative decisions and tell the choir leader how to lead the choir.
    3. lazy members – some people are desperate to get elected, but once there they don’t pull their weight. They may turn up to meetings but aren’t proactive and never volunteer for anything. Resentment gradually builds amongst those members who feel they’re doing all the work.
    4. too many cooks – it is said that if you want to stand for office, then you’re probably the wrong person for the job! Sometimes those people who stand for election are precisely the wrong people to be on the committee. They are ego-driven and power-hungry. Get enough of those type of people together and there will never be any cohesion or consensus.

    ideas to help thing go right

    • get your constitution right – if you draft your constitution carefully you can often avoid many of the problems outlined above. For example, you can add a clause to say that a committee member can be voted off if a majority of other committee members vote against them or will lose their position if they don’t attend enough meetings. To keep relations good between choir leaders and committees, some constitutions allow choir leaders to attend meetings (but not to vote), but have the option of having part of the meeting without them.
    • have clear boundaries – make sure that the committee’s roles and responsibilities are clearly defined. This doesn’t have to be in your constitution (although it’s helpful if they are written down somewhere). Then if any disputes arise about the committee straying into areas that aren’t theirs (e.g. repertoire choice), you can point to the relevant clause. It helps committee members do their job better if they have clear guidelines.
    • head hunt – often there are choir members who you know would make excellent committee members. Maybe even a specific office, e.g. chair or treasurer. However, they may not think of coming forward or be a little reluctant at first. It’s a good idea to sound these people out before your AGM and persuade them to stand for election.
    • get the size right – if your constitution requires too few committee members (e.g. the minimum of chair, secretary and treasurer), then it’s possible that it might become dictatorial. Conversely, if you don’t limit numbers you can end up with huge, unwieldy committees that can never get anything done.
    • civic responsibility – it’s very easy for choir members to let the ‘usual suspects’ step forward when volunteers or committee members are needed. This means that the choir is only ever run by a small elite. The danger of this is that only one set of views are heard and that most members won’t feel any ownership of their choir. Try to instil a spirit of “don’t ask what your choir can do for you, but ask what you can do for your choir.” You can have a formal system whereby every choir member gets to be on the committee at some point, or just encourage every member to feel that they ought to contribute. It’s amazing how well this brings a group together.
    Do let me know if you’ve had problems with committees and how you’ve overcome them. I’d love to hear from you!

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    Chris Rowbury



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  • Choir committees and how to handle them 1: what is a committee for?

    Listed on May 30, 2016 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    Many choirs have committees. These are usually made up of choir members and exist to help the choir run smoothly.


    At least that’s the idea, but sometimes things can go wrong and your committee can become a hindrance. Here are some tips on how to make the most of your committee.

    I thought this was going to be a short post when I started, but I’ve realised that there is quite a lot to say so I’m splitting the subject into three separate posts.

    you don’t have to have a committee

    Unless you particularly enjoy having a formal structure or you’re going after funding which requires a constitution, etc. there is no need to have a committee. Many choirs are run entirely by their musical directors (that’s what I do) or have informal teams to help with the running of the choir. See Does your choir need a constitution?

    committees can take different forms

    There’s the ‘usual’ kind of committee that a formal constitution requires: it has to have a certain minimum number of members and include ‘officers’ such as chair, treasurer and secretary. The committee members usually have a set term and new member are voted in at choir AGMs. The exact formal requirement depends on your particular constitution. Some constitutions are very loose and easy whilst others can be much more complex and formal. Go for the simplest that suits your circumstances.

    You can also have a ‘committee’ which is not formal at all, but created to help support the running of the choir. I had one I called a ‘steering group’ (actually I decided to call it ERIC: “everyone’s really informal committee”) which helped when I handed over the choir to a new musical director. But it could be a loose gathering of choir members to help with something specific like the Christmas party or concert refreshments or researching new concert venues or helping with publicity.

    how to form your committee?

    If you are required to have a committee by your constitution, then that will dictate how you go about forming it. There will be elections from time to time and committee members will need to step down after a specified number of years. There will also usually be a gap before they can stand for re-election.

    If you have an informal ‘committee’ then you need to think hard how it is formed.

    If you ask for volunteers you might get the ‘usual suspects’, i.e. those people who are always first to step up and volunteer for things. They might not be the best candidates and also they might prevent other choir members who are a bit slower at coming forward but who might be really good in the role. See Ask not what your choir can do for you – ask what you can do for your choir

    Another solution is for all choir members to take turns at being on the committee as part of their responsibility as a choir member. Maybe for just one year (although that can create problems of continuity).

    Alternatively, your musical director (or a trusted small group of choir members) can select people to be on the committee. The danger in that is it is not democratic and can lead to power distortions within the choir.

    make sure the committee knows its responsibilities

    Whether it’s an informal group or a committee formally created through your constitution, there have to be clear guidelines about what responsibilities it has. It’s no good having a vague or unsaid understanding as that’s when things can go wrong!

    One possible tricky area is the dividing line between artistic decisions made by your musical director and practical decisions made by your committee. Who decides repertoire? Choir costume? Concert venue? See Whose choir is it any way?

    The other danger is when the committee is just not doing its job properly and leaving too much of the practical work to the creative team.

    next week

    Next week I’ll be writing part 2: when committees go wrong. Then the following week I’ll finish with all the advantages of having a good committee. Stay tuned!

    Do let me know if you have any particular questions regarding committees and I’ll see if I can answer them in this series of posts.

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    Chris Rowbury



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  • Jack’s Kitchen – Banana Cake

    Listed on May 25, 2016 by Arvon in Blogs!

    This is a really easy and delicious way to use up old bananas, I’ve served it here with...

    The post Jack’s Kitchen – Banana Cake appeared first on Arvon.

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  • Front, back or side? The best place to stand in your choir

    Listed on May 23, 2016 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    When you first join a choir it’s very tempting to stand on the back row and hide until you feel more confident.

    odd one out
    photo by Pam Fray

    But did you know that’s the worst place for a beginner to be? Here’s why.

    When we’re not sure about something it’s natural to hang back and to want to stay on the margins rather than be in the thick of things.

    In a choir or singing workshop, most novice singers or those unsure of their part will gravitate to the back row and hide until they feel more confident. But that’s a really bad place to be:
    • you can’t see (or hear) the choir leader clearly;
    • you can feel isolated and forgotten;
    • you have to rely totally on yourself since you’ll be on the margins of your section;
    • you won’t be able to hear the rest of the singers in your section clearly to know if you’re on track;
    • it’s hard to get a sense of how it all fits together as everyone’s voice will be projected away from you.
    As counter-intuitive as it seems, any singer who is unsure (lacking confidence, new to a choir or singing, slow to pick up a tune, worried about getting things wrong) should stand in the front.

    More than that, you should be in the centre of your section on the very front row.

    Here are the advantages:
    • the other singers will be reinforcing your part by singing in your ear;
    • you will feel supported and part of the team;
    • you will be able to see (and hear) your musical director clearly;
    • your musical director will be able to see (and hear) you so can help and support when needed;
    • you will get a better sense of how all the harmony parts fit together;
    • the closer you are to the other singers, the more accurate the harmonies will be.
    Yes, it’s scary and counter-intuitive, but the front row is the best place to be. Leave the back row for the more confident singers.

    And if you initially find harmonies hard (i.e. the other parts put you off easily rather than making things easier), then don’t stand on the join between two different harmony parts either.

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    Chris Rowbury



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  • Annual Book Day at The Grange 25 June

    Listed on May 23, 2016 by The Grange in Blogs!, Crafts & Textiles

    The Grange Ellesmere specialises in courses relating to the traditional skills of making a book - bookbinding, letterpress printing, paper marbling and illustration. This year it is holding its 5th Annual Book Day - a great day for anyone interested in books and how they were, and are still made.

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  • Copperplate Course

    Copperplate Course

    Listed on May 23, 2016 by Knuston Hall in Blogs!, Crafts & Textiles

    Ever wanted to be able to write your Birthday cards in that nice fancy script writing - we have the course for you- if you are not available for the full course why not just pop along for a taster day. J321 Copperplate Wed – Fri 1 – 3 June 2016 Tutor Joy Daniels Shared bedroom occupancy: £266.00 Single bedroom...

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  • Hornet Press: It all started at Totleigh

    Listed on May 17, 2016 by Arvon in Blogs!

    I’ve been working for Arvon for three years, and in that time I’ve been on two courses. My...

    The post Hornet Press: It all started at Totleigh appeared first on Arvon.

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  • Why learning songs with foreign lyrics need not be scary

    Listed on May 16, 2016 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    I teach songs from all over the world, often in foreign languages. But people are always asking me for more songs in English.


    Why is this? Especially since singers usually find the songs with English lyrics harder!

    why do singers want songs in English?

    I’m guessing a bit here, but I reckon these are the most obvious reasons why singers might prefer to sing in English. See also Why can’t we sing more songs in English?
    • familiarity – if English is your first language, then there’s an assumption that it’s going to be easier to sing English lyrics.
    • fear – of the unknown, of not getting it ‘right’, of foreign words being unfamiliar and hard
    • understanding– some people need to understand every word that they’re singing. If the lyrics are in a language they don’t understand, that can be an obstacle. See Song meanings lost in translation.
    • language – many singers feel that they need to be able to speak the foreign language in order to be able to sing in it. Maybe a French song is OK, but Serbo-Croat is a non-starter.
    It turns out that none of these needs to be an obstacle.

    It’s not necessarily easier to sing in English (see below); the ‘lyric police’ won’t be coming to arrest you if you get anything ‘wrong’; foreign lyrics aren’t intrinsically hard, just maybe unfamiliar; you don’t need to understand every individual word in order to sing a song – the overall meaning will suffice (see Singing what you mean and meaning what you sing); there is no need to be able to speak the language you’re singing in: just learn it by rote (see How to sing a song in a foreign language).

    the problems with English lyrics

    Singers may think that singing in English is easier, but it actually throws up quite a few problems.
    • storytelling – songs with English lyrics, especially those from the English folk tradition, are usually ballads so there are lots of verses to learn (and remember). They also tell a story so are usually sung solo with often tricky and unpredictable rhythms. That’s hard when a group of singers are trying to sing such songs. See also Why choirs shouldn’t sing pop songs.
    • paraphrasing – because we understand English lyrics, we tend to remember the overall meaning rather than the individual words. So we end up paraphrasing, using similar words to get the gist. But those words won’t fit the music and also we need everyone in the choir to be singing the same lyrics.
    • mis-remembering – not only do people want to sing songs in English, they often want to sing something they already know, believing that this will make learning easier. Actually it usually makes it harder! There’s a very good chance that we’ve mis-remembered the lyrics over the years and we will have as many different version as there are singers. See It’s hard to teach songs that people already know.

    the advantages of learning songs with foreign lyrics

    Believe it or not, there are many advantages of singing songs in a foreign language, even if you think it’s going to be harder.
    • enjoy different sounds – you can really enjoy getting your mouth and tongue around the unfamiliar sounds of foreign lyrics. You can focus on individual syllables (rather than the meaning) which results in a tighter sound for the group.
    • not many lyrics – many songs from countries with a strong harmony singing tradition focus on the sounds rather than the meaning, so the words are not as important. In many cases songs might have only one, two or three words.
    • open vowels – English is a rather flat language which can almost be spoken without moving your mouth. Not very good for singing! Whereas many foreign languages have ‘open vowels’ (like Italian which is used a lot in opera and bel canto voice training). These vowels are a fantastic vehicle for singers and can help with blend and tone in a choir.
    • level playing field – there’s a good chance that nobody in your choir will know any of these foreign songs in advance. In which case everybody is starting from the same place, unlike songs in English which many choir members might already know.
    • sing in character – singing in a foreign language enables us to feel like we’re someone else. We can sing in character which can be enormously liberating. See Want to sing with more energy? – pretend to be someone else.
    • learn about other cultures – singing songs from different countries allows us to find out more about unfamiliar cultures. It opens the world up to us and helps us to understand that human beings are all the same regardless of where they come from. We all fall in love, have children, get sad and die.
    • focus on the music – since we usually won’t understand the language we’re singing in we won’t get sucked into the story but can focus on the music and harmonies – which is what a choir is about after all. See What do words add to music?
    • rote learning stays longer – unless it’s a foreign language that we speak, the only way of learning is by rote, one syllable at a time. Since we have to drill this more than English lyrics and there’s no scope for paraphrasing, the lyrics tend to go into our long-term memory better. See How to sing a song in a foreign language.
    • be a better singer – by having to focus on the sound of the words and being exposed to an unfamiliar language, you will develop your listening skills and become a better singer. See Singing is all about listening.

    what puts you off singing foreign songs?

    Are you one of those singers who panics at the thought of learning a song with foreign lyrics and prefers to sing in English? I’d love to know why! Do drop by and leave a comment.

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    Chris Rowbury



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  • How male singers can successfully pitch from a woman (and how women can pitch from a man)

    Listed on May 9, 2016 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    As we saw last week, many singers struggle with finding (and keeping) their starting notes.

    photo by Albin Olsson

    What can make it even harder is if a man is trying to pitch from a woman, or vice versa. Here’s what happens and how you can overcome any difficulties.

    [When I started to write this post I thought it was going to be quite short, but it turns out to be very hard to explain in words. It’s much easier if you pop along to one of my workshops and I can demonstrate!]

    men’s voices are (usually) lower than women’s voices

    Growing up we unconsciously make a built-in assumption: women have higher voices than men. Most women speak with a higher voice than most men.

    This is a generalisation of course, but it serves us well in most situations.

    When it comes to singing it’s a bit more complicated as a person’s singing voice doesn’t necessarily have a clear relationship to their speaking voice.

    Many women have low speaking voices but sing very high. The same with men. Prince is a good example of this. Similarly, a man or woman may have a high speaking voice, but be able to sing very low.

    Even though it’s more complex, the general rule still seems to be that the majority of women have higher singing voices than the majority of men.

    we make automatic adjustments

    Because we’ve internalised this generalisation from an early age, when a woman sings a note to a man and asks them to reproduce it, the man will automatically sing the note an octave lower.

    [I’m not going to get into the technicalities of what an ‘octave’ is here, so you’ll just have to bear with me if it’s a term you’re unfamiliar with!]

    When a bloke is being silly and trying to imitate a woman (like on Monty Python) he will speak or sing in his light, high falsetto voice in an attempt to be at the same pitch. He is singing very high (too high usually!) in his range and it usually sounds daft.

    When a woman sings a note to a man and asks him to reproduce it, he won’t go into that silly falsetto imitation, but will automatically adjust to find a note that is comfortable within his own range.

    If the woman sings low in her range, then the man will sing back low in his range. If the woman sings high in her range, then the man will respond by singing high in his range.

    Similarly when a man pitches to a woman she won’t try to get down as low as him (for most woman that won’t be possible), but she’ll make an automatic adjustment.

    When he sings low in his range, she’ll respond by singing low in her range. When he sings high in his range, she will then sing high in her range.

    All well and good. This usually happens automatically and everything works out fine.

    three problems when pitching from the opposite gender

    There are three problems that may occur:
    1. a woman thinks she’s singing down with the bass men, but is actually singing an octave higher
    2. the man or woman giving out the note can actually sing it at pitch which can confuse the singers
    3. when there are men and women in the same part singing at the same pitches it can feel weird to the singers
    Here’s what’s going.

    1. singing different notes that sound the same

    Sometimes a woman in a workshop will believe she has a low voice that can get down with the basses. Sometimes (quite rarely) that is true, but most of the time it’s just that the woman is singing very low in her range and the men are singing very low in their range and the notes appear to be the same. They are, however, an octave apart.

    One way of understanding an octave is that it’s the ‘same’ note sung higher or lower than another. If you can sing a major scale (like “Doe, a deer” from The Sound of Music), then it’s the top note compared with the bottom note. In some sense they are the ‘same’ (they sound alike in some way), yet one is higher than the other. See also Singing the same note: differently!

    2. giving out a note “at pitch” to the opposite gender

    Sometimes the note that is needed can be sung “at pitch” (i.e. exactly the same as it would sound if played on the piano for instance, not an octave apart) by the person giving out the note.

    A woman can often sing a male tenor staring note at the exact pitch. It will be very low in her range. But the men get confused because they’re used to making an automatic adjustment and singing an octave lower than a woman. They’ll end up in their boots!

    Or a man might be able to pitch a low alto note absolutely, singing very high in his range. Again, it might confuse some women in that part who are used to automatically singing an octave higher than a man. They will try to sing really, really high!

    This can be a real problem if the person giving out the note can’t get low enough in their range (woman giving out a tenor note, men giving out a low alto note) to sing it in the right part of their own range.

    3. men and women singing the same part

    Often in community choirs there will be men and women singing together in the tenor part. This can be very confusing when a starting note is given.

    If a woman is giving the starting note, then she will be singing low in her range and the women will copy her exactly. But the men might then try to sing low in their range and end up with the wrong note. But if the women giving out the note gives it high in her range so the men will sing high in their range, the women in the part will get confused and sing too high!

    If it’s a group that meets regularly (i.e. not a one-off workshop), the singers will gradually learn what’s going on. For example, in my own community choir I can give the tenor starting note at pitch (high in my range) and the women in the part know to sing low in their range.

    If singers aren’t used to this it can feel really weird standing next to someone of the opposite gender whilst singing the same note. The woman will perceive the man is singing much higher than her and the man will perceive the woman as singing much lower than her, even though they’re singing exactly the same note. It takes a while to get used to this.

    In one-off workshops I often find myself having to give out two staring notes to the tenors: one at pitch for the men, and one an octave lower for the women (because I want them to sing low in their range). If a woman is giving out the tenor note then this is reversed: she’ll sing at pitch for the women and high in her range for the men.

    do you have problems pitching from a man (or woman)?

    I’d love to get feedback to know if any of this has helped! I’d also love to hear from you about specific pitching issues you have or if you have problems finding your starting note. Do drop by and leave a comment. Thanks.

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    Chris Rowbury



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  • Finding (and keeping) your starting note

    Listed on May 2, 2016 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    Many singers struggle with finding their starting note. Once they’ve nailed that, they’re off and it’s no problem.

    piano keyboard

    How can you make sure you’ve got the right starting note and, more importantly, how can you keep hold of it before the song sets off?

    Just to make it clear, I’m talking about choirs or vocal ensembles that sing in harmony. The problem is harder if your group sings acappella.

    why some singers find it hard to get started

    Some singers can pitch easily from a piano, but not a voice. Others find it easier from voice rather than instrument. And within those who pitch easily from voice, some voices are easier to pitch from than others. It’s a minefield!

    Then there’s anxiety: if you get anxious about singing or finding your starting note, then you won’t be in the moment and paying full attention so won’t be fully aware when your note is given out.

    Finally, it can be hard for a woman to pitch from a male choir leader (and vice versa). This is something I’m going to be writing about next week (in the meantime you can look at Singing the same note – differently!).

    keeping the note you’ve been given

    OK, so you’ve managed to get the right pitch for your starting note, but by the time all the other parts have been given their notes and the song is about to start, you’ve forgotten yours. What can you do?

    • don’t panic – if you start to worry about keeping your note, you will get anxious and more likely to forget. Same thing if you try to block the other parts out.
    • relax and open up – trust that you will remember your note. As  you listen to the other parts being given their notes, think of it as a starting chord and be aware of where your own note fits into the whole.
    • keep it to yourself – some beginner singers are tempted to quietly hum or sing their starting note so they can hold on to it. Not only can this put the other singers off, but the opposite can easily happen. By singing out loud you’re focusing on yourself and not the starting chord plus you’re being anxious (see don’t panic above). The longer you sing the note, the more likely you are to drift off as you’re not paying attention to the whole. Then when you do start, you’ll probably be flat. If you hold the note silently within you and listen to how it fits in with all the others, you’re good to go when the song starts.
    • sound the opening chord – some choir leaders do this all the time. Or maybe it’s something to do only in rehearsal whilst you’re learning. The idea is that once everyone has been given their note (and is singing it silently within), then the whole group sings the opening chord out loud to make sure it’s tuned perfectly. There’s a short pause, then the song sets off. If your musical director doesn’t do this, ask them if you can try it at one rehearsal to see if it helps.

    your part might not come in at the start

    The advice above works well when all harmony parts start at the same time. But what if your part doesn’t come in at the start of the song?

    There will usually be some kind of reference point. Often the last note sung by another part just before you come in will be the same as yours. Either work that out on your own, or ask your choir leader to point it out to you.

    Sometimes that note may be an octave away from where you start, but that’s still helpful.

    What is more difficult is when nobody sings your exact note, but you have to figure out a particular interval between another part’s note and your starting note. It may well be easy to do that in isolation, but in the middle of a song it can be quite a problem.

    This can be the sign of it not being a good song arrangement (a good song arrangement is one that makes things easier for the singers, not the arranger, audience or choir leader). Your options are to just practice, practice, practice, or make sure you use a better arrangement next time.

    men pitching from women, and women pitching from men

    This can be a real problem, especially if there are men and women in the same part (e.g. the tenor section of many community choirs). I’ll be writing about it next week. Stay tuned!

    other useful stuff

    I do hope these ideas have helped. Do let me know if you have a starting note problem that I’ve not covered here, or if you have another solution that works well for you.

    You might also find these other posts useful:

    Learn how to sing in tune – matching pitch

    How do I know if I’m singing in tune?

    Start as you mean to carry on (giving out starting notes)

    Singing the same note – differently! (men and women pitching and ‘octaves’)

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    Chris Rowbury



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