Blogs!

A selection of articles from bloggers within the LeisureCourses.net community

  • Jack’s Kitchen – Yorkshire Puds

    Listed on April 26, 2016 by Arvon in Blogs!

        Preheat the oven to 225°C. Get yourself a cupcake tin and add a tiny splash of...

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  • A Beautiful Collaboration of Spirits and Words

    Listed on April 26, 2016 by Arvon in Blogs!

    Young writers Stacey and Tito talk about their Arvon Lumb Bank experience in partnership with Reform Radio. Having not known much...

    The post A Beautiful Collaboration of Spirits and Words appeared first on Arvon.

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  • I know over 600 songs so how come I can’t think of one when somone asks?

    Listed on April 25, 2016 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    I added it up the other day and I’ve taught over 600 songs in 3- and 4-part harmony over the last 15 years or so.

    scratching head
    photo by Eric Kilby

    But when someone unexpectedly asks me to teach or sing a song, I can’t think of one! What’s that about?

    memory aids

    I’m a very visual person, so although I don’t use sheet music to teach, I do write all the songs down because 600 songs is a lot to keep in your head (and every part too!) and I remember things better when prompted visually.

    Same with lyrics: I only have to see them written down once, but it does help me to remember them.
    When I plan a singing workshop, I spend a lot of time organising the warm up and order of songs in the workshop so it has a journey and  sense of development. But I have to write it down and refer to it as I teach.

    I used to give myself a hard time because I couldn’t create a warm up off the top of my head or teach a song at the drop of a hat. But I’m comfortable now with the fact that that’s how I work best.

    If you need props or memory aids or written notes or a pitch pipe, then so be it. Don’t give yourself a hard time because some other people can do it from memory.

    the tyranny of complete freedom

    Most people think that being able to choose anything at all from an endless list of possibilities is freedom. However, it turns out that complete and unfettered choice is a hard thing to deal with.

    If I give you a blank sheet of paper and ask you to draw something or write a poem, you’ll probably be stuck. If I ask you to improvise a song or dance routine, you’ll probably feel stumped.

    But if I ask you to draw a cat or write a poem about winter or improvise a song around three notes or create a dance in a small square only using your arms, you’ll be off like a shot.

    It doesn’t matter about the quality of the end product, the point is that by restricting your choices it gets the creative juices flowing.

    Now back to those 600 songs.

    If you ask me to teach or sing any song that I want from my extensive catalogue, there are simply too many to choose from. I have nothing to guide me, my selecting mechanism becomes overwhelmed and I draw a blank.

    But if you ask for a song from Zimbabwe, or one in two-part harmony, or a song about harvest time or a song in French, then I’ll happily oblige.

    we’re not performing monkeys

    One last element of this issue. Have you ever been at a party and someone asks what your profession is and then tries to get you to demonstrate that profession?

    “Oh, you’re a therapist! I have real problems with my mother right now.”

    “A dancer? Great! Let’s see some moves.”

    “I didn’t know you were a poet! Can you recite something for me?”

    “So you’re a choir leader. How about teaching us all a song?”

    We’re none of us performing monkeys. Whether we’re an accountant, social worker or musician, we all want to have some time off now and again. We’re also not defined by what we do as a profession, so please don’t ask us to demonstrate.

    other reasons?

    So there are three possible reasons why I might not be able to remember a song from the 600 or so I’ve taught. I’m sure there are plenty of others.

    Can you relate to any of these experiences? Do you have difficulty coming up with stuff on the spot? Any ideas why?

    Do drop by and leave a comment, we’d love to hear from you.

    Until next time …

    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

    Facebook: Facebook.com/ChrisRowbury

    Twitter: Twitter.com/ChrisRowbury
    Monthly Music Roundup: Tinyletter.com/ChrisRowbury

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  • Helen Chadwick in Conversation: Songwriting, Poetry & Tips

    Listed on April 20, 2016 by Arvon in Blogs!

    I am interested in the relationship between poetry and songwriting. Do you think there is a difference there...

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  • A Magic Carpet Ride with Arvon – Julie Summers

    Listed on April 19, 2016 by Arvon in Blogs!

    When you go on an Arvon writing course anything can happen. Shutting sixteen people in a remote house...

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  • Neither fish nor fowl – why most singers don’t fit neatly into SATB boxes

    Listed on April 18, 2016 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    You know the situation: one harmony part goes too high for you, but the other option goes way too low.

    square-peg

    The fact is that most of us don’t fit neatly into SATB boxes. What are we to do?

    Once upon a time we used to sing together and somehow find a place for our voice. We’d even sing harmony parts, happily mixing male and female voices in each part.

    Then composed ‘art’ music came along and the Italians divided us into different voice types: soprano (the really high women), alto (women who could sing low), tenor (males with high voices) and bass (men with deep voices) – hence the acronym SATB.

    In this way we could sing amazing four-part harmony with the notes spreading over a usefully wide range.

    All well and good until us mere mortals try to join in!

    We talk about the ‘untrained’ voice or the ‘non-professional’ singer. We refer to the “classically trained” voice or the “professional tenor”. The implication is that if we only studied and trained hard enough, we too could be professional and reach those high tenor and soprano notes, or even the lowest bass and alto notes.

    But in many ways these trained voices are ‘unnatural’ or ‘artificial’. ‘Unnatural’ in the same way that ballerinas stand en pointe or body builders have extraordinary musculature or ballroom dancers have extended backs and fixed smiles.

    In principle many of us could attain these ‘artificial’ states with a lot of practice, but it’s not what the everyday body or voice is automatically capable of (even though there may be a few individuals who are born able to do these things without effort).

    The majority of singers in choirs, especially community and amateur choirs, don’t want to modify their voices in that way, but are happy with the way they are. They may want to improve their technique somewhat (to enable them to have enough breath to sing a whole phrase for instance) or be able to sing using their whole range (we can’t ‘extend’ the range we’re born with, but we can learn to use the whole of what we’ve been given).

    This is more like the ‘folk’ voice (see Sing how you speak – the ‘folk’ voice or how to sing like a Bulgarian). The voice that is used in traditional song, the voice of regular people, not highly trained art singers. In which case, it almost certainly won’t fit neatly into the SATB boxes.

    Most men have voices at the low end of the baritone range: they can’t reach the really low bass notes or the really high tenor notes. And most women are low mezzo sopranos: they can’t reach the really low alto notes nor the really high soprano notes.

    But hey, who cares what these voice types are called (we’ve also got contralto, second bass, countertenor and so on)? We just want to know where to stand and which part to sing. Where do we belong in our choir so we can reach all the notes comfortably?

    That brings me to the two big points I want to make.

    1. If you can’t reach the notes, it doesn’t mean you can’t sing

    This applies especially to beginners, but it can hit us all at some point. We’ve been happily singing our part in the choir when a song comes along where what we’re asked to sing is simply too high or too low. It’s very easy to start to believe that we can’t ‘sing’ because everyone else can reach those notes. Not true! It might mean you’re in the wrong part or that the arrangement doesn’t suit your choir. Either way, it’s not your fault.

    If you are a beginner and you find this happens a lot, it may also mean that you just have to be patient as you will be able to reach higher and lower notes the longer you sing with the choir. With all the warm ups, regular singing, and vocal development, you’ll soon be able to master the whole range of your voice.

    2. Fit the arrangement to the voices – not the other way round

    Too often choir leaders choose off-the-shelf arrangements without considering that the ranges might not fit the particular voices in their choir. Or a composer might arrange something whilst sitting at the piano which – on paper – sounds wonderful, but they’ve forgotten that it will be human beings who will end up singing it. You can read more about this in my post Fit the song arrangement to your singers and not the other way round.

    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

    Facebook: Facebook.com/ChrisRowbury

    Twitter: Twitter.com/ChrisRowbury
    Monthly Music Roundup: Tinyletter.com/ChrisRowbury

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  • The Ultimate Baroque Experience Hitchin

    Listed on April 15, 2016 by Benslow in Blogs!

    Each year Benslow Music offers a very special course – the Baroque Opera. The aim of the course is to produce a fully-staged public performance of the chosen work in just 5 days!

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  • Bespoke retreats in SW France

    Bespoke retreats in SW France

    Listed on April 14, 2016 by De Tout Coeur in Blogs!

    As well as our calendar of retreats & workshops we can also help you create a bespoke and personalised rural retreat break in France. From a mid week, weekend or longer stay with us - just get in touch to check our availability and book your retreat with us.

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  • Vacancies on a course with a difference

    Vacancies on a course with a difference

    Listed on April 14, 2016 by Knuston Hall in Blogs!

    These workshops are designed to give a basic knowledge of wet feltmaking and to explore the possibilities of this wonderful medium. During the weekend we will discuss specific feltmaking techniques and processes such as nuno, lamination, cobweb and 3D.

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  • SLAMbassadors at Arvon

    Listed on April 11, 2016 by Arvon in Blogs!

    SLAMbassadors UK is a national competition that finds and celebrates the best spoken word produced by young people in the...

    The post SLAMbassadors at Arvon appeared first on Arvon.

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  • When nobody comes to your concert or workshop – how to avoid or recover from a marketing fail

    Listed on April 11, 2016 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    You’ve put all the time and hard work into publicising your next concert or workshop, but then hardly anybody turns up.

    empty room

    How do you figure out what went wrong? It’s all about the what, the when and the where.

    I was going to call this post “When marketing fails: is it the what, the when or the where?”

    They are the three basic elements that can help you work out why so few people have come to your event.

    WHAT: Is what you’re offering of little interest (e.g. the theme and content of your concert)?

    WHEN: Have you chosen a date that clashes with other exciting things in your area?

    WHERE: Is the concert venue you’ve chosen hard to get to, or does the catchment area for your workshop have little interest in singing?

    There are things you can do before the event to avoid these potential problems. There are also things you can do after the event to avoid making the same mistake next time.

    do your homework

    Before you start to publicise your event, make sure you’ve done everything possible to avoid any potential pitfalls.

    WHAT?

    • what’s worked before? – if you’ve held events in this area before, what has worked best or has been most popular? You might choose to do the same or a similar thing, or something that contrasts.
    • other events in the area – look at the ‘competition’. What other events have worked really well? Rather than copying them (then you’ll be going after the same punters), think of doing something similar or contrasting.
    • do market research – ask local people; get some editorial in the local press; use your Rotary Club (or similar); put a questionnaire through people’s doors (or in the local library); ask people who attend other concerts and workshops. You can’t please all the people all the time, but you might get an idea of the kind of thing that a lot of people want.
    • look for a market gap – there might be loads of classical concerts in your area, or lots of pop song workshops. In which case choose something very different as there’s clearly a market gap and you can fill that niche.

    WHEN?

    • Google future local events – this can be hard because you might be organising a concert a year ahead and other events might not have fixed their dates yet, but it can throw up events that tend to occur every year at around the same time.
    • is there a clash diary? – some areas have clash diaries to help choirs avoid programming concerts on the same days. Also consider whether it’s a good idea having an event a couple of weeks before or after a similar event, not just on the same day.
    • avoid (or choose) public holidays – people often have more leisure time on public holidays and want to do a workshops. However, that’s also the time that kids are off school and people want to spend more time with their families. Depends on who you’re aiming your event at.
    • what’s on websites for your area – most towns have a “what’s on” website for local events. Check out a selection to see what else is on.
    • regular classes – choir rehearsals, etc. The worst time to programme a workshop is on the rehearsal night of the local choir! Use your library to look up regular classes and rehearsal nights in your area.

    WHERE?

    • accessibility of venue – there are many different kinds of accessibility and you need to consider them all: disabled access; parking; public transport (when’s the last bus/ train home?); ease of finding the venue (is the SatNav postcode accurate? is it down some dark country lane? can it be confused with a similar venue?).
    • catchment area – work out how far people will travel: audiences for concerts tend to be more local than those for one-day workshops. Make sure there is a sufficient density of population in your catchment area: a workshop on the Yorkshire Moors is very different from one in central London. Does your catchment area overlap too much with one from a previous event of yours?
    • where do your audience live? – there’s not much point in running a residential singing weekend slap bang in the middle of an area where most of your fans live. People want to travel (not too far) to somewhere different and attractive if they’re going to fork out for a whole weekend. Similarly, if most of you concert audience live in your own town, think twice about doing a concert in a different town as you won’t be known there.

    learning after the event

    You did your homework, but still people didn’t come! Was it the what, the when or the where?

    Sometimes, with a bit of analysis, it’s really easy to find out what’s gone wrong. You clashed with an annual event that you’d not noticed; you hadn’t realised that the singing day you’d planned was in half term; the venue you chose was really inappropriate in hindsight.

    In those cases, simply don’t make the same mistake again.

    But sometimes it’s not as obvious.

    If it’s important for you to run a similar event again (e.g. if it’s your choir’s annual concert or a big annual singing festival), then you’ll need to do some work.

    • do your homework again – and make sure you’ve not missed anything out.
    • get feedback – from the few people who DID attend your event. Reach out to their friends who maybe wanted to come, but didn’t. Ask around the usual suspects who you expected to attend, but didn’t. Ask people on your mailing list.
    • change one thing – but not too drastically. Change one of the what, the when and the where, e.g. the theme of the workshop, the concert venue, the date. Then if it doesn’t work out the next time, change one of the other elements.

    apply the same rules to publicity material

    Your publicity material might have been amazing, but didn’t reach the right people.

    Consider the what (posters? Twitter? emails? design?), the when (a week before or a month before the event? time of day?) and the where (local or national press? local or national what’s on website? through people’s doors or in the local library?).

    If you don’t feel your publicity worked, then follow the same suggestions as in “learning after the event.”

    I’m sure I’ve missed loads of things out. I’m certainly no expert: many of my events sell out, but also some are very poorly attended. It’s hard to figure out why!

    Do let me know about your own fails and how you’ve learnt from them. I’d love to hear from you.

    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

    Facebook: Facebook.com/ChrisRowbury

    Twitter: Twitter.com/ChrisRowbury
    Monthly Music Roundup: Tinyletter.com/ChrisRowbury

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  • Stuck in a rut? 10 ways to revitalise your choir

    Listed on April 4, 2016 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    It happens to the best of us: choir used to be fun, but now it seems to have lost its sparkle.

    stuck in rut

    What can we do to get out of a rut? Here are 10 ways to revitalise your choir.

    Whether you’re a singer or choir leader, there will be times when choir doesn’t seem as exciting and interesting as it used to be.

    The repertoire seems stale, warm ups become over-familiar, what was once challenging and interesting now seems old hat.

    Here are 10 ideas that might help you get out of the doldrums. They are just suggested starting points, but should help to get the idea juices flowing.

    1. do the same thing differently – sing well-known songs from your repertoire in an ‘inappropriate’ style (e.g. opera, country and western, lullaby); use different points of focus in warm ups (e.g. eye contact with others, focus on your feet, listen more loudly, focus on your breathing); warm up after your first song; have the break at the start of the session.
       
    2. take a break – do something completely other, not necessarily singing. Maybe an away day or an evening out at ten pin bowling.
       
    3. change something – sing a different part; move the sections around; mix the parts up (i.e. not in blocks but small groups of SATB); if you use chairs, stand up – if you don’t use chairs, try sitting down.
       
    4. find a new context – use a completely different rehearsal space; perform somewhere unusual (i.e. not your usual concert venue); rehearse in the street; get a slot in a concert that you wouldn’t normally consider singing at.
       
    5. swap choirs – find a local choir who rehearse at the same time and day and swap choir leaders. They are bound to do things in a different way. You might discover new ways of doing things, or at the very least appreciate your own choir leader more when they return! If there is no suitable local choir, then hire a choir leader in for one session.
       
    6. do something new – something you’ve never done before, something that’s a challenge, e.g. very different kind of repertoire, a flash mob, work with musicians, record a CD.
       
    7. introduce the unexpected – gets people out of their habits. This is mostly for choir leaders because it involves a bit of planning. Set something up so when the choir members arrive at rehearsal they will be somewhat discombobulated. Just by setting yourself this challenge can get you out of your own rut!
       
    8. go deeper – really explore something in depth, whether it’s the dynamics of a song or a vocal technique. People often get bored because they feel over-familiar with something and have lost the ability to really be in the moment with it. This is a way of re-connecting with the material.
       
    9. collaborate – find another choir to collaborate with. Could be to do a joint concert, or to perform a song together, or swap repertoire, or set up a choir festival. Working with others always introduces a different energy and reminds us that there is more than one way of doing things.
       
    10. create a goal – it’s always good to have something to work towards. If you don’t usually perform, then maybe work towards a song sharing. If you perform regularly, then set something up with much higher stakes (choral competition? the Royal Albert Hall?). Make a CD. Plan a choir exchange.
       

    There are plenty of other ways of revitalising your choir and I’d love to hear some of your ideas. Do drop by and leave a comment.

    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

    Facebook: Facebook.com/ChrisRowbury

    Twitter: Twitter.com/ChrisRowbury
    Monthly Music Roundup: Tinyletter.com/ChrisRowbury

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  • Bring your own group to Knuston?

    Listed on April 3, 2016 by Knuston Hall in Blogs!

    We have had a significant increase in the number of small groups asking for details of how they can make use of what we have to offer here at Knuston for their own groups. So, if you would like to bring a small group of fellow painters, readers, walkers, lace makers, embroiderers etc etc to...

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  • Why returning to your choir after a long absence need not be difficult

    Listed on March 28, 2016 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    Sometimes life intervenes and singers need to take a whole term off or even longer. It could be illness, bereavement, job demands or just that it’s good to have a break from time to time.

    Hymn_of_the_Nations_1944

    But when it’s time to return to choir there can be all sorts of psychological obstacles, and some singers never make it back. How can you avoid this?

    I used to go jogging almost every day. I loved it. The hardest thing though was to go upstairs and get changed. Once I was out running it was fabulous. But getting up those stairs seemed impossible.

    A similar thing can happen if you’ve not been to choir for a while. The hardest thing can actually be getting out the front door. But when you arrive it’s fabulous.

    See also What motivates you to turn up to choir week after week?

    Why might it be hard to go back?

    have they forgotten me?

    There are all sorts of reasons. Some of them are:

    1. I will be too far behind and won’t know the new songs
    2. people will have forgotten me
    3. there will be no place for me any more
    4. there will be lots of new people who won’t know me
    5. I might have forgotten how to sing
    6. I won’t remember any of the songs we’ve learnt
    7. my choir friends will have found new friends

    Some of these worries are very similar to those encountered by people who are new to a choir (see Handy hints for hesitant singers – 10 tips for singers new to choirs and Joining an established choir: a guide for new singers).

    They’re also the kind of things that might bother us when we’re going to a party or function where we won’t know many people.

    But like my mother always says: “You’ll enjoy it once you get there.”

    don’t worry, just sing!

    It might not seem it now, but all these fears are pretty groundless.

    1. Yes, you might not know some of the newer songs, but you can always catch up.
    2. You’ll be surprised how many people will have missed you and will flock to you when you turn up to find out how you are.
    3. There will always be a place for you in choir. Somebody else might have taken that solo you used to sing, but the rest of the singers in your part will welcome you back with open arms because you know the old repertoire.
    4. Getting to know new singers always takes time. If you’re a regular choir member with lots of choir friends, you might be tempted not to bother getting to know the new singers. But if you’ve been absent for a while it’s a great opportunity to make a connection with them.
    5. As someone who loves singing, I bet you’ve sung around the house at the very least. You’ll probably have watched all those choir and voice programmes on TV. You’ll still be a big fan of singing and even if your voice is a bit rusty, it will soon come back to you.
    6. It’s funny how memory for songs works. You may not have sung a song for years and think you don’t know it, but as soon as the song starts you will find yourself in amazement as you watch your mouth form the words and you sing your part with ease.
    7. Choir friends are for life! Yes, some of your choir friends might have formed new friendships, but they will also be really happy to welcome you back into the fold.
     

    just do it

    There will be no perfect time to rejoin your choir. It will probably feel difficult whenever you decide to rejoin, especially if your absence has been a long one.

    There isn’t really any shortcut other than just doing it: get ready and leave the house.

    Here are a few things that might help you ease in:

    • contact your choir leader – share your worries and they will reassure you.
    • make a commitment – tell as many people as you can who are connected with the choir that you are re-joining. Once you’ve made your decision public, it’s harder to wiggle out.
    • phone a friend – contact a choir buddy and make arrangements to travel to choir together.
    • go to a choir concert – ease your way back in by watching a performance by your choir and chatting with the singers.

    If you’ve been absent from choir for a while and are thinking of going back, do let us know how it went. If you’ve been in this situation in the past, let us know what helped you get over any hurdles when you returned to choir.

    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

    Facebook: Facebook.com/ChrisRowbury

    Twitter: Twitter.com/ChrisRowbury
    Monthly Music Roundup: Tinyletter.com/ChrisRowbury

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  • Late availability at Knuston Hall

    Listed on March 24, 2016 by Knuston Hall in Blogs!

    Why not come along to a Day Course? (it includes lunch!!) J903 Canal Boat Art: Castles – Wed 6 April J904 Canal Boat Art: Roses and Daisies – Thurs 7 April J911 Two Elizabeth’s – Tale Across Two Centuries – Fri 15 April J926 Tai Chi and Dao Yin – Mon 18 April J905 Bucks Point Lace – Fri 22...

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  • Spring has sprung – time to pick up a paintbrush and try something new…

    Listed on March 24, 2016 by Shorland Old Farm in Blogs!

    March has arrived, bringing with it the first art group of the year.  The New Pastel School took up residence for four days, and brought with them some beautiful spring weather. While several of our 2016 courses are already full, we do still have plenty of availability on others, so have a browse and see ...

    The post Spring has sprung – time to pick up a paintbrush and try something new… appeared first on Shorland Old Farm.

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  • Singing in a group is a learnt skill – if you find it hard, it doesn’t mean you can’t sing

    Listed on March 21, 2016 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    Many people won’t consider joining a choir or going to a singing workshop because they believe they can’t ‘sing’.

    Jan_Peerce_singing_Verdi

    Yet ask them to sing something familiar like Happy Birthday and they have no problem. What’s going on here?

    Some people seem to have difficulty learning new songs in a singing workshop or get put off by the other harmonies. Yet when you hear those people singing on their own they can reproduce a melody accurately.

    Some people think they can’t ‘sing’ but when asked to sing something familiar like a nursery rhyme or Happy Birthday they don’t have any problems.

    Some people never seem to raise their voice in choir (there are some people I still haven’t heard properly after many years!), but when they sing a song they know well their beautiful voice soars.

    The fact is, singing as part of a group – especially in harmony – is a learnt skill and doesn’t necessarily come easily. Also, in a group, some people will learn songs more quickly than others. For some singers it may take several months before a song has really bedded in and they feel confident to sing out.

    When leading a group – particularly open groups where there is no selection – we’re constantly trying to unite a set of people with different needs and different levels of experience.

    We usually manage to strike a reasonable balance, but sometimes it might seem to a particular singer that they’re getting left behind, and that can put them off and even lead them to believe they can’t ‘sing’.

    What can we do about this?

    1. When leading a group, remind yourself that singing in harmony is a skill and not everyone is as accomplished as others. Lead singers in with lots of unison singing (an under-rated technique, and one that can act as a useful training tool. See Sing something simple (and see if your singing is as good as you think it is) ) Then maybe move on to rounds or songs where each part has a distinct and separate melody (like a quodlibet).
       
    2. Without putting singers on the spot, make sure you get to hear each individual and give them an equal chance to shine and share their voice with others. This may mean using very familiar tunes and slowly dividing the singers into smaller and smaller groups. Help inidividuals realise their voice is fine and they have an equal ability to sing as everyone else in the group.
       
    3. Emphasise to everyone that really learning a song takes many many repetitions. Just because that alto has picked it up quickly and you still haven’t got it doesn’t mean that they are a better singer. Most professional singers take several months before they really feel that a song is under their belt. Yes, you might pick up the melody or harmony quickly, but it’s easily forgotten and you’ve not begun to explore all the subtleties.
       
    4. As a singer, be patient. Give yourself time to learn a new song or to pick up a harmony in a group. Don’t give up too soon or think you can’t ‘sing’. Be kind to yourself! You might find these two posts useful: How to sing – 10 habits of successful professional singers and Handy hints for hesitant singers – 10 tips for singers new to choirs.
       

    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

    Facebook: Facebook.com/ChrisRowbury

    Twitter: Twitter.com/ChrisRowbury
    Monthly Music Roundup: Tinyletter.com/ChrisRowbury

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  • How do you write a YA novel now? Narinder Dhami tells us here

    Listed on March 15, 2016 by Arvon in Blogs!

    As a YA writer, where do you draw your inspiration from? And what do you think are the...

    The post How do you write a YA novel now? Narinder Dhami tells us here appeared first on Arvon.

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  • Does you choir need a conductor?

    Listed on March 14, 2016 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    The OK Chorale had their annual concert this weekend. There were over 40 singers squeezed into quite a tight space and I stood out front and conducted them. We were supported by the 13 women of Heartbeat who had no conductor.

    Children in Need Community Choir  - Chris Rowbury

    How big does your choir need to be to warrant someone being out front? Can a large choir do without a conductor?

    the ideal size for a choir

    There has been an interesting discussion recently about the ideal size for a choir. Ideal in what sense?

    If it’s a beginner choir and it’s too small then singers can feel exposed when singing 3- or 4-part harmony. But if it’s an experienced group, then with 12 singers or so you can really work off each other, nail the harmonies, get a real sense of the whole song, breathe together and not need a conductor.

    If a choir is very large, it’s possible that the weaker singers end up relying on a core of confident singers and the choir stops working as a unit. Also, it’s hard to get an overall sense of all the harmonies if there are 15 or 20 people in each part. It’s easy for singers to stop listening to each other and to defer all their responsibility to the conductor.

    However, I believe it is possible for a large choir to sing without a conductor.

    downsides of having a conductor

    Conductors and choir leaders are great when you’re rehearsing and learning new songs. They can point out mistakes, they have a clear impression of the overall sound, they can help balance parts and bring sections in at the appropriate times, they can keep a rein on the pace of a song and remind singers of the song’s structure.

    But when a song has been rehearsed many times and the choir know it really well, what does the conductor do?

    The danger is that the singers assume that they need the conductor. They relinquish some of their responsibility and let the conductor do all the work (even sometimes mouthing the words). Because they’ve never had to do it entirely by themselves, it’s easy for singers to believe that they can’t do it on their own. With a conductor out front singers can end up giving them their whole focus and forget to listen to the other singers and connect with the audience.

    upsides of getting rid of the conductor

    Get rid of the conductor and suddenly the singers have to rely on themselves and each other. They begin to listen more closely, they become more aware of the audience, they work as a unit and become a single organism, breathing as one. The sound becomes more balanced as each part listens to the other, dynamics become more sensitive. The audience can also see the singers rather than the conductor’s back-side!

    why don’t more choirs do without conductors?

    Sad to say, but some choirs leaders have big egos. It’s important for them to be out in front of the singers at concerts to be seen to be doing the work. It also strokes their ego to believe that the singers can’t do it without them.

    Of course, many choir leaders don’t have big egos. They try to encourage their singers to develop their voices and harmony singing skills. They tease out the best in people, help them to become more confident performers, and show them how capable they are. In a sense – like the best teachers – the best choir leaders are the ones who make themselves redundant. Job done! And the brilliant teachers and choir leaders are so good that their singers don’t even realise that they’ve taught them anything. The singers think they’ve done it all by themselves.

    letting go of your conductor

    Why not give it a go? Even if it’s just a rehearsal technique, getting the choir leader to stand aside will reveal so many aspects of how your singers work together.

    If you’re a choir leader, you can try just wandering off during a song rehearsal. Sit at the back and just listen. There will be a moment of panic amongst the singers, but they’ll soon settle down.

    If you’re a singer in a choir, have a gentle word with your choir leader to see if you can try a song on your own without a conductor.

    I’m not saying that all choirs of every size can always do without a conductor, but you’ll be surprised how much the singers can manage on their own if they’ve been rehearsed and trained well. Why not give it a go?


    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

    Facebook: Facebook.com/ChrisRowbury

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  • Sir Peter Maxwell Davies

    Listed on March 14, 2016 by Benslow in Blogs!

    We're greatly saddened to announce the death of our President, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies CBE CH (8 September 1934 - 14 March 2016)

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  • The costs of cancelling a concert or singing workshop (and ways to avoid it in the first place)

    Listed on March 7, 2016 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    I wrote recently about how to decide whether to cancel a concert or singing workshop.

    Cancellation_notice_Edinburgh_1811_VA
    It’s a difficult decision to make, but even when you’ve made it there are plenty of repercussions to take into account.

    Before you rush in and cancel, there are several things you need to consider. There might even be a way to avoid cancelling at all.

    things to think about when considering cancellation

    • how expensive will it be? – what are the cost implications if you cancel? You may end up losing less money if you go ahead. If you do decide to cancel, make sure you’re aware of all the payments you’ll still be committed to plus costs already incurred (that you won’t recoup): ticket reimbursement, venue hire, accompanist, any equipment hire, lyric sheets already printed, publicity costs, etc.
    • disappointed punters – unless there is a very clear reason for cancelling (e.g. ill health, venue fire, instrument theft), you may end up losing some goodwill amongst your audience. They may think twice about booking your next event.
    • cancel or re-schedule? – instead of cancelling outright, you may decided to hold your event on an alternative date. One reason for this might be that a clash has occurred with another event that you hadn’t known about in advance. You’ll need to make clear to people who have already booked that they have the option of a refund or they can transfer their ticket to the rescheduled event.
    • silver lining – there’s always a silver lining! You can find ways to spin the cancellation and use it to extend your publicity campaign for when you do end up performing. You can also work up the story behind the cancellation in order to get some press coverage.
     

    ways to avoid cancelling

    • substitute key personnel – if you’re cancelling because a key member is not available (e.g. choir leader, section leader, soloist, accompanist), you could always find a substitute. Rather than rushing around at the last minute it’s a good idea to have potential alternatives in place. You might be training up an associate choir director or have an alternate soloist for example. I was once phoned up the day before a singing workshop when one of my colleagues had to pull out due to illness. I was available and able to run the workshop in her stead. You may need to give refunds to some individuals who complain it wasn’t what they’d booked for.
    • back-up venue – quite hard to pull off, but if you’ve been let down by your venue (double booking, caretaker doesn’t turn up, venue closed down for health and safety reasons) and you have a few days notice, then you can try to find an alternative. The hardest part will be to make sure you inform everyone who’s booked to come.
    • replacement act – if your choir can’t perform for any reason, there might be a slim chance that you can get another local group to take your place. This is a bit easier if you’re not asking them to fill an entire evening. It’s a long shot, but given a day’s notice quite possible.
    • roll with it and improvise – if the lights fail or the piano doesn’t turn up, then improvise. Have a candle-lit performance or sing acappella. Use it to your advantage to do things differently.
    • low numbers can still work – if you get a really small number of people turn up to a singing workshop, you can easily adapt and turn it into a masterclass or an opportunity to do some one-to-one training. If your concert has a very small audience, you can rejig the performance space to make it more intimate and use it as an opportunity to perfect your choir’s performance skills – an unexpected dress rehearsal!
    • use the unexpected to your advantage – if there’s an act of god like your coach breaking down or the town flooding, then just create a new, spontaneous event with whomever is there. Sing on the coach, entertain the service station, teach the regulars stranded in the local pub.
     The only thing that can limit you is your own imagination! Good luck.

    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

    Facebook: Facebook.com/ChrisRowbury

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  • How to be a bad choir director (it’s easier than you think)

    Listed on February 29, 2016 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    Ann read my post The six qualities need to be a good choral director and it sparked off a quite a rant.

    Whiplash
    photo by bagogames

    She has obviously had a bad experience. I thought I would share it with you.

    leading by fear (and not encouragement)

    There are lots of bad choir directors out there (and lots of good ones of course).

    There are those who shout and get angry at the slightest thing – a wrong note, bad timing, a hot rehearsal room.

    There are those who are full of ego and think the singers are just there to help them show off.
    There are those who think the music is far more important than the people who make it and treat them like shit in order to create the ‘perfect’ performance (as if that’s ever possible).

    Have you seen the movie Whiplash? You should. It’s a classic example of a director/ teacher who thinks that the end justifies the means. He abuses and screams at the person he’s coaching in order to “help bring out the best in him.”

    Some people like being shouted at (not me). I took over a choir once and several people left because I wasn’t as strict as their previous leader. They were used to being shouted at so had come to believe that was the only way to learn. I guess they’d picked it up at school.

    People often ask me how I can be so patient. I respond by asking “What’s the alternative?” Shouting, getting angry and frustrated? I don’t want my singers to perform or learn out of fear, but out of gentle encouragement and belief in their abilities.

    why people stay with bad directors

    If I was Ann, or any of the many other choir members who have told me similar stories, I would be off like a shot. Why would anyone want to stay with someone who abuses them and gives them a hard time?

    Sometimes people stay because it’s the only thing they know (remember those people who left when I took over the choir?). They assume that ALL choir directors (and teachers) are rude, brutal and abusive. They think they can only learn whilst being stressed and in fear.

    Well, let me tell you, this not right. There are plenty of good choir directors out there who are decent human beings and will treat you well. More than that, you will actually have fun singing!

    Don’t stay in a bad situation, check out the other choirs in town.

    Some people think that ‘geniuses’ are always a bit difficult. We all know the stereotype of the awkward actress or the prima donna opera singer or the angry orchestral conductor. The end justifies the means, right? Just put up with their difficult nature because they always deliver the goods.

    And besides, really creative and talented people are always a bit ‘difficult’ aren’t they?

    No!

    There are plenty of excellent leaders and teachers out there who are creative and talented, but who encourage and help. They create safe spaces where people are encouraged to explore and develop. Don’t put up with a ‘genius’ throwing a tantrum, there are always alternatives.

    Some people stick with an abusive choir leader because it’s the only game in town. Perhaps there are no other local choirs or the repertoire is particularly appealing. Please don’t stick around and let them get away with it.

    If there aren’t any similar choirs around then start your own (see How to start your own community choir). You don’t even have to be a choir leader yourself (see How to set up a choir if you’re not a choir leader).

    Ann’s story (or how to be a bad choir director)

    When the choir leader loses his temper and yells “AREN'T YOU LISTENING!” then angrily repeats the information ... it’s time to consider quitting.

    After this terse and embarrassing moment, I learned that others had the same question as I did. He had not been clear.

    The director assumed that all questions were from people who were not  listening!

    Therefore, I think the most important quality in a choir director is RESPECT for members, regardless of what seems rude, stupid, etc.

    I do hours of computer work for this director, but this one session of being yelled at prompted me to leave him a message afterwards saying that I was very angry and had no intention of staying on in the future if it happened again.

    This director uses many of us as ‘heads’ of sections, but has a white knuckle grip on it all and we  have no power to help him without his often SLOW input.

    I am to lead the Alto sectionals but he enters every time to take over.

    Other choir members have told me that there was a good session once ... when he did not turn up!

    So ... Mr/Ms Directors, take a breath, roll you eyes, if you are angry ... but be respectful.

    Another no-no:  If you hear someone is off don’t stand the whole section up and point out who the culprit is. Walk past each singer  and LISTEN before you decide who is off.

    Also own up to YOUR OWN GOOFS ... if you just counted the piece in 4/4 and it was 2/4, don't announce that “All You guys had your entries off.”

    ;-) well I feel better now. Thanks for listening!

    Ann, Florida, USA
     

    I do hope you’ve not had a bad experience like Ann, but if you have, do drop me a line as I’m always happy to share!

    further reading

    You might find these other posts of interest.

    Avoid toxic choir leaders – the end does NOT justify the means
     
    How to tell if your choir leader is rubbish

    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

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    Monthly Music Roundup: Tinyletter.com/ChrisRowbury

















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  • Annette Brook’s Arvon/Jerwood Week: Silence, Bliss & Writing

    Listed on February 24, 2016 by Arvon in Blogs!

    There’s nothing quite like a Arvon retreat. Stepping away from your day to day concerns and focussing entirely...

    The post Annette Brook’s Arvon/Jerwood Week: Silence, Bliss & Writing appeared first on Arvon.

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  • How to decide whether to cancel a concert or singing workshop

    Listed on February 22, 2016 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    It’s your worst fear: despite all your hard work publicising the event, only a handful of people turn up. Or the musical director is taken ill. Or perhaps the venue burns down.

    empty seats
    photo by B Rosen

    The difficult question is: can you continue or should you cancel? And if you do decide to cancel what’s the best way to do it, and what are the implications? There are no easy answers, but here are some things to consider.

    perhaps you should have cancelled

    When I first started out I used to run a weekly adult education class called Songs from around the world. One week just two singers turned up. We tried three part harmony. They never came back! Perhaps I should have cancelled.

    My first choir did a concert at a folk festival. We managed to muster around 20 singers and we sat in the audience enjoying the other acts until it was our turn to go on. When we stood up, there were only about two people left in the audience. Perhaps we should have cancelled.

    I used to run singing summer schools during the long break to keep the singers in my choir engaged. One year I managed to muster loads of new eager singers who turned up to the venue I’d booked only to find it was locked. We went up the road to the local pub and asked to use their function room, but it was booked. So we ended up singing in the pub garden. It put lots of people off and many singers never came back. Perhaps I should have cancelled.

    A friend and I were travelling in southern India and booked to see a Kathak show. We bought our tickets in the morning for an evening performance. The performers were already starting to prepare and put their elaborate make-up on when we bought our tickets at 10am. When we arrived at 7pm we were the only two audience members! The performers insisted on doing the show which we enjoyed enormously, but it took some time to get over our embarrassment. Perhaps they should have cancelled.

    possible reasons for cancelling

    It’s really hard to decide whether to cancel or not, especially since a lot of hard work has gone into the event, whether it’s a singing workshop or a concert.

    Here are some reasons why you might think about cancelling.

    • low numbers – despite all your hard work in publicising the event, just a few people turn up. It doesn’t seem worth carrying on. There used to be an Equity (UK actors’ union) rule that if the number of actors in the cast outnumbered the number of audience members, then it was OK to cancel the performance. But choirs sometimes have over 100 singers, which might mean lots of cancelled concerts.
    • venue/ equipment problems – nobody turns up to unlock the venue or the PA system breaks down or the piano doesn’t arrive in time. Circumstances beyond your control, but pretty hard to continue.
    • people problems – illness is one of the biggest reasons that people can’t turn up, but it can also be injury or family bereavement, traffic jams or transport breakdown. It’s OK if it’s a couple of singers in the chorus, but if it’s the musical director or a soloist or the accompanist then that’s a big problem.
    • under prepared – the concert has arrived, but you may feel that you’re just not ready. There may have been a lot of absences or cancelled rehearsals or the complexity of the repertoire was underestimated. The big question is: do you go on knowing that it’s not up to your usual standards, or do you cancel?
    • acts of god – these are easier to deal with because they affect everyone and not just the singers or workshop leader. Things like flooding, transport disruption, strikes, etc. There’s usually no alternative but to cancel.

    There are ways around most of these situations though. For example, if the piano doesn’t turn up, you could just perform acappella. If your MD or soloist is ill, there might be a substitute. If the audience is very small, it still might be worth continuing.

    how to cancel

    If you do decide to cancel, how do you go about it?

    • let everyone know – it’s important to let people know so they won’t have a wasted journey. For a workshop you may well have a list of names and contacts so send emails and make calls. Depending on your concert ticketing system, you may also have contacts for some of your audience members.
    • arrange for refunds – you will also need to contact people to arrange refunds. Make it clear how and when they will receive their refund and if it includes reimbursement of any booking fee. If the event has been re-scheduled, give people the option of carrying their payment forward.
    • let the venue know – and anybody else who might be involved, e.g. equipment hirers, caterers, etc. The sooner you let them know, the more likely it is that you can reduce your overheads. Let them know why you’re cancelling. If it’s due to ill health they might consider a reduction. If you have event insurance, contact your insurers as soon as possible.
    • put a note on the door – you’ll also need to make it very clear to people who might turn up on the door that the event has been cancelled. Not only a sign on the door, but a person to there to explain what has happened and to let people know when your next event will be.
    • get the word out as widely as possible – use social media to get the word out too. Maybe even local radio. Use as many outlets as possible.
    • use it to your advantage – try to be as positive as possible. Offer alternative events that people can come to. Try to spin it to your advantage.

    In my next post in this series I’ll be looking at the implications of cancelling, but also some things you can do to avoid cancelling in the first place (or ways of turning it to your advantage).

    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

    Facebook: Facebook.com/ChrisRowbury

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  • Eco-Poetry and Engaging with Nature

    Listed on February 16, 2016 by Arvon in Blogs!

    I’ve always written sporadically about the landscape, but in 2001 I moved to a place called Leadhills, a...

    The post Eco-Poetry and Engaging with Nature appeared first on Arvon.

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  • Your job as a singer is to get out of your own way and be in the moment

    Listed on February 15, 2016 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    I’ve just run a workshop for members of my choir to help improve their singing technique.

    in the moment

    I realised whilst teaching that all the singers had the necessary knowledge already, it was simply a matter of reminding them to put it into practice. I’ll explain what I mean.

    Most singers feel that they could benefit from singing lessons. They feel that they need help to find the right vocal technique in order to sound better or to be able to sustain their breath longer or to sing without ending up with a sore throat.

    In my experience, most singers already know how to sing well and in an effortless manner, but just forget to put it into practice.

    Of course, if you find that your throat hurts during or after singing, or you find yourself getting very tired and muscles start to ache, then you need some outside assistance to get you back on track (see Your singing voice: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!).

    I began my workshop with a series of gentle exercises to stretch and relax the body, to help people find a stable, relaxed and balanced posture for singing, and to ease the voice into action. Pretty soon people were making a beautiful, rich, unforced sound.

    But then we started to work on repertoire and things didn’t sound quite so nice: chins were pointing up in the air, shoulders were stiffening and heading towards ears, frowns were appearing and voices sounded forced and tight.

    So I stopped the song and said “Close your eyes and check in with yourself”. Then we began the song again and it sounded effortless.

    I hadn’t done anything, it was the singers. I just reminded them to take a moment and check their posture, breathing, balance, etc. which they did quickly and easily.

    Several times during the workshop I had to remind people to check in with themselves.

    Why did I have to do that?

    Because people had started thinking (see The curse of confusion: why thinking is bad for singing).

    Instead of just singing the song in the easiest way possible, people had stopped being in the moment and were thinking about something else:

    • What are the words to the next verse?
    • Did I get that last note right?
    • Will I have enough breath to get through the next phrase?
    • Is the person next to me singing something different to me?
    • Is it hot in here or is it just me?
    • Are my shoulders relaxed?
    • I wonder what’s for tea?

    There’s a fine balance between being in the moment of the song and being aware of your body. You need to check in with yourself regularly and be aware when you’re tightening up or your posture is bad, but you don’t want that to interfere with your singing.

    It needn’t take long: a quick check in with yourself, a slight alteration of posture and back to the song. Soon it will become automatic and the need to adjust posture, etc. will be needed less.

    So think as much as you like in rehearsals and warm ups. Try to understand what your teacher or musical director is telling you. Think hard about the structure of the song and where you come in. But as soon as you are performing or singing the song in its entirety, forget all of that and just sing! (see also When you sing, forget everything you’ve ever learnt)

    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

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  • Travel/Non-Fiction Writing Tips

    Listed on February 10, 2016 by Arvon in Blogs!

    Non-Fiction writer, journalist and Arvon tutor Lois Pryce shares some useful tips on non-fiction and travel writing. Find and Use...

    The post Travel/Non-Fiction Writing Tips appeared first on Arvon.

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  • Money matters 2 – online payments and ticketing systems

    Listed on February 8, 2016 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    The other week I wrote about practical solutions for dealing with choir finances.

    ticket

    This week I want to look at the many options for using online services to collect payments and set up box office systems for concerts.

    printing your own tickets

    When I started out I used to print my own tickets at home and hand them out to choir members to sell on a “sale or return” basis. It was simple and worked reasonably well.

    It was a lot of work though and hard to keep track of sales. People would say that their friends were “definitely coming” but “hadn’t paid yet” then at the last minute “decided not to come”. Which meant that I couldn’t keep track of how many were going to be in the audience.

    Whether you print your own tickets or not, you still have to find an easy way for people to buy them.

    go straight to the bank, do not pass Go

    One of the cheapest and easiest ways for people to pay you is by direct bank transfer. The big drawback is that I don’t like to put my bank details in the public domain so people have to email me first. Which is one more barrier to people buying stuff.

    It’s even possible to do it on your mobile phone these days. My bank in the UK is part of the Paym system which means I only have to give my mobile phone number for people to pay. Not many people have adopted this though.

    on-line box offices

    In recent years there has been an explosion of on-line box office and ticketing systems. One of the best-known is Eventbrite, but there are plenty of others out there (I used TicketSource for a while, but am going to try WeGotTickets as it’s much cheaper for low cost tickets).

    All these systems allow people to book and pay on-line using a debit/ credit card or PayPal account (or similar) and then either download an e-ticket to their smartphone or print one off at home.

    They allow you to keep track of audience numbers, allocate seats, input your own sales and all the other things you’d expect from a box office service.

    Most of these services publicise themselves as “free on-line ticketing systems”. What they mean is that it’s free to sign up, but if you charge for tickets, they will charge you a fee for selling them.

    hidden payment “processing fees”

    What is not immediately apparent is that they will usually charge you an additional “processing fee” when people use credit/ debit cards or PayPal to pay for their tickets.

    As an example, at the time of writing (February 2016), TicketSource charge 45p + 2.5% (per ticket) + 3.5% (card payment processing fee). There is an additional charge of 20p per ticket for payments via PayPal.

    So if you charge £10 for a concert ticket, TicketSource will take 45p + 25p + 35p = £1.05 for someone paying by credit card (£1.25 if they pay by PayPal). You will usually have the option of absorbing this cost yourself (so it’s invisible to the customer), or passing it on entirely to the customer, or splitting it between you.

    If you charge less than £10 per ticket, you’re probably better off with a service like WeGotTickets of Oxboffice who charge a flat rate of 10% all in.

    But if you charge much more than £10 (for example, if you’re running a workshop at £25 per person), then TicketSource becomes cheaper (£1.96 compared with £2.50). So choose your ticketing service accordingly.

    pay monthly services

    There is another option: pay a monthly all-in fee for those months that your tickets are on sale. For example, if your tickets are on sale for two months leading up to your concert, a service like Ticket Tailor will charge you £15 per month + VAT (£25 per month + VAT if you are running 2-3 different events). So if you’re expecting a large number of ticket sales, this can work out cheaper than paying a fee per ticket.

    For instance, if you’re selling £10 tickets and hope to get an audience of, say, 100, then TicketSource will cost you £105, WeGotTickets will cost £100, but Ticket Tailor will only cost £36 (including VAT at 20%).

    do it yourself

    Another on-line option is to sell tickets on your own website. You can set up a shopping cart service on your site (worth it if you sell lots of other stuff like CDs or sheet music). These are known as e-commerce solutions.

    Some free or cheap (usually open source) examples are AgoraCart, Zen Cart, OpenCart and TomatoCart. These packages involve various degrees of technical know-how and usually mean putting software on your website’s host. They can be integrated easily with PayPal.

    I’ve recently started to use a service which just involves copying and pasting a bit of code to my website: Shop Integrator. It integrates very easily with PayPal so people can use debit/ credit cards to pay. Although it keeps records of payments, I need to ask customers to print off their receipt to use as a ticket. My only overheads are the standard PayPal charges (3.4% + 20p per transaction).

    do we even need to sell tickets?

    Somebody recently pointed out that they don’t charge for their concerts but have a “retiring collection” (i.e. people donate as they leave). This has resulted in greater income than from previous ticket sales! Something to consider as it makes the whole thing much easier (although you do have to count the cash at the end of the evening). One drawback is that you won’t know in advance how many people will turn up.


    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

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  • Russell Thompson’s Arvon Experience

    Listed on February 2, 2016 by Arvon in Blogs!

    In 1987 I attempted to enrol on an Arvon course, but it was full up. I decided to...

    The post Russell Thompson’s Arvon Experience appeared first on Arvon.

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  • Sing the intention, not the meaning

    Listed on February 1, 2016 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    We’re always told to focus on the meaning of the lyrics when singing a song in order to communicate it properly and to give some emotion to our delivery.

    crying

    But what if the lyrics are “lully lullay” or “fa la la” or what if the context seems to contradict the meaning or what if any ‘meaning’ is ambiguous? Then you need to sing your intention. I’ll explain more below.

    lyrics don’t tell the whole story

    First of all I need to confess: I’m not a lyric person. For me it’s the total experience of a song that counts: words, melody, harmonies, context, number of singers, venue, etc. So when people bang on about “focus on the meaning” I must admit I can’t really relate.

    There are many songs which have meaningless words (like lullabies: “lully lully”), ambiguous words (many folk ballads), words whose meaning has been lost (“Lile” from Georgia), and so on.

    We also sing songs in foreign languages (including Latin) which can never be translated precisely or whose meaning is culturally specific and doesn’t mean much to us.

    Songs can also be presented in the ‘wrong’ context (e.g. ironically) or sung in the ‘wrong’ way (e.g. a heavy metal version of a lullaby).

    What about the ‘meaning’ then?

    songs come as complete packages, not just words

    My own view is that a well-written song (or a traditional song that has stood the test of time) encodes any meaning in its melody, words, rhythms, harmonies, etc. The song will have a ‘feel’. You know what it ‘means’ without necessarily being able to articulate it. That’s why songs are different to poems or stories.

    You can choose to present the song with that feel or ‘interpret’ it in your own way to create a different meaning (see How to make a song your own). It all comes down to your intention.

    Most songs are intended to communicate something (not all songs though: some are for personal experience or to create a sense of community amongst the singers). You need to know what you intend to communicate before you begin to sing.

    get your intention right

    It doesn’t matter what the ‘meaning’ of the song is -- if your intention is right then it will come across to your audience. The intention might be to make the audience feel sad, or to scare them, or to draw them in, or to get them to listen carefully, or to tell them a story.

    Your intention might contradict or reinforce any meaning that the song might contain. Either way it’s not enough to just know what the song means.

    We all know those creepy versions of nursery rhymes that are used in horror movies. That’s a classic example of a song being taken out of context and having an intention that contradicts its meaning. But it works.

    further reading

    Here are some other posts which might interest you.

    Singing what you mean and meaning what you sing

    What do words add to music?

    Song meanings lost in translation

    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

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