Blogs!

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

  • Arvon Freehouse of the Imagination: Russ Litten

    Listed on January 25, 2016 by Arvon in Blogs!

    TUTOR DEVELOPMENT WEEK I came home from Totleigh Barton with a rattle in my boot. It’s there now,...

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  • Money matters 1 – practical solutions for dealing with choir finances

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

    Whatever kind of choir you run, at some point you’ll have to deal with money. Whether it’s hiring a rehearsal space or paying an accompanist or collecting members’ subs.

    cash register
    photo by nikoretro

    Money and finances can be scary though. Here are some practical steps you can take to ease the pain.

    It doesn’t matter if you run your choir as a volunteer or if it’s your sole source of income, money will inevitably raise its ugly head at some point.

    Even if you’re good with finances, there are plenty of other practical issues to consider: how much to charge, what happens if you cancel a workshop, what’s the best way to collect subs, is it worth using an on-line ticketing system for concerts?

    You can read more about some of the financial issues of running a choir in my series How to start your own community choir.

    In this post I’m going to look at a few specific areas and give some ideas on how to tackle any issues. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but this should get you started.

    how much to charge

    How much to charge for concert tickets, choir subs or workshop entry depends on a wide range of factors: your underlying costs (venue hire, your fee, publicity, etc.), the local demographic (how much can people afford and what do other events charge?), the length/ number of concerts/ workshops, etc.

    I’ve written before about how to decide how much to charge choir members: How much should you charge singers to be in your choir?. Many of the ideas in that post can be applied to concerts and workshops too.

    collecting money in advance

    If you charge people to attend your choir or workshop, then you will need to collect money from the participants. You need to decide if you collect money in advance or on the door.

    For a regular event such as weekly choir rehearsal or Saturday workshop, it’s much easier to collect money in advance. You can give people a range of ways to pay (bank transfer, PayPal, cheque, etc.).

    The advantages are:

    • the messy business of collecting money and keeping records is done in advance and separated from the singing;
    • people can choose a payment method which suits them;
    • you have a clearer idea of numbers in advance rather than waiting (and hoping!) on the day.

    You can offer incentives to encourage people to pay up front (e.g. a simple discount: £20 in advance or £25 on the door; £60 for 10 sessions or £7 per session).

    For concerts and workshops it is definitely a good idea to get people to pay in advance so you can make sure you have enough capacity. I’ll look at ways to do this using on-line ticketing services in the next post in this series — keep an eye out for it in a couple of weeks.

    paying on the day

    Some people will end up paying on the day. They may prefer to use cash, they may not be able to afford to pay for a block in advance, or maybe they’ve just heard about your workshop and have come at the last minute.

    You will need to have a clear and simple system to collect money and keep records. If 20 people arrive suddenly and all want to pay, it will take some time to process and it can get confusing.

    The best solution is:

    • have an assistant (volunteer) to collect money on the door (leaving you free to focus on the singing);
    • have plenty of change at hand (get it in advance from your local bank);
    • get people to write their own names on a register;
    • offer the choice to pay by cheque (or even have a hand-held credit card machine).

    If you feel that you can trust the people who turn up, then you could also just have a box/ basket at the door for people to drop their cash/ cheque into with a sign-up form next to it.

    bank accounts

    Once you’ve collected all this lovely money, what do you do with it? Put it in the bank of course!

    Unless you want to make your tax return even more of a nightmare, it makes sense to have a separate bank account for your choir. Since most choirs are not-for-profit (i.e. there are no shareholders to pay dividends to, they just cover their costs — including your fee), the best solution is to open a “clubs and societies” account (some banks use different names).

    These are accounts that use the name of your choir (rather than that of an individual) and don’t charge for processing cheques, etc. (unlike business accounts). It will make things more professional when people write out cheques to your choir rather then you as an individual.

    who the money goes to

    Once you’ve covered all your costs like venue hire and accompanist, what happens to the balance of the money you’ve brought in? I earn my living by running choirs and singing workshops, so I always take a fee. If I’ve set up a workshop myself, I take all the the box office after costs. For a choir concert, I take a relatively small fee and we donate the rest to charity. If we do a joint gig I split the proceeds with the other performers.

    If your choir is run by a committee and/or your choir director has a day job and doesn’t ask for a fee, then the income can go to the choir as a whole to be used at a later date for things like choir swaps, end of term parties, purchase of sheet music, commissioning song arrangements, etc.

    when things go wrong — be professional

    At some point in your career you will have to cancel a concert or workshop. Last year I had ’flu (proper ’flu, not “man ’flu”!) for the first time in years and had to cancel my first ever concert. I refunded tickets that had already been bought and was lucky that the venue didn’t charge us for the cancellation.

    But you may well incur costs. You might have booked and paid for the venue in advance and they won’t refund all the cost. You may have to let down all those people who have booked on your singing day. You may have to cancel a rehearsal if you can’t find a substitute and choir members might ask for that week’s subs back.

    Whatever you decide to do in each situation, you need to think about it beforehand. Make your policy clear to everyone concerned in advance (I have a terms and conditions section on my website for people who book to come on my day or weekend workshops).

    What I haven’t done yet — and must do very soon — is to take out insurance in case I am ill and have to cancel a singing weekend. Most of the venues that I book insist on at least a percentage of the weekend charge if I cancel which can run into thousands of pounds.

    ticketing and on-line payments

    In a couple of weeks I’ll be looking at on-line payments and ticketing systems in the next post in this series of money matters.



    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

    Facebook: Facebook.com/ChrisRowbury

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

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  • Arvon Grants: Emma-Louise Norry’s Arvon Week

    Listed on January 19, 2016 by Arvon in Blogs!

    I’d wistfully looked at the Arvon brochure for years, pouring over each course title and author tutor as...

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  • What to expect at my singing workshops (and those run by other Natural Voice Practitioners)

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

    I started a brand new project last weekend called Sing Out Saturdays. It’s a monthly drop-in singing session for anyone who loves to sing.

    SingWiv January 2016 (2)

    It was quite clear that many people came with little idea of what was going to happen! I thought I’d answer some frequently asked questions about what to expect at one of my workshops.

    Even if someone has been to lots of singing workshops, they might never have been to one which uses the Natural Voice approach.

    As Natural Voice Practitioners we take our work very seriously, but the singing sessions we run are always fun and relaxed. It often requires people to be a bit silly (to help shed inhibitions) and always involve using the body (in ways which might be unfamiliar to those used to a more formal choral approach).

    However, even though there is a lot of laughter, messing about and general silliness (and maybe even some weird dancing), the musical results are usually really, really good.

    frequently asked questions

    So put your prejudices to one side, let all your expectations go and let me introduce you to a typical singing workshop.

    Q1. Is there an audition and will I have to sing solo?
    A. There are no auditions. My workshops are open to anybody who loves to sing. No experience is necessary and you will not be asked to sing solo because all songs are sung in harmony with others. My work is all about the joys of singing together.


    Q2. You say "no experience necessary". Do you really mean that? I have absolutely no experience of singing except to myself!
    A. Yes, I really mean it! Some people come with some singing experience, but many don't. I've you've ever hummed along to a song on the radio or sung in the shower and think it might be fun to sing with others, you've got all the experience you need.


    Q3. Do I need to have a 'good' voice? What happens if I sound really awful? I don't want to ruin it for others.
    A. All voices are welcome. The great thing about singing together as a group is that we can have a real mix of different voices and no individual ever need stand out. As long as you are prepared to have a go, listen well and remember you're part of a group, not on your own, it will be fine.


    Q4. My friends and family tell me that I'm tone deaf. I don't think I can hold a tune. Will that be a problem?
    A. Almost nobody is tone deaf unless there is some brain damage. Like any physical activity (e.g. tennis, football), it takes a while to be able to control the necessary muscles to become accurate. It's the same with singing. It might take a while to be able to hold a tune accurately, but remember you are never alone in group singing!

    You might also find this article interesting: Are you tone deaf? Very unlikely!


    Q5. Do I need to be able to read music or understand music theory?
    A. I never use sheet music in my workshops so you don't need to be able to read music to join in fully. I also don't use any unnecessary musical jargon or assume people have prior musical training of any sort.


    Q6. What does "learning by ear" mean?
    A. Songs will either have just one or two simple words or I will put large lyric sheets on the wall. You then learn the song bit by bit by me singing, you listening and then singing back. Slowly the parts and the song will build up, all by using your ears rather than your eyes.

    You might also find this article interesting: Learning songs by ear


    Q7. What exactly is "unaccompanied harmony singing"?
    A. The "unaccompanied" bit means that there will be no piano or other instruments playing and I don't use recorded backing tracks. It's just voices only. "Harmony singing" is when two or more notes are sung at the same time. That means the group is divided into different parts or sections of singers, each of which learns a different melody. When all the parts sing together, then it is singing in harmony.


    Q8. What kind of songs will we be singing?
    A. I usually give some idea of the songs in the workshop title. For example, Good time gospel or Sing Africa! I tend to draw on traditional songs from all around the world. Some countries don't have harmony singing traditions, so we won't usually be singing songs from Asia or the Middle East for instance. My particular love is for songs from Eastern Europe (Russia, the Balkans, Bulgaria, Georgia, etc.) and Southern Africa. I have been known to run the occasional pop song workshop too!

    You might also find these articles interesting: I may not know much about music, but I know what I like! and Why don't you sing songs from India?


    Q9. How will I manage with foreign words? I don't speak any languages.
    A. Most of my repertoire comes from countries where they don't speak English. Don't worry though, I don't expect you to be fluent in a whole bunch of foreign languages! I carefully choose songs which don't have too many words and I will break the foreign words down into separate syllables. It's sometimes easier to learn in a foreign language because it takes you outside yourself (you become less self-conscious) and you learn syllable by syllable (instead of paraphrasing the English).

    You might also find this article interesting: How to sing a song in a foreign language


    Q10. What does "natural voice" mean?
    A. I am a member of the Natural Voice Practitioners' Network (bit of a mouthful!) or NVPN. We all approach our work in a similar way and adhere to several basic principles:

    • everyone can sing (hence no auditions, no experience needed)
    • singing should be accessible to everybody (hence no sheet music or unnecessary jargon)
    • singing starts with the breath and the body (so we spend quite a while preparing to sing using physical, vocal and breathing exercises)

    The NVPN ethos states that "We believe that singing is everyone's birthright and we are committed to teaching styles that are accepting and inclusive of all, regardless of musical experience and ability".

    Your 'natural voice' is the unique voice that you were born with through which you express yourself. It can be trained to be more free and expressive, but you shouldn't become a slave to a particular technique or try to be someone else.

    You might also find this article interesting: The Natural Voice approach to singing


    Q11. What happens in a typical workshop?
    A. I always begin with some physical and vocal exercises to prepare for singing. I believe that the voice is rooted in the body, so there will be a mix of gentle shaking and stretching of both voice and body to prepare us for singing. There will also be some elements of vocal development which will help you to sing without effort and extend your singing abilities.

    You might find this article interesting: Preparing to sing: why bother?
     
    We'll then begin with a simple round or chant and then move onto songs which have three or more separate harmony parts. In a one day workshop I'll often reprise what we've learnt at the end of the day and record it so you can hear how good you sound!


    Q12. What do you mean by "bring lunch to share"?
    A. Singing together is a great community and social experience. It's great to extend this to eating together. All the food you bring will be put together on a table and we will have a buffet. People sometimes bring something that they've made at home (it's helpful if you label these!), or you can pick something up at your local supermarket. I will provide plates, cutlery, etc. I'll also provide various teas, coffee, milk and biscuits for other breaks!


    Q13. I can't stand up for very long at a time without needing to sit down, is this a problem?
    A. I always encourage people to stand as much as possible as it's much easier than trying to sing sitting down (and it keeps the energy up!). However, there will always be chairs available and people can sit down if and when they need to, as much as they need to. You can take part fully in my workshops even if you need to sit down the whole time.


    Q14. What if I've paid in advance for a workshop, but find that I can't attend after all?
    A. It depends on when you have to cancel and also whether it's a weekend (or longer) course or a one-day (or shorter) workshop. I have a cancellation policy which you can find here: booking terms and conditions. This only applies to workshops that I run myself. Other venues and organisations which book me have their own policies.


    Q15. Why do your singing weekends cost so much more than your one day ones?
    A. The cost of a singing weekend includes full board and accommodation as well as all tuition. The cost very much depends on whether it's a venue that I've hired myself specially, or if I'm employed by a residential centre (such as Farncombe Courses) as well as the standards of accommodation: a shared dormitory room in a youth hostel will always cost less than a well-appointed single room with en suite facilities.

    There will also usually be far more singers in a one-day workshop so the costs can be kept down accordingly. Once you've considered the smaller group, great food and lovely accommodation, a singing weekend starts to look like good value!


    Q16. What's the structure of a typical singing weekend?
    A. Typically singers will check into the venue in the late afternoon on the Friday. Our first session will be before supper at around 5pm for an hour or so to introduce each other and to gently start singing together. Supper won't be too late (6.30pm or 7pm usually), then the Friday evening is free to mingle, visit the bar and get to know each other.

    Saturday and Sunday mornings each start around 10am with a warm up and go on until lunch at 1pm, with a half hour mid-morning break for tea and coffee. Saturday after lunch is free to chill out or discover the local area. We reconvene for a session before supper, and then have a relaxed, fun evening singing session on the Saturday evening.

    Sunday morning is spent going over all the songs we've learnt and we end up running through them all just before lunch to feel that everyone has really got them under their belt. The weekend ends after lunch at around 2pm.

    There are around nine hours of formal singing sessions over the weekend, which equates to the equivalent of two one-day workshops. The structure is quite loose so there is plenty of time for relaxing, walking and generally chilling out with a long 3 1/2 hour break on the Saturday afternoon.


    Q17. What if I have a question that isn't covered here?
    A. Do feel free to ask me any questions when you are at a workshop, no matter how 'daft' or elementary they may seem. You can also contact me directly and ask.


    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

    Facebook: Facebook.com/ChrisRowbury

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





























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  • Jonathan Asser’s Arvon Journey: From Poetry to Scripts

    Listed on January 13, 2016 by Arvon in Blogs!

    My script for Starred Up was drawn from personal experience running a therapeutic group for violent prisoners, and...

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  • What would you do differently if you were starting your choir today?

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

    I have learnt a great deal since I started my first choir in 1997.

    WorldSong at CUPA June 2000
    WorldSong in Coventry, June 2000

    If I were starting a choir again today I may well do things differently.

    my experience

    When I set up my first choir it was rather accidental. I had been asked to teach an evening class called “Songs from around the world”. Over time it became very successful so I decided to go independent and create a choir made up of those attending the class. That choir was called WorldSong and it continues today.

    I made lots of mistakes when I first started and stumbled through more by luck than judgment. Later on I took over two other community choirs which had been set up by other people (Woven Chords and Global Harmony). This gave me the opportunity to do things a bit better the second time around. But I wasn’t given a clean slate and there were only so many changes I could make at first.

    In 2010 I moved to a different part of the country and in January 2011 I set up a brand new community choir where I live: The OK Chorale. This gave me the chance to learn from my stumbles and mistakes with WorldSong and to set something up from scratch exactly the way I wanted with all those extra years of experience.

    what if you can’t start anew?

    Some of you won’t have this chance though, but may be getting bored or frustrated with the way your own choir is going. So why not try this thought experiment:

    What would you do differently if you were starting your choir from scratch today?

    Imagine your perfect choir, don’t let reality get in the way. Now see how that differs from how your current choir is. What changes would you need to make?

    Choirs get into habits and follow the culture set in motion by the choir leader. It’s not too late to change, but you’ll need to introduce things gradually.

    Make a list of the major changes you’d like to make, then under each item create a programme of smaller steps that will lead to that change. Tackle one at a time and be patient!

    I’d love to know how what changes you’d like to make and how you get on when introducing them. Do drop by and let us know how it goes.


    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

    Facebook: Facebook.com/ChrisRowbury

    Twitter: Twitter.com/ChrisRowbury
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  • Speculative Fiction, What Ifs and Making Things Up

    Listed on January 5, 2016 by Arvon in Blogs!

    Arvon tutors Joanna Kavenna and Liz Jensen on the pleasures and challenges of writing speculative fiction.Together there’ll be teaching the...

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  • Speculative Fiction, What Ifs and Making Things Up

    Listed on January 5, 2016 by Arvon in Blogs!

    Arvon tutors Joanna Kavenna and Liz Jensen on the pleasures and challenges of writing speculative fiction.Together there’ll be teaching the...

    The post Speculative Fiction, What Ifs and Making Things Up appeared first on Arvon.

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  • What single thing will make you a better singer this year?

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

    It’s that time of year when lots of us make New Year resolutions, then a week later usually abandon them!

    Duet singing

    The secret is to be realistic. So how about choosing just one thing to change this year?

    With the best intentions in the world, there are so many things that we promise we will do differently or better when we sing.

    It might be to get to choir on time each week or to check your posture each time you sing or to make time to really learn the lyrics for your next concert or to stop chatting in rehearsal whilst others are learning.

    There can seem to be so many things we need to work on that it can feel overwhelming. It’s so easy to make a long list of New Year resolutions with the full intention of fulfilling them all. But inevitably we bite off more than we can chew, end up feeling a bit of a failure, and maybe not achieving even one of our goals.

    Just choose one. Make it clear and simple: something you want to change, i.e. start doing, improve, or stop doing. Write it down in big letters and pin it up somewhere prominent (or put it in your choir folder).

    Who knows, you may make the single change you want, then find there’s room for another!
    You might find it useful to read an earlier post of mine called What small change will make you a better singer or choir leader?

    And do let us know how it goes. Sharing your one goal in public can be great incentive to making the change!


    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

    Facebook: Facebook.com/ChrisRowbury

    Twitter: Twitter.com/ChrisRowbury
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  • How men sing (Part 3) – amazing examples from across the globe #getmensinging

    Listed on December 28, 2015 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    I’ve written two posts now showing amazing examples of men singing: Part 1 and Part 2 – now it’s time for Part 3. Given that it’s December I thought I’d throw a few seasonal songs in!

    men singing

    My hope is that if men see a huge variety of different kinds of men singing together, they might be inspired to get off the sofa and go and try it themselves.

    Like the word ‘choir’, the concept of ‘men singing’ can bring up specific stereotypes – not all of them pleasing.

    If there is not a relevant role model out there, it can easily put men off singing because they feel that they don’t fit the mould.

    Rather than going into the whys and wherefores of why men don’t sing, I thought I’d just share some great examples of men singing together. Who knows, you may find an example that fits the bill. I hope they inspire you!

    First up, something for this festive season: Port Isaac Fisherman’s Friends singing While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night.

    fishermans friends

    Next, from a very different tradition, Jewish men singing at a Bar Mitzvah.

    bar mitzvah

    I absolutely adore singing from Eastern Europe. Here is a fine example from the coastal region of Croatia. It’s a tradition called Klapa which is from the Dalmatian coast. The word klapa translates as “a group of friends”. Here is Garifule bili by Klapa Ošlak.

    klapa

    Maybe a bit more familiar to our ears, a version of Mariah Carey’s All I want for Christmas is you by Out of the Blue (OOTB), Oxford’s all-male a cappella group.

    christmas

    Next up is some Albanian polyphony which has been proclaimed by UNESCO as a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible heritage of Humanity.”

    albanian

    Here is a Russian Orthodox choir from Moscow singing Chesnokov's Gabriel Appeared whilst on a European tour.

    Russian orthodox

    And now (as they say) for something completely different: Tuvan throat singing! One of the world’s oldest forms of music, throat singing is a type of overtone singing when more than one note is sounded at a time. Throat-singing is most identified with parts of Central Asia (such as Tuva, a predominantly rural region of Russia located northwest of Mongolia), but it is also practiced in northern Canada and South Africa where the technique takes on different styles and meanings.

    Tuvan

    Time for a couple of seasonal songs. First up is a barbershop version of Jingle Bells, arranged by Michael McGlynn of Anúna.

    Jingle bells

    Next is one of my favourite Christmas carols, Veni, veni Emmanuel here sung by The Gesualdo Six and arranged by Philip Lawson.

    Veni veni emmanuel

    And finally, here’s Milton singing The Man Song by Sean Morey. Enjoy!

    Milton man song


    I hope all your wishes and dreams come to fruition in 2016. Happy New Year to all my readers!


    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

    Facebook: Facebook.com/ChrisRowbury

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

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  • My Arvon Week: Pregnant Pause

    Listed on December 22, 2015 by Arvon in Blogs!

    I was six months pregnant with my second child and two years pregnant with my first novel when...

    The post My Arvon Week: Pregnant Pause appeared first on Arvon.

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  • Can singing together bring about world peace?

    Listed on December 21, 2015 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    The world can be a terrible place sometimes as we’ve seen in the news lately. It’s hard to imagine how a single person can make a difference.



    Chór aleksandrowa 2009 by Loraine

    Can singing together or being in a choir bring about change?

    Most of us ask ourselves at some point: am I contributing to the world, how can I help others, am I doing enough?

    It can be overwhelming to think of all the troubles in the world and how you, just one person, can possibly make a difference.

    I sometimes feel like I’m putting my head in the sand when I am leading a singing workshop or a choir. It all seems so frivolous and irrelevant compared to the horrors of the world.

    But it’s what I do and I have a passion for it. I know that singing and music has the capacity to heal and to connect people, but is it enough to change the world?

    Here is what I’ve come up with.

    play to your strengths

    As individuals we can’t do everything. We have to focus on one or two things and do them well, whether that be driving provisions to refugee camps in Calais, or manning phones for humanitarian funding appeals.

    We should play to our strengths. Some people are great at logistics — organising supplies and volunteers — whilst others are brilliant to persuading people to donate to good causes.

    My strengths are as a teacher of songs and choir leader. They may not seem to be practical skills that can help the world directly, but it’s what I have to offer and I think I can justify it.

    I am constantly reminded by participants in my choirs and workshops of the joy that singing together brings. Participants are truly lifted by the communion and community and by building something together without any barriers of gender, class, race, religious belief, etc.

    Singing together helps to ground, relax and uplift the participants. They get to take a break from the everyday and can’t help but be in the moment.

    I take solace from the fact that they then take some of that joy away with them and are re-energised to do what they do best and so it gets passed on.

    A similar sentiment is expressed here more eloquently:

    “The point is, art never stopped a war and never got anybody a job. That was never its function. Art cannot change events. But it can change people. It can affect people so that they are changed...because people are changed by art - enriched, ennobled, encouraged - they then act in a way that may affect the course of events...by the way they vote, they behave, the way they think.” Leonard Bernstein, composer and conductor (1918 – 1990)

    some inspiring quotes

    Here are a few inspiring quotes from musicians about how music can help to bring about peace.

    “People who make music together cannot be enemies, at least while the music lasts.” Paul Hindemith, composer and violinist (1895 –  1963)

    “Songs won’t save the planet, but neither will books or speeches.” Pete Seeger, singer and activist (1919 – 2014)

    “Radicalism and intolerance are the products of ignorance … This is why the best way to fight radicalism is to turn ignorance into knowledge by giving the ‘other’ a name, a face and a voice. Singing in a foreign language enables us to do just that.” María Fernández-Toro of Multilingual Singing.

    “In times of totalitarian or autocratic rule, music (indeed culture in general) is often the only avenue of independent thought. It is the only way people can meet as equals, and exchange ideas. Culture then becomes primarily the voice of the oppressed and it takes over from politics as a driving force for change.” Daniel Barenboim, pianist and conductor, co-founder of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (1942 – )

    “Playing For Change is a movement created to inspire and connect the world through music. The idea for this project came from a common belief that music has the power to break down boundaries and overcome distances between people.” Playing For Change

    I wish you all a peaceful Christmas.

    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

    Facebook: Facebook.com/ChrisRowbury

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  • Perfect presents for choral singers

    Listed on December 14, 2015 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    It’s that time of year again (actually, it’s not: Christmas is 10 days away yet) and you still have time to shop for presents.

    dv785018

    What on earth can you get for the choral singers in your life? Here are some super ideas for ideal presents.

    Pretty much every magazine gets in on the act for the festive season with ideas for presents for garden lovers, those who play sports, grannies, book fiends and so on, but somehow they always seem to miss out choral singers (they also miss out choir leaders, but I wrote about them last week: Ideal presents for the choir leader in your life).


    Well, I’m here to redress the balance. Here are 10 amazingly wonderful ideas for gifts for choral singers. Get ’em while you can,I’m sure there’ll be a rush!


    1. an alarm clock – to make sure they get to rehearsals on time (and to come in at the right time when they’re singing).
    2. a cloak of invisibility – so they don’t get singled out by the choir leader and so they can avoid the warm up without their absence being noted.
    3. a stand-in – to attend rehearsals in their place when they’re feeling a bit tired or under the weather (or just not inclined). The stand-in will not be required at concerts as that’s where our choral singers soak up the limelight.
    4. a single ear plug – which works in either ear to block out all the unsolicited advice from other singers in their section.
    5. a heads-up display unit – to project song lyrics in front of them without anybody else noticing.
    6. a spikey jacket – covered in very sharp points to stop other choir members from encroaching on their personal space. Especially useful in concerts in small venues.
    7. a Taser stun gun – to zap anyone who’s talking while they’re trying to learn their part. Or a death ray, whichever’s cheaper.
    8. platform shoes – so they can see the conductor over the heads of the tall people who always insist on standing in the front row.
    9. a fake, stick-on smile – because it’s hard to smile and sing at the same time but the choir leader keeps insisting. Always. Even for the sad songs.
    10. a magic folder – to keep music and lyrics in. It automatically updates to the latest version and replaces lost or damaged sheets. Can be found easily simply by whistling.

    I hope they do the trick (they’ll work for birthdays too). Merry Christmas!

    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

    Facebook: Facebook.com/ChrisRowbury

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

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  • Ideal presents for the choir leader in your life

    Listed on December 7, 2015 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    It’s that time of year again (in case you haven’t noticed). The magazines are full of Christmas present ideas, but they always seem to miss out choir leaders.

    Gift
    photo by asenat29

    So here are some perfect presents for any choir leaders in your life (hint, hint!).

    It can be tough to come up with ideas for great presents for your choir leader. But I’m here to help. Here – in no particular order – are 10 ideas for perfect presents for choir leaders.

    1. a stick – to conduct with, but also to hit choir members with when they make mistakes. Preferably hand-crafted from sustainable wood, both long and hard with a pointed end.
    2. a megaphone – to give audible instructions to the choir when they’re talking too much (which is basically all the time).
    3. a massage – to relieve all the stress that’s mounted up over the last choir season. And in anticipation of all the stress that will come with the next choir season.
    4. lip balm – to soothe the lip that’s been bitten so often in an attempt to supress what they really want to say.
    5. a box – to stand on so that all choir members can see them and perhaps pay attention from time to time.
    6. a year’s supply of coffee – to keep them awake each week when running the choir session. And maybe a bottle of whisky to help them relax afterwards.
    7. a sparkly coat – or a hat with flashing lights or shiny things to wear at the next concert. You want to be proud of them standing out there in front of the choir.
    8. a slave – or personal assistant to follow them around and make notes when they forget what they’ve said at the last rehearsal and to remind them what they’re supposed to be doing next.
    9. a memory chip implant – so that they’ll be able to remember every choir member’s name without having to look it up.
    10. a month’s holiday in the Caribbean – they deserve nothing less for all the selfless work that they carry out carrying the choir single-handedly and bringing so much joy to people’s lives.

    Next week: ideal presents for the choral singer in your life.

    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

    Facebook: Facebook.com/ChrisRowbury

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

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  • Winter Bulletin

    Listed on December 1, 2015 by Benslow in Blogs!

    The Benslow Music Winter Bulletin 2015

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  • A Singing Day at Benslow Music with Jonathan Willcocks

    Listed on December 1, 2015 by Benslow in Blogs!

    10.30am-4.30pm on Sat 12 Dec 2015Tutor: Jonathan Willcocks

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  • Christmas Office Closure

    Listed on December 1, 2015 by Benslow in Blogs!

    The Benslow Music offices will be closed from 5pm on Wednesday 23 December and will re-open at 1pm on Friday 1 January. Any emails, booking forms or messages received during this period (including online applications) will be addressed on our return.

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  • How can I extend my vocal range as a singer?

    Listed on November 30, 2015 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    I often get asked this, along with “How can I sing high without hurting myself?”

    Pink_with_Nate_Ruess
    photo by Allisonnik

    There is no quick fix, but here are some ideas that might help you.

    When I first started singing I wanted to sing high like my pop idols. So I spent a lot of time straining and hurting my voice and still not hitting the top notes. It didn’t stop me trying.

    Although I’ve not had singing lessons, things have definitely improved since then.

    Over the years I’ve noticed that my range has extended dramatically and I can now hit much higher notes than I could with very little effort and no strain on my voice. How on earth did that happen? I’ll share what I discovered below, but first …

    why extend your vocal range?

    You need to ask yourself why you want to extend your range.

    Billy Holiday apparently only had an octave range and look at her success. It’s not what you’ve got, it’s how you use it that counts.

    Some people want to sound like their favourite singer. They have a particular role model and want to hit the same notes as them, whether they’re really high (usually the case) or really low.

    It’s great to have something to aim for, but just because your idol can sing very high (or very low) doesn’t mean that you can. We all have our own physiological limits: it’s how we’re made and there’s not much we can do about it.

    You might want to tackle a particular song which has a wide range. Again, a good thing to aim for, but it might not be for you.

    You need to recognise those times when what you’re attempting is just not you. Celebrate your own unique voice and stop trying to be someone else. See How to be a better singer if you’re a mere mortal.

    One of the most common reasons for wanting to extend your range is if you’re just starting out as a singer and want to develop your voice. Like any other activity, it takes a while to improve and develop your muscles and technique. When you first start out you may well find that you have a limited vocal range and trying to sing high or low puts a strain on your voice.

    be patient

    When you learn a new sport like soccer or tennis say, you’re not expected to serve aces or score loads of goals immediately. It takes a lot of practice. Unfortunately, with singing (and many other creative arts) people judge you straight away believing that the ability to sing is something you’re born with. They’re wrong.

    It takes practice. Very few people are virtuosos of the voice when they start out. So don’t expect to have a large vocal range straight off. You’ll need to sing regularly for some years before you notice definite improvements. Be patient and let things take their natural course. Like any new skill, the more you do it, the better you’ll become.

    sing the opposite of what you normally do

    Most people – especially those in choirs – pick a vocal range and stick to it. “I’m an alto” they say, or “I only like singing in my head voice”. They think that by constantly practising that vocal range (whether it’s their natural range or not – see the definition of tessitura in Why can’t I sing low notes with more power and volume?), they will see improvements.

    Unfortunately the voice doesn’t work like that.

    If you usually sing high, you’ll find that if you sing the low part now and then, you’ll notice improvements at the top end of your range. Similarly, if you usually sing low, then singing the high part occasionally will improve your low notes.

    This is what happened with my voice. As a choir leader who teaches by ear, I have to sing all the parts to every song. That means each week my voice gets a good work out: from very high notes to very low notes. Each time it gets a bit easier and I notice the extremes of my vocal range extend a little. It happens slowly over a long period (it’s taken me nearly 20 years so far), but it does happen and the effects last.

    Next time you’re in a singing workshop or rehearsal, try singing a part you don’t usually sing. Then when you come back to your usual part, you should find it easier.

    be gentle and play

    By singing regularly and using different parts of your range, you will slowly notice differences. But if you want to tackle the extremes of your range head on, you’ll need to do it very gently.

    The best way is to be playful and try silly voices out in the shower. Do lots of gentle slides up and down and have fun. Don’t be too critical of the quality of your voice at this stage, just use the whole of it.

    If you find little glitches in your range, then be even more gentle and sing quietly past these to try and minimise them. Try bending over or rolling your shoulders or swinging your hips – basically engage your body in whichever way feels comfortable. See if it makes a difference as you go really high or really low.

    Note what works and what are the uncomfortable bits where you’re straining a bit. Don’t do it for too long or your voice will get tired.

    Playing in this non-judgmental, fun way can bring lots of surprises and unexpected breakthroughs. See also Want to develop your voice and sing better? Be silly and play!


    I hope you find these ideas useful. Good luck! Let us know how it goes.

    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

    Facebook: Facebook.com/ChrisRowbury

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

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  • Best laid plans – dealing with the unexpected in singing sessions

    Listed on November 23, 2015 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    Always expect the unexpected. No matter how carefully you’ve planned your choir rehearsal or singing workshop, one day something unexpected will happen.

    falling cannonballs

    You can’t plan for every eventuality, but there are some precautions you can take. Here are some ideas.

    you can’t plan for everything

    If you tried to have a contingency plan for every single possible thing that might go wrong, you wouldn’t get much real singing done!

    You can factor in a few obvious fail safes (make sure you have important phone numbers with you, don’t leave your music folder at home, double check you’ve got a method of giving out starting notes), but you can never fully prepare for the unexpected.

    What you need to do instead is be flexible and be able to improvise in unexpected circumstances. Also learn from your past experiences.

    disasters I have known (and what to do about them)

    Here are some of the unexpected things that have happened in my career so far. There's a very good chance that you might encounter one of these at some point, so I hope you can learn from my experience.

    1. venue locked – first session of a four-week singing summer school and loads of new people arrived to find the main gates locked to our rehearsal venue. I didn’t have the phone number of the caretaker/ key holder and all other staff had gone home.

      SOLUTION: we walked to the nearby pub and asked to use their function room. Unfortunately it was being used, so as it was a beautiful evening we sang in the pub garden and entertained the customers.
       
    2. too many men – I always reckon that there will be roughly 10% men in any workshop I run. For that reason I make sure that the tenor part is suitable for women too (i.e. not too low). Once I ran a Beatles singing day and out of 40 singers, 20 were men!

      SOLUTION: I quickly checked all the tenor parts and made a few adjustments to some of the highest notes so most men could sing them. I also distributed the men evenly through any three-part arrangements thus doubling the octaves in each part.
       
    3. hardly anyone turned up – when I started my first choir, one week only two people turned up, both new. I stupidly tried three-part harmony and they never came back! Another time I was commissioned to run a six-week community project and one week I had just one person, at other times it’s been three or four.

      SOLUTION: don’t be over-ambitious and stick to the amazing four-part arrangement you’d planned. Ask the participants what they want. Many newcomers will feel put on the spot with such a small number of singers. But you could turn that around and end up giving a one-to-one singing lesson. Keep it simple and take your time.
       
    4. too many to fit into the venue – when I started The OK Chorale five years ago I hired a small room and kept my expectations low. I reckoned that if as many as 20 turned up that would be great and I could build on it over the coming months. But over 100 people came and they literally couldn’t fit into the room!

      SOLUTION: there was a large community hall next door. I managed to find the phone number of the contact person who said that the hall was available that evening and told me where I could collect the key.
       
    5. chose the wrong songs – sometimes I completely misjudge either the level or interests of a group. When you don’t know who’s turning up for a singing workshop it’s hard to plan accurately. I’ve occasionally been in a situation where the songs are just too ambitious for the singers who’ve come or they just don’t like the material I’ve chosen.

      SOLUTION: always come with more songs than you need. Have a variety of styles and levels of difficulty and be prepared to abandon some of your favourites.
       
    6. not enough men – or sopranos or tenors or ... I always hope that there’s a reasonable mix of vocal ranges so we can have roughly equal numbers of singers on each part. But sometimes it seems that everyone’s a tenor, or there is just one bass, or none of the women want to sing high, or all of the women want to sing high.

      SOLUTION: I make sure that all the arrangements I use are pretty much within any average singer’s range. So even if some women don’t like to sing low, I can usually persuade them to go along with it. If there aren’t enough basses, don’t be a perfectionist but let women join the bass part an octave up. If there really aren’t enough people for a part, just drop it.
       
    7. aimed at wrong level – I made a big mistake recently (what was I thinking?!) when asked to run a long session to help start a new choir. Most people who were coming had not sung before, but for some reason I’d chosen some really challenging songs. The opposite can also happen: you bring a load of simple chants and rounds but all the singers turn out to be really accomplished and easily bored.

      SOLUTION: carry on regardless. I didn’t tell the inexperienced group that the songs I’d chosen were hard, and we managed to stumble through them. It wasn’t the greatest rendition, but they had an amazing sense of achievement at the end. With the more experienced singers it’s great to have the opportunity to go back to really simple repertoire and work on blend, dynamics, unison singing, etc. Make it a technique session.
       
    8. singer who can’t pitch – there’s always one. Which is fine in a large group, but not if there’s just a handful of singers. It doesn’t really matter most of the time until they start putting everyone else off in which case you need to think of the whole group. It’s hard enough at a one-day workshop, but it’s happened to me at a residential weekend. It’s even harder then the singer in question has no idea they’re constantly singing out of tune.

      SOLUTION: I’ve soldiered on in the past, but the feedback I got was that the other singers really didn’t enjoy the experience, even though they were very supportive at the time. I tried all the usual tricks: sing in the person’s ear; address the whole section and not just the individual; incorporate loads of listening exercises in the warm up. When these don’t work, there aren’t many other solutions. Rather than ask them to sing quietly, ask them so listen more loudly. Put them at the front so they get reinforcement from behind and don’t put the others off so much. Make sure they’re in the largest section. 
       

    don’t hold on to the past

    The most important thing you can do when you meet the unexpected is to let go of what you’d planned. Don’t hold on to the past, let your expectations go and get excited about the new possibilities on offer.

    What is is they say? Every unexpected disaster is an amazing opportunity in disguise (or something like that).

    further reading

    You might also find these posts helpful:

    Don’t stress about things you can’t control

    Planning ahead: leave space for the unexpected

    I'd love to hear about unexpected things that have happened to you and how you solved the problems.

    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

    Facebook: Facebook.com/ChrisRowbury

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

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  • Wyl Menmuir – From Starting to Write to publication

    Listed on November 18, 2015 by Arvon in Blogs!

    “Write hard and clear about what hurts” Advice for writers abounds. Especially online. It’s grand. But I have...

    The post Wyl Menmuir – From Starting to Write to publication appeared first on Arvon.

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  • Why can’t I sing low notes with more power and volume?

    Listed on November 16, 2015 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    Many men (and some women) complain about not having much vocal power on low notes.

    double bass
    photo by GigNroll.com

    If you have good power, control and volume in the rest of your range then there’s an easy explanation.

    I often get asked by men why they don’t have much power on the low notes. It’s usually men because the stereotype is that a manly voice is a low voice. But lots of women also find that they lack power on their low notes.

    If you have plenty of volume and power in the rest of your range, then the answer is very simple: the notes are too low for you.

    We all have the ability to sing from low to high. The exact range will differ from person to person.

    We know immediately where our upper limit is: tension creeps in and we start to strain, producing the note takes a lot of effort and doesn’t come easily, and the quality of the sound is a bit screechy.

    We also know when we’ve hit our lowest note: the volume drops dramatically, we feel like we’re forcing it, the sound is very weak and breathy.

    Those are our absolute limits. With practice we might be able to extend these limits slightly, but at some point we will come up against the limitations of how we’re physically built.

    Just because we can reach a note doesn’t mean that we should sing it!

    Our sing-able range lies between these two extremes. There is even a posh name for it: tessitura. It’s basically our sweet spot. Where we sing notes with ease and the tone is very pleasing. That’s the range we have to play with.

    The trouble is, we are put into boxes like ‘tenor’ or ‘bass’ or ‘alto’ and expected to be able to deal with a prescribed range.

    The reality is that most of us don’t fit exactly into these boxes. So we will often come across a note that is too high or too low for us. Because we can’t hit that note with any power or volume we think it’s a problem with us and we try to fix it. But the problem lies with the part we’ve been given which doesn’t match our tessitura.

    • If you’re singing by yourself, then you may have to accept that you can’t hit the notes that your singing idol can.
       
    • If you’re singing in a small group, make sure that your harmony arrangements suit all the singers.
       
    • If you’re part of a choir, make sure you’re in the part that suits your range (see But I can’t sing that high!) and pray that your musical director chooses song arrangements that are suitable for human beings (see Fit the song arrangement to your singers and not the other way round).
       
    Sing to your strengths and don’t try to be someone you’re not!

    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

    Facebook: Facebook.com/ChrisRowbury

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

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  • Why can’t I sing low notes with more power and volume?

    Listed on November 16, 2015 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    Many men (and some women) complain about not having much vocal power on low notes.

    double bass
    photo by GigNroll.com

    If you have good power, control and volume in the rest of your range then there’s an easy explanation.

    I often get asked by men why they don’t have much power on the low notes. It’s usually men because the stereotype is that a manly voice is a low voice. But lots of women also find that they lack power on their low notes.

    If you have plenty of volume and power in the rest of your range, then the answer is very simple: the notes are too low for you.

    We all have the ability to sing from low to high. The exact range will differ from person to person.

    We know immediately where our upper limit is: tension creeps in and we start to strain, producing the note takes a lot of effort and doesn’t come easily, and the quality of the sound is a bit screechy.

    We also know when we’ve hit our lowest note: the volume drops dramatically, we feel like we’re forcing it, the sound is very weak and breathy.

    Those are our absolute limits. With practice we might be able to extend these limits slightly, but at some point we will come up against the limitations of how we’re physically built.

    Just because we can reach a note doesn’t mean that we should sing it!

    Our sing-able range lies between these two extremes. There is even a posh name for it: tessitura. It’s basically our sweet spot. Where we sing notes with ease and the tone is very pleasing. That’s the range we have to play with.

    The trouble is, we are put into boxes like ‘tenor’ or ‘bass’ or ‘alto’ and expected to be able to deal with a prescribed range.

    The reality is that most of us don’t fit exactly into these boxes. So we will often come across a note that is too high or too low for us. Because we can’t hit that note with any power or volume we think it’s a problem with us and we try to fix it. But the problem lies with the part we’ve been given which doesn’t match our tessitura.

    • If you’re singing by yourself, then you may have to accept that you can’t hit the notes that your singing idol can.
       
    • If you’re singing in a small group, make sure that your harmony arrangements suit all the singers.
       
    • If you’re part of a choir, make sure you’re in the part that suits your range (see But I can’t sing that high!) and pray that your musical director chooses song arrangements that are suitable for human beings (see Fit the song arrangement to your singers and not the other way round).
       
    Sing to your strengths and don’t try to be someone you’re not!

    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

    Facebook: Facebook.com/ChrisRowbury

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

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  • Only connect – a brief introduction to social media for choirs

    Listed on November 9, 2015 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    In case you haven’t noticed: this is the modern world.

    social media

    If you’re not promoting your choir on social media, then you’re missing a trick. Here’s a handy introduction.

    internet and social media

    There are people who spend all day on Facebook, and there are those who only read their emails each spring.

    Most of us live somewhere between these two extremes. Pretty much everyone these days connects to the internet and world wide web on a regular basis whether it’s at work or home.

    The great benefit of using the internet as a marketing tool for your choir recruitment, concert promotions and singing workshop advertising is that it’s free.

    There are so many different kinds of social media out there these days that it’s easy to get overwhelmed. My advice is to pick a maximum of two and focus on those.

    Each medium has a particular angle. For example, LinkedIn is for professionals to network (not somewhere to promote a choir really), Instagram and Pinterest are all about images and photos and Twitter is mainly about text and just 140 characters at that.

    Each medium also has a particular demographic. For instance, if you’re after youngsters then you’ll choose things like Snapchat, Instagram or Tumblr. Young people don’t use Facebook any more, they spend most of their time texting instead.

    Most social media use ‘streams’ or ‘timelines’ which are rather like live conveyor belts of everybody’s stuff that slowly passes by your eyes. If you miss it, it’s gone. The only way of finding something from a few hours ago is to scroll down endlessly through loads of other stuff until you find what you’re looking for.

    Facebook and Twitter

    The two most common platforms for promoting choirs and singing are Facebook and Twitter. Most choirs have accounts on both of these and this is what I’ll focus on in this post.

    Here are some things you need to consider, whatever platform you use:

    • claim your unique URL – it’s not much good having a page on Facebook that looks like: facebook.com/750056951706988/ or people won’t find your choir. Make sure you claim your personalised URL so you can be facebook.com/MyChoir or youtube.com/MyChoir, etc.
    • schedule your posts – because things pass by on timelines, make sure you post regularly and at different times. Either do this by hand or use an app such as Buffer or Hootsuite to schedule posts.
    • don’t post too often – or in bursts of activity or your followers will get overwhelmed and probably stop following you.
    • promote your social media presence – put links to your social media accounts on your website, in your email signature and on your printed publicity. Choose a variety of media so you can reach people in a variety of ways.
    • Facebook page or group? – Facebook allows you to set up a ‘page’ which you can invite people to follow, or a ‘group’ which people ask to join. The Facebook algorithm means that even if someone is following you page, they only get to see a very small percentage of the things you post. If you set up a group then group members will tend to see most things. Groups are good for choir members – you can make it closed or public.
    • timing is everything – different people look as different social media at different times. Some check when the working day starts, whilst others only look at weekends. Make sure you post at optimum times for people who follow you. Don’t ignore overseas people in different time zones if you want to promote internationally.
    • automatic re-posting sucks – some people set up their Facebook or YouTube account to automatically share their posts to Twitter.The trouble is they are very different mediums. If you’ve written a finely crafted Facebook post longer than 140 characters what appears on Twitter will just be something like “First few sentences cut off in the mid ... . fb.me/7wTEUV9cv
    • use images and sounds – don’t just limit your posts to text but post plenty of photos and sounds too (see One recording is worth a thousand photos – use sound to promote your choir). You can live tweet from your concert or workshop, then post a recording from your SoundCloud account the following day.
    • promote others too – people who relentlessly promote their own choirs get boring very quickly. Provide a service to those who follow you by sharing posts and information from other sources too.
    • don’t rely on any one source – use social media alongside other means of promotion and make sure they connect to each other. A printed poster won’t work on it’s own, but will remind people of something they’ve read in the local paper. A Facebook event won’t guarantee people come to your concert, but will remind people of a flier they picked up recently.

    email still rules

    One final thing. Don’t get too obsessive about social media, it’s just one tool in your promotional toolbox. The fact is that email still rules. Make sure you build and maintain your email mailing list.

    Do let me know about your own experiences with social media. What works for you?

    In the meantime, you can connect with me here:

    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

    Facebook: Facebook.com/ChrisRowbury

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

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  • Cooking and Eating on an Arvon Week

    Listed on November 4, 2015 by Arvon in Blogs!

    Good food is part of the Arvon Experience: How and Why Arvon has a firm commitment to making...

    The post Cooking and Eating on an Arvon Week appeared first on Arvon.

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  • How to sing quietly (without running out of breath)

    Listed on November 2, 2015 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    Some people find it hard to sing quietly. They seem to run out of breath easily and their voice goes all wobbly.

    quiet
    photo by Cristian V.

    Why is this and how can you learn to sing quietly?

    When we’re asked to sing quietly, we can think it means less energy is needed. So the body slumps and goes a bit floppy, less breath is taken in, focus and concentration get a bit fuzzy, and we generally work less hard.

    With less breath and bad posture you’ll find that there’s not enough support for your voice and you will end up wobbling.

    Even though we’re singing quietly, we still need a constant flow of air over the vocal cords in order to produce sound.

    Some people sing quietly by being very breathy. That is, they don’t use all their breath to produce the sound, but allow some breath to escape at the same time. Lots of pop singers do this for effect. This will reduce the volume, but since you’re effectively throwing away some of your breath, you may find that you run out more quickly than usual.

    The answer is to counter your unconscious reactions by doing what may feel like the opposite: be more focused, take in plenty of air, have an erect posture, and work harder.

    Try this: sing a passage you know well quietly but with very little energy. Now try it again but this time increase the energy, breath, focus, etc. whilst maintaining the same volume. Notice any difference?

    I get asked so often about breathing and singing (usually along the lines of “I always run out of breath, what can I do?”), that I’m planning to write a whole series of non-technical posts on singing and breathing very soon. Stay tuned!

    If you have any specific questions about singing and breathing, do drop me a line and I’ll try to incorporate them.


    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

    Facebook: Facebook.com/ChrisRowbury

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

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  • One recording is worth a thousand photos – use sound to promote your choir

    Listed on October 26, 2015 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    Singing is all about sound, whether it’s a one-day workshop, a live concert or a CD.

    sound

    I’m amazed at choir websites, concert promotion and singing workshop publicity which is full of photos, but have no sound clips. If you don’t have sound, you’re missing out.

    We deal in sound. People come to hear our choirs, listen to our CDs and join in with the singing at a workshop. Surely the best way to let people know how good we are is to let them hear us? But it’s surprising how many choirs forget this!

    I’ve come across countless choir websites which have long lists of their past concerts complete with extensive repertoire and programme notes, but no sound.

    There are choir websites with endless galleries of choir photos: in rehearsal, on tour, in concert, but no sound clips.

    Many workshop leaders I know post photos of their workshops on Twitter, but hardly ever accompanied by sound.

    It’s easy to be impressed by slick publicity photos and clever design, but I’ve often been very disappointed when I’ve actually got to hear the singing.

    It’s fairly simple to create recordings to showcase your choir or singing workshops. You don’t need fancy equipment to record singing. Even a recording on a smartphone is pretty good these days. And if you can video it at the same time, all the better. Find out more here: What’s the best recording device to use in a choir rehearsal or singing workshop?

    Here are some ways in which you can use sound recordings to promotes your singing activities.

    • YouTube – this is a free platform for sharing videos, but you can also use still images. If you haven’t already done so, make sure you claim a unique URL for your YouTube channel (mine is YouTube.com/ChrisRowbury). Then just upload your sound files with accompanying images.
       
    • SoundCloud – this is a free platform for uploading and sharing MP3s. Like YouTube, make sure you bag a URL (before someone else nicks it!) – mine is SoundCloud.com/ChrisRowbury. You can then upload MP3s and add descriptions, tags, etc.
       
    • MP3s on website – depending on how much space your website host allows you, you can upload MP3s directly and store them with your other web pages. Then link to them on your website. These will open in a new window and play. See an example here: samples from Eastern European workshop
       
    • CD samples – use a service like CDBaby to sell your CD online (or Amazon or iTunes or ...). Whichever service you use, there is usually a facility for people to sample the tracks and hear your singing before they buy. You are selling your CD through your website aren’t you?
       
    • share the sounds – once you’ve uploaded sound recordings somewhere on the web, then make sure you share the links freely: on social media, on your website, in your email signature, in your publicity. You can also embed YouTube and SoundCloud on your website.
       
    • don’t forget print media – even when you’re producing print media (posters, fliers, letters, business cards, etc.) you can refer to recordings. For example, at the bottom of a concert poster it might say “Listen to us at YouTube.com/OurChoir”
       
    So get some sounds out there now. Not only is it a good way of promoting your concerts and workshops, but it’s a fantastic recruitment tool.

    Do let me know if you come across some good examples of people using recordings effectively.

    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

    Facebook: Facebook.com/ChrisRowbury

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

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  • Tricia Durdey’s Arvon Week

    Listed on October 22, 2015 by Arvon in Blogs!

    Ten years ago I attended an Arvon course at Lumb Bank – Writing for Young Adults, led by...

    The post Tricia Durdey’s Arvon Week appeared first on Arvon.

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  • 6 ways to stop the strain of other singers relying on you (or you relying on them)

    Listed on October 19, 2015 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    The rehearsal begins and the Altos looks around in panic: “Where’s Carol?” Carol is a strong, confident singer, but she’s not here this week.

    Blind leading blind
    Pieter Bruegel the Elder - The Parable of the Blind Leading the Blind (detail)

    The trouble is, the Alto section has come to rely on Carol, and now that she’s not here, they’re all a bit lost. How has this situation arisen, and what can be done about it?

    Of course, it’s not just the Altos. Any section can get into the habit of depending on one singer to keep them on track. And it doesn’t have to be the whole section, it may be just three or four singers who stand next to a particularly confident singer.

    There are many reasons why this is not a good idea.

    Too much dependency on one singer:

    • makes the other singers vulnerable – when the person they’re relying on doesn’t turn up, they’re lost
    • stops singers from taking responsibility for their own contribution
    • can prevent singers from realising how well they’re doing on their own
    • puts a lot of pressure on a singer who has come to enjoy themselves
    • singles out some singers as being somehow ‘better’ than the rest

    Maybe you’re one of these (seemingly) confident singers who ends up being relied upon, or perhaps you’re a slightly hesitant singer who leans on someone who seems stronger than you. Either way, what can be done about this situation?

    First of all, it’s the choir leader’s responsibility not to let this happen in the first place. If they haven’t noticed, then draw it to their attention. There are plenty of rehearsal techniques they can use to make sure every singer is equally confident and equally responsible for their own contribution without placing pressure on individual singers.

    singers who have too much pressure placed on them

    If you’re an apparently confident singer who picks things up quickly, you may find that the singers around you start to rely on you. This can put a lot of pressure on you as a choir member, especially since you want to have a good sing and be part of a team, not a leader.

    Here are six ideas you can use to change the situation:

    1. move around – make sure you regularly move places within your section so other singers don’t get into the habit of standing next to you
       
    2. sing quietly – for one rehearsal try singing much quieter than usual. Put the work in as usual and stay focused, but just hold back on the volume
       
    3. distance yourself – if possible, try distancing yourself slightly from the rest of your section, perhaps standing at the back or side
       
    4. change parts – move to a different part now and then if you can
       
    5. just say “no” – don’t accept the responsibility. If other singers keep asking you for advice or whether they’ve got something right, refer them to your choir leader
       
    6. step up – you can reframe the problem and play to your strengths: if you don’t already have section leaders, ask your choir leader if you can, then formalise the roles and ask if you can be one for your section 
       

    singers who end up relying on someone else in their section

    If you’re a hesitant singer who lacks a bit of confidence, you may end up relying on someone who you think is somehow better than you. It’s not always the case though – they may be finding it as difficult as you, but just appear to be comfortable and don’t have a problem with singing out. Then it’s a case of the blind leading the blind!

    Here are six ideas that my help reduce your dependency:

    1. take responsibility – first of all, make sure that you put the work in: take responsibility for your own place in the choir (see You are the most important singer in your choir and How to be a good choir member), don’t dump on someone else (“I won’t bother learning it, I can always stand next to Carol, she always knows it.”)
       
    2. distance yourself – gradually increase the distance between you and the person you rely on, and try standing next to different singers in your section
       
    3. listen, listen, listen – focus on listening to the other singers in your section and not just the one singer, then move your attention to hearing the other parts in the choir
       
    4. get help – if you’re really struggling, ask your choir leader for help, or get together with some of the other singers in your section and have an extra rehearsal round someone’s house
       
    5. sing out loud – the singer you rely on may appear to know more than you, but you hone in on them because they just sing out – you know more than you think
       
    6. copy good practice – if you think the person you’re relying on is somehow better than you, then try to copy what they do. Behave as if you’re confident and know what you’re doing and soon you will actually be confident and not need to lean on anyone else (see Two big ideas to create the perfect choir or singing experience)
       
    I’m sure there are lots of other clever tactics that can be used. Do let us know if you’ve been in the position of being relied upon to much or finding yourself having to rely on another singer. How did you resolve the situation?

    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

    Facebook: Facebook.com/ChrisRowbury

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

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  • 10 choir website mistakes to avoid (or how to look professional online)

    Listed on October 12, 2015 by Chris Rowbury in Blogs!

    I was trawling through a bunch of choir websites the other day in order to send out some information about a workshop I’m running.

    404

    I was amazed how hard it was to contact many of them and in general how badly designed many of the websites were. I’ve come up with 10 mistakes that you should avoid.

    You don't have to be a web designer or computer expert to create a good, functioning website for your choir. It doesn’t have to have lots of bells and whistles, but increasingly, if you don’t have an online presence people aren’t going to be able to find out about you.

    I’m amazed at how many awful choir websites there are out there. It doesn’t take a lot of time or effort to get it right, and it will make you look a lot more attractive and professional to concert bookers and potential recruits.

    Here are 10 mistakes that you should avoid.

    1. don’t hide the “Contact Us” link – you’d think some choirs don’t want to be found! How on earth will you get concert bookings and new recruits if people can’t contact you? Make sure there is a clear “Contact Us” link on every page of your website and don’t just hide it at the bottom.
       
    2. make sure there’s an email contact – people have found your website on the internet. They are using a computer so they’ll usually want to email. Make sure you don’t have just a telephone number.
       
    3. check that your website hasn’t expired – I came across many choir websites in directories, but when I clicked on the link the website didn’t exist! Make sure your domain name doesn’t expire (you need to renew it every year or so). If you’ve got a brand new website name make sure the old name links to the new one. It doesn’t look very professional if your website address doesn’t work.
       
    4. have your own website – don’t rely on a listing on the council’s website or be part of somebody else’s. It’s important you have your own, independent website with its own name. It doesn’t have to be flash or big, an internet presence with some basic details and contact information can be enough.
       
    5. avoid boring photographsyou might think they look great, but bear in mind you want to attract new members and new audiences. I’m amazed at how many old-fashioned choir photos are still being used with lots of (usually old) people sitting in rows with the same uniform on. Dull, dull, dull!
       
    6. ensure that your website hasn’t been hijacked – or domain name expired. I found what looked like a really interesting site, malevoicechoir.net I assumed it would be a list of male voice choirs, but click it and see what you think. Clearly somebody had let the registration expire and a Japanese company has bought it.
       
    7. keep all your links up to date – there’s nothing worse than clicking on Concerts or Useful Links on a choir website only to be told the page doesn’t exist. 
       
    8. speed your site up – some websites took so long to load that I simply gave up and moved on. This is often to do with huge image files (like photos) on the site. You want people to visit your site and stay on your site. Also Google has started to penalise slow loading sites.
       
    9. have your own domain name – even if you’ve used some kind of website builder or software package, it’s much better to have a website name like mychoir.com than mychoir.wordpress.com or wix.com/mychoir Also, have your own host so you have more control.
       
    10. don’t rely on a Facebook page – some choirs think that having a Facebook page is a cheap and easy way of having an online presence. However, you have far less control, can’t design the layout, and only a very small percentage of people will see all your posts (due to Facebook’s algorithm). By all means have a Facebook page as well, and make sure you put your website URL in the About section.
       
    And here’s a bonus tip:

    11. keep everything up to date – when’s the last time you had a really good look at your own website? Are concert details from 2009 still on there? Are your contact names up to date? Can it do with some new photos? Have you got your latest dates on there? All easy fixes, but do it regularly to keep on top of it.

    Chris Rowbury


    Website: chrisrowbury.com

    Facebook: Facebook.com/ChrisRowbury

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

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  • Staff Vacancies

    Listed on October 7, 2015 by Benslow in Blogs!

    We are currently looking for people to join our catering team

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