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Who decides the Future of Musicianship?

A few days ago I attended a fantastic discussion panel session at The Hub, Westminster, entitled “The Future of Musicianship”. It was the first event put on by the newly-launched “Loving and Living Music” project, brainchild of Ben Hillyard and Heli Rajasalo.

The goal of the initiative is outlined in detail here but to give you an idea:

What we are looking for in the Loving & Living Music project is a definition or a description of musicianship that includes all aspects of musicianship across all genres and instruments. Having this definition will enable discussion of musicianship to take place on a wider scale than is possible today.

We see a gap in the way that music in commonly taught. With the Loving & Living Music project we are looking to provoke awareness and discussion among the music education sector about how Musicianship is and could be taught.

The future of musicianship is a subject close to my heart due to my work with Easy Ear Training, where we try to use modern technology to make learning music more fun, easy and effective.

The event was fascinating, and the discussion broad and interesting. I won’t try to recount the discussion (not least because the entire panel session is now available online) but the event was eye-opening for me in a number of ways.

Musicianship is not what I thought.

In my work at Easy Ear Training I live immersed in a world of aural skills and over time (more…)

“Transcendental Youth” at the Barbican

After my LACF blitzkrieg in January, I’m slightly hesitant to post another concert review here, considering myself neither a music critic nor concert review blogger.

But last night’s Mountain Goats concert at the Barbican, featuring Owen Pallett and Anonymous 4, was one of the best I have ever attended – and brought me such joy I can’t help but want to share it.

Transcendental Youth

A few months ago, I got hugely excited on seeing this blog post over on John Darnielle describes the chance to work with Owen Pallett and Anonymous 4 as being like a “kid in the candy shop, after hours, with the go-ahead to have all the candy I like” and I can see that. At the time it was planned for New York only, but the addition of a performance at the Barbican in London made me hugely happy.

Why was this an exciting announcement to me?


An online springboard for learning piano:

As a keen self-taught pianist I’m always excited to find innovative new web sites or apps that try to help you learn piano. I’ve written previously about OnlinePianist, which recently launched a more slick and powerful version of their interactive tutorial app.

Another richly rewarding site is I must confess that at first my web developer brain saw the SEO-friendly domain name and site content, lots of mention of free material and free sheet music, and Google Ads embedded here and there and was a little suspicious… There are so many junk sites out there just trying to drive traffic and earn advertising revenue (especially in the area of guitar tab and sheet music) that the jaded skeptic in me suspected this might just be another of those.

I was pleasantly surprised though to discover that there’s valuable content here. Though the category links in the sidebar may give the impression the site is a treasure trove of free sheet music in fact it’s more of a ‘jumping off point’, with most of the sheet music pages linking out to online stores to purchase the actual downloads. There is however a lot of guidance and information provided, along with useful links to other resources (including the superb free book Fundamentals of Piano Practice).

I enjoyed taking the “Piano IQ Quiz”, learning a little something about Percy Mayfield and Grieg along the way. Hopefully more interactive elements will be added in future!

Not only does the site have a lot to offer, but it turns out (more…)

London Vocal Project and The Swingle Singers at LACF 2012

This is one of a number of posts on the London A Cappella Festival 2012. You can also read more about Saturday’s events and several other posts about the festival!

After some interesting workshops in the morning, a fun barbershop concert, a fascinating discussion on music education and panel session, Saturday finished the festival strong – with two superb final concerts.

FreePlay Duo

The first concert was the London Vocal Project, who were supported by FreePlay Duo: a collaboration between Dylan Bell (formerly of Cadence) and Suba Sankaran (whose bio is too vast and varied to squeeze into parentheses).

They performed just four songs: two using live looping (the pair had run the live looping workshop earlier in the day) to layer sound upon sound, and two performed directly. As befit the festival, all sounds were created live with the human voice – but the variety of timbres and textures created was truly impressive.

FreePlay Duo at London A Cappella Festival 2012

Aside from the skillful use of a digital loopstation, what is perhaps most striking about the duo is their mixing of musical styles, blending pop, and Western and Indian classical music into one surprisingly cohesive performance. Speaking of blending – (more…)

LACF Panel: The Global A Cappella Community

This is one of a number of posts on the London A Cappella Festival 2012. You can also read more about Saturday’s events and several other posts about the festival!

It would be a great pity to have so many top a cappella groups, and industry movers-and-shakers in one place and not sit them down to discuss the state of the world. Fortunately this year just such a panel was organised.

Part one: Competition & Collaboration

Led by Jes Sadler, the panel session had two halves. The first part was a discussion of the value of competition and collaboration in the world of a cappella music, and featured Clare Chen (Vocal Asia), Florian St├Ądtler (VocalBlog), Bill Hare (legendary a cappella producer) and Belinda Magee (Sing A Cappella). Though the discussion was brief, there were some great points made. I particularly liked Bill Hare’s assertion that the vibe at a really good a cappella competition is much the same as a friendly a cappella festival. The talk around the unreality of reality TV and drama shows like Glee was also interesting.

One funny but non-trivial issue raised by an audience question was whether the a cappella community is, in fact, too nice… It was suggested that some grittier collaborations, or simply less chirpy an attitude might help make a cappella music more accessible to those who write it off as superficial or cheesy.

It certainly is a remarkable close-knit and welcoming community in my experience. You only need to look at (more…)

Improv, Crossfire, Cottontown Chorus & The Refrains at LACF2012

After two stellar nights at the London A Cappella Festival (Thursday, Friday), I was excited to get stuck into the jam-packed Saturday agenda: three full concerts, plenty more foyer performances, an improvisation workshop, a panel talk and a music education discussion group.

Improvisation Workshop

I started the day by attending one of the three vocal workshops – the topic was improvisation, taught by Pete Churchill, whose London Vocal Project choir were performing later in the day.

I hadn’t been sure what to expect from a vocal improvisation workshop, but Pete quickly explained he wouldn’t just be spending an hour teaching us to sing scat! Instead he focused on how to manipulate a melody and play around with the rhythm to create your own improvised performance versions. The core message was on keeping a rock solid sense of the beat and auralising the standard melody in your head so you could improvise freely around it with a reliable rhythmic accuracy. It definitely stretched my ears in a good way – and being reminded of the importance of rhythmic discipline is never a bad thing. His suggestion that we kick back some evening, crack open a bottle of wine and spend some quality time with our metronome was heard loud and clear!

Pete Churchill teaches with a natural ease and the kind of clear, relaxed explanations that only come of real musical mastery. The workshop was a great experience, gave me lots to go away and think more about, and made me even more excited to see the London Vocal Project later in the day.

The workshop ended just in time to catch the tail-end of (more…)

Cadence and FORK at LACF 2012

Another amazing night at the London A Cappella Festival. I’m trying hard to avoid these posts just being whole-hearted enthusiasm, but the music is just so good – and let’s face it, there are plenty of professional music critics who can cast a negative light. Let them. I’m having a fantastic time!

Tonight’s line-up was Cadence, Canada’s premier all-male a cappella foursome, and FORK, the relative unknown from the not-so distant shores of Finland. Throw in some more Albert Hera and a few great foyer performances from up-and-coming a cappella groups and you have a second night that managed to live up to the superb first.


I came to know Cadence through listening to countless episodes of the excellent podcast “Mouth Off” – a short weekly update on all things a cappella, packed with fantastic tunes and fun chat, courtesy of hosts Christopher and Dave. This was the first chance I’d had to experience them live though and they certainly did not disappoint.

Cadence at LACF

After a sincere introductory reading of that classic poem “Blame Canada” from Swingle Kevin, the Cadence crew took to the stage, immediately setting the tone for a light-hearted but sleek and schmoooth performance. Their repertoire focuses on lounge jazz and big band type numbers, of which they are masters.

I would say the most distinctive aspects of the Cadence sound are their perfectly smooth voice blending and the superb brass section they transform into at the slightest provocation! Brass sounds (think trumpet, trombone, etc.) can be overused in a cappella music and there was no shortage here, but Cadence have it down to a fine art – close your eyes and you can actually believe it’s the real instruments you’re hearing.

Case in point: (more…)