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The Vasari Singers and The Boxettes at LACF 2012

Last night was the first night of the London A Cappella Festival 2012, and it certainly got off to a tremendous start.

The evening began with foyer performances by several choirs from the “Music In Offices” initiative, including from the BBC and Channel 4. They sang from the balcony above the concert hall foyer downstairs, which a friend of mind pointed out was a kind of reverse serenade…

Music in Offices choirs

The Vasari Singers

The first concert was the Vasari Singers – a choir I’d heard of but never heard. Before they took to the stage though, we were treated to a mini performance by Albert Hera, who apparently has been called the Italian Bobby McFerrin – not a bad description! He has an incredibly versatile voice and evokative facial expressions, and as he bopped and hooted his way through announcing the “L-O-N-D-O-N a capp-ell-a twen-ty twelve” he repeatedly cracked the audience up with his playful expressions, gestures, and sounds. Wonderful to start the festival with laughter and such a show of vocal capability!

Then the Vasari Singers began the festival in earnest, (more…)

How to teach music… in perfect harmony

Discussion group

“How to teach music… in perfect harmony”
at the London A Cappella Festival 2012
14:50-15:30 in The Wenlock Room
Saturday 14th January, Kings Place, London

The last few years have seen a sharp increase in people’s interest in singing. From X-Factor and Pop Idol, to SingStar and Rock Band, to High School Musical and Glee, it’s clear there is massive public interest in singing and vocal groups.

Unfortunately it seems so far like the message of each of those franchises is centered squarely on celebrityism and pop star success – rather than developing real musical ability.

Can this widespread enthusiasm be harnessed to really drive music education forwards and encourage a new generation of truly talented musicians to emerge?

This week the London A Cappella Festival is held at Kings Place, curated by The Swingle Singers and Ikon Arts Management.

I’m proposing an informal discussion group as an #LACFextra, on the topic of a cappella for music education, tentatively entitled “How to teach music… in perfect harmony”. Not so much “How can we teach a cappella music?” as “How can we use a cappella to teach music?”

Some initial suggestions for discussion topics:

  • Why use a cappella for music education?
  • What areas of teaching music could a cappella be relevant to?
  • What specific benefits are there to using a cappella music for teaching?
  • Why isn’t it already more used?
  • How has it been used? Any successful experiences?
  • How can technology bolster a cappella in music ed?
  • What can we do to accelerate music education using a cappella music?
  • What potential collaborations between music ed. professionals/companies and a cappella groups are there?

The discussion will be open to everyone, and we’re hoping we might even entice a few of the festival performers to join us.

Details of time and location will be announced later this week, but the discussion will be at Kings Place during the day on Saturday and run for 30-40 minutes.

UPDATE: The discussion will take place in The Wenlock Room of Kings Place, from 14:50-15:30 on Saturday 14th.

If you’re interested in this topic, please:

  1. Leave a comment below to say you’ll come along (and suggest any further discussion points)
  2. Help spread the word using the social media buttons below, or by linking to this post and using hashtag #LACFextra.

If you’re not currently planning on attending LACF2012… Why not? Read a bit about last year’s festival and change your mind!

Sincere thanks to Jessica from Ikon Arts for supporting this LACFextra event.

Marc Sings For You. Why doesn’t everyone?

I recently wrote something about the future of classical music, and asked whether classical artists like James Rhodes and Thomas Hewitt Jones were leading the way by using social media to break down the stigma which normally goes along with classical music.

This time I want to look at another example of an artist – this time pop rather than classical – who’s trying innovative ways to reach fans and make a career in the modern era of net for nothing and the tunes for free.

Marc Sings

Marc with a C is a modern day pop troubadour, writing songs in a varied but reliably catchy pop vein. That isn’t ‘pop’ in the sense of the Top 20 singles chart, which these days actually tends to mean R&B and dance junk. As listeners of his regular music podcast “The Real Congregation” know, Marc’s a real believer in the tradition, and I guess nobility, of pop music and how great a thing the 3-minute pop song can be.

Though his music tends to be straight up pop (and I mean that in a good way), his lyrics range more widely, often surprising with their content or style. I’m not going say too much more about his music here – because it’s all available to hear for free at Bandcamp and his website.

I also think he’s an artist whose large back catalog will hold different gems for different people. So if you don’t know his stuff, go take a listen. I’ll wait.

(and here’s a selection of free tracks and albums to download)

So aside from being a prolific singer-songwriter and performing regularly in Florida over the last 10 years, Marc is (like any modern self-respecting indie musician) active on Twitter and Facebook. And though he sells his music through his website and Bandcamp, (more…)

The spaces between the notes

There’s no such thing as not playing. Music has rests in it. So, you’re on a rest and the music will begin shortly.

If you’re interested in musicianship, aural skills, and ear training, most of the practice you do probably revolves around listening to sounds. Whether you use individual notes, chords, rhythmic parts, complex timbres, or practise active listening in real music, you probably spend your training time listening. As well you should!

But perhaps we’re forgetting a complementary part of developing our ears for music?

Claude Debussy said that music is in the space between the notes, and it’s important to remember that silence can be just as important as music.

Silent Adoration

In the midst of a week filled with all kinds of exciting music, most of it new to me, I went for the first time to an “adoration of the blessed sacrament” service. Though I was raised Catholic, this is a part of the Catholic tradition I’d never really come into contact with before. The service started with some prayers spoken together, the sacrament was presented at the altar, and then for the rest of about an hour we simply knelt and prayed. In silence.

This was a marked change from the rest of the services during the week which were lively, musical and generally full of youthful exuberance. We simply knelt, and prayed, in silence.

That’s not to say that the world was silent around us.


A New Life for Music in the Church (Part Four): Taizé

This is part four in a series of posts on music in the Catholic Church. Previously: Part one, part two and part three.

One big discovery for me during the World Youth Day trip was the music of Taizé – a Christian community in the East of France, where they have cultivated a distinctive style of worship, welcoming all denominations of Christianity and putting visual icons and a particular kind of repeating sung music at the heart of each service.

I don’t think I’d ever heard of Taizé before that week, though looking back later I realised I had once experienced their music.

A First Taste of Taizé

During a period of quiet prayer in a vigil service in my church last Easter, somebody started singing a simple tune, and others joined in:

The words were so short and the tune so simple, that within a couple of repeats I was able to join in, singing softly with the dozen or so other people there. It was a wonderful peaceful addition to the service and a really memorable moment for me. I recognised it as a new and different form of sung music than I was used to, but didn’t have the relationships or the information to really follow up on it and learn more at that time.

During the World Youth Day trip, some of the music used by our excellent volunteer choir was in a similar vein. In particular this piece caught my attention:


A New Life for Music in the Church (Part Three)

This is part three in a series of posts on music in the Catholic Church. Part one covered my background and experience of Church music growing up and part two looked at the modern “happy clappy” style of church music.

Last time I was fairly critical of the upbeat poppy style of church music which sometimes seems like the only alternative to dirge-like traditional hymns, acknowledging that it’s a style of music which certainly appeals to some people but just doesn’t jibe well with my notion of what music should bring to the mass.

I wanted to add a corollary to that, however, which will then lead on some more positive posts on musical options in the modern church.

Everything in moderation

On the pilgrimage I took part in this summer there was a terrific music group, organised by one of the nuns who was with us (who, I might add, were a far cry from the black-and-white picture of a nun you might have in your head! Another eye-opening part of the trip for me…)

They led the music at the Westminster group services we had during the week. Some of these were masses in local churches, others were simple informal gatherings for prayer. The music was guitar led, with various simple rhythmic ‘shaker’ instruments among other members of the group. If you’ve read my previous post, you won’t be surprised to hear I was slightly apprehensive to see what the music would be like!


Can classical music engage modern music fans?

To many of my generation, classical music is unfamiliar and, sadly, unappealing.

I was lucky enough to get a fair bit of exposure through my childhood music education, but must admit that I still feel very ignorant of the standard classical corpus. I have a lot of respect for classical repertoire and those who play it, but it’s been rare that I find a piece I’ve really felt an emotional connection with. As a church chorister, there were certain pieces that I particularly enjoyed singing, and some which became emotionally resonant just through being a frequent part of that phase of my life. There have been some classical pieces outside of church music which I’ve loved. For example, much of Carmina Burana, Rodrigo’s superb guitar concertos and some of the pieces I played on saxophone (e.g. Mussorgsky’s “The Old Castle” from “Pictures at an Exhibition”).

In fact, I know enough to recognise the blunder of even using the term classical as such a catch-all, especially since all the pieces mentioned above sit firmly outside the classical period (1750-1830). But to most people my age, ‘classical’ music is just a synonym for pre-20th century, orchestral, old-fashioned, boring…

But surely there must be a future for these works which have stood the test of time, beyond just the dedicated performers and the (ever-dwindling) crowd of elite music appreciators who pay to hear them play live?

The progression of classical music into the Romantic, Impressionist and increasingly dissonant styles of the 20th century led to some strange and interesting aural innovation – but perhaps at the cost of becoming even less relatable to members of the general public. How many people d’you know who enjoy listening to John Cage or Edgard Varèse? A few years ago the Washington Post ran an experiment where world-renowned violinist Joshua Bell performed anonymously in a subway station – and barely drew a second glance from passers by.

So what is the future for classical music?

Well, I’m far from qualified to try to offer an answer to that vast and imposing question. But I think a part of it must be re-establishing the connection between the classical composer or performer, and their audience.

Classical Music on the Social Web

I wanted to share two particular examples I’ve recently found encouraging.