Showing posts with label rick astley. Show all posts
Showing posts with label rick astley. Show all posts

Thursday, July 15, 2010

You're sounding too darn white!

I think African music has three great attributes: rhythm, movement, and richness.

I'm going to talk about these attributes, and also going to briefly discuss a few white musicians who are almost good enough to be black. And give you what I view as their "secret ingredient" that makes them so great.

Read on...


African music - and black music generally - dances in a way that white music just...doesn't. The rhythms are interesting, catchy and live.

It's music you have to learn and know. You can't read it in a concert off the page, and expect to do it justice.

So tough luck suckers, if you didn't attend the rehearsals and take the time to learn it!

This is music that, in many cases, has hung around for a long, long time before being written down, and oftentimes the notes on the page are just a very rough approximation of how things should sound.

It's actually kind of funny, because African music can really stump white music's highly trained experts. They don't "get" it.

So you see them scratching their heads, looking at the notes, singing everythng a bit too precisely and purely - and sounding altogether too..."white".

Because that's what that "white" sound is, of course - it's a reluctance to let go, to feel, and to really grok the music on a deep level.

Sounding white is about keeping the music in your head instead of in your belly and soul.

Do I dare say it? - a white sound is never a sexy sound, because it is anchored completely in the brain. But black music can be incredibly sexy, because it embraces the body-mind connection.

No wonder rock n roll, which has its roots in gospel and african music was so challenging to the white establishment when it first started taking hold in music!


The thing that struck me when I went to my first choral concert (which was when I was in my 20s) was how stiff and bored the singers looked.

Sometimes you couldn't even see them over their scores. Nothing but a tuft of hair. If they were bald, not even that!

The choir seemed to be totally disconnected with the music they were singing.

I just couldn't get it. Like - huh?

But I totally understood why the auditorium was three quarters empty.

Think of your typical white choir - or think back to how you stood in your last choral concert - and compare it to the choir in the clip below, taken from the classic movie, The Blues Brothers.

Nothing still and stiff about this!

Of course, a lot of what you're seeing in the clip above is Hollywood fooling, but if you watch the choir in the back (purple gowns), you'll see they're moving about, getting into the music, grooving with it.

They're fun and interesting to watch, and you just know there's no way they could sing half so well if they stood still and straight with their books up in front of their faces!

Music and movement are interconnected. You cannot have the one without the other - you really can't.

Unless performers feel the music in their bodies and react to it, providing cyclical positive rhythmic and tonal feedback within themselves, they're just providing a half-hearted show.

If it were me running our rehearsals I'd have us all up on our feet, stomping, dancing and grooving to the music. You should probably be thankful that it isn't me up front!

But you can hear whether a choir is moving or not in the quality of their sound. Just have a listen to one of my old choirs singing "The Lion Sleeps Tonight".

You can tell the choir was up on their feet, dancing around - you can hear it on the recording.

And yes, the audience loved it! And yes, the choir performed to packed audiences time and again, because word got out that they'd provide a performance - not just a bit of dull sound coming at the audience from behind black folders held up high!

[Melbourne Gay and Lesbian Chorus, The Lion Sleeps Tonight]


African music, gospel music, black music - and actually some of the music we're now starting to hear coming out of maori and island culture - has an intense richness to it.

I think that part of this is definitely genetic.

I've lived in Hong Kong (Asia) and in West Virginia (USA), and I've seen quite clearly that vocal placement is genetically based, to a point.

Whether you're a soprano or alto, tenor or bass, is due to the size of your vocal equipment, and the size of your body generally. But it also depends on whether you've been encouraged to train "up" or "down".

Hong Kong and China, having smaller people generally than Europe on average, naturally tends to produce more sopranos and tenors. Smaller bodies, smaller vocal equipment resulting in higher vocal ranges and lighter choral sounds.

And in West Virginia I couldn't help noticing that the larger, more solid black men and women were all basses and altos - real, deep, glorious altos, with the kind of voices I would kill to have!

Listen to black music, and you'll hear the strength of these deep, rich voices coming into their own.

In black music, alto isn't the middle-of-the-chord afterthought. It's up front and center stage. Alto power!

Sure, you'll hear soprano over the top, and counter-tenor too - but it's never the pure, light, laser-beam Cathedral sound we appreciate and produce en masse in the West.

Instead, it's a dramatic, rich, full-bodied, totally supported, chesty, throaty, rounded sound. Supported by solid, rich, deep notes in the bass line that are thrilling and inspiring and enticing.

And I could listen to it for years!

Good enough to be black!

The final secret ingredient is conviction.

This is why Freddie Mercury was Freddie Mercury - he sang with more conviction than just about any singer that ever lived.

And yes, Freddie Mercury was good enough to be black.

Singing with conviction. Compare his singing with Brian May's opening verses. May isn't a bad singer (he's actually quite good), but he lacks the conviction Mercury has in spades. And notice the body movement of Mercury. He couldn't have sung this well sitting still. RIP, Freddie.

Elvis knew this secret, final ingredient too. Hear him singing "Amazing Grace" and you would think you were listening to a black man. A large part of his popularity was due to the fact that he managed to recreate a black(ish) sound in a hunky white man.

New Zealand's Hollie Smith has conviction in bucketloads.

She's awesome, and was in Dunedin recently. Peggy and I went along to see her at refuel. Our response: WOW.

That's my assessment of black music.

So if you think you're not getting the African music we're doing right now, you need to get up, get grooving, sing with conviction, and feel the rhythm.

Your brain might not get it, but your body will!

Monday, July 6, 2009

1, 2, 3, 4 - We're City Choir, now hear us roar!

I really feel sorry for the poor people in Dunedin who didn't make it to either one of our concerts this weekend. Because they missed a rip snorter of a time. Not just one major work, but four. Not just one Important White Dead Guy, but four! Yeeee haaaaw!

In fact, I was going to title this blog post "Yeeee haaaaw!" but I don't think Purcell, with his very pretty, curly wig, would have approved. Then again, with his lame in-jokes and buckle shoes, maybe he would have. Who knows?

Purcell - Come, Ye Sons Of Art

One thing that is certain is that he would have approved mightily of our rendition of "Come Ye Sons Of Art" with which our "Anniversary Accolades" concert opened. We tuned our voices, our instruments played, and it was all just beautiful. I could see the audience grooving along to the music, bopping their heads in time to the beat, and as I was singing I couldn't help thinking "Yeah, baby! We're rocking this town!"


Haydn - Seasons (Spring)

On to the next dead white guy, it was time for us to nail Haydn's "Seasons" - the "Spring" part of it anyway! More in-jokes with parts of the score that sounded rather familiar to those of us who know other works by this composer - but hey, what's a bit of self-plagiarism between friends? It's nice to know that these guys weren't as dismally-minded as their rather staid press shots would lead one to suspect:


Personally, I think Haydn hated sopranos. I mean, anyone who writes top B Nasties for choir sopranos that run on for nearly two full bars is asking for a fight. I'd deck him if he were alive today. Lucky for him he's not. But my fellow sopranos did a magnificent job - page 53 wasn't the first, or the last, point in the night that I was tremendously proud of the women of City Choir. We took that B Nasty and told Haydn exactly what he could do with it!

Not only were we singing well, but the Sinfonia and our soloists were sounding wonderful. In particular, Stephen Chambers, our Tenor soloist, was worth a mention. He sounded glorious, his diction and tuning spot on. While all the soloists were great, I particularly enjoyed his performance.

Two works down, it's half time, we're looking good. Several very snarly passages are under our belts, and it is time to grab a quick gulp of water and do a quick dash to the loo before we're back on stage in our sardine-esque positions.

Handel - My Heart Is Inditing

We're on for Handel with the wonderful Michael Dawson at the helm. And not only does Michael do an incredibly job in his orchestral debut, guiding us through the not-exactly-easy twists and turns of Handel, but he is also obviously completely in control of the excellent Sinfonia.

A few words of thanks

While I'm talking about Michael, I also want to say something about the fact that David has been generous and thoughtful enough to give Michael this opportunity. Few choral directors would have shown the trust and respect that David has in Michael. He has been supportive of Michael not just in City Choir, but also in St Pauls Cathedral Choir.

It is so important not just to direct a Choir and Orchestra well, as David does, but also to raise the next generation to follow in your footsteps. I can't say enough about how important this job is, and how highly I think of David for giving this opportunity to Michael in such a respectful way. Both men were a credit to City Choir and to Dunedin this weekend. I think we are all very fortunate to have them.

Back to the concert

At this point in the concert we were getting our teeth into "My Heart Is Inditing" with Michael. From where I was standing, the diction was good and clear, the notes precise, and the choir and audience attentive. The movements worked well. I'll admit I'm a bit of a fan of Handel - more so than of Purcell especially, or of Haydn. Purcell always sounds a bit wrong to me - like it was written for different tuning, or something. Don't ask me what exactly - I'm no music expert - but know what I hear. The chords don't quite fit together, and the notes somehow don't feel quite confortable with one another. They rub against each other as enemies, not as friends.

Handel, on the other hand, always feels bright and correct to me, and it did last night. It sits well in the voice, and if we had a few issues with pitch, they were not noticed by the audience as far as I could see. Michael had good contact with the choir, and overall the movements came off well.


Mendelssohn - As The Hart Pants

On to the last of our four composers - Mendelssohn. Mendelssohn is often touted as a composer who writes particularly well for the voice, and "As The Hart Pants" is a good example of his work. He works up to the high notes for the sopranos rather than dumping them at you, and the body of the line sits comfortably within your range, so you never feels stressed or strained when singing his work. Maybe this is why I like Mendelssohn, even though I don't much like this particular translation of the biblical text.

"As The Hart Pants" started off beautifully with the alto entry, and the altos entered so well that I really wished I was back singing alto again, like when I first started singing in choirs! They just sounded so smooth, so rich, and so beautifully in tune. It was a pleasure to listen to. The first movement in particular was performed well overall, especially in the second concert, when I think we peformed it better than in any rehearsal. Which is as it should be.

I am also really pleased to say that our men nailed No 6 "The Lord Hath Commanded". They really did well, and I know this had been particularly difficult for them in rehearsal, requiring a four part split. They did so well in both concerts. Yay us!

The Mendelssohn ends with my favourite of all choral playtimes - a fugue. Yeee haaaaw! I love fugues! Just the way all the lines deviate and fit together and pull apart, then come back together again, translating the melody in different ways and recreating the theme in each choral line. A good fugue is musical magic. I'm not a music theorist, who could no doubt tell you about contrapuntal composition and fugal subjects, and all that highfalutin stuff. Not me. Instead I'll just tell you it was great fun to sing, and I'd love to do it all again today, and tomorrow, and the next day, because fugues are just awesome. Brain food for the soul.


Handel - The King Shall Rejoice

Finally, to end the concert, it was back to Handel with David conducting "The King Shall Rejoice", which includes my favourite movement - No. 2 "Exceeding Glad Shall He Be", which is Handel trying his hand at Bluegrass music. It really is - I'm not joking! My only grumble is I was a little disappointed that of the Coronation Anthems we weren't doing "Zadok The Priest", which is a fabulous piece and a great sing - maybe next time!

The "Alleluia" was our closing movement, and it did stay together, despite worries in rehearsal. All eyes were on the conductor - I was too nervous to even look down on my score in some moments! We followed closely and tightly, and the piece worked. Friends in the audience told me the work was wonderful, and that they enjoyed it thoroughly, as they had enjoyed the works of the other composers.

In conclusion...

Four Important Dead Guys. Four major works. Four anniversaries. Four accolades. We came, we sang, we did them justice. City Choir once again proved that we can take on a huge amount of music and make it work. I think my extra work outside of rehearsal paid off - I know that others in the choir studied the music at home too, and their work paid off too.

Now we have a week of doing nothing. No music for a week, and I'm off on holiday next weekend up to the north island for a few days, for a well-deserved rest.

Next concert isn't until September, with Haydn's Nelson Mass. It seems so long away, but right now all I can think is, Bring it on!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Bach Christmas Oratorio, from the Soprano Section

We sang the Bach Christmas Oratorio last night.

And we rocked.

Yay. I'll say it again. In red, just to prove a point: We rocked!

What a huge work. What an awesome concert. What an amazing choir. What fabulous soloists. What a terrific orchestra. What a wonderful conductor.

I think everyone was nervous to begin with. I know I was. It didn't help that those terrible lights were so hot that I felt like I was sitting in a sauna. Before we were up to the ninth movement, my hands were firmly stuck to the PVC of my folder, and the sweat (yes, I know ladies are supposed to 'perspire' but I was sweating!) was starting to bead on my brow. Jenny Craig's new method - weight loss via Oratorio.

I'd like to say things soon settled into a groove, but for me they didn't. Every movement had edge-of-my-seat nervousness, and it was not helped by a spell of dizziness early on that left me feel disoriented and out of sorts. Being right up the back of the choir suits me well - I like to rely on myself rather than others - but in this case, feeling unwell, I'd have preferred to be a little less out on a limb, tucked in neatly down front with a bit more sound to fall back on for a while. Oh well.

The soloists did a great job. I did feel particularly sorry for the Tenor in Aria 41: Ich will nur dir zu Ehren leben. Bach was just cruel to make this a da capo. Getting through this once was bad enough, and then the poor dude had to do it all again! Nasty.

Speaking of which I am not, and never will be, a fan of da capo. It's a bit of cheat. Run out of music, so chuck in a repeat and get everyone to do it all again. You could see people in the audience thinking 'huh?' Off with da capo, I say!

The concert had some top moments. Highlights included 1: Jauchzet, frohlocket, auf, preiset die Tage and 43: Ehre sei dir, Gott, gesungen. I think Bach works his best when smashing the fast stuff, and that was where we too performed better. Maybe we sensed when Bach was on a high, and that motivated us. Maybe his wee ghostie was lurking up in the Gods, looking down on us sneeringly. Who knows? But we definitely grooved in the fast paced items far more than in the slower movements.

bach - was his ghostie with us?

One audience member claims she saw an elderly gentleman (pictured, above) leaving The Gods after City Choir's performance of the Bach Christmas Oratorio. He did not pay for his ticket and is wanted for questioning.

Some of the arias were done beautifully, and a highlight was Aria 39, with the Echo Soprano. Stunning work, especially by the lovely Echo (Catherine, from St. Paul's Cathedral Choir, as a ring-in). Hearing voices work beautifully together is always a pleasure to the senses, and this was an excellent example.

What did I enjoy most? Hard to say, really. I like the tricky stuff, but that's just me. I find the slower, grander stuff a bit on the dull side, and don't really enjoy it as much as the music that rocks along. So I guess I preferred the fast movements. I think the audience preferred them too.

If there was a weakness in the concert, it would be that I did feel that the choir as a whole didn't get 'into' the music as much as we could have. What I mean by that is that it didn't quite feel as though people around me were sensing the pulse and meter of the work as well as they might. Music isn't just about notes and precision - it's about recognising the underlying patterns and beats and feeling that.

When a piece of music gets into you, and you grab it, you really don't have to see the conductor's beat, because it's there inside you. What you watch for instead is interpretation, cut-offs and expression. It's the conductor's face and fingertips, not their arms, that matter, once the music 'clicks' and you get beyond the note-bashing stage. The little timepiece inside you gets going, and the conductor's beat moves in step with your own.

I felt like there were points in this work where we didn't quite get to the stage of having that little clockwork chickybabe (or guy) inside of each of us going ticka ticka ticka ticka, or ta-ta-ta ta-ta-ta ta-ta-ta the whole time. But you probably think I'm a bit of a weirdo for writing all this. It's just the way I work with music, and maybe everyone is different. Heck - maybe I am a weirdo! ;-)

What we did get right was watching for changes in tempo and cut-offs. The Oratorio, as a whole, was pretty neatly done. We watched pretty well, and there weren't too many dragging movements. This is no small achievement in a choir of our size. Getting forward movement happening in a choir this size can sometimes be a bit like herding cats - you really have to push!

Well, we did it! What can we tackle next? If I had my way, I'd be buckling down for a bash at Handel's funkiest piece, Dixit Dominus. Of course, it's not up to me, but I figured it can't hurt to suggest the good stuff as you're all reading this! I'll post a link to a Youtube recording of Dixit. Please take the time to listen - you'll be drooling for a go at Dixit too!

So well done everyone! (Pats self on back). Thanks to all the excellent Sopranos around me. Thanks to the *sigh*worthy Altos, who sounded gorgeous from where I was standing. Thanks to our excellent men, who nailed their entrances, so David didn't have to cut you up into iddy biddy little pieces with a big, big knife after all. Finally, while speaking of the man, thanks to our amazing conductor David, who really deserves a break in the Caribbean after all this, with a few cocktails - and no choristers!

So - whadayareckon - here's Handel's Dixit Dominus. Want to give it a go? "Ohhhhhhhh, yeah" is the correct response!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

And now for something completely different...Australian Intervarsity Choral Festivals

I've mentioned to a few people here and there that I attend Australian Intervarsity Choral Festivals.

A few people have asked about these - what they are about, who goes, how often they happen. So I thought I'd do a post to tell you a bit more about this fabulous tradition, and explain why I've been dedicating two weeks of my precious leave each year to attending IVs.

Australian Intervarsity Choral Festivals (IVs) happen roughly once a year, and each year they cycle between seven different cities. So if you live in, say, Adelaide, a festival will come to your city every seven years.

University choirs from all over Australia get together to attend these festivals - at last count there were members from something like a dozen different University Choirs attending the festivals on a regular basis.

Some participants have been attending for years - I'm now in my third 'cycle', having attended more than two series of seven festivals. Of course, I started attending IVs when I was 3 years old, and am only 19 now ;-)

I started attending as a member of FUCS (1993), then AUCS (1994), then MUCS/MonUCS (1995-2002) (such crossover types are commonly referred to as MonMUCs), and finally as a ROC (2003-), as my ridiculous pile of degrees and various other factors shuffled me across Australia. This isn't unusual - one participant is reputedly a member of all IV choirs!

IV choirs share common traditions besides festival attendance - many 'pub songs' (mostly motets with a few oddities thrown in), traditions (including toasts for formal occasions) and other social curiosities help identify an IV choir. Many IV participants attend rehearsals at a fellow IV choir when in another Australian city - it is not uncommon for a FUCSter from Adelaide to attend MUCS rehearsals when in Melbourne and vice-versa. Many long-term relationships and friendships also cross state borders.

Getting back to the festivals: The festivals last for two weeks, usually from a Friday night through to a Sunday afternoon, and the standard pattern is to have two major concerts, with a variety of social events in-between. Some of these include a formal dinner, publicity singing around town, the Presidents Pyjamas (like a very messy and silly "It's A Knockout"), beer sculling, and a revue night.

The number of participants in recent times varies from as few as 88 (Brisbane IV 1993) to as many as 250+ (recent Melbourne and Sydney festivals). Many choristers are self-confessed IV-addicts, and claim they will attend "until I have to hobble up on stage with a zimmer frame."

The next festival scheduled is Hobart 2009 in July next year, and it will be the 60th festival - quite an achievement for a movement of this kind.

IVs welcome interstate and overseas choristers, and any Kiwi choristers who are interested in attending would be very welcome, and would absolutely have a wonderful time.

I'll leave you with an embedded mini movie (unofficial) of Brisbane Intervarsity Festival 2007. You won't see much of me, as I was the chick behind the camera most of the time, but if you're quick (very quick!) you'll see me down a beer in the Womens' 4x sculling (we won, of course), getting down on the dance floor with a very young Dawnie (my now 21 month old daughter), and in a few photos at the end.

I'll also add a link to a homemade Adelaide IV 2006 movie, so you can see more of the sort of silliness we get up to.

WARNING: Parts of these movies may offend the faint of heart ;-)


And Adelaide IV 2006

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Dream of Gerontius in Christchurch

(I intended this post to be all about the concert, but it has ended up being more a diary entry on what the weekend in Christchurch was like for me. Nevertheless, I will post it as it may be of interest, and I'll stick a few photos in for those who may find it tedious and dull. For larger versions of the photos, click on them).

Last weekend a busload of City Choir choristers were shuffled up to Christchurch to sing Elgar's Dream of Gerontius. We were gone from noon on Friday through to Sunday afternoon, and I think I would be fair in saying that all involved had a wonderful time.

For those who don't know much about the work, Dream of Gerontius is an oratorio composed in 1900, based on some of the text from a poem by one Cardinal Newman. Newman's poem is rather odd, in that the first half of the work is about a dying man, and the second half is about what he gets up to after he's dead. In the end, Gerontius manages to - well, I won't post spoilers!

I found the work a little challenging, as I'd last encountered it in 1994 as an alto (I'm a mezzo by voice). I had to do some quick catch-up work to be up to scratch, but that was all part of the fun, and Elgar does at least write well for the voice.

On the bus trip up I spent most of my time listening to my Ipod and discussing subjects as varied the pitfalls of monoculture and the differences between alpacas (they hum and are cute and profitable) and llamas (they spit and are ugly and unprofitable).

Upon arriving it was a quick dash to our digs (the YMCA, no Village People in evidence), before a very, Very, VERY looooong rehearsal in which I hope no-one noticed I started to snooooore...

We were so completely brilliant (and clearly my snoring was in key) that Saturday morning's rehearsal was called off, leaving us all an entire day to prowl around Christchurch before our call in the evening.

I started my day off with an hour or two in the beautiful Botanic Gardens. The Daffodil Glade was a-flower, and if you're that way inclined (I am) you can check out photos of the daffs at my blog. After my dose of nature worship, I scooted up through to the city, and found a lovely little breakfast place where fresh bagels were on the menu (yum).

Then it was off to the Cathedral, where I played a couple of chess games on the giant chess set, watched some street theatre, bought a huge handmade lollypop (yum!) as my jelly snake population was looking scandalously low, and visited the open air markets. I enjoy being one of life's spectators, and people can be so interesting - especially when they've no idea they're being watched!

Then it was a spicy lunch at a Thai place (loads of chilli, but no garlic as I did not want to kill off my fellow choristers), before an afternoon at the Art Gallery and the COCA (Centre of Contemporary Art). I also visited the museum, walked along the river, and wondered how difficult punting might be. There is so much to do in a city like Christchurch, especially if you avoid the horrible shopping strips.

All in all, eight hours of solid walking, and almost the same number of blisters on my feet.

The concert in the evening - the bit you're actually wanting to read about in this post - was wonderful. I got those glorious bumpy thrills up and down my spine that can only be got in few instances, great choral music being one of the publicly discussable options. That's what we travelled all this distance for!

There is nothing like singing a great choral work with 200 other like souls. Nothing. A friend of mine dubbed it 'choral orgasm' a long time ago, and the phrase has stuck in one of my longtime social networks. Some people may say that they enjoy rock concerts and raves and foam parties and stuff. Yeah, right. Been there, done that - and it's fun but it's all rubbish next to singing Elgar, baby. Elgar rocks.

the art galleryAfter the concert there was a bit of a get-together with members of the participant choirs, and it was nice to have a bit of a chat and unwind a little, although I didn't get to talk to all the people I wanted to speak with.

I also realised the dangers involved in getting rather giggly with a group consisting of a person who has known you since you were very much younger and more stupid than now (Alan, who has known me over 15 years) and people you hope don't think you are as young and stupid as is currently the case (Polly and Tree). Naturally, Alan was keen to divulge all my worst stories and secrets, and the ladies were happy to hear them and thoroughly embarrass me.

I'd like to say I slept really soundly when our small and happy group of "Y" lodgers made it tipsily back to our bedding, but I didn't. The dratted birds in the park had well and truly remembered it is spring, and were clearly making beady eyes at one another under an almost full moon, singing their raucous songs of love and doing anything but give me spine tingles. *sigh*

I finally got to sleep about four in the morning, and was up again at eight, ready to pack, check out, then board the bus for the long journey home. I once again managed to snag the front seat (mountain view side, naturally), and got an absolutely stunning view of the mountains on the way home. I wish I'd been thoughtful enough to take photos, but I was too busy looking and appreciating. Sorry.

Leta's post can, no doubt, fill you in on some of the more entertaining conversation that occurred during the trip home, so I will not repeat her, except to say that David did not look at all embarrassed, although he may not have heard the suggestion that he might wish to be the pole!

All in all, we did have a huge amount of fun, and I think not only did I snag the best seat on the bus, but also some of the most entertaining bus companions! There is talk of us doing Beethoven in December, and all I can say is - Bring it on!