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Fresh approaches to music making

BBC Symphony Chorus

Fresh approaches to music making

I recently decided to get back to choral singing having had a break of twenty years. In my various roles as a pianist, teacher, coach, public speaker and writer, my musical life doesn’t involve group music making and I realised over time how much I was missing it. I’m now singing with the BBC Symphony Chorus. I am enjoying the bigger symphonic repertoire which I don’t know well, working with great conductors, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and in top London concert halls. Everything is there, on tap. My job is to turn up, learn the music and sing as well as I can. It feels like being on holiday when the rest of my professional life is so self-directed.

I am enjoying it all much more than I have in the past. When I last sang in choirs, I was a little arrogant in my approach to singing because I could do it so easily. I never practised between rehearsals and was constantly relying on my wits and having a good ear. My professional life as a pianist demanded a high degree of winging it. It’s the name of the game as an accompanist and I suppose that aspect inevitably carried over into my hobby.

Digging Deep

The main difference now is that I dig deep with my hobby of singing. I do practice in between rehearsals, I get to know the language and the vocal line well and build both into my muscle memory. I feel into the sounds, the harmonies and really understand what the words mean. I can’t underestimate how much it helps to have excellent vocal coaches, language coaches and chorus directors who drill down in the rehearsals, demanding the highest of standards. Instead of saying ‘the altos are flat,’ they show exactly how the altos can change their vowel sound, or whatever the issue is, so that the pitch rectifies itself. It’s such a constructive and gratifying approach.

In essence, I am bringing my professional life and experience into my hobby again, but with so much more meaning, focus, depth and enjoyment this time round. This in turn feeds my piano practice so it’s a constant flow between the two.

Digging deep and getting under the skin of the music is profoundly satisfying. When we throw ourselves into it all, relishing every aspect of the music, we become focused and it’s easier to keep distractions at bay. Everything becomes fresh and vital. And when we are truly focused, there’s also less time and space to worry about what other people think or whether we’re going to make mistakes, both huge contributing factors to nerves. I can’t say that this approach will eradicate all performance nerves, but it certainly goes a long way towards it.


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