My first performance directing the Chester Songsmiths took place in Hoole this weekend at the Lights Switch On. It was most enjoyable and the ladies were in good voice. It has been as much a learning curve for me to pick up and work with their established style and repertoire as for the ladies to learn the new songs I have introduced over the past 9 weeks. Working without a score when you are used to having the notes in front of you can be a challenge but it does enable you to get ‘out of the copy’ and really ‘into the music’.
I’m really looking forward to the next few gigs we have lined up this season performing the festive a cappella set. Whilst singing on the street in Hoole didn’t offer the chance to have the piano there to bash out a few chords, we decided that, though we could have a piano for the next gig, actually there’s no need as it sounds great without accompaniment and that is the way we have rehearsed for the past few weeks. It’s quite liberating (and can be scary) for me as a conductor, stepping away from the piano, removing that support and just relying on gesture for direction!
The half-term break offers a chance to relax and reflect on the exciting weeks ahead. Many of my students are preparing for their first performance platform event which takes place in just over two weeks. This gives all my students an opportunity to perform their chosen piece in a relaxed and friendly, informal environment.
Whilst, I no longer sing regularly with the cathedral choir myself, directing two local community choirs in Chester is a tremendous creative choral opportunity.
Chester Songsmiths are preparing to sing for the switch-on of the Christmas lights in Hoole as well as a Christmas Fair event at Chester Racecourse next month.
Caldy Valley Voices are preparing an evening of festive music and poetry which will take place at Caldy Valley Church, Chester on Friday 11th December starting at 7.30pm. The full programme is yet to be confirmed but will include audience participation in some well known carols besides a variety of traditional and contemporary Christmas songs.
Places are still available on their “Gothic Singing Workshop” which takes place in just TWO days time. Saturday 31st October starting at 3pm at Caldy Valley Church, Chester. Tickets £8/£2 u18 available here.
One of the most important things I realised when I started teaching the piano ten years ago was the value of time I had invested myself (however reluctantly at the time) in learning scale patterns. They really are one of the fundamentals of piano technique upon which much of the repertoire is built. Making it fun or simplifying the task of learning them is always a challenge for the piano teacher. There aren’t really any short cuts however this new book I have come across with visual guides seems to be particularly helpful. I have tried various cards that you can slot in front of the keys with varying degrees of success. Putting visual fingering guides in a book in this way is brilliant though and it covers the complete set, all the keys you need for Grades 1-5.
the key to learning SCALES AND ARPEGGIOS by Jane Mann priced at £9.99 is a fantastic resource to make the teaching of scales just a little bit easier, especially when it comes to putting them hands together.
Other resources related to learning to play scales…
From September 2014, I took over the direction of the Aldford Singers, a community choir founded only 12 months previously. We prepared and performed a World War 1 celebration concert in October 2014 in collaboration with my previous choir, the NE Singers to a packed Village Hall in Aldford.
In January 2015, the choir’s rehearsal venue moved to Caldy Valley Church in Chester. Since then I have re-branded the choir to reflect both the geographic location and the style of singing group which we are. I mostly arrange the music we sing myself to suit the tastes and abilities of the singers. Starting from a unison, I add subtle harmony in places to colour the melodies but just enough so that the parts are fun to sing but still manageable to learn. The singers are also supported by mp3 recordings they can download from the website to do ‘note-learning homework’.
As part of the choir re-branding and ongoing choir promotion, I was recently interviewed on Flipside FM, talking about directing the choir.
Happy New Year! First announcement of the year is that I am now a daddy. Eleanor Felicity was born on 2nd January weighing 8lb 10oz. She is a gorgeous little girl (not that I’m biassed at all) and seems to enjoy vying for attention with Geoffrey and Ruxpin when she isn’t draining her mother’s milk! She hasn’t visited the studio yet to hear the piano play but there is plenty of time for that.
I sang my last service as a lay clerk at Chester Cathedral on Christmas Day. Having sung there for over 10 years it’s quite the end of an era but it will free up a considerable amount of time every week to do more teaching, enjoy some family time and take more wedding bookings.
The new teaching schedule is set up and starts this week. I will now be teaching 5 days a week rather than 7, keeping the weekends free to spend with the little bundle of joy. I have also stopped doing home visits for piano lessons. The studio is all clean and shiny again (thanks to my mother-in-law) and ready for the new term with a new recording facility.
I’m looking forward to more student concerts and exam success this year. Last year, 34 students took piano exams which has to be the busiest I’ve been in that respect over the past 9 years. I also saw the most engagement with my student composition task with 22 students completing a backing track for the Autumn Leaves video. Plans are afoot for a similar sort of creative music technology project this term. Watch this space for more information.