And this was just the rehearsal
Me and Puffles were in Bury St Edmunds earlier, rehearsing with the Dowsing Sound Collective and trying out a potential venue. Although arriving in the darkness, the sense of bland early 21st-century identikit retail/leisure park screamed loudly. But when we got inside, it was a completely different feel.
You know when you go inside somewhere that feels ‘unique’ and has that ‘wow’ factor. This for me is one of the reasons why the Cambridge Leisure Park in my neighbourhood – in a part of town that has had over £1billion thrown at it over the past 15 years – looks and feels pathetic in comparison. Box buildings on the outside, box buildings on the inside. (Personally I’d have given the centre a different name – ‘Apex’ sounds bland and unimaginative to me).
This is a place that screams for people to be inspired to perform in
The acoustics were out of this world.
I’ve moaned about rubbish acoustics before at many venues. Cambridge Guildhall, Finsbury Town Hall in London, the Cambridge Corn Exchange, The Junction… they’ve all to a greater or lesser extent muffled the sound. But with this hall, the several dozen of us singing produced a crystal clear sound with zero echo. Singing and hearing us performing a collaboration piece by Basement Jaxx, and experiencing us coming off at the same time to an eery, echoless silence was a mind blowing experience. Splitting us into two groups on either side of the audience seats, so ‘singing it back’ to each other.
“The buzz of performance…you’ve mentioned that before”
The final two paragraphs of The ghost of Christmas future – which I wrote in late 2011. Not had that performance buzz for years – decades even. I also assumed I would never get anywhere near it again. Yet given the superb support, challenge, mentoring and teaching by and from the splendid Andrea Cockerton (whose ability to get so much out of the piano – even when a piece is in G-flat major – which kind of rules out most of the white keys on the keyboard and the open strings on my viola), we’re closing in on the sort of levels that I thought only very serious musicians could hit.
At the same time, everything’s going against the grain of TV-talent shows where everyone is in competition with each other. Ditto exams culture. We do this because we enjoy it. The moment it ceases to be enjoyable is the moment we stop. As the saying goes, working hard on something you don’t like for someone else is stress. Working hard on something you love for people you like/someone you love and/or for yourself…is passion. Perhaps explaining why at gone 2am I still haven’t gone to bed. I blog because I like to.
“So…this singing for performance thing is ‘for real’ then?”
Very much so. At the same time, the piece that we’re working on for the recording has come around at a very fortunate time for me and for a number of reasons. It’s a piece that I connect with musically, lyrically and emotionally – perhaps even more so than the original singers on the sample that we’ve been given to work with. You’ll find out why when the tracks are released.
For those of you not familiar with my blogposts, this in part is tied up with my musical journey – see here. There’s a history of anger and heartbreak – one which I dropped at the feet of a music professor when she headlined a conference in Cambridge recently. (See here). The Dowsing Sound Collective for me provides safe spaces to be musical in a place which otherwise has too much history to allow me to. It’s an energy release while at the same time being intellectually challenging reading the music. Again, while you can join the collective without having to read music, having the music papers allows my mind to wander through it.
“The concept of big choruses sounds familiar – has it been on the tellybox under a different brand?”
The Rock Choir – which has been featured on TV – seems to run on similar themes. Take some well-known songs, deconstruct them, tease out & construct the soprano, alto, tenor and bass parts, and weave back together. What makes both this and Dowsing different to other music singing courses I’ve seen (but not joined) is down to one thing: Scale.
Numbers: Make me feel like an integral part of something where I’m contributing towards something greater than the some of our parts. And make it sound good too. Play with it. (Something I was never allowed to do with music as a child – a mindset of being told to perform how the examiner wants it, not how you want it). Chips, shoulders and all that.
Organised flashmob mentality?
I remember a few years ago in Whitehall seeing some adverts inviting people to take part in some corporate flashmob in Trafalgar Square for a phone company – click here. <<– That was it. Nice bit of fun, have a sing-song, get on the tellybox and everyone’s happy. I didn’t go along myself because I looked at the terms and conditions of the whole thing and it looked too much like signing my life away. That, along with my take not liking how the original concept of random flashmobs being actions to highlight how we’ve ended up conforming to things has since been taken over and tightly planned by the very organisations trying to get us to conform to stuff.
The thing is, for someone like me – an individual who is far too intense even at the best of times, those sorts of large one-off organised flashmobs with a musical/dance component – don’t work. (They may for others though). They simply leave me feeling empty – a repetition of a life where too many people have made fleeting appearances before flying off somewhere else. Hence going for something that has far more stable roots.
Positive emotions in uncertain times
Hey – I watch politics all day. (Or rather when my sleep patterns allow). More to the point, what I see from too many political institutions and senior politicians is either an inability to deal with the very real problems that we all face, an unwillingness to accept that the problems exist or are as serious as they are, or complete irrelevance to what the rest of us are trying to do or achieve. Music amongst other things is time-out from all of this. At the same time, what I’m learning from it and from the people around me is to readjust my approach on a number of things.
It’s funny what a dose of inspiration can do. I’ll leave you with this from Eurovision 1997 – with an alternative visual interpretation.