8 partners from 5 European countries have joined together to work on a project whose objectives are sharing experience and mapping the diversity of individual and collective practices of singing throughout Europe, from childhood to adulthood. This project takes place in five sessions in Barcelona (Spain), Aalborg (Denmark), Tours (France), Freiburg (Germany) and Copenhagen (Denmark). This report is about my experiences during the third session in Tours, which was about the management of collective vocal practices. I attended the conference together with the board and other members of EVTA, one of the partners. Click here to read more about LeoSings and here to watch the (beautiful) video-report.
I was the only one representing Belgium, being the vice president of Evta-Be. So, fellow Belgians, please spread this report as much as possible! And feel very welcome to future sessions of LeoSings ;o)
Being relatively unexperienced in working with very large groups, but being asked more and more to do so, I was very excited about this conference. My expectations certainly have been met, and it has been a conference like no one I have ever attended before.
My priority was obviously learning as much as possible, and I can say I went home with a bag full of useful tips and tricks! In my future workshops with larger groups, I will definitely use several methods I have learned about this week.
Thank you so much Stéphane Grosclaude and Céline Morel, for your perfect organization!
We started every day with warm-ups, that were greatly appreciated by everybody, I believe. It’s so nice to start a conference day by feeling your body and voice through and through. I have been to conferences where I have talked about singing and watched presentations about singing, but have not sung one note in five days… Come to think of it, the latter concept is surreal, isn’t it?
There were three different topics we could choose from. The first day, I chose Organic Choir by Peder Karlsson. Because of this session and his presentation later on that day, I’ve grown to become a big fan of Peder, so the conference couldn’t have started better! Peder’s goal is to turn the choir into a rockband. He conducts with his whole body and dances like nobody is watching. The result is that the choir relaxes, sings from top to toe and most of all, with synchronicity. By making several choir members take the lead as a human metronome, he awakens everybody’s responsibility as an ensemble singer. It’s lovely to experience communication without words that works like a charm. That morning we have sung very, well… organically ;o)
The second day, I went to Voice & Qi Gong, taught by Melanie Jackson, a vibrant woman who infected us with her enthusiasm. One can say that Qi Gong is a Chinese version of yoga. Both work on breathing, health and a meditative state. In yoga, you become still to meditate, but in Qi Gong, the entire movement is a meditation. As Qi gong also works with healing sounds, this session was a nice start of the day. Personally, I still prefer yoga, but I definitely can see how singers can benefit greatly from Qi Gong too.
The warm-up I chose for the last day, was the one I had been looking forward to the most, as it was taught by Loïc Pierre, the director of the amazing choir Mikrokosmos. Especially after I had attended his lecture, which I have written about a bit further in this report. He played vocal games with us, which he called Tribute to Meredith Monk. I had seen Meredith Monk live 2 years ago, and was very eager to work with her music myself. As I had expected, it was great fun! Loïc leaded us to a lovely musical result very quickly. He’s a great director indeed.
World café – Exploration of the musical vocabulary in Europe
We were divided into 4 groups, formed around these topics: Aesthetics, Conducting, Typology of vocal groups, and Vocal Terminology. I had been appointed to lead the discussion on the last topic, as I’m experienced in working with it. A big thank you goes to Scott Swope, who helped us to stay on track ;o) I was very curious how it would turn out, as I have experienced a lot of discussions on this, that didn’t always turn out to be constructive and useful. Let’s say, it was an ego-thing…
I’m very happy to say that here, there was mutual respect for one another, which made the conversations interesting and constructive. Our group started by randomly writing down terms that could cause misunderstandings in our own language and English. We then divided them into categories. We quickly decided on skipping the terms we would need more time for to discuss, like for example headvoice vs chestvoice, belting, CCM, vocal coach, registers, passagio, and resonance. We mainly discussed terms like breathing, respiration, vocal chords / folds, support, posture and articulation more thoroughly.
For myself, two things stood out. A lot of misunderstandings appear to be created by people mixing different descriptions: imagery, audible, visual, kinesthetic and logical / anatomical. I believe that being aware of this fact could solve a lot. Also the fact that voice teachers tend to use more and more the correct anatomical terms, lately, was very clear. For example: vocal folds instead of vocal chords. This is a clear effect of us communicating more and better with ENT doctors. An evolution that everybody applauded very enthusiastically!
These discussions were a good start, and I hope something useful will come from it during the next sessions from LeoSings.
The vocal sound of the choir using the collaboration of a voice teacher with a conductor
Susan Yarnall-Monks worked with the choir A Choeur Joie, directed by Philippe Forget. Susan is experienced in working with non professional choir singers and showed us how she works technically with them. It would be useless to use technical terms with people that don’t know what those words mean. In order to communicate with them, she uses exercises from the methods of Kristin Linklater (Freeing Shakespeares Voice) and Alfred Tomatis (The listening posture). The result was beautiful. This voice teacher certainly knows what she’s talking about, and her modesty is one of the reasons I’ve grown fond of her.
Peder Karlsson – Ensemble Techniques for rhythm, blend, intonation,… within the choir
Like a true leader of a rockband, Peder instantly turned the auditorium into a concert hall and made us sing All you need is love wholeheartedly, without saying a lot, before he started to explain his method during his work with an ensemble. He communicates in a very intuitive way, instead of literally telling the singers what he wants, which motivates them in a natural way. Every choir member is given responsibility concerning nasality, vibrato, breathiness, and so on. It’s not the director who chooses what to do with the music. It’s the whole group together. He didn’t choose All you need is love by coincident ;o)
As Jim Daus Hjernoe was ill, he was substituted by a few of his students. I attended the session led by Merel Martens, Tobias Hug and Federico Trindade. Feet in the grass, a lovely evening sun in the face, playing with rhythm, improvising with sounds, creating soundscapes very intuitively,… A great way to end the day!
The second day, Angélique Comrier turned us into a personal brush for her sound painting. She used the multidisciplinary sign language to compose live with singers, instrumentalists, dancers, actors,… created by Walter Thompson. These gestures give a clear instruction, but also leave enough freedom for the singer to make the sound personal. They allow the director to make a sound painting à la Jackson Pollock. The possibilities are limitless! Today, there are more than 1200 gestures and the archive keeps on growing, as sound painters can invent new signs. Angélique taught us a few basic signs, which enabled the group quite rapidly to create a nice result. We certainly had a lot of fun! The pictures she showed at the end of the presentation gave us an impression of how creative sound painting can get, especially when you work with unexpected artists like clowns, construction workers and such. It would have been nice to have seen videos or at least have heard sound examples, though.
Creation and interdisciplinarity
I didn’t understand the intention of Erwann Jan when he gave his presentation about his choir Petit Faucheux… It would have been interesting to hear him talk about HOW he works with the singers and what his vision is, but instead of that, the presentation felt more like a commercial for himself and the choir. What a pity.
Hip Hop and Choir singing
I always prick up my ears when somebody talks about transcending boundaries, and that’s exactly what François Bazola and Abderzak Houmi have done. In their show Face à Face, they have made a marriage of two seemingly not combinable disciplines – hip hop and baroque music, which resulted in a true thing of beauty like it has always been meant to be.
It was very inspiring to hear them talk about the process, their concept, the difficulties and their vision.
The influences of the visual arts and the theatre on today’s choir choral
Loïc Pierre, the director of the choir Mikrokosmos, is one of the leading choir directors concerning scenography. During his presentation, we were introduced in the how-to’s, the how-not-to’s and the how-absolutely-not-to’s. Oh, how interesting it was to see the BBC Singers – top of the world – being categorized in the last category and agree with it ;o)
Loïc took us on a journey through the world of his colleagues, the masters he has learned from, his own inspiration and some of his own creations. The session ended by a live performance of his choir, performing during a beautiful film of selected dramatic Hitchcock scenes. A moving end of the day that made me look forward even more to the concert of Mikrokosmos at the end of the conference.
Contemporary arrangements and harmonisation of folk songs
In preparation of the session of the last day, Géraldine Toutain had asked us to bring traditional songs from our own country that had been arranged in an interesting way. During this session, we were treated to funny, intense or intimate mini-concerts and luckily we got to sing a lot ourselves too! Thanks to some of the unpronounceable languages, this session turned out to be sometimes hilarious and refreshing. It’s a pity that we didn’t do this during the first day. The same goes for the 30 minutes where we introduced ourselves to each other. On the other hand, this is the first conference I went to where everybody introduced him or herself, so this was already nice ;o)
Choral singing and social practices
I have to admit that I had no clue what to expect from this sessions. We could choose to join one of these three discussions: Singing in prisons, singing with disabled people and singing in hospitals. I chose the latter and joined with an curious mind. Susan Yarnall-Monks led this conversation that quickly became a very touching one. There were participants that could answer all sorts of questions from their personal experience. How have people experienced music and art in all its forms while being sick and / or in the hospital themselves? Which place is art given in hospitals? How do artists that perform in hospitals get payed? Is there any law that states that sick people have to have access to art? Here you can read Singing through Cancer, written by Susan herself.
One of our first conclusions was that it’s such a pity that people get marginalized very quickly, when being sick. We don’t seem to have a valid opinion anymore, as doctors and health care takers decide a lot for us. Music and art in general suddenly gets a lot more difficult to experience when you’re a ‚patient’. When you are officially ‚sick’, it is your job to get well. You are not supposed to do anything else. The fact that music benefits your recovery is often not regarded. For example, when you go to the theatre being sick (and not contagious…), sometimes people think that’s strange. You are supposed to be at home, in bed.
We quickly started to wonder whether sports associations are better at getting their message across. In a lot of countries, you can get a discount from your medical insurance, when you enroll for a sports activity. As it is scientifically proven that music is very beneficial for our health, we asked ourselves why there isn’t any similar discount. People that play music in hospitals also often are volunteers, or don’t get payed a lot. And even when they get payed, it’s not by the hospital, but by a charity of some sort or a cultural organization.
Luckily, there’s also some good news! Health care takers and institutions are more and more aware of the beneficial effects of music. We probably all know the beautiful initiative of the Cliniclowns. Somebody in our group has personal experience with choosing the music for during her operation, chemotherapy and MRI scans. In the Netherlands, there are hospital radio projects. In Germany, there is always a piano in a hospital. We also agreed on the fact that there’s clearly more room for music and art in general in new hospital buildings. Why not give concerts in those big beautiful entrance halls?
This session really touched my heart and I look forward to the next steps that are definitely going to be taken during the next sessions of LeoSings.