Monday, June 17th 2013
We had a challenging practice today, but I am very proud of what we have accomplished. We were all tired and hot, and some of us were grumpy, but we made it through a robust and detailed rehearsal. We started doing an extensive warm-up (almost half an hour), which ended in gentle deep humming with our mouths closed. I received a lot of positive verbal feedback after this exercise – people said that it was really relaxing, that it made them feel good, and Yohan said, ‘I feel so relaxed, I feel ready to go into a meditation now’. We sat for ten minutes, and I think that it helped with the heat of the day.
Following our sit, we practiced our sea shanty while walking around the room, in time. We then added instruments – I improvised an introductory melody on the violin, and Alice played along on her ‘Bazooka’ (kazoo). We also added percussion instruments, and we worked to enunciate each word while maintaining an excited atmosphere. Unfortunately I didn’t record this part of the rehearsal.
We also pulled together the first three verses of our Child Ballad, The House Carpenter. It’s still slow compared to the Clarence Ashley version that I learned it from, but we’re singing in tune and we’re really listening to each other. I tried out a new exercise today: I asked the group to sing as quietly as possible, ensuring that we could hear all of the different voices within the circle (there were seven of us today). Sometimes I feel frustrated with this group, but I am amazed at how far we have come – the listening was intense, and the words and melody came through. We also had an easier time hearing the men’s voices, which gives the choir a thickness that is very satisfying to listen to. There was stillness in the room, informing me that the group cares about listening, and improving our sound as a whole.
This is the final product:
A couple of challenges came up today. One, I noticed myself becoming quite frustrated with the talking that sometimes rises up between practice sections. I was feeling on edge, and I am often unsure of how ‘hard’ I should be in our refinement workshops. We are mostly past the creation stage, which means that I have to place more emphasis on repetition and careful listening. I recognize that there is deep satisfaction in attentive work, and in getting something ‘right’. These workshops are different from our other workshops, because there is a lower volume of work being produced, but there is more pressure for participants to perfect something over a given span of time. I am constantly trying to adjust and re-adjust this balance – how refined do I need to be in my workshop structures, and how much work do we put into refinement as a group? How much do I push the group and try to hold them together, and how much do I allow them express themselves however they are? In our creation workshops, I barely ‘touch’ them with my words, and the group develops its own energy. I feel that in preparing for performance, however, I need to push a little harder and apply my own judgements about perfection. There is group energy available for this, as well – they want to get it right, but this means challenging work.
My other current challenge is more related to musical communication. Because our songs are quite repetitive (given the nature of storytelling folksongs), there is a danger of becoming too dirge-like and sleepy. In traditional versions of ballads, the singer doesn’t sing each verse the same way – there is different emphasis on different syllables between verses, or slight alterations to the melody. Even as a so-called professional musician, it can be tempting to sing the song the exact same way over and over again – it’s easier to learn it this way, particularly if you haven’t been raised in this culture of song. Within our group, it seems that both of our songs fall into slow, repetitive structures. We have worked them to perfection – how do we breathe life back into them, allowing ourselves to take risks?
Here is an audio sample of the rest of our ‘House Carpenter’ rehearsal: