One of my favourite moments of Saturday’s performances was ‘discovering’ the choir standing silently in the woods – particularly in the second show. The dusk accentuated the luminous quality of everyones’ white shirts against the dark of the trees. Then the beginning of Barren Estate – the incantation of this plant-spell reverberating amongst the tree trunks. Another moment was standing with the quintet in the hollow listening to ‘In summer autumn’ fading as the choir left the woods.
When I checked my Pacer pedometer app on my phone for Saturday alone it told me I had walked (or run in some moments) 35,000 steps, which is apparently 16.5 miles. It certainly felt like it – but made very much worth it by comments made post-show by audience members who, of course, saw and heard things in the landscape that we, as performers, didn’t see or hear: the three white deer photobombing us as we walked back to the house after our ‘exit’; the perfect flying-V geese making their lazy way across the sunset in ‘Rationalists’, the on-cue tawny owl hooting along with ‘In Beau-ooo-ooo-ty’ or the pair of buzzards circling high above the house in ‘These Are the Things We Have Lost’. Coincidence is one of the delights of the outdoor site-responsive work we do.
More great choir singing moments – ‘ La Clé des Champs’ sounded great – it’s difficult harmonically (sorry!) but we really pulled it off. ‘Significant Landscapes VI’ (‘Rationalists’) round the Richard Long ‘Full Moon’ slate circle was really well sung. The version of ‘In Beauty’ in the colonnades could have been really tricky for tuning and timing but again it worked excellently ‘in living stereo’.
Many thanks to all in the choir who put in such supreme efforts to get to Houghton Hall and also for learning the music and blocking of the show. Many thanks to Alex Lingford, our brilliant production manager. And of course much gratitude to the Cholmondeley family for letting us use the house and gardens of the amazing Houghton Hall.
One of the very best songwriters around at the moment, Pete Murdoch (a.k.a.Birds of Hell) has been picking up a lot of plaudits recently for his extraordinary, eerily atmospheric and eclectic tales of Clint Eastwood, being eaten by snakes and dogging. Abetted by Iain Lowery, Carl Cole, Alan Southgate and some dead relatives too, the previous single Boa reached #11 in the UK vinyl chart. His new single Astronomy Programmes is receiving lots of attention from BBC6 Music, Radio 1 etc.
Birds of Hell will be performing as part of Vocal Invention on Saturday 21st May in a concert which also features The Neutrinos and Ross Sutherland.
Also a highly-experienced workshop leader, Pete will be running a session from 3pm called ‘Starman Strategies’ In this fun and hands-on workshop he will explore some of the creative methods of David Bowie.’Cut up’ lyric writing, graphic scores, subverting instruments, writing in character, Eno’s Oblique Strategies – all of these approaches will be used collaboratively creating, playing and singing ‘our own song’. There may well be a bit of Philly Soul, Kraftwerk or drum and bass or make a glam rock monster! Bring your voices and if you like, your own instruments. Some instruments and amplification will be provided.
Pete Murdoch’s music can broadly be divided into two categories: music for kids and music for adults. He’s about to release an album of kid’s music ‘that grown-ups won’t hate’ under the name of Henhouse (think ska version of 5 Little Monkeys sung by Ray Winston). And for the adults there is Birds of Hell where, using guitar, vocoder and tape recordings of dead relatives, he renders songs on subjects ranging from his family to being eaten by snakes and Clint Eastwood. Pete is a former member of Norwich favourites Sargasso Trio who enjoyed numerous sessions for BBC 6Music as well releasing records in Japan, America and Europe. He is also an experienced music tutor delivering workshops for over 10 years with children and adults.
I’ve posted this before (twice!) but it’s timely now so here we are again:
With all the music there is to learn, we thought it would be a good idea to itemise a few methods for learning off by heart. Some of them are really obvious but I hope it will be useful if you’re not used to doing this kind of thing. Of course, everyone learns at different speeds in different ways. A combination of approaches can help. Some people will probably have learned their parts already. Anyway, for those who haven’t, here are some pointers:
Take your time – cramming the information doesn’t work as it all becomes a jumble. Being methodical definitely helps.
Break things into manageable sections – e.g. an eight-bar sequence.
Write the words down.
Listen on repeat – not necessarily with full attention: in the car or in the kitchen is good.
Sing along as much as possible.
Look over the piece whenever you have some free time.
Read the poem through as it helps to know what the piece is about.
Use a combination of the mixes and the ‘enhanced’ parts.
Some people learn music best when asleep (headphones advised for this…)
Try to memorise one line at a time, starting with the first. Cover it up and try to repeat it, move to the next etc
Try to learn the ‘shape’, the ‘form’ of the song.
Good luck and if anyone has other effective tips for helping to learn by heart then please reply to this post.
Orlando Gough has set to music (very beautifully) the words of Robert Fludd from 1617 – ‘et sic in infinitum’ In the book Fludd talks about how the universe came into being:
‘What was there before creation? Some first state of unformed matter, without dimension or quantity, neither small nor large, without properties or inclinations, neither moving nor still.’
And this is illustrated by an astonishing illustration which looks like something by an American abstract artist of the 1960s:
»et sic in infinitum (~ and like this to infinity)« by robert fludd (1617)
He then goes on about the Earth being at the centre of the universe (Copernicus has already come up with the heliocentric model, but Fludd doesn’t agree):
‘The earth is cold and dry; and as the darkest and heaviest element it sinks, as it were, to the centre of the universe. No wonder that the earth is such a vale of misery, since it is formed from the very dregs of creation. It contains the devil himself, enemy to God and man.’
The cliché is that people used to think of the Earth as the centre of the universe so that they themselves are at the centre, how reassuring; but he seems to be saying that the centre is basically a cesspit.
And he goes on into a refutation of Copernicus:
‘If the Earth were not the centre of the Universe, but a revolving body circling the Sun, as some ancient and modern philosophers maintain (notably Copernicus and William Gilbert), there would be no possibility of life on it: violent winds would sweep everything to the ground. Besides, it would be remarkable if the Earth alone were to move steadily on its axis, while all the other planets varied in latitude. Finally, as the Earth is the largest and densest of all bodies it stands to reason that it would be at the centre of the more rarified ones, and less apt to move than any of the others. The source of all power and movement is at the periphery of the universe, not in the centre – for…a wheel is more easily turned from its circumference than from its hub.’
We had two great sessions with Struan (ex-director of music at the Royal Shakespeare Company) at the Sainsbury Centre today. We were planning and plotting the movement for the spaces at the Sainsbury Centre for The Observatory in May. This is Struan’s photo of choir members coming up the ramp.
In collaboration with Norfolk Archaeology Trust, The Voice Project is returning to St Benet’s Abbey in June 2014 to mark the culmination of the two-year Conservation, Access and Community project in June 2014 – and you can join in!
Local singers are invited to take part in two performances of the piece, at 8.00pm on Monday 16 & Tuesday 17 June 2014, staged in the extraordinary landscape of the Broads and the ruins of St Benet’s Abbey. You don’t have to be able to read music as everything is taught by ear, and The Voice Project has recordings of all the music for you to download.
If you’d like to find out more, and are available for the performance dates in June, please come along to the free taster session on Sat 25th January 2014 2.00-4.00pm at Ludham Village Hall. Free but booking essential: email@example.com
St Benet’s Abbey, Ideas of Flight, The Voice Project, Norfolk & Norwich Festival May 2013 (JMA Photography)