• North Coast Harmony

What do we actually do though?

Woohooo! 2019 is here – Happy New Year!

December was our busiest month so far, with 8 Christmas singouts, but we’re now coming to the end of our 2-week break, so time to start singing again soon!

We’ve had a fair bit of interest from potential new members over the last few weeks, and are hoping to welcome some new ladies on our first week back, so I’ve been giving a lot of thought to how we approach integrating them.

I guess the first thing to think about is whether they know what they’re letting themselves in for!

At first sight, we look like a group of ladies who are having a great time, laughing and singing, and loving what we do. And of course, all that is 100% true, but so much more goes in to it. The feedback we often get from ladies within the first couple of weeks of joining us is that they just didn’t realise what we actually do, or how much effort it takes to sound good. Many felt that they would just come each week and sing, without realising that there's learning and practice to be done both at rehearsals and at home, and that on Tuesday nights we do so much more than just sing through the songs.

Fun, fun, fun! We laugh - a lot!

For many groups like ours, most of the focus is on what to sing, rather than how to sing it. We like to do things a little differently, so put a lot of emphasis on technique, and being as accurate as we can be, because we want to learn to sing our pieces as well as we possibly can. And what that means is we spend a fair bit of time learning and practicing technique. Things like how posture can affect quality, how important breathing correctly is, and why that vowel shape needs to be a certain way. What we do, can, at times, be challenging, and it does take dedication and a willingness to keep on striving to always be better.

So, what is it that we actually do on a Tuesday night? Well, first of all we turn up, with our music (for lyrics), something to record with (usually just a phone), and water. Being at the Tuesday night rehearsals is the first thing that needs to happen, but that’s a bit of a no-brainer isn’t it? You’ve got to be in it to win it!

We always start the night with a good ol’ stretch. Singing, done properly, is physical. And while we’re not all jumping around like we’re in an aerobics class, good singing involves more muscle groups than many new singers realise. Tension is also a ‘thing’ too and we must avoid it; it can affect both pitch and tone, and in extreme cases, can be damaging. So, we stretch before we do anything, so that muscles are starting to work as well as they can.

Breathing comes next, and we spend a few minutes just focussing on how we breathe. Not only does it get us in to the ‘good breathing technique’ zone, it also assists in reducing tension, and helps us to leave our day to day stresses at the door.

Following that, it’s on to vocal warm ups. All the muscles that control our singing apparatus need to be stretched and warmed. We’re vocal athletes, remember!

At some point during the first part of the evening we also look at a particular singing technique; what it is, why it’s important and how to do it. There are many to learn, and we usually try to cover one every few weeks. Technique takes a while to learn, and although we do spend time teaching it and practicing it, it can take many months – if not longer – to master any one skill. But, with time and consistency, these skills become muscle memory.

And then it’s on to the songs!

Most of the evening is taken up with one or two songs that we’re currently learning. We may be adding dynamics to a piece (louds and softs), or perhaps tweaking a rhythm, or maybe accenting particular lyrics. We’re also trying to blend with each other and make sure our voices sound ‘as one’ rather than as a group of individuals, as well as putting in to practice the techniques we’ve learned. This is also the time we use for correcting mistakes. And yes, we all make them! This is what rehearsal is for. We make our mistakes on a Tuesday evening, and learn to correct them, so that when we do a singout, we sound as good as we possibly can.

The evening is usually rounded off by singing through a few of the songs we’ve previously learned, to keep them fresh and to implement any new techniques we’ve learned.

Somewhere during the night there will usually be tea, and often cake too! And of course, lots of laughter!

As well as singing, we also love cake!

All the singing and practicing doesn’t just happen on a Tuesday night though. A typical week for any of our singers goes beyond just 3 hours at rehearsal, and all our ladies spend time at home practicing what we’ve covered together, be that technique or learning the notes for a song we’re working on. This is how we get good. Our ladies learn their pieces behind the scenes before they get to rehearsal, and come along on Tuesday nights ready to learn something new, or improve upon what they already know.

The bottom line is that the only way to get really good at this, or anything, is to practice. No one knows every pitch, rhythm or lyric straight away (or the multitude of other things our MD asks us to do to make our pieces beautiful!). It all has to be learned, and most singers have to spend time and effort working on getting notes and lyrics right, and implementing the techniques we’ve learned, all while remembering what section of the song we’re up to (and for me that’s sometimes a bit of a challenge!)! But, positivity, hard work, focus, and persistence pays off, and the sense of accomplishment that comes from learning to do something well really is worth it. There is nothing quite like the buzz of being part of an incredible a cappella harmony sung with friends!

Hard at work.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that although we do a lot during our Tuesday nights, and for new singers it can seem like there’s a fair amount to take in during the first few weeks, almost all of our ladies came to us with limited experience; the typical background was singing in a school choir years ago, and some hadn’t done any singing at all previously. But with support, and with passion and work and commitment and time, they’re all developing their voices and becoming more confident, competent singers, who are achieving so much. For us as teachers, seeing that continued growth and transformation, and hearing their hard work paying off, is incredible. They really are an inspirational group!

Don’t get me wrong, we all love what we do; we laugh a lot, we eat a ton of cake, we’ve built great friendships, and we all truly adore making music, but the singing part takes work. And work we do!

‘Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.’ – Pele

Fancy giving it a go? All you need is a love and appreciation of music, and a willingness to work at being the best you can be. If that’s you, then we’d love for you to join us!

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