Nottingham sessions affected by the football

We love singing at our usual session venue in Nottingham, the West Bridgford Methodist Church. It’s a great venue to sing in, with really good acoustics, and the people that run it are incredibly friendly and helpful. It does have two related downsides though – parking isn’t always easy, and as the church is just down the road from Nottingham Forest’s football ground, parking becomes a serious issue on match days. Last night was one of those occasions, and I know there were some choir members who drove around for half an hour trying to find somewhere to park, and ended up giving up and going home again! Obviously this isn’t ideal, but sadly there’s not a lot we can do about it, except to publicise the dates when parking is likely to be a bigger problem than usual, and encourage people to come early if they can on those dates.

There are only two more dates we’re currently aware of when Forest are playing at home whilst we have a session. These are:

  • 26th January (Week 4 of Spring season)
  • 8th March (Week 10 of Spring season)

You can find the complete list of Forest’s fixtures here, which might be useful for the future.

The passing of time

I’ve been thinking a lot about time passing recently. Part of the nature of my job is that I’m constantly flitting between different timescales – one minute I’m working on events over a year in advance, the next I’m planning how to tackle a song I’m teaching this week. Having to swap between thinking about small timescales and large ones can be disorientating sometimes, and it can take a short while for my head to refocus. It can also make it hard to be truly “in the moment”, as even when I’m in the middle of a session working on a song, part of me is thinking about how the shape the song next time we sing it, how it will work in different performance spaces, and whether we can bring it back for a big concert in six months or even a year. I’ve been feeling the need recently to find a way to park some of the bigger “planning” thoughts whilst I’m doing immediate things, so that I can truly enjoy every second of what I’m doing. It’s important to be truly in the “now”, I think, and I’m going to focus on that in the coming weeks.

Maybe some of this introspection is related to anniversaries. The idea of forming BeVox came to me on a long car journey in June 2010. That makes this summer our 5th anniversary. As most fledgling businesses do, I made a business plan, which included 5-year projections for where we would be in 2015. Re-reading that plan now, some of it is hopelessly naive, and some we have failed to deliver on pretty spectacularly (the business plan had us running eight groups, two a night, with 480 singers by now!). What’s really interesting is seeing how the focus of the business has changed over that time, and whathas stayedthe same – all of which has been led by suggestions and comments from our singers.

Of course, the other anniversary that’s on my mind is my birthday. I turn 40 today – traditionally an age at which people reflect on the past and think of the future. In some ways, turning 40 feels odd – I remember my Mum turning 40, and it feels very strange to be hitting the same milestone. In other ways, it’s just another day – I’ll be starting the day with a Workplace Choir session, then recording backing tracks all afternoon before heading out for a BeVox session in the evening. I am celebrating at the weekend though – privately with Toni on Friday, then a family party on Saturday. It’s the first time in decades that I’ve celebrated a birthday with a family party, and it will be great to be surrounded by them this weekend.

So, nothing particularly musical in this post, but just some musings. One thing is for sure though – I would never have dreamed I would be where I am today, even just five years ago, and I’m incredibly grateful for the shape my life has taken. I’m glad to share it with so many lovely people.

What a weekend!

We’ve just got back from an incredible weekend. We kicked off by singing for the wedding reception of one of our singers, Claire. There was a lovely atmosphere, and she looked incredible in her dress. We all wish her and her new husband many years of happiness in their marriage.
Toni and I couldn’t stay for long after we’d sung, as we had to head over to Lincoln for a radio interview. That was a load of fun too!
We’ve then spent the weekend singing throughout Lincoln, spreading the word about BeVox in preparation for our launch there on Wednesday. Toni and I want to extend a massive thank you to everyone who came along to help us, whether as singers or leaflet distributors! We’re grateful beyond words for the time you all gave up for us – Thank you doesn’t seem to cover it, but it’s all we have.
The singing was great, the camaraderie irreplaceable, and it’s set us up for a great first week back after the summer break. All we need now is for our legs to start working again… 🙂

Amazing start to Spring performances

What a great day! We started off with a fantastic performance at Nottingham’s Victoria Centre, where a huge crowd gathered to listen to us – certainly the biggest audience we’ve ever had there, and the biggest reaction too. It was great to see everyone really getting into it, including the kids that we’re having a good old dance, and then the icing on the cake was getting a massive round of applause halfway through the Superstar medley – the sound as we rang out those chords was just too good not to applaud! We had lots of enquiries afterwards, so let’s hope we’ve encouraged some new blood to come and join us. I’m really looking forward to going back to Victoria Centre at the end of April – if it’s anything like today, we’ll have a fantastic time.
Then we spent this afternoon having our final rehearsal for “Voices at the Lakeside”. Wow. What a sound! You guys sure know how to pace yourselves, as you’ve hit your stride just as we’re starting to put ourselves in front of audiences. I’m so excited for these concerts – yet again, we’re raising our game and delivering something a cut above where we’ve been before. I’m so proud of this whole community!

Songs for the Summer 2014

I’ve finally managed to narrow down my many shortlists and pick the songs for next season. It’s always tough to do this, as we have so many suggestions from our singers – over 450 to pick from at the moment! I’m sure there will be something in the list for everyone though.

As we don’t have a “big” concert next season, I thought we could bring back a couple of songs from previous seasons and include them in the main song list – it’s always fun to go back to songs we’ve enjoyed in the past, and I think bringing just a couple back strikes the right balance between not being intimidating to new people, whilst meaning we can cover a slightly longer list of songs.

As the Tour de France is coming to the UK in the summer, we just had to include Bicycle Race – and we’re planning a few special events based around this too.

The other event we’re commemorating with the music for the season is the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. I’m writing a medley of songs either from that time, or inspired by it, which focusses on those left behind. Continuing that theme, we’ll also be singing the beautiful “Wherever you are”, originally performed by the Military Wives choir. We hope this is a fitting tribute to all those caught up in conflict, in whatever capacity.

The full list of songs can be seen on our “Song list” page on the main website – take a look here. We’re looking forward to singing them all!

They Will Rock You

We’ve been invited to go and see a performance by another contemporary community choir, Rock Up And Sing. We’re planning to do some combined work with this choir next year, so it would be great to see them in action. They’re hoping to reciprocate by coming to see “A Circle of Life”, so it would be great to get plenty of singers up to Harrogate to support them. There’s an email going out now to all our singers inviting them – here’s the poster for the event!

They WIll Rock You - Rock Up And Sing's November 2013 concert
They WIll Rock You – Rock Up And Sing’s November 2013 concert

Music theory: Double sharps

WARNING – This post is quite technical, so please only read it if you’re really interested in why I’ve written several double-sharps towards the end of “Do you know where you’re going to?” – otherwise, feel very free to skip this one!

One of the basic building blocks of music is something called an interval – not the bit in a concert where everyone grabs a drink, but the gap between two notes. If you picture a piano keyboard, to travel from one note to the note immediately higher than it (whether white or black) is to go up one semitone. Two semitones make one tone, so to travel from a C to C# is one semitone, and from a C to a D is one tone.

The next important note regards sharps and flats. A sharp raises the pitch of a note by one semitone. A flat lowers it by one semitone. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking of sharps and flats as “the black notes on a piano” – that doesn’t always hold true, as we’ll see later. Just remember that a “something sharp” is the note one semitone higher than the “something”.

We’re going to look at what happens when we play each white note on a piano in turn, starting on C. There aren’t black notes between every white note on a piano, so travelling from each white note to the white note above it doesn’t mean you always go up by a tone. The pattern is below:

  • C to D is a tone (travelling via C# or Db)
  • D to E is a tone (travelling via D# or Eb)
  • E to F is a semitone (there’s no black note between E and F)
  • F to G is a tone (travelling via F# or Gb)
  • G to A is a tone (travelling via G# or Ab)
  • A to B is a tone (travelling via A# or Bb)
  • B to C is a semitone (there’s no black note between B and C)

So, to travel between C and C along the white notes of a piano, the pattern is tone, tone, semitone, tone, tone, tone, semitone. This pattern defines a major scale. Using this pattern starting on C, we play a C major scale.

You can have a major scale beginning on any note, and the pattern is always the same. For example, if you start on D instead of C, the notes look like this:

  • A tone up from D is E (via D# or Eb)
  • A tone up from E is F# (via F)
  • A semitone up from F# is G
  • A tone up from G is A (via G# or Ab)
  • A tone up from A is B (via A# or Bb)
  • A tone up from B is C# (via C)
  • A semitone up from C# is D

So the notes of a D major scale are D, E, F#, G, A, B, C# and D.

A scale must contain every note-name (A, B, C etc) once and only once. That is why, in the D major scale example above, the third note is F#, and not Gb. F# and Gb are the same note, but it wouldn’t make musical sense to use Gb here, because that would mean there was no F of any type, and G would be used twice (Gb and G natural). This is really important when it comes to double-sharps (and double-flats, for that matter).

Before we get to double-sharps, which are a pretty rare and extreme case, let’s look at something which is less rare, but shows an important step along the way. What happens when we start a major scale on F#?

  • We start on F#
  • A tone up from F# is G# (not Ab – it must be a G something)
  • A tone up from G# is A# (not Bb – it must be an A something)
  • A semitone up from A# is B
  • A tone up from B is C#
  • A tone up from C# is D#
  • A tone up from D# is F – but we can’t use F, as it must be an E-something. A sharp merely raises the pitch of a note by one semitone, so we use an E sharp – this is the same note as an F, but we can’t write F as the previous note was D – it has to be an E-something, so it’s an E#
  • A semitone up from E# is F#

This is really important – even though an E# is the same note as an F, we have to have every note-name used once and only once, so we can’t skip D and have two Fs, one natural and one sharp. It would break the rules of music theory.

Of course, F# and Gb are the same note. So could we get around the “problem” of using E# by calling F# Gb? Let’s go through the tone, tone, semitone, tone, tone, tone, semitone pattern and see:

  • We start on Gb
  • A tone up from Gb is Ab
  • A tone up from Ab is Bb
  • A semitone up from Bb is B – hold on, we can’t use B twice – so what do we use instead? It has to be a C-something, as that’s the next note-name up – and B is just one semitone lower than C, so we use a Cb. We’ve got the same “problem” as we have with an F major scale – we have to use a “white” note that is a sharp or a flat.
  • To finish the pattern, a tone up from Cb is Db
  • A tone up from Db is Eb
  • A tone up from Eb is F
  • And a semitone up from F is Gb

Starting on F# or Gb makes no difference – we have to use an E# or a Cb.

At the end of “Do you know where you’re going to?”, we finish in the key of D# major. (There’s a reason I use D# major and not Eb major, which I’ll explain in another blog post if anyone is interested – let me know if you are). Let’s step through the notes of a major scale beginning on D#, using the tone, tone, semitone, tone, tone, tone, semitone pattern we’ve already established.

  • We start on D#
  • A tone up from D# is F – but it has to be an E-something, so we use E#
  • A tone up from E# (or F if it helps you to think of it this way) is… what? G. But it has to be an F-something. It isn’t F#, as this is just a semitone up from E# (F), and we need to be a tone up from there. This is where the double-sharp comes in – G is a tone higher than F, a single sharp raises the pitch of F by one semitone, so a double-sharp raises it by two semitones, which equals one tone. An F double-sharp is the same note as a G.
  • A semitone up from F double-sharp is G#
  • A tone up from G# is A#
  • A tone up from A# is B# (or C, but we have to use B#)
  • A tone up from B# is… D. Again, we can’t use D as it must be a C-something, so we use C double-sharp.
  • Finally, a semitone up from C double-sharp (or D) is D#.

This is why we have some double-sharps at the end of “Do you know where you’re going to?” – we end in the key of D# major, and the notes of D# major are D#, E#, Fx (double-sharp), G#, A#, B# and Cx.

I hope that has proved useful to at least someone – I know it’s rather technical, but the question was asked and I was determined to answer it! If anyone would like more posts explaining the finer points of music theory (like why I used D# major and not Eb major, or what the pattern is for a minor key and why some minor keys are closely related to other major keys), just drop me an email and I’ll happily oblige.

New season has begun

We started the Autumn season in Wakefield and Nottingham on Monday and Tuesday, and we’re looking forward to starting in Sheffield on Thursday. Welcome to you all – new singers and people who have sung with us before – it’s great to have you all on board.

We’ve got lots of exciting plans for this season, from traditional concerts in churches to entertaining punters in pubs, from charity events to singing in the engine room of a water pumping station! And of course, our big event for this season, the epic “Circle of Life” concert at Elsecar Heritage Centre – a truly unique theatrical event, telling the story of a life through music, from “Abide with me” to Alice Cooper!

I hope everyone is settling into the new season without any problems. As always, give me a shout if there’s anything you need. We’re also looking forward to the first of our “Discussion Picnics” in a week and a half – a chance for us to share our experiences and set our course for the following year. It’s kind of like an AGM without the boring bits, and with plenty of food and laughs!

Victoria BID flash mob update

I’m collecting the videos I find on YouTube into a playlist to make them easier to find – head to the BeVox YouTube channel to find them (along with lots of other fun stuff), or use the link below:

The official video is being edited and will be made available in a week or so. You’ll only be able to access this by “liking” the Victoria BID Facebook page or following @VictoriaBID on Twitter.

I’d also like to share with you the following comments from Etienne, the Events Manager at Victoria BID:

Thank you for putting all of this together and putting on a spectacular performance. It is most certainly the most successful event I have attended in my time with the Victoria BID. So thank you very very much for all your hard work and efforts.

Music at the Minster

One of the nicest things about my job is that I’m exposed to the best bits of human nature on a regular basis. Three times a week, I’m surrounded by people who come together to share something they love doing, to see friends, to support each other and to dedicate a few hours to becoming better at something. The singers who make up BeVox are a loving, friendly, caring and generous bunch. This is a constant source of joy to me.

Yesterday, we came together to share that joy with an audience, and to remember one of our own who is no longer with us. The people that came to support us have matched our singers’ generosity of spirit with their generosity in donating to pancreatitis research, in memory of Carl. I’m overwhelmed to announce that the concert raised £3,089.35. Thank you to everyone who gave so generously – not just financially, but those who donated their time, energy and passion to make the event such a success.

And what a success it was! The atmosphere was electrifying, and it was thrilling to be singing to a packed house (again!). Every singer on that stage brought such energy and passion to the concert – energy that crackled in “Shine” and “Can you feel the boogie?”, passion that shone in “Fields of gold” and “The sound of silence”.

I believe last night was another milestone in the BeVox journey. It marked a point where we’ve “come of age” – I believe that as a choir, we now know we can do this, and that knowledge has brought a maturity of performance, a sensitivity to the music, and an ability to relax into the experience and enjoy it. Yes, we still have edges we can tidy up, but the core of what we do is now really solid and secure. We’re going to keep building on it!

We couldn’t achieve something like last night’s concert without the dedication of everyone involved. I’d like to correct an omission I made last night – please take a bow, Rickey Long, and accept my heartfelt thanks for accompanying us so ably. I’d also like to thank Miriam from Totally Boxed (and Emily and Maisie too), and my mum and dad, for all their assistance with the box office and looking after the audience. A big thank you to the event staff at Southwell Minster, who accommodated us wonderfully and were really helpful throughout. And of course, Pauline – where would we be without you? (Probably still in the dressing rooms, waiting to be called… 🙂

It’s been a tough season, with disruptions due to snow and illness. We’ve pulled together, overcome adversity, and shown what BeVox is really made of. I’m so proud of who we are together, and I can’t wait for next season – especially as (with luck) Toni will be back with us. I can’t wait to see what the future brings.