internship, joining the choir, SATB choir

More Than Just Accompanying by Sylvia Jen

As a pianist, I have accompanied soloists, ballets, musicals, and various kinds of ensembles, but never an adult’s choir, only children’s or youth choirs. I was finally given the chance to accompany an adult’s choir when I was appointed the accompanist intern to Leeds Vocal Movement. And what a journey it has been!

I learnt many things during my time with the choir. The first major thing is seeing the Kodaly method in action, which Caitlin (our amazing choir conductor) uses to hone the skills of the choir to help them pitch and tune more accurately as a group. It works wonders as the choir became better at keeping in tune without the aid of the piano as the year went on. I knew about the Kodaly method and the Solfege system, but have never used it to learn or teach music. Working with LVM has opened my eyes to the benefits of the system, and I’ve started to apply some of Caitlin’s techniques in my own teaching (I teach piano to kids). Caitlin has been keen to offer advice as well which just goes to show the open sharing culture of this friendly choir community.

Secondly, I got better at sight-reading, particularly four-part and sometimes six-part choral music! Even though this is an unauditioned choir, the quality of singing and complexity of music is not lacking. Certainly, not all the music that we sing is highly complex, as we learn pieces from all kinds of genres. However, I did find that I was playing more complex music than I had done for youth choirs, which really pushed my boundaries and I’m grateful for the challenge.

Lastly, I learnt about all sorts of things that are non-music related as the choir members come from various backgrounds, some are musically trained, though most are not. This makes for really vibrant and interesting conversations, which one can always find at the weekly pub gatherings after choir rehearsals.

I love that this choir isn’t just about singing and performing choral music (and me accompanying that), but it’s a community of like-minded people that come together to learn, socialise, and enjoy music-making, and I’m so proud to be a part of that!

Gallery, Workshops

09/03/2019 ~ Leeds Vocal Movement Workshop: The Role of the Conductor with Katy Cooper

Big shout out to our photographer Sarah Brabbin for helping us look wonderful. Check her out here! www.sarahbrabbin.co.uk

Upcoming Events

Upcoming Events

choir venue

New Term, New Us

It’s a new year in the world of Leeds Vocal Movement, and we’ve had a busy first couple of months. Our membership has grown, we’ve already performed once in the wonderful Left Bank choir festival, and we’ve moved to a new rehearsal venue, which is also going to be our home for our upcoming Christmas Concert on December 15th.

We are now based in the amazing St John the Evangelist church, in the heart of Leeds city centre. Don’t be surprised if you’ve never heard of it though – it is tucked away behind the St John’s Centre (which takes its name from the church) and surrounded by a quiet churchyard which is a haven for those in the know.

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Inside St John’s (photo courtesy of LeedsInspired)

St John’s is a venue owned and managed by the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT), a charity which works to protect historic church buildings nationwide. They preserve spaces like St John’s and allow them to continue forming a part of the community, by being used for all kinds of diverse activity – including our choir rehearsals! We have loved rehearsing in St John’s over last few months, and in the new year we are planning a concert in aid of the CCT, to support the work they do for our historic buildings.

The oldest church in the city centre, St John’s is a spectacular building now hidden behind the urban landscape of Leeds. Step inside though, and you are greeted with a genuinely surprising interior. It has a Jacobean carved wooden screen and fittings, including wall panels, pews, and pulpit. Our regular rehearsal space is behind the screen, though we will be in front of it during our concert.

We’re proud to work with the CCT in such a great venue, and we’re excited to share it with you as well! Tickets for our concert are available now, so we look forward to seeing you there!

Uncategorized

Musings of a Conductor’s Apprentice by Gregory Moor

I have never considered myself to be a singer, but have always enjoyed performing and being involved in music in any way I can. My first instrument is the flute, which I took to grade 8, but I’ve always felt it to be a solo instrument so I then moved to the trumpet. I took this as far as grade 3 and officially stopped lessons as a result of family circumstances, but I loved how loud the trumpet was compared to the flute. It was also my way in to the local concert bands and ignited my passion for community. I studied music at university and there I picked up the French horn. I was always eager to be involved in bands and orchestras, so when the opportunity came to start conducting I couldn’t wait! I became conductor of the Leeds University Union Music Society (LUUMS) Concert Band and studied conducting under the guidance of Eduardo Portal.

After graduating, conducting opportunities came few and far between, so when I saw the advert to conduct Leeds Vocal Movement I got an application in as soon as I could. Looking into them, they appeared to have a great community built around singing in a relaxed environment which really appealed to me. I found out after the audition that I wasn’t going to be leading the choir and that was fine by me, I’ve never considered myself to be a singer after all. Months later, I got a call asking if I wanted to try a new role for LVM as apprentice conductor.

When I first arrived, the role was very much in its infancy. There were ideas for how the role would look, but as I was to be the first to fill the role I got to find out what worked and similarly what didn’t. Since I’d never had much experience with singing, I wasn’t particularly comfortable warming up voices, so I was very glad to have more of a back seat and learn techniques from Caitlin in more of a participatory manner. The Kodaly method Caitlin uses to warm LVM up is perfect as it encourages the singers to learn the fundamentals of music theory practically. The effects of this were really noticeable when taking sectionals since it took much less time to learn new pieces towards the end of the year.

It has been a wonderful experience working with LVM and I feel I’ve really learnt a lot about rehearsing singers and a choir efficiently and effectively, and I’m glad to have learnt this in such an encouraging environment too! I got to conduct a few performances in the last concert, but I would say the most enjoyable and most rewarding part of the role was seeing the choir grow musically – it’s really encouraging as a conductor to see the musicians grow in confidence and musicianship together. It’s really helped my musicianship personally, and most importantly I now consider myself to be a singer. I am sad to be leaving this position, but strongly believe the choir is going from strength to strength.

Uncategorized

Vacancy – Piano Accompanist

Looking for choral accompaniment experience with a established and expanding local choir? Look no further – Leeds Vocal Movement is recruiting!

We are currently accepting applications for a Piano Accompanist. This is now a paid position for a budding professional pianist, to join us from September 2018 to July 2019.

We are looking for a well-organised musician with a keen focus on improving their accompanying skills and willingness to commit to the development of the choir. LVM’s mission is to improve musical education and create community through choral singing, and we need an accompanist who can internalise and apply those values in the role.

To find out more about LVM’s aims and operations, please visit our ‘About Us’ page. 

The candidate must be a University of Leeds student with Grade 8 Piano, preferably a first-study pianist.

To apply for the position, please download our application pack.

The deadline for applications is 12 noon on Tuesday 21st August 2018.

Interviews will be held on Thursday 30th August 2018.

If you have any questions about about the choir or the position, please contact Caitlin (Musical Director) or Rosa (Choir Manager) via email: leedsvocalmovement@gmail.com

Librarian's corner, Uncategorized

Librarian’s Corner: Shenandoah

About Librarian’s Corner:

Leeds Vocal Movement loves to sing music from a wide range of genres, and my aim is to better understand what we are singing. This blog adds some context and analysis to the notes on the page, for the benefit of members and listeners alike!

Shenandoah – traditional (arr. James Erb)

Shenandoah is widely regarded as one of America’s most popular and well-recognised folk songs.[1] Folk songs are known to be fluid in origin and meaning, and this one is no different; however, where its lyrics and melody have shifted, its connotations of heartache for a person or place have remained a staple of its character.

Shenandoah’s roots

The first mention of Shenandoah was said to be in the early 1800s. Some scholars have suggested that the song originally referred to the life of legendary mountaineer and trapper Jim Bridger, while others have traced its roots back to slave workers, akin to African spirituals.[2] However, it is most widely accepted that the song came from the American and Canadian fur traders; the Canadian fur traders, known as voyeurs, were well known for their singing, and songs such as Shenandoah floated down trade routes like the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. The song was eventually picked up by other boatmen and sailors throughout the 19th century, and became a sea shanty sung across the world.[3]

Although many attribute Shenandoah to a place or river, is widely regarded that the song’s title originally referred to the Oneida chief, John Shenandoah. Shenandoah was well celebrated in American history; he co-founded what is now known as Hamilton College in New York, and supported the colonials in the Seven Years War and American Revolutionary War.[4] In addition, he is said to be the namesake of the Shenandoah River and Valley in West Virginia.[5]

A song of longing

As is traditional for folk songs, Shenandoah has many different versions of its lyrics; earlier versions of the song depict the singer as a boatman, who is in love with Shenandoah’s daughter, Sally:

“O, Shenandoah, I love your daughter,

Away you rolling river.

I’ll take her ‘cross yon rolling water.”

Ah-ha, I’m bound away, ‘Cross the wide Missouri.[6]

However, more recent versions of the song, including James Erb’s arrangement, have removed the love story from the lyrics. Without this romantic narrative, the singer seems to direct their focus simply towards ‘Shenandoah’:

Oh Shenandoah,

I long to see you,

Away you rolling river.

Oh Shenandoah,

I long to see you,

Away, I’m bound away

‘Cross the wide Missouri.[7]

As Shenandoah is more commonly known as a place than a person, many have interpreted the lyrics to be yearning for the Shenandoah River or Valley, or used it as a metaphor for a familiar place. David Cheal notes that, while object of yearning open to interpretation, the idea of missing that object is still prevalent:

“Some versions…seem to be more about longing for a place than for a person. It’s a leaving song.”[8]

Erb’s rolling river

There are many choral arrangements of Shenandoah, but James Erb’s arrangement stands out as an homage to the boatmen that sang it, and the rivers that carried it. This is evident from the piece’s first two verses; the first verse is sung with the upper voices, and the second with the lower voices. The distance between these ranges mirrors the distance between the singer and the object of their longing, unable to bridge the gap between them.

Erb’s use of harmony and texture reflects the idea of hearing a song echoing down a river; the piece starts with the melody in unison and doesn’t introduce harmony until the third verse. It then ends with a gradual diminuendo, as each voice part eventually lands on the same sustained note. The slowly growing and thinning harmony imitates the way in which a listener would hear the song, drifting in and out of earshot as it passes them.

The texture in the middle verses seem to portray the movement of the river itself. The top melody floats above the steady harmonies in the lower parts, and later the three higher vocal parts sing the melody and harmony with staggered entrances. Together with the arching motifs and suspensions in the melody, the rippling waves of the “rolling river” can be distinctly heard in the piece, rising and breaking above the strong undercurrent of the sustained notes in the lower voices.

With these aspects in mind, the detail in the structure and dynamics of Erb’s arrangement can be interpreted to reflect the setting in which the song was first popularised: a bittersweet melody floating gently down a river.

Shenandoah today

Shenandoah has been a popular American folksong from the late 19th century, particularly as a favourite in public schools.[9]  The earliest recordings date back to the 1930s by singers such as Paul Robeson, and later sung by folk artists including Bob Dylan, The Corries and Jayne Stone. Shenandoah has also exceeded its folk genre, through numerous performances and recordings by singers such as Bing Crosby, Hayley Westenra and Keith Richards.[10]

The piece is also a choir favourite, with many choral versions of Shenandoah sung on an international scale. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir[11] and Voces8[12] are among the most recent choirs to record the folksong, continuing to immortalise its somewhat haunting melody in a range of different arrangements. However its origins and lyrics are interpreted, Shenandoah is sure to remain a beloved part of American folk music for generations to come.

Written by Rosa Stevens – Choir Manager and Librarian

Reference list

[1] https://www.loc.gov/creativity/hampson/about_shenandoah.html

[2] Cheal, David. 2017. ‘Shenandoah — a song steeped in history and mystery’. Financial Times. Available here.

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oh_Shenandoah

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skenandoa

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skenandoa

[6] Ships, Sea Songs and Shanties. Collected by W. B. Whall, Master Mariner. First Edition 1910, Glasgow; Third Edition, 1913. Available here.

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oh_Shenandoah#cite_note-whall-1

[8] Cheal, 2017.

[9]W. B. Whall, 1913.

[10] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oh_Shenandoah

[11] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-GtwNJf3EK4

[12] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t8xbY9Iyxpo

Feature image source: https://bit.ly/2l2DXtl 

Uncategorized

Vacancy – Apprentice Conductor

*THIS IS NOW A PAID POSITION*

Looking for conducting experience with a established and expanding local choir? Look no further – Leeds Vocal Movement is recruiting!

We are currently accepting applications for a new Apprentice Conductor. This is now a paid position for a budding conductor, to join us from September 2018 to July 2019.

We are looking for a well-organised musician with a keen focus on improving their conducting skills and willingness to commit to the development of the choir. LVM’s mission is to improve musical education and create community through choral singing, and we need an Apprentice Conductor who can internalise and apply those values in the role.

The candidate must be a final year university student or within three years of graduating.

This is our second year offering the position; our first Apprentice Conductor, Gregory Moor, joined LVM in January, and he has been a great asset to the choir. He debuted at our Summer Concert in June, and has enjoyed his time with us:

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to be the apprentice conductor for

Leeds Vocal Movement. It’s a welcoming community and very supportive

of each other, and I’m glad to have been a part of making the choir

what it is today!”

You can find out more about him on our ‘About Us’ page. 

To apply for the position, please download our application pack.

The deadline for applications is 12 noon on Tuesday 21st August 2018. 

Interviews will be held on Thursday 30th August 2018. 

If you have any questions about about the choir or the position, please contact Caitlin (Musical Director) or Rosa (Choir Manager) via email: leedsvocalmovement@gmail.com

joining the choir, SATB choir, Uncategorized

My Journey to LVM – Holly Angel

 

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Leeds Vocal Movement hard at work!

I have always loved to sing. When I was in primary school, Friday assemblies where everyone sang together were my favourite thing. I once got moved to the front of the group while rehearsing for a school play because I was singing so enthusiastically. I jumped at the chance to join my high school choir, and at sixteen I fell in love with Glee and Gareth Malone. When I joined university I couldn’t wait to join the choir. I was really surprised to be the only non-music student there. I had joined as an “enthusiastic amateur”, the person who loves something without understanding it. I couldn’t have told you what the musical terms meant (I’m a little better now) and if you asked me to sing you a G sharp I’d have no idea (still don’t!) but it was there that I first fell in love with choral music. It was divine, passionate, emotive, and utterly moving. I loved it.

When I graduated university in 2013 and moved back to my home city, Leeds, I was looking for a new choir. I did some googling of Leeds choirs and was disappointed but not surprised to find so many choirs were either up to the age of 18 or didn’t have a specific age but consisted of people who were in their 50s, 60s, 70s…where was the choir for young adults? Luckily, I happened to find one that fit the bill – Leeds Vocal Movement.
Leeds Vocal Movement would generally be considered a small choir – I think the most we’ve ever boasted is roughly 35 members. But what has never been small is the passion! While my university choir introduced me to the wonders of choral music – Handel, Faure, Britten – this choir has introduced me to a much wider range since then – folk songs, contemporary covers, traditional pieces and modern choral music (Eric Whitacre is a choir staple!). It’s hard to pick one favourite piece because there have been so many great ones, but a standout piece for me is one called “Name That Tune” by Grayston Ives. It’s a mashup of multiple classical pieces – Beethoven, Mozart, Strauss. It took the choir a good six months to perfect it, and there were so many laughs along the way as we fluffed different parts. We really made it our own, and that’s one of the most special things about being in a choir to me – taking a piece, adding unique touches to it and having a lot of fun along the way!
I was asked to manage social media not long after I joined the choir and it was a really fun challenge thinking about different ways to sum up rehearsals with pictures, videos and tweets. It’s no easy feat trying to raise the choir’s profile without the money for a marketing campaign but over the five years I’ve been working on it I think our name is gradually becoming more known through Leeds and hopefully will continue to do so.
During my time in the choir we’ve worked hard to give something special to our audiences, whether that’s creating a Christmassy atmosphere and bringing a smile to passers by as we carol to raise money for different charities, or our own concerts that we strive to fill with a variety of musical styles so that there will be something for everyone to enjoy. As much as we get out of performing for others, we also gain so much ourselves, from learning different musical techniques (such as Kodaly) from our conductor, to understanding more about what we really love to sing as a choir and as individuals. So much of the fun is that you never stop learning and growing!
Leeds Vocal Movement has been a wonderfully unique choir to be part of – relatively new (less than ten years old), young adult, secular and unauditioned – brimming with people of different skill levels and musical experience but all bursting with the same musical passion. I’m proud to have watched it grow and change over the years and I hope it will long continue to provide a place for young people in Leeds who love to sing with somewhere to go and express themselves and share the joy of music with others, both members and an audience.
Librarian's corner, SATB choir

Librarian’s Corner: Locus Iste

About Librarian’s Corner:

Leeds Vocal Movement loves to sing music from a wide range of genres, and my aim is to better understand what we are singing. This blog adds some context and analysis to the notes on the page, for the benefit of members and listeners alike!

Locus Iste – Anton Bruckner (1895)

Josef Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) was an Austrian composer and accomplished organist during the Romantic era.[1] Bruckner was heavily influenced by the works of his German contemporaries, in particular Richard Wagner; however, he also studied Baroque and Renaissance composers, including J.S. Bach and Palestrina.[2] Bruckner’s sacred works often depict this mixture of Romantic and early music influences, and his motet Locus Iste is no exception.

The influence of early music

Bruckner wrote many sacred works, including over thirty motets. Motets are defined simply as “a sacred choral piece, usually unaccompanied, in several parts”,[3] to allow for the diverse range of pieces associated with the form. Composers between the 13th century and the present day wrote motets, but they were most common in the Medieval and Renaissance periods. Typical features of Renaissance sacred works include the use of modes,[4] Latin text, and polyphonic textures.[5] These characteristics are found in the motets of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina,[6] who was a particular influence on Bruckner’s works.

Three hundred years on, motets became popular with Romantic composers like Brahms and Bruckner, despite its progressive musical developments.[7] The Romantic era was defined by a step away from the “rules” of earlier musical styles; composers rejected the musical “boundaries” that were prominent in the Classical era, while celebrating and emulating the composers that popularised them. This included a conscious movement towards adding emotion and meaning into compositions, through techniques like the use of dynamics, a lack of strict musical forms and variations of traditional harmonic progressions.[8] Alongside this was the revival and adaptation of early music traditions; the Catholic Church particularly encouraged the use of polyphony and Gregorian chant in 19th century sacred music.[9] As a devout Catholic, the influences of both early music and of the Catholic Church can be spotted within Bruckner’s Romantic motets.

A blend of eras

Locus Iste is a clear example the Romantic era’s revival of early music. This motet was written as the dedication of the Votive Chapel of the newly built Linz cathedral, which is made clear from the title ‘Locus Iste’, meaning ‘this place [was made by God]’. The piece is the setting of a Latin gradual:

Locus / iste / a / Deo / factus / est

place / this / by / God / maded / was (This place was made by God,)

inaestimabile / sacramentum;

priceless / mystery (it is a priceless mystery,)

irreprehensibilis / est.

without reproof /  it is (it is beyond reproach.)[10]

Bruckner’s motets consistently depict influences of early sacred music; along with the Latin text, hints of polyphony are found among the otherwise homophonic[11] texture, such as the varied rhythms of the four parts in the penultimate phrase. The long, slow vocal lines throughout the piece and the use of modal chords are particularly reminiscent of Renaissance Gregorian chant.[12]

Another early music influence is Bruckner’s use of the melody to emphasise parts of the text, known as word painting. This is most obvious in the bass line; scholars have highlighted “the isolation of the bass part at structurally important points”[13] as evidence of word painting, for example initiating the ‘a Deo’ phrases in the first and third sections, and prompting the climactic rises at ‘inaestimabile sacramentum’.

However, the Romantic characteristics in Locus Iste cannot be ignored. Bruckner’s use of dynamic contrast is a clear step away from early music; there are very few gradual dynamic changes, and the sharp piano and forte contrasts between the sections provide the high level of passion that defined the Romantic era. [14]

This passion can also be found in the use of harmony,[15] such as the use of accidentals and chromatic progression at ‘irreprehensibilis est’. This diversion from the more traditional harmonic progression in the first two sections shows a similar movement towards the Romantic style; here, we find the harmonic freedom allowed by Romanticism, embedded in the slow, majestic vocal lines of Gregorian chant.

Bruckner in present day

Today, Bruckner is better known for his symphonies than his motets; his 4th, 7th and 9th symphonies have stood the test of time particularly well.[16] However, Locus Iste remains one of Bruckner’s most famous motets, and among his most popular sacred works.[17] It has continued to be a favourite within choirs and choral societies, and will no doubt be filling churches with its Renaissance and Romantic blend for years to come.

Written by Rosa Stevens – Choir Manager and Librarian

Reference list

[1] http://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/periods-genres/romantic/

[2] http://www.jamescsliu.com/classical/bruckner_motets.html

[3] http://www.classical-music.com/article/what-motet

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mode_(music)

[5] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/polyphony

[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X-qWPOjzGYU

[7] Miller, Ronald L. The Motets of Anton Bruckner. The Choral Journal, 37(2), pp. 19-25 (p. 19). Available from http://www.jstor.org/stable/23551779

[8] https://courses.lumenlearning.com/musicapp-medieval-modern/chapter/romantic-era-explored/

[9] Miller, Ronald L. p. 19. Available from http://www.jstor.org/stable/23551779

[10] http://www.jamescsliu.com/classical/bruckner_motets.html

[11] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homophony

[12] http://www.jamescsliu.com/classical/bruckner_motets.html

[13] Carver, A. (2005). Bruckner and the Phrygian Mode. Music & Letters, 86(1), 74-99 (p. 88). Available from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3526032

[14] https://study.com/academy/lesson/characteristics-of-romantic-era-music-emotion-dynamic-contrast.html

[15] http://blogs.bu.edu/guidedhistory/moderneurope/erwin-wang/

[16] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gljRZ-3BlcM

[17] https://www.gramophone.co.uk/review/bruckner-sacred-choral-works-2

Feature image source: https://bit.ly/2r8m4ME