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.

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

LVM is a charity – and here’s why

We are delighted to announce that Leeds Vocal Movement became a registered charity on 26th February 2018. This is wonderful news for the choir, as it opens up a lot of opportunities for its development. We would like to ensure that these opportunities are clearly outlined for our members, local public and anyone who is interested in the status and long-term growth of the choir.

Our Objectives

The Charity Commission recognises the following objectives for the choir:

  1. For the public benefit to advance the musical education (including practical and theoretical musical training) of people aged between 18 and 35 years in and around Leeds.
  2. To advance, improve, develop and maintain public engagement in, and appreciation of, the art and science of music, through choir performances, workshops and rehearsals.

Why have we become a charity?

As a registered charity, LVM has public recognition as an organisation, with social benefits and public needs at the forefront of our aims and developments; we will use these to directly benefit our choir members and the local community, and our charity status guarantees this.

Being a charity also improves our ability to meet these objectives, through increasing our opportunities for funding our core and project-based costs. This keeps our choir affordable, without compromising the development of its members and quality of its events.

What does this mean for members?

Education: LVM provides musical education, guidance and practice at our rehearsals, which are led by our professional Musical Director Caitlin Mayall. Caitlin’s enthusiastic approach, and application of the Kodály method to musical education, allows each member to advance in their musical knowledge and skill at a crucial stage in their vocal development.

Diversity: We pride ourselves on providing a diverse selection on music from a wide range of musical genres to sing each term. Our Musical Director and Librarian work hard to make our repertoire as eclectic as possible. We also encourage our members to suggest pieces for the choir to sing (and what not to sing), as it’s a priority for our members to enjoy what they’re performing.

Development: our long-term project for the choir is to provide more musical education for our members, with the following aims:

  1. To run high-quality choral workshops from visiting conductors and vocal leaders
  2. To develop the Kodály Method music training programme for LVM members and the wider choral community in Leeds
  3. To provide an accompanying pianist, to provide exciting concert opportunities for SATB and piano

Opportunities: Members will have the opportunity to perform in the LVM concerts twice a year, as well as singing in collaborative concerts, festivals and competitions with other choirs in the arts community. In each of our concerts, our members have the chance to sing full choir and small ensemble pieces, both of which allow them to enhance their experience of performing music.

What does this mean for the local community?

Accessibility: We often gain members who haven’t sung in a choir for many years, or at all. For this reason, we do not have the barrier of auditioning or prior experience as a requirement for joining, as it can put people off before they’ve had a chance to sing with us. In addition, we offer subsidised membership fees for students and those on a low income, to make our choir affordable for our target audience.

Engagement: We often host open rehearsals during recruitment periods, to give individuals the opportunity to try out our choir first before joining; potential members and interested friends/colleagues can join us for an evening of singing, and see if LVM is right for them. Our choral workshops are also available for the public to participate, and join our members in developing their vocal knowledge and technique.

Community: All who join LVM are welcomed into a community of singers and music-lovers of varying musical abilities, knowledge and culture. Our members are a mixture of students and working professionals, which span our target age range and a wealth of careers and interests. We maintain this community outside of our weekly rehearsals, whether through social media, blog posts, choir socials, or just a post-rehearsal pint.

Entertainment: The musical education and guidance provided by our Musical Director, and the dedication of the choir, are best showcased in our concerts and performances. Our audience members can expect an evening of diverse and well-rehearsed repertoire, sung by a choir that continually strives for musical excellence.

What does this mean in relation to funding?

LVM’s core costs are always growing and currently being funded by members’ fees only. As a newly registered charity, we are constantly applying for sponsorship and arts funding to help us to cover costs such as our rehearsal venue, paying our Musical Director and hiring/purchasing music to perform.

We are also applying for project funding for the development our choir, the aims of which are outlined above. Our projects include our termly choir workshops, and the employment of an Apprentice Conductor and Piano Accompanist, which give early-career musicians an opportunity to gain paid experience in their field.

Any donations we receive, large or small, will help us provide excellent choral training for the members of our choir. If you are interested in funding, sponsoring or donating to our choir, please contact us via email or donate to our GoFundMe campaign.