Spooky Serenade

Spent Saturday afternoon at a singing workshop run by Stephen Taberner of the Spooky Men’s Chorale.  There were about eighty of us, a high proportion affiliated to Raise the Roof in its various guises, other people I recognised from Sing for Water, and many complete strangers.

We started with a physical warm up and relax largely made up of shaking, and a vocal warm up  that started with whispering numbers and ended with sobbing.  The sobbing was to get us to notice that we could at will widen our voice boxes and get a better noise out of them and having done so, we could then push our lower voice higher and vice versa without hurting ourselves.  Stephen had us singing Amen’s in harmony to show us the difference and it was considerable.  He then moved on to other voice tricks to improve volume tone and timbre.  My favourite was Honk or Woof, which was differentiating that rather nasal Ngya noise some people produce when singing compared to a more open sound, and how you can hear a tiny number of people honking even when eighty are woofing, This was to get us to blend, his constant mantra was try not to be the loudest/quietest or whatever, so that we were listening to each other.

We moved quickly to putting together a song about feet and dreams, which was one of those greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts things, because each part was a small rhythmic section and only when they were put together did they make sense.  Us Tenors got a bit of a tongue twister which consistently defeated me, I could do the first half but my brain tangled the second, notes were fine, it was the words…  This became particularly apparent to me (if no one else when we walked round in the hall interweaving with other parts, and I couldn’t hear any of the other tenors, walking was one to many things for my brain to compute!

We were making a fabulous noise very quickly, and had nailed it within 15 minutes of the first note being sung at us. An intensive process which was repeated with us channelling James Brown for a riff on Get up off of that thing, which was considerably simpler in terms of individual parts, but we took turns to mix harmonies together (bass and Sop, Sop and tenor, tenor and bass and so on), which gave something that could have become monotonous a much longer shelf life.

the next number which was largely made up of grunts and yep!s, which got us firmly back into the rhythmic stuff.

The final section was (apparently) an 80’s pop song Under the Milky Way by The Church, which I hadn’t ever come across.  Again we were taught isolated phrases (with the tenors taking the lead) and built up to the entire thing, which by the time we finished was sounding stunning, Sops and altos being the brass section, and the basses taking the rhythm section; The sopranos at one point split in three and only having one note to a part. Ultimately (having found the original on the web)  I think what we produced was more exciting, and certainly more sinister, than the original. Spooky!

Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

3 thoughts on “Spooky Serenade

  1. I very much emjoyed reading your blog about the 16th October workshop; I was there too, singing tenor, and appreciated your comment about struggling a bit with the Walking Song! I thought the sounds we made were fabulous, and I came away feeling uplifted; I’ve been unable to get the song “Under the Milky Way…” out of my head ever since. Subsequently I’ve discovered online the music that Stephen sent out to the people interested in the Hobart Flashmob event last year, and I play it every now and then to remind me of a brilliant afternoon!

    Marg Rushton

  2. Stephen was kind enough to send me this link to a recording of the actual performance at Hobart :
    I saw a link to the music from the Hobart ABC website but it had expired, so I searched about and stumbled upon the actual pieces used for the Flashmob event. Upon receiving your request I tried to find them again but failed! I’ll keep looking if you wish.

    By the way, I also enjoyed your blog about John Atkinson Grimshaw, a painter I wasn’t formerly aware of – I’ll look up the Guildhall exhibition next time I’m in London!

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