Archive for the ‘choral’ Category

In sheer financial desperation, musicians have taken to robbing banks to pay the bills….No, this is The Gospel Project playing our one and only wedding this summer.

If you’re one of the people celebrating the new world of remote working, you definitely don’t work in the arts. While I share the national enthusiasm for decreased commute times, and the long overdue realisation that it’s in nobody’s interests to have thousands of people sitting in traffic at the same time every morning + evening, it’s helpful if we also acknowledge that there is a lot of work of value that can’t be done remotely, and it can’t be done by a robot.

The concern among the artistic community right now is not simply that we’ve just lost 6 months of work, missing countless creative (and sometimes even remunerative!) performance opportunities during what is usually our busiest season. The scary thing is it’s not showing any sign of changing in the near future. Live performance as a concept appears to be cancelled, for the foreseeable. ‘Ah, but live streams’ I hear you cry. Ok, tell me long you actually tuned in for the last time you attended a live stream? And how much you contributed financially? We can’t pay the bills with positive feedback unfortunately.

I’m luckier than many in that there are two areas of what I do that can be at least attempted remotely, and those are teaching and choral direction. Teaching violin via Zoom is awkward, but it’s not impossible. Teaching choirs via Zoom, on the other hand….let me tell you a little about that:

Like many other conductors , I spent the first week or so of the shutdown last March chasing the ‘end of the rainbow’ software that would allow my choirs to sing together remotely. I couldn’t for the life of me imagine how anyone could be working around the latency issues – and just to prove the point I even tried it on Zoom with one of my more advanced choirs, to hilarious effect – but I kept hearing these marvellous tales of other ensembles….People would send links…’Have you tried this App? ‘You just need to adjust your audio settings’ ‘My friend’s choir is able to sing together on Zoom’ ‘What about a virtual choir’? So let’s put this to bed once and for all: there is no platform – not Zoom, nor Skype, nor the app that somebody you know is developing – that allows for singing together, in real time, in an online choral rehearsal. If your friend’s choir claims to be doing that, good for them, but I’d be very interested to know how. They may be putting a Virtual Choir together, á la Eric Whitacre, with each singer recording their line independently and the director collating and mixing all the recordings (and, most likely, discarding some of them!) Which is impressive, but quite a different beast to singing together live, in separate locations.

So, how to continue with choral rehearsals in the face of these limitations? Some choirs I work with have managed outdoor rehearsals, though obviously that’s tricky to plan for in Ireland, even in the summer, and its days are numbered once the weather changes. Some of us are meeting in very small sub groups, with singers in ‘pods’ in each others homes during Zoom rehearsals. Even though they can’t hear each other, singers appreciate the connection provided by the Zoom rehearsal as well. Gardiner Street Gospel Choir is continuing with our weekly mass, albeit online and with pre-recorded music.

Are any of these solutions anything like the face-to-face choral experience? Nope. Would I want to do it indefinitely, or under any other circumstances? No way. But these are not any other circumstances, and this is better than nothing.


Hosanna on Youtube

Posted: December 20, 2014 in arranging, choral
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Just posted a new video on Youtube of The Gospel Project performing Soweto Gospel Choir’s Hosanna , arranged by me and performed live in Dublin’s Lutheran Church. I also recently introduced this song to the Portmarnock Singers repertoire. The sheet music for this arrangement is available from Seolta Music. Enjoy 🙂




Reward time

Posted: December 11, 2014 in choral, Conducting
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I’ve had a pretty good week on the choir front. Sandymount Gospel Choir were shortlisted for Lyric FM‘s Choirs for Christmas competition, with our version of Light of the Stable by Emmylou Harris airing on Niall Carroll’s show on Wednesday 10th December.

We had a cracking concert with Portmarnock Singers on Sunday 10th in St. Anne’s Church in Portmarnock, the culmination of a tough season’s rehearsing. And the Waltons Sing Your Heart Out Choir gave their end  of term concert last Thursday 4th, also a great success (that’s them in the rather dark photograph below…….luckily I’m much better at conducting choirs than at taking photos of them!)  Meanwhile in The Gospel Project we had the somewhat unusual experience last  Friday 5th December of performing in a warehouse in West Dublin…..have we had a career change, I hear you ask? Well, no, but it was certainly a little different to our usual weddings & functions; a retirement send-off for two obviously very popular figures in Kefron, both stepping down after having established the company and given it lifelong service. We sang a (somewhat altered!) version of Aloe Blac’s The Man  in honour of Tom & Mick.

The period from September-Christmas can be a bit frantic for choir directors, and I’ll admit that this year in particular it was taking its toll on my energies during the rehearsal period, but as  a choir member said to me this week, ‘it’s reward time now’. It’s all paid off. A good term’s work.




Christmas music

Posted: November 17, 2014 in arranging, choral
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Arranging Christmas music….every year I believe that I won’t have to do it next year, since I’ve already amassed a pretty substantial library of choral arrangements of Christmas music. And yet, somehow, each year I find ways to inflict more work on myself, just because I think this song would sound nicer if the alto part was x , or if only the piano part was y.

This is entirely my own fault, and in this instance it’s not arranging, really, just meddling with existing arrangements. Now this is kind of the musical equivalent of taking someone else’s recipe and simply changing a few ingredients – not an original or particularly creative piece of work, but requiring some industry nevertheless, and probably a few drafts before you get it right. Why change the ‘ingredients’ at all, you ask?  Well maybe the ones you have in your cupboard are a bit different, and you have neither the means nor the inclination to acquire expensive, specialised  ingredients you’re only going to use once. Or maybe, if you’re lucky, you just think that the ingredients you do have will work better – this bass line was written for a section with a limited range in mind, for example, whereas the basses under my direction actually have a great range and are well able for a more adventurous line.
It’s not just perfectionism on my part, I think most choir directors would agree that it’s always better to go the extra mile for superior musical results. Besides, Christmas is a very, very busy time of year for choirs and if you’re involved with a few of them, you can be prepared for a month or so of little else. So you’d better be pretty keen on those arrangements at the start of the season, because you’re going to be royally fed up of them by the time New Year comes.


always learning…..

Posted: November 8, 2014 in choral

This week in The Gospel Project we had the rare pleasure of singing somebody else’s vocal arrangements – the mighty Josh Johnston came to rehearsal to direct us in preparation for next week’s recording session with Hege Anita. For me it was a singular privilege to just sing and have somebody else direct, not just because it gives me one less thing to worry about (!) but because it’s a different perspective. And I always, always learn something from working with different musicians. People sometimes ask me why run I around so much working with so many different ensembles when it would be much, much easier to stick with just one or two. And yes, I know I complain about it sometimes (and with apologies to the family and friends I rarely see as a result!) but the truth is I believe it makes me a better musician. Diversity is almost always a good thing, right?

I’ve been re-evaluating some of my rehearsal strategies this week. Four and sometimes five nights each week I run rehearsals with different choirs and vocal harmony groups, but it’s quite important for me to remember that it’s not a ‘one size fits all’ type thing. Far from it. Every ensemble has its own culture and work ethic, and of course some of the groups I work with are professional and some non-professional.  The Gospel Project is a group comprised of professional singers, and I’m accustomed to being able to walk in to rehearsal, throw some complex harmonies at them and have the singers reproduce them pretty quickly. Another group I work with are highly committed amateurs and again are able to learn parts relatively quickly, or at least put in a lot of private practise time outside of weekly rehearsals. I have to be careful that this doesn’t lead to unrealistic expectations on my part when it comes to some of the other groups I work with; one is a group of complete beginners for whom the world of singing harmony is quite new and naturally they learn more slowly. Another group again is happy to show up and sing whatever can be managed in rehearsals but there is no culture there of individual practise outside that time. This is further complicated by the fact that many people regard singing as something you can either do or you can’t, and consequently don’t respect the idea of practising it.

It leads to some interesting questions regarding the role of the musical director; should you always attempt to push an ensemble to newer and more ambitious goals? In a recreational – as opposed to professional – singing environment is the optimal goal always a great performance, or is the process of learning and rehearsing just as important? If the choir are quite happy with things the way they are, do I have the right to insist that they should be doing better? Reaching for  higher standards enhances the experience for some singers and has the very opposite effect as far as some others are concerned, so this is not an easy thing to get right. There’s also the matter of how I fit into it as a professional musician with high standards  – the choir’s standard is a reflection on me, but they are my employers, so shouldn’t I serve their needs rather than my ambition? Who am I really doing it for when I demand more of the choir?

What a week. I’m used to running around a lot but these past few days were extreme even for me. Teaching, gigging, rehearsing Portmarnock Singers, The Gospel Project, Sandymount Gospel Choir, squeezing in a few committee meetings in between and, sadly, singing at a funeral on Thursday morning. And travelling from one of those things to the other. (The thing nobody warns you about when it comes to being self-employed is how much time you will spend just getting from one professional appointment to another – in Dublin traffic this is no joke! I sometimes envy people who go to work in the same place every day. Especially when I’m on the way to weddings in hard-to-find country churches……)

Highlights of the week for me:

1). Being introduced to a cracking Karl Jenkins piece, Adiemus,  which I’m going to be doing with Portmarnock Singers:


Can’t wait to get stuck in to this in rehearsal on Monday.


2). A very positive rehearsal on Tuesday with Sandymount Gospel Choir. As with many other areas of life, September is the time when choirs kick off again after the summer and new people often come on board – happily we’ve got a good few new choir members and, more importantly, they’re fitting in well and bringing new energy to the ensemble.

3). I discovered the existence of this organisation – the Wedding Band Association.  This is a long overdue initiative proposing a kind of Code of Practice for the wedding band industry in Ireland. I take my hat off to these guys; musicians tend not to be too wonderful about organising ourselves but this is a positive exception. Self-regulation. A great opportunity for honest, hard-working wedding bands.

New conducting job

Posted: July 29, 2014 in choral, Conducting

I’ve just learned this week that I’ve been appointed to the post of Musical Director with the Portmarnock Singers, a well-known choir in North Dublin. Looking forward to starting with them in September. Always good to have a new project to work on!

Portmarnock Singers

Portmarnock Singers