A few months ago, whilst doing a recording for a compilation CD featuring some of Bath’s amateur music groups I met Jo Sercombe. Jo is one of those instantly likeable people and she runs the Bath Community Gospel Choir. In addition to her work with BCGC Jo runs a lot of choir workshops and singing days and it was upon finding this out that I had the idea of running a workshop for my ladies choir, the Pewsey Belles.
Jo seemed the natural choice to lead the workshop day. Firstly I wanted to give my choir someone different to work with. Since forming the Pewsey Belles in March 2011 the ladies have only ever experienced me as a conductor and I felt it would be useful for them to see what it was like to have someone else direct them for a bit. Secondly Jo has a wealth of experience running choir workshops for a huge range of choirs and singers with varying levels of musical experience.
I wanted Jo to have a free hand to run the workshop so the only “brief” I gave her was to work on the ensemble singing. The day started with some work on warm up exercises but with the focus being on their purpose and how they could help with singing. Having taught the ladies a number of different excercises there was then a focus on breathing and Jo showed how proper use of the diaphragm could help singers get enough breath for long phrases without losing the sound quality or running out of breath!
The next two hours was then spent learning a song by the Jelly Beans which Jo had arranged in 4 parts. The choir was divided into 4 approximately equal sections and Jo taught the song to the choir by ear as we have a wide range of musical expertise in the Pewsey Belles ranging from people with Music degrees who can sightread almost anything to those who cannot read music at all.
For me this is all part of the challenge of running Community Choirs. One of the key skills for a conductor to have, is a good understanding of their choir and it’s makeup. All rehearsals should be a balance of learning notes and learning musicality. The work Jo did with my choir gave them a renewed energy to tackle the music with a clearer inspiration and understanding of tone, balance, breathing and musicality. The plan is to work on these elements over the forthcoming weeks and months and then perhaps run another workshop next year to develop other skills.
If you would like Jo Sercombe to run a workshop for your choir you can contact her via www.josercombe.com