Glissandos, teas and coffees

Composer Aran Browning on his first workshop with the Strathendrick Singers for the Adopt a Composer project

Visiting the choir a couple of times I was great to be able to build a rapport with the members, listen to them sing and understand and get to know their routine/space/rehearsals.

We decided on a date for the first workshop for a few weeks time to give space to think of how to approach the session and so both Mark, Strathendrick's music director and David, our project mentor, could attend. Their feedback and suggestions on my workshop ideas proved really useful in fine tuning my plans for the session and made me consider accessibility and focus.

This last point was really important, where I had initially thought of building upon a text activity I had tried in the composer skills day as I may want to explore these in the piece at some point, I instead concentrated on two 'elements' that I was already incorporating into the music and would be useful to see the choir's reaction to - glissandos and voicing (register changing/falsetto). I was unsure as to how they would respond to these techniques and hoped they were approachable and yet had musical interest and potential for variation and development.

The choir were all enthusiastic which really helped as I introduced each technique and steadily developed from, say with glissando, moving small steps following me to sliding independently and more. Progressing to moving around while singing was challenging and uncomfortable for some, though I think the new experience helped them listen more (to themselves and each other) and be creative/free.

Furthermore, using the 'teas and coffees' room (due to lack of movability on the church stage) for this worked really well, giving an informal atmosphere for me to lead and allowing the choir to stand up and mix with other voices rather than sat down in their sections.

Prior to exploring the techniques I explained a bit about the concept of the piece which was now more concrete and structured. From an initial survey I learnt about 'Joyce's poems' and upon talking to Joyce, one of the founding members of the Strathendrick Singers, I was given four poems which she had written for and about the choir at different times. These were (are) fascinating, with names of members past, local references and comments on community singing.

Directly influenced by these, the piece looks at, explores and portrays being in a community choir with movements/sections focusing on different elements and experiences such as performing, starting/joining choir or ‘not just singing' (teas, programmes, tidying). I explained how I wanted to create a piece that is personal, relatable and relevant to the choir which seemed to spark interest, understanding and intrigue, particularly when tackling a short snippet at the end of the workshop...

I decided to look at a short section of notated material after the techniques so as to give the choir a better idea of how the piece is coming along and for me to appreciate how long a new musical chunk may take to rehearse. I was also interested to see how the independent piano part would work which thankfully came off really well and didn't disrupt/put off the singers - Mark began without the piano before adding it for a run-through at the end, where they weren't fazed by it's independence and lack of support.

Overall I was delighted with how the workshop went and the engagement and eagerness shown by the choir. Leading the second half of the evening after the break worked well to allow time to warm up and it'll be great to perhaps use that slot again once or twice before Christmas to bring along and try out new material.

At the start of the session I gave the choir a handout which proved useful as a reference point and for everyone to look back on what we had experimented and learnt as well as descriptions of the concept and snippet. Technically the workshop has given me a better grasp of the choir's abilities in addition to affirming and sparking some ideas/thoughts through hearing them live or recieiving a positive response. I'm going to send out a post-workshop survey soon and look forward to another workshop in the near future.