Music in the Community and for the Community with Annie Griffith

Music in the Community and for the Community with Annie Griffith

General

S*d’s Law!

So I wrote a long-overdue post about the fact that we were back and singing after lockdown! Hurrah!

And promptly 24 hours later, we had two reported cases of Covid in the choirs, and multiple exposures.

I’ve decided to shut down for 2 weeks, as a “firebreak”, meaning that hopefully any incubating cases will develop and the people can self-isolate, and those already living with a Covid infection have time to get better.

We start again on the 22nd November. We will be singing a different program of songs at the Light Up a Life Commemoration on the 23rd November, and I’ll have the practice tracks to learn them at home up by the end of today on the Sound/Video Download menu up the top there.

But we won’t let this stop us! Onwards! Upwards! Sing!

General

Back and Singing!

We started singing again in July 2021, and I’ve been so busy I haven’t had chance to update here…

It is a different and brave new world of social distancing, hand sanitiser, track&trace and safety before everything else. Some people don’t feel safe coming back yet, and some people have decided a different direction is called for entirely. And all of that is OK. We’re a little down on numbers in most choirs from where we were before Covid hit, but there are new voices, new songs and new adventures ahead of us.

If you’d like to come and sing with us in Lincoln or Navenby, you would be very welcome indeed, just contact me for details on what is happening where and when.

Our annual “Light Up a Life” commemoration in collaboration with St. Barnabas’ Hospice is going to be a hard one – everyone has lost someone, or suffered during the long months of isolation. There will be tears this year, more than ever previously, I suspect, but we’ll sing our hearts out as we always do, remembering the gaps in our midst to those lost during the last two years. That’ll be the hardest, hearing the gaps in the harmony and knowing it can never be filled, only accepted.

Wishing you all love and peace as we start the long slow dip towards the bottom of the year.

General

Cautious Hope…

I have been watching the news like a hawk since the new year, hoping that the government’s “Roadmap out of Lockdown” will hold true and give some hint as to when we can start singing again.

Thanks to the sterling work of everyone working in the vaccination program, it would appear that unless something dramatic happens, the dates given by the government might well prove accurate.

Whilst many people have embraced singing outdoors, it has not been something that I’ve pursued, and I’m happy with the decision to wait until indoor singing is possible.

I am growing increasingly happy to say that I will start indoor singing from mid May 2021 for those who are fully vaccinated. Whilst I don’t want to exclude anyone, I do believe that full vaccination (both doses) will make singing as safe as possible for everyone – if you haven’t been able to schedule yours yet, I will keep a seat for you, don’t worry. As soon as you are up to date with vaccinations, you’ll be back and in that seat, I hope!

I’m going to be spending my time until then making sure that I’ve got everything booked, risk assessed and as safe as possible.

And just so you know: if you are worried that you won’t be able to sing after so long, I am equally worried that I will have forgotten how to conduct, and am pretty sure that I’m going to spend at least 10 minutes crying in happiness the first time we sing anything together.

Stay safe, get vaccinated and be very, very sure that I can’t wait to see you again.

General

How’s It Going?

So, here we are, nearly a year from the date that it all shut down. Blimey. I keep saying that I think time is elastic – it seems like forever since I’ve seen and sung with people, but equally, I can’t believe it is 2021 – I feel like I lost an entire year.

But hopefully things are starting to pull around – lots of choir members are reporting getting vaccinations, and I’m off for my first one tomorrow. It’s obvious that we won’t all be leaping out of the starting gates the minute we have an armful of one vaccination or another. So what are the challenges we are looking at?

  • We all need to get TWO vaccinations. I hold true to my initial feeling that I don’t want to risk the health of anyone for the sake of singing. When we are covered and safe, we’ll be back. As I’m getting my first vaccination tomorrow, I expect the next one to be somewhere around the end of May if the current schedule continues. Some choir members will certainly be later than that, but we will hold space for them.
  • We need to remember how to do this stuff again. It will have been nearly 18 months since we started lockdown by the time we get back to any kind of normality, I expect. Many of us will have lost confidence in our ability to sing, and to be in company. I expect to feel a bit agoraphobic for a few weeks.
  • I’m going to carry tissues everywhere. I’m a bit of a soppy old get at the best of times, but the first time I hear voices raised in song together is going to make me sob like a baby. Also expecting to cry the first time I’m allowed to hold my friend’s baby who was born during lockdown and whom I’ve only seen through a window. And the first time my daughter has friends over. And the first time I hug my family from down south again. The clever money will be buying shares in Kleenex, I feel.
  • I have all these new shiny songs that we’ve barely had time to scratch the surface of! But I’m not necessarily going to do them. I think the first few times we sing together I’m going to do old favourites. Things that we can sing in our sleep, and make us feel happy.
  • I need to book new venues. At least one of my existing venues won’t be able to offer us space in the near future, so I need to look at rebooking elsewhere, and renewing booking schedules for the old venues who have been closed as well.
  • I also want to do a bit of a publicity push to see if we can recruit more people – if ever there has been a time to celebrate by raising our voices along with our neighbours, this is it!

I’m sure there are all sorts of things I haven’t thought of yet, but those are the ones at the forefront of my mind right now. Like everyone, I am really looking forward to getting back to some kind of normality, and singing with all my choirs members and friends again.

Look after yourselves and get vaccinated as soon as you can!

ConfidenceGeneralHealth BenefitsSinging Mechanics

Back on the Horse…

I’ve been effectively laid off since March. No furlough for me, as I had taken a part-time job when I moved house, to try and fund some house renovations. This meant that I didn’t have the three years’ uninterrupted accounts that I needed to apply. So, it’s been a little thin on the ground here, although I’m incredibly grateful to my partner and his company for keeping working and enabling us to get by.

What it has meant is that I’ve spiralled into a bit of a dark place – I love what I do as a choir leader, and it has broken my heart that I haven’t been able to do it for so long. I’ve not felt like singing or playing music for a while now.

However, my daughter is back to school this week, and I realise that I need to pull up my socks and just get on with life. So here I am, sat at my computer, my audio set-up connected and looking at a pile of sheet music in front of me. I’m getting back on the horse. So here’s what I’ve discovered about singing after a long break:

  • My voice is so scratchy! I have done very little singing for 6 months. Normally I sing for at least an hour every day, and more on choir days. My voice and range have suffered from lack of use – much like your legs feeling wobbly after sitting in one position in the cinema to watch a very long film. The vocal cords are a muscle like any other in your body. It gets out of practice and weak. The only way to get back to where I was 6 months is by starting to move. I’m doing gentle humming and singing along with the radio, and singing to myself in the car. Be very careful – you don’t want to run the equivalent of a marathon after sitting down for six months. Take it very gently! Humming and quiet singing. don’t push anything.
  • My range (how high and low I can sing) depends on how I use my voice. Everyone’s tessitura (think of it as a ‘comfort zone’) is different. A good friend of mine once said, “Just because you CAN make a noise, doesn’t mean you SHOULD”. I find this very often with younger women who think they should be a soprano because they find singing non-tune parts difficult. They force their voices higher and higher and lose clarity and tone. A lot of men also want to sing lower than they should. Find a comfortable zone where you can sing a few notes without stress and strain. Concentrate on singing those. Extend it slowly, very slowly. If your throat gets tight, STOP! You probably have a favourite song or two which you think you sound good on. Play with those! Your range will extend the more you play and push it very gently.
  • Tiredness. Vocal tiredness is different from any other kind. Learn to recognise it. Your throat gets tight, it can even be painful. You are holding way too much tension in your jaw, face and throat when this happens. Learn to relax everything – move your head on your neck, let your jaw drop, let your face go slack, turn your vocal volume down by at least half and try again. Feel better? Take a rest, drink a warm drink and do something else. Come back to it later.
  • Really listen to your voice. If you have the ability to record yourself, do so. (Phones are excellent for this, and don’t have to be heard by anyone else). Are you on pitch? Singing the notes you are meant to? Sound like you did before? Be critical with yourself and have another go. Be honest, too. I’ll bet that you actually sound quite good! Enjoy it!
  • Find some warmups! I’m going to do some Youtube warm up videos, try using them as a gentle way back to singing.

I’m easing myself back into this for the sake of my happiness as well as for my business, but singing is such a vital way to connect with others, I don’t want to hold off any longer than I absolutely have to.

Let’s start singing together!

ConfidenceGeneral

Confessions of a Choir Leader

I have a confession.

The Philadelphia Boys Choir, not having the same problems as me!

I am struggling with online singing. Struggling to the point where I just don’t want to do it.

I see all my awesome leader colleagues leaping onto their Zoom meetings and Youtube videos with enthusiasm and expertise, and … I just can’t. It’s not that I don’t want to sing – I really do, and I miss it desperately, but digital connection and music-making just doesn’t work for me.

I’ve used my lockdown time to look very carefully at my life and what is working or not working for me. And I’ve realised that (a) I adore singing and leading singing and (b) I dislike anything that gets between me and the singers. For me, the experience of group singing and leading it is a very visceral one. I can hear voices swirl around me, I focus on the ones that work, and the ones that I know aren’t listening closely enough to the people across the room from them. I can hear when individual voices melt together like fine chocolate to become “the choir”, a thing of beauty and wonder. I know who is having a good day or a bad day from the sound of how they are singing. I know who is missing their normal choir neighbour and singing next to a different person because their normal neighbour has gone on holiday for a fortnight.

During our break time (or intro time), I talk to singers and find out what they love and what they hate. I find out who is getting over a chesty cold, or whose daughter has had a baby. We sing to anyone who has had a birthday. We laugh, we hug, we drink tea.

And that’s where it all goes wrong for me. Zoom meetings are about ME talking to THEM. If people try to talk back to me, they are talking to everyone. There’s no intimacy. There’s no showing me a video of their cat doing something funny. There’s no easy chat about song suggestions for next term. And that … humanity… is what informs the music that we do around it. I’m not the most polished choir leader you’ll find. I cried openly in front of my choir when we all sang “For Good” and the line about “because I knew you, I have been changed for the better,” because it was my love song to them. That is how I felt about what they had brought into my life during a hugely dark time for me. I’ve scratched songs halfway through because I can see the effect they have on individual members, and chosen others to boost them during hard times. I keep my eye on singers who I know are living with health problems, to see if they are coping, or whether they need a seratonin boost from something simple and unison. To me, all this is just as important as the finished performance. We form a community of music, laughter, tears, biscuits and tea.

And Zoom doesn’t really cut it. Youtube is sterile.

One day we’ll all be back in the same room, singing together, crying as we do so, and laughing with joy at the freedom and love of it all. And everything will be OK again.

Until then… I miss you. I really, REALLY miss you.

GeneralHealth Benefits

Lifting Your Spirits!

It has seemed in the last couple of years as though the medical profession were finally understanding the importance of singing. Studies were being done about the effect that singing had on depression and cognitive function in people with degenerative brain conditions. All the studies were showing the hugely positive impact of music on people’s lives. Doctors were starting to prescribe group singing as a method of dealing with depressive disorders. It felt like we were turning a big corner in terms of the understanding of the part of music in holistic health.

And then we got Covid-19 and everything has gone a bit pants. There seems to have been an understanding that some social interactivity needs to take place for people’s mental health and the economy, but so far, the risks that are perceived as being part of group singing practice have meant that nothing can resume yet. We’re all making noises about “any day soon”, but we’re also very aware that we might be looking at a Christmas with no carols.

In the meantime we are all stuck in limbo with no music.

But there are things we can do to help ourselves when we feel low and sad and disconnected from our fellow singers. Here are some of the things I’ve found helpful:

  • Car singing. If you drive, and have access to a car, I cannot recommend this enough. Drive out into the nearest “middle of nowhere” place you can find, and crank up the stereo with feel-good tunes from a happy point in your life. Sing loudly where no-one can hear you. If you have countryside nearby, wind down the windows, stick your elbow out and move some real air through your vocal cords. It doesn’t matter if it isn’t in tune, or you don’t remember the words! Just sing!
  • Background music whilst doing other tasks. If you are working from home still, put on music whilst you work. Or whilst you cook dinner, or hoover (hoovering is good, put it on headphones and nobody will hear you singing along over the sound of the hoover!).
  • Compile a “Feel Good Playlist” which only has things that make you out and out happy on it. Online streaming services are excellent for this. Play it all the time. On headphones as you walk around the supermarket, on your daily walk to work, or making breakfast in the morning. Sing along whenever you feel you can.
  • Watch some silly music films. My recommendation of the moment is “Eurovision: The Legend of Fire Saga” which is cheesy, romantic, silly and uplifting. The soundtrack is on our “Feel Good Playlist” in this house. But there are equally good ones out there – I love “Pitch Perfect” and anything MGM with Howard Keel!
  • Basically, surround yourself with music and sing along whenever you feel you can. Living in close proximity to other people can make that feel really awkward, but sometimes scheduling “Silly Singalong” with other family/house members can help. If you are all feeling silly, then it makes it much more possible to sing in company.

Music can help us all, and right now, we all need help. The path out of the pandemic is not going to be straight. It is looking increasingly likely that there will be ups and downs, and wiggles left and right as we go in and out of lockdown, rules change every week, and life changes to accommodate all of it. But through all of this, let music be your guide and remember:

WE WILL ALL SING TOGETHER AGAIN.

General

Choirs in the Land of Covid-19….

Here we are, halfway through the year.  We all stopped singing together in mid-March, and it’s been 100 days (give or take) for most of us now.  Everything has changed, and I can’t say I’m a big fan of this brave, new world of no community singing.

But this is where we are.  At the moment, the government has offered no guidance on singing in a community setting, so we are all twiddling our thumbs and waiting to see what they say.  When a pronouncement is made, I can confidently predict that some people will agree with it, and some people with disagree with it, and a political argument will ensue.

But here are the facts:

  • Singing has been identified as a very high-risk activity because of the spread of aerosol particles when we push air out of our throats and mouths under pressure.
  • The 2metre social distancing rule is not sufficient for singing.
  • As lockdown eases, many areas are experiencing an uptick in C-19 cases, meaning that it is growing in prevalence in the population.
  • There have been multiple cases of large scale infection in choirs both in the UK and in the US.
  • C-19 is most dangerous for older people, or those with underlying health issues.
  • Choral singing is most popular with older people, many of whom live with underlying health issues.

A Choral Leader friend of mine from London – the amazing Mich Sampson – pointed me at the following document which outlines much of the evidence on various aspects of the C-19 situation as it currently stands.  I would recommend reading it – it is long, but links to many very useful and informative sources of information.

Covid-19 Information for Choral Organisations, Choirs and Conductors

As things stand, I have cancelled all singing until at least September.  Much as it grieves me to say it, I think we should probably prepare ourselves to accept that we might be looking at 2021 before being able to resume singing.  There are so many major holidays and causes for celebration between now and January 2021 that I don’t really want to think about our our wonderful communities not being able to raise their voices in joy, but it is – at the moment – a distinct possibility.

Stay safe, lovely singers – we’re not out of the woods yet…

General

Lockdown

So, here we are at a time of madness.  The world is in lockdown.  We can’t go out (except for absolute essentials) and I don’t really want to anyway because I’m so worried about what compromised breathing would do to me anyway (I have breathing issues sometimes even when completely healthy – singing is good for that!).  I manage a little gentle walk with my daughter occasionally, but only as far as my local park.  I really should take up yoga again…

We went into isolation early as we thought our daughter had been exposed to the virus.  Thankfully it turned out that her friend had only had a nasty cough, and she’s fine, but we’ve been dancing this isolation tango for quite a while already.

My first week or so was spent finally pulling my finger out and recording my first EP.  If you’d like to have a listen and/or buy it, check it out here:

“Arise” by Annie Griffith

So I’m now sitting down in front of my computer and trying to think what the next step should be.  In this time of isolation, I’m very firmly of the opinion that we need art to pull us through.  I’ve been watching films, reading books, listening to music and connecting with other musicians.  I’ve also been watching how other choir leaders move forward.  If you sing with a choir, you know that the sense of connection it brings is a huge boost.  Losing that connection is really hard.  So we’re all trying to bring our networks into a virtual space.  There’s been a lot of work done with the Zoom application, but lag issues mean that it is never going to be a solution to singing all at the same time.  I’m trying a different route!  If you check out my menu at the top of this page, you’ll note (once I’ve got it up there) a new menu heading – “DistanSING!” which is the name of my project.  Check in there to get details and request an invite.

I’m also looking at getting other resources up as our time indoors is likely to stretch on for a bit.  Keep an eye on this page, and “DistanSING!”.

A new addition to this page is also over there on the right hand side at the very top – it’s an online “Tip Jar”.  If you find what I do of value, please consider contributing a little bit of something.  I am a self-employed community musician, and CV-19 had wiped out my income stream (sadly I am not eligible for govt. help, either).  A little help would be fab!

Let me know if there are virtual resources you would like to see, and I hope to get working on that!

Stay indoors and stay healthy, friends!

 

General

Guilt Has No Place In Music

People take part in music, particularly community music for very many reasons.  Some people want to meet new people, whilst others might want to improve their voice, or perhaps work on breathing and health issues.  I’ve come to realise that there are just as many reasons to sing in a choir or play an instrument as there are singers and players.

There are also very many ways of running a music group or choir, and I’m not here to disagree with how individuals choose to run their own groups.  Personally, I am not a fan of the “term subscription” type of set up.  I’m sure you know the kind of thing, and maybe your group uses it: your director announces the new “season” of rehearsals (usually in line with school terms) and the members pay a flat fee that covers attendance at every rehearsal for the season.  This has the advantage of getting the messy business of money over and done with at the beginning of a term.  No more worrying about spare change, or wasting a few minutes at the beginning of every rehearsal.  I can see the appeal, really I can.

But the flip side is, to me, much more difficult to deal with as a choir or music group leader.

Because as leaders we have no choice.  We HAVE to be there every week, come rain or shine, to facilitate and teach the music for everyone else.  We organise our lives around those dates because it is our JOB to do that.  But our members?  They might not have the luxury.  Some of them will have full time jobs, or families that need them.  They might have no choice about taking a choir night off because they have a sick child, or desperately need to go to the dentist, or are just so ground down and worn out that they need some time to themselves.  And if they do that when they have paid for a season, it is difficult to avoid thinking that they’ve wasted their money.  If you pay for a session you can’t attend, you feel guilty about the money, and then guilty for not being present.  Guilt is introduced into your music-making experience.  And guilt eventually leads to absenteeism, and finally to them giving up.

I’m here to tell you that guilt has no place in music.  You shouldn’t feel guilty about wasting money.  I firmly believe that you should have the option to not spend the money in the first place.  I also believe that if someone says, “I can’t make it next week, I’m visiting my new grandchild!” the appropriate response should be, “That’s wonderful!  Bring pictures the week after!”, not something vague about missing out on a valuable learning experience.  I am also arguably a terrible businesswoman because I don’t make a note of who has paid me or not.  This is because sometimes people can’t afford to pay.  They don’t deserve to be shamed.  Maybe the boiler broke.  Maybe their kids needed new shoes.  Maybe they just forgot their wallet.  There is no way I could ever find a way to tell a person that they couldn’t sing because they didn’t have the money.  I would always rather that they sang and not worry about the money as opposed to going home feeling embarrassed or glum.  Can’t pay?  Don’t feel guilty!  For a brief, delightful period of time, one of my singers paid me in random items of groceries.  They’d leave a can of pop or some interesting crisps next to my money tin.  They had contributed what they could, and that was absolutely fine with me.

The guilt also works in regards to practice and here’s where I start to get a bit controversial.  I don’t believe in making people practice.  Guilting them into it NEVER works.  You know what does work?  Making them love it.  Leaving an instrument where they can’t help but pick it up.  Working on songs that they just can’t help singing.  All of that works wonderfully.  But guilt?  Not so much in my experience.  I taught primary school pupils various instruments for years, and I can tell you that the ones who excelled, who went on to great things were NOT the ones whose parents made them practice for 20 minutes every evening.  In fact, those parents generally got maybe one or two years of lessons for their child, before their child decided to give up, and never wanted to touch an instrument again.  They had literally had music guilted out of their soul.  They learned to associate music with feeling inept and guilty and wanting to do something else.  The ones who excelled didn’t practice their instruments, they simply couldn’t wait to get them out and play with them.  Nobody is born with an innate talent for an instrument, but they are born with a fascination for the sound and feel of it, and a curiosity which can only be satisfied by just playing the dratted thing.  The parents whose children excelled were much more likely to say, “Can you put that ruddy oboe down?  It’s dinnertime!”.

If you are feeling guilty about any aspect of your music practice, then think twice.  Why are you feeling bad?  How can you take the guilt out of your music?  It might involve going to a different choir, or just allowing yourself the time to recharge your batteries without worrying about the money if necessary.  And if you lead music sessions of any kind, don’t ever make your musicians feel guilty.  It genuinely achieves nothing.  If someone leaves for a different choir, smile and wish them joy with their singing.  If they are burned out, or suffering ill-health, let them go and let them know that any time they want to come back, there will be a chair and a chocolate biscuit waiting for them.  Because choirs and music groups work best as inclusive, caring communities and that is what we should be trying to create and foster.