You may know that I’m a keen choral singer. I sing in 3 different choirs currently and have been singing since I was 5 years old. I was lucky enough to be spotted by a great singing teacher at school and stuck with it ever since then. I feel much better in myself when I’m singing compared to times when I don’t if I’m too busy or something. There are so many benefits for me: using my brain in a different way to sight sing and learn new music, the great feeling of having learnt that music and being able to perform it to concert level, as well as working and achieving something together with a group. Singing can be hard work but for me it’s also social and fun. Being able to perform with other musicians and in different venues is also always a treat.
Now, according to contemporary choral composer and musical director Eric Whitacre, (who I wrote about here) the health benefits of singing have been scientifically proven. Whitacre has collaborated with a scientist working in the centre for performance science at the Royal College of Music to monitor stress hormone levels in singers when they are rehearsing and performing. The audience was also monitored. The conclusion was that for singers and audiences, after singing or listening to singing, stress hormone levels went down and all involved felt more relaxed.
“Singing is something that many people inherently feel is good for them and relaxes them. But to actually show biologically (and demonstrate scientifically) that it can reduce stress is very exciting.” – Eric Whitacre
I agree with the study as even at times when I don’t feel like going to rehearsal, I’m always in a better mood after having a good sing! I also know that listening to live or even recorded music relaxes me.
On the subject of choirs, I’m looking forward to Dustin Hoffman’s new film The Choir. Hoffman plays the part of the musical director of a boys choir and the film follows the journey of one troubled boy to becoming the musical academy’s best singer. Dustin Hoffman is in the press at the moment for bemoaning the state of the film industry in terms of money-making being at the top of the list and the lack of time that can be spent on making movies. Hoffman did however say about music,
“I love it more than anything, but I can’t play well enough to make a living out of it. If God tapped me on the shoulder right now and said ‘no more acting, no more directing, but you can be a decent jazz pianist’ … I could never read music gracefully. I don’t have a good ear. I still want to do it. I would love to do it.”
Well I think he could do anything!
Last month I was lucky enough to be in Verona, Italy for a few days city break. I used to live in Italy and have visited a lot of the county, self-confessed Italophile as I am! However, nothing could have prepared me for the picture postcard perfect beauty of Verona which I had never been to before.
The river runs through the centre of the city, the banks of which are lined with prettily coloured buildings while green trees provide shade to the hilly landscape above which stunning views can be found. Verona is the perfect sized city to explore in a few days on foot, whether you’re walking up its many hills to take in the panoramic vistas or if you’re walking along the river or in and out of cobbled streets and piazzas stopping off at a gelateria for ice cream.
We all know the city as ‘fair Verona’, the setting of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet where the play’s star-crossed lovers meet. Verona certainly makes the most out of the story and it was fun to be a tourist and visit ‘Juliet’s house’ – the house which belonged to the “Dal Cappello” or “Cappelletti” – Capulet family. The building, dates back to the 13th and was renovated in the last century. Inside the palazzo there are works of art by various Veronese artists and some costumes from the 1936 film of Romeo and Juliet. Italians have a strange modern custom of attaching padlocks often inscribed with couples’ names on them, to various romantic monuments and this has certainly happened in full force by Juliet’s house!
On one of our days exploring the city, we discovered the beautiful Giardino Giusti described by Lonely Planet as follows:
Across the river from the historic centre, these sculpted gardens, considered a masterpiece of Renaissance landscaping, are well worth seeking out. Named after the noble family that has tended them since opening them to the public in 1591, they have lost none of their charm. The vegetation is an Italianate mix of the manicured and natural, graced by soaring cypresses, one of which the German poet Goethe immortalised in his travel writings.
Although close to a busy road, once we got into the garden we were in a tranquil and peaceful setting. Happily there weren’t many visitors around and we enjoyed walking up the windy path instead of the main route to reach the top. On the way we found a lovely spot which was a pagoda with a stunning look out view. My boyfriend of 4 years Itay, chose this moment to get down on one knee and propose! Of course I said yes and it made our visit to the garden and our whole trip to Verona even more memorable and special!
Afterwards, in a heads in the clouds daze, walking on air happy feeling we went and had a celebratory lunch in a great traditional restaurant which was full of Italians so we knew it was a good one …
The main reason we had decided to visit Verona in the first place, was to go and see an opera in the open air arena. So as the grand finale to our stay, we had for months had tickets booked to see the opera Aida at the arena. We go to the opera in London quite often but seeing an opera at the arena in Verona is something else! We chose to reserve seats and to be near to the stage for an up close experience with the glitterati rather than queuing to sit in the Gods. The whole experience was so magical, to be watching opera in an ancient site in Italy – I felt that I couldn’t have more of a super Italian experience if I tried! We saw a modern interpretation production of Aida and the use of shadow puppets, fire displays and innovative props made for an amazing spectacle! It was a really fantastic end to a great to the perfect Italian city – Verona – città dell’amore (city of love).
All photographs in this post are by Itay Greenspon.
I have spent two fun evenings this week singing at London’s magnificent Royal Albert Hall as part of the English Chamber Choir for performances of Rick Wakeman’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth. We were part of a set up including full orchestra – (strings, wind, brass, percussion sections), 2 solo singers, electric guitar, bass guitar, drum kit and Rick Wakeman – the glitteringly cloaked wizard in charge of us all playing on a variety of NINE keyboards! It was a brilliant experience to be part of such a big show with really incredible musicians. There was a great atmosphere at the shows from the audience and the performers too. It also made a nice change to sing different styles of music.
The shows celebrate the 40th anniversary of the release of the landmark concept album Journey to the Centre of the Earth and were part of a tour consisting of other show dates around the country.
For the performances I decided to wear my mum’s dress from 1969 (by KATI at Laura Phillips) which I thought was fitting for a 1970s revival show! The photo was taken in the dressing room at the Royal Albert Hall.
Based on the novel by Jules Verne, which also marks its 150th anniversary in 2014, the album is one of the rock era’s landmark achievements – a record that sold 15 million copies and rewrote the rules.
”This is the start of a new Journey” says Rick Wakeman, “the original score for the album had been lost for so many years, making any new performances impossible. but after it turned up without warning , we managed to restore it and add previously missing music that was not included in the original performances. It has taken another half decade to develop it into this tour, but I can’t wait to take Jules Verne’s magnificent story on tour again.”
Rick Wakeman’s 15 million selling Journey To The Centre Of The Earth sits alongside the most successful concept albums of the rock era including The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper, David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell. Its release in 1974 was arguably the high watermark of the progressive rock genre.
Rick’s original album featured the London Symphony Orchestra and the English Chamber Choir, conducted by David Measham.
Journey To The Centre Of The Earth was first performed and recorded live at London’s Royal Festival Hall in January 1974. Issued three months later, its success defied everyone’s expectations, including those of Wakeman’s label. The album went on to enjoy gold and platinum sales across the globe. Journey To The Centre Of The Earth was also nominated for an Ivor Novello Award.
For many years, the original conductor’s score for Journey To The Centre Of The Earth was thought
to have been lost, making any attempt to revive this seminal work impossible. However, in 2008,
Wakeman took delivery of a box that arrived out of the blue from Australia. At the bottom, he
found the original Journey To The Centre Of The Earth conductor’s score that had suffered severe
water damage. With the help of conductor Guy Protheroe, (musical director of English Chamber Choir) he repaired and revisited the
compositions and put them in a form that enabled him to celebrate its anniversary in an appropriate manner.
Engaging the Orion Symphony Orchestra (whose members comprise The New
World Symphony Orchestra for the UK tour) and The English Chamber Choir as well as actor Peter
Egan (best known for both his Shakespearean work as well as his role as Paul in the British sitcom
Ever Decreasing Circles) he recorded a new studio version of Journey To The Centre Of The Earth at
London’s famed Abbey Road Studios. In November 2012, the expanded work was published as a
limited edition in a fan-pack, together with a copy of the 1974 Royal Festival Hall concert
programme, and has since became a collector’s item.
The coming weeks are hard work for artist and educator Victoria Trinder who is officially launching IKTA (which stands for I Keep Thinking About) the creative, collaborative experimental sound network she founded in 2012. Victoria has been busy all year while on her MA Fine Art course at Chelsea College of Art & Design where she has been exploring her sound art practice through collaborating with other creatives including designers, musicians, curators and technicians. Victoria will launch IKTA at a VIP party during the private view for the Chelsea College of Art & Design end of course show on 6th September. Below is an introductory film documentary, during which IKTA members including myself talk about the organisation.
Victoria has been building interactive sound objects, sound sculptures, listening posts and instruments to use in recording and manipulating sound ranging from an underwater microphone to a percussive mechanism housed inside an emptied food jar! Victoria uses traditional modes of composition together with experimental improvisation and she also hosts IKTA as an Internet Radio station that acts as a platform for emerging creative voices regardless of age, gender and cultural backgrounds.
IKTA frequently broadcasts experimental sound sessions online and IKTA is active across all the online social media platforms as well as Sound Cloud where tracks are posted for listeners around the world to comment on.
For the IKTA launch, Victoria has been working on creating a special VIP area on the Cookhouse building balcony which will only be accessible to people that IKTA has collaborated with over the past year. It is a celebration of the work of the organisation but the event will also become a performance piece itself, as the VIP party is watched by onlookers in the Rootstein Hopkins Parade Ground below at Chelsea College of Art & Design during the MA show private view.
There will be special sound performances and recordings being played on the night by IKTA members and throughout the show run and the lead up to it, the space will operate as an open creative, collaborative sound lab for sound experiments, recordings and rehearsals. Victoria has been preparing the area by doing everything from sewing together sails for a canopy in case of rain, putting together hanging baskets of flowers and even a red carpet!
I was lucky enough yesterday to host a live IKTA broadcast and live sound lab in my home where Victoria and I created a sound scape of the IKTA manifesto using saxophone, clarinet and our voices to interpret the text of the manifesto and you can listen to the results below.
I have found being involved in IKTA to be an extremely rewarding experience as IKTA has an open to all policy, meaning that anyone wherever they are based can be involved online or in person and there is no need for any traditional musical training or previous experience of working with experimental sound. IKTA members range from age 17 to those whose practice is based in spatial and technology design or musical education, but all these skills and different backgrounds are united to experiment with sounds together.
For me, in my own curatorial practice, I have always been fascinated by the alternative side of music, leading to sound art. So when I met Victoria and months later, when I became curator at Notting Hill Arts Club, I was thrilled to be able to invite IKTA to perform a live sound lab session at the launch of my multi arts series at the venue, which you can read about here.
Although I am a classically trained singer, IKTA has allowed me to explore a different side to music making which is less rigid and prescribed. I was even convinced to play clarinet which I haven’t done for years and I have also tried experimenting with spoken word! Click here to see a Vine Video of me rediscovering my clarinet and its thanks to IKTA that I’ve started to use Vine too, which is a mobile app owned by Twitter that enables its users to create and post short video clips.
Here’s to the official launch of IKTA and its future!
Unsurprisingly, I am more interested in the Cultural Olympiad surrounding the London 2012 Olympic Games, although I have found myself being caught up in a bit of Olympic Games fever as London are hosting them! I’m pleased that sound art has played its part and here are a few examples that I’ve enjoyed.
All The Bells – Martin Creed
Artist Martin Creed (who won the Turner Prize in 2001 for Work No. 227: the lights going on and off) created a nationwide sound piece for the morning of the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games. Work No. 1197 involved ‘all the bells in a country rung as quickly and as loudly as possible for three minutes’ according to the website for All The Bells. I took part myself at the designated moment of 8.12am, ringing not a real bell as I couldn’t find one, but instead shaking my mobile phone as I had downloaded a mobile phone bell application which turned my phone into a ringing bell. I really liked the inclusive, celebratory nature of this mass performance piece so that All The Bells really did mean any bell, anyone, anywhere.
Hopefully not too many people were as extra enthusiastic as UK Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt whose bell fell apart as he was ringing it!
Tales From The Bridge – Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir
Eric Whitacre has become an extremely popular composer of contemporary classical music, particularly choral. Whitacre uses social media to build his huge and growing fanbase (which I include myself as part of) and his work became even more well known after a TED talk allowed him to discuss his Virtual Choir project. Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir brings together singers from across the world, virtually. Singers sign up on line and can rehearse the chosen score and join forums online to get tips for working on the piece for the virtual choir. Then when they are ready, singers sing along to Whitacre’s conductor video, recording their voice. The piece is then edited and visuals are also inserted to create a sound art piece. Virtual Choir 3 (below) which I sung in too, included 3746 videos from 73 countries. Again,what draws me to Whitacre’s Virtual Choir project is the way in which music and singing (thanks to the power of technology) is used to unite people as a common language across the world.
Whitacre’s Virtual Choir 3 sound piece, Water Night, was seen and heard in Titanic Belfast: Following the celebrations around the opening of the new building and marking 100 years since the loss of Titanic, the projection of Virtual Choir 3 in the atrium of Titanic Belfast provided a moment of contemplation for the lost souls.
Currently, Water Night by Whitacre’s Virtual Choir 3 can be experienced as part of the world’s largest 3D soundscape in an Olympics installation on Millennium Bridge, called Tales From The Bridge.
Here is an amateur video of the Water Night experience on Millennium Bridge, London from a Virtual Choir 3 participant.
Anthem – Scanner
I have been interested in the work that electronic musician Scanner (real name Robin Rimbaud) creates, for some time. He is called Scanner because of his use of cell phone and police scanners in live performance. I really enjoy the variety of types of music that Scanner makes and the range of opportunities he takes up.
The UK’s top designers and artists were invited to contribute to delivering a world class creative showcase that will play host to some of the most globally influential business leaders during the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics Games at the British Business Embassy. Scanner was commissioned for the only sound work in Lancaster House, on the Mall in central London which is used extensively for government hospitality.
He presented Anthem, a sonic work that expands upon the British National Anthem, now a choral work of ten minutes duration and situated in the lavatories of the building, the only guaranteed room that every delegate and visitor will visit!
Anthem takes the UK National Anthem, God Save The Queen, into a slow moving choral work, filled with empty spaces.
You can hear Anthem by Scanner here
There was also plenty of sound and music featured in the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games including favourite patriotic numbers by Elgar and a musical race through the decades of the best of British music. I thought the Isles of Wonder theme used by Danny Boyle made a fantastic opening ceremony spectacle. Here is a reminder of those beautifully musical lines from Shakespeare’s The Tempest
Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again; and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open, and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked,
I cried to dream again.
Finally, here’s a picture of my Olympic rings fairy cakes that I made!