This week I have some additional photographs that I would like your feedback on.
The amazing photographs taken by Tugce Nelson that we shared with you two weeks ago were well received and the top three from comments received across my social media were :
I was so happy with these pictures that I had printed copies made which now proudly hang in our home. However, it was suggested by several people that maybe we should use a picture for the album artwork that in some way linked back to our balcony concerts.
Recently Lloyd Dobbie, the photographer who we booked to take our wedding photographs suggested he come over for a trial run. The shoot went well and both George and I felt relaxed and settled into the fun of the day. When we looked through his shots we thought that some of the pictures that he took might also work as possible choices for our album artwork as they also included our balcony. I have included the shots below and a cropped square version to show how each of the pictures may look as album artwork.
I would love to hear what you think of the three pictures that George and I selected.
We are in the process of finalising the tracks and the order they are to appear on the album and then once the artwork is agreed we should be able to set a release date.
Beyond the obvious joy that singing can provide, it also brings with it many other benefits one of which is the confidence to perform. This confidence can help you in so many ways, such as when you have to speak in public, meet new people, or in an interview. I have always loved singing, ever since I can remember and I am very lucky that my parents encouraged me to enjoy making music and express myself through the arts. From the age of six I was able to attend dance lessons, stagecoach (a Saturday school for group teaching of drama, singing, and dancing), paint, draw, and I especially loved my singing lessons.
This week I was able to pass on my love for singing to my new students, as I began my job as a 1-2-1 Singing teacher at a Primary School, following all the protocols put in place during the pandemic. At the moment I visit the school one day a week and teach a few pupils, aged between 6-11 (So Tiny!). This is wonderful as I can stay on top of my own practise and work as a professional singer alongside my aim to establish a love for singing and to improve the self-confidence of my students.
During my preparations over the summer, I have really enjoyed reading “Teaching Singing to Children and Young Adults” by Jenevora Williams. This book really appealed to me as the scientific studies and Williams’ personal experiences of teaching are accompanied by witty illustrations to illuminate the main points. As a visual learner, this really helped me to lock into the information about the abilities and limitations of young singers. Williams splits the chapters to follow the various stages of young people’s lives. This built on the experience that I gained from the teaching modules that I completed at the RCS, Glasgow, and the RCM, London. Enabling me to make lesson plans and plan personalised 10-week courses that reflect each individual student’s abilities based on their age and gender. I hope that I can live up to great teachers that have inspired me and pass on my passion for singing.
I am currently exploring sheet music anthologies for young voices and I would love to hear from you what songs you remember singing when you were younger? Nursery Rhymes, folk songs, musical theatre, choral hymns. You name it! Or if you have favourite songs you sang to your children. I want to grow my repertoire list and it would be amazing to include songs from all over the world and different cultures.
I am so sad that the garden concert that I was booked to sing in with George yesterday was canceled last week due to the new COVID restrictions. Fingers crossed the infection rate will start to come down again soon.
I thought you might like to see a small clip of me singing for my Aunty Marjorie when I was six. ( Thanks Dad 🙂 )
With the songs recorded for our album and the mastering well underway, it is time to start thinking of imagery and typography for the cd cover art. We wanted to try and connect the cover art visually with our experiences performing for our friends and neighbours.
By performing live music each week we hoped that in some small way we were able to contribute to the well being of our community, here at home and online. Keeping spirits high at a time when people’s lives were so disrupted and full of uncertainty, stuck indoors at home with little to look forward to.
It is so hard to whittle the pictures down and we still have some to review. So I wanted to share with you some of the images that we have shortlisted so far. I would love to get your feedback to help us narrow down the final selection.
These pictures were taken by our lovely neighbour Tugce Nelson who kindly offered to help out when she heard what we wanted to do. We were so grateful to her and I hope that you like them. I also wondered if it was imporatnt to feature the Balcony in the cover art or not?
I could do with your suggestions for Typography too, there are so many different typefaces to choose from and it is important to choose one that is in keeping with our message, how people all over the world came together as a community under such difficult circumstances.
After creating a homemade vocal booth, it was now time to get to work and make a plan of action. George and I sat down and thought about what repertoire we would like to include. We wanted the songs to be a mix of pieces we performed in the Balcony Concerts as well as a couple of new songs to keep your listening ears entertained and refreshed. We asked neighbours and friends for their favourites and re-visited the videos, which have now become fond memories until we collected a posy of songs.
Under ordinary circumstances, we would visit a recording studio and perform the pieces in the same room and capture the result. However, this time I was surrounded by walls of hot pink, satin throws and connected to George’s piano playing through a pair of headphones. At times our combined sound felt a little contrived as we were unable to see each other. Our thoughts were slightly delayed and we found that we were both trying to follow each other rather than share who is leading the dance of the music. I hadn’t quite considered how integral the peripheral vision that I use on stage and in rehearsal is for telling a story with natural quirks and emotions. So, to connect with George in a spontaneous manner we decided to use Facetime! We were able to do this, as we both use iPads for score reading. I personally use an app called ‘forScore’, as it is really easy to use and has a lot of score editing features. (And as someone who adores an organised bookshelf, it removes the need to have endless photocopies of music filling draws and cupboards in our home – haha). I would dial George’s number and once our call was connected, we would both mute ourselves and do the necessary finger swipes across the glass so that we could see the music and a little video of the other person in the corner. The result was marvelous. We could see each other breathing, gestures of intent to begin phrases or change the pace of the music, facial expressions that captured the emotions of the text, and much more. It was also comforting to see George on the screen, and know that he was there to support me as I took musical risks inspired by my instinctual whimsy.
The advantage of using the Presonus 44VSL when recording (see last week’s post), is that it comes with a virtual mixer. This software allows me to add temporary reverb to my voice that I would hear immediately in my headphones whilst recording. This means that I can sing with the freedom and the instincts that I would have in a larger space, such as a concert hall. When performing in these circumstances, your singing and how you produce the sound is directly influenced by how much sound you hear back, due to it bouncing from the walls. This gives you an idea of how the sound is perceived in the space around you by your listeners. Without this added reverb during the recording process, the blankets would soak up all my sound and to my ear, the voice would feel like it was lacking resonance and the spinning quality that leads to good projection. As a result, my mind would primarily focus on how to make them sound more resonant rather than being in the moment and able to sing driven by instincts and imagination. Therefore, this virtual mixer was a happy perk provided by the Audio-box, and it improved my experience during the recording process.
Next week I will discuss how we edited and reviewed the tracks that we recorded. I would love to hear how you have used Facetime and Video calling at the moment, whether it is for its intended purpose of staying in touch with your loved ones or for an activity that you would usually do in person.
A good recording isn’t just about having the right kind of microphone, although it does play an important part. Getting the right sound depends greatly on the acoustic of the room that you are recording in. Once we cracked the set up that would give us the best chances for a great recording we began trialing and recording some initial takes. Upon listening back, we realised that the microphones were picking up reflected sound of the voice bouncing off the walls in our home studio. This caused the recordings to sound boomy and the overall balance felt at odds with what we wanted to achieve.
We realised that we needed to find a way to soundproof the room and absorb some of the reflected sound. We knew from our shared experience of recording in professional studios that they manage this challenge through the use of carefully placed acoustic panels, curtains, and carpet. When done correctly this can absorb sound and provide a dry acoustic needed for recording. But how on earth do you soundproof a room during Lockdown using only household items?
Luckily before we were housebound, George alongside his brother created some homemade acoustic panels during his last trip to Romania. These were originally intended to absorb sound so that the noise pollution to our neighbours was lessened. They are made from fabric, plywood, and mineral wool. I’ll share with you the method they undertook. After deciding what size you want the panels to be, we chose 25cm2, Step One is to create a wooden frame which is as deep as your pieces of mineral wool. Step Two is to cut the mineral wool so that it fits snuggly inside the frame.
SIDE NOTE: please make sure that you are using gloves when handling mineral wool as it has small bits of fiberglass that can scratch the skin. We bought 50cm x 100cm piece of mineral wool, which was enough for all four frames. Step Three is to measure out your fabric so that it covers the front and the sides of the frame, with a bit of extra material so that it can be secured to the back. Step Four is to secure your fabric to the frame using your method of choice, George used nails but staples or a strong glue would also suffice. Step 5, once you are happy with the position of the fabric, place a square of plywood, a little smaller than the frame, on to the back for a clean finish. This piece of plywood can be attached with nails, staple gun or glue. An Ikea hack if you do not have access to saw or spare plywood, would be to use a RIBBA frame from Ikea without the glass. I think these will be perfect as they are about the right thickness and you will not need to worry about endless measuring as they will all be uniform. Hooray for symmetry! If we make more in the future I will try this method and make an instruction video.
So back to Sound Proofing the room! We stuck these panels above the keyboard as that is where my voice would normally hit when practicing. However, we didn’t make enough of them to cover the entire wall of the studio. This meant that we had to improvise and create a little vocal booth.
We had the perfect space in mind, as the entrance to our home studio forms a little square alcove. We wanted to enclose this space and so our minds began-a-turning. I personally love having small spaces well organised and in our utility closet, we made use of Telescopic Garment Racks so that we can hang our clean clothes above the washer/dryer. One afternoon we decided to take the racks down and create a scaffolding effect to aid the vocal booth. We hung a suspension rail above the door, from which we hung one blanket. Then we assembled two vertical poles, which supported a horizontal rail, from which we hung a thicker throw. Between the two assembled structures we carefully balanced a spare rail and a final blanket. Each blanket was secured using bulldog clips and hairdresser sectioning clips.
Voila! The booth was born.
Out of excitement we began recording and found that the difference was tremendous. The voice no longer sounded like it was recorded in a bathroom and the balance was clean and had clarity. We were really thrilled!
Next Week we will share with you the next step of process – THE RECORDINGS, which I will title “Getting it done!”
After turning our balcony into a stage, George and I began thinking about turning our music room into a home recording studio, with the aspiration to record an album during the lockdown.
We wanted the repertoire to be inspired by the balcony concerts so that we can have a keepsake of the experience. We also hoped that it might be a way to generate some income.
I want to share with you our experience as it feels like a family CD that you are all part of. So this week we can take you through how we turned our music room into a pop-up recording studio.
We first began experimenting with recording at home when I was asked to collaborate with Waterperry Opera Festival. The task was to record Maria Bertram’s vocal line for ‘Landscape Gardening’, a scene from Dove’s Mansfield Park. At first, I tried recording it on my phone, and the standard of the recording was.. ok.. but the voice sounded a bit brittle, so to restore the warmth in the voice we experimented with using an external microphone connected to the phone through a Zoom H4n acting as a sounds interface. Both the microphone and Zoom were borrowed from our friends Robert Hodes and Maya Brandenberger who run the Johanna Stifftung (Foundation), and who have supported George throughout his musical career.
The results were great because the recording quality was much better and we didn’t have to worry about aligning the sound in post-production. The voice sounded warmer and richer.
This is when I was struck with the idea of trying to record a CD from home.
Our next step was to record the piano and the voice at the same time using the same method but this proposed new challenges as the more sensitive microphone was picking up clicking sounds from the keys being pressed and the quality of the piano playing through the inbuilt speakers didn’t match the sound of the acoustic voice in the room.
So we investigated whether we could record the two instruments separately but simultaneously perform. This would allow the voice to be recorded through the microphone and the piano to be recorded electronically through a direct connection to our zoom interface and then in the computer. Despite this providing a better sound recording of the piano, this setup doesn’t allow for recording both voice and piano at the same time, as we needed three input channels and our zoom interface only had 2. Think of it like trying to charge three phones but your travel plug has only two USB ports.
So we decided to invest in a second-hand sound interface – an AudioBox 44VSL, which solved our input problem, Horray!! So now we had the equipment to record. But we had to think about how to combine this with being conscientious neighbours under lockdown circumstances. Haha. Tune in next week to learn about the next stage and how we conquered the challenge of soundproofing our room.
Over the past four months, I have had to find ways to adapt the skills that I gained from my musical education to try and secure work during Lockdown to replace the operatic work that I lost due to the pandemic. I was very lucky to gain a role in a company for customer relationship management.
The work that I undertake for them is mainly carried on the phone building connections with customers. My key task is to understand the needs of their customers and predict future solutions that they may encounter under the current pandemic circumstances. I can directly use my planning and organisational skills acquired during my musical training. I quite enjoy talking to people on the phone, especially during the stricter times of Lockdown dealing with lots of different personalities and it has made me much more confident when handling issues over the phone.
This job has been particularly wonderful as I can complete the work from anywhere that gives me access to the internet. As well as the position being workplace flexible, the hours allow me to maintain my practise and stay focused on my singing goals and projects. This has enabled me to continue studying German and collaborate with my colleagues and opera companies to create virtual concerts and performances.
I am due to join Prince’s Garden preparatory School as an independent music tutor in September and I am really looking forward to be joining the teaching faculty there for one-to-one lessons with their pupils.
Fingers crossed that as the theatres and concert venues start to reopen, I can pick up new performance contracts whilst having the security provided by these flexible positions for which I am really grateful.
I want to share with you this week a collaboration I did recently with Arcadian Opera. The musical vocal piece is their adaptation of the overture to ‘The Magic Flute’ by Mozart. There are some witty lyrics in the different vocal parts so I hope that you enjoy listening and that it spurs the odd chuckle. Fingers crossed that this production will be able to open to audiences soon.
I always find returning to my home recharging, and I love catching up with my Mum and Dad. They are constant inspirations as they work so hard and with a high level of dedication to whatever task they take on. When I was younger, I loved watching them explore new ideas. Now as an adult I see how they are always pushing their limits, improving their current working methods and experimenting with creative pastimes. It reminds me that time always flows on and as one door closes another opens.
I’m looking forward to putting my foot back on the gas next week and brainstorm new ideas and learn new music that I’ve had on my aspirational to-do list. It was great to have a rest, but tomorrow brings new challenges and opportunities.
Last Friday I had a lovely surprise, I received a gift box from Amazon Smiles. They read that George and I had to cancel our wedding in June and sent through a few items which really did bring a smile to my face.
Feeling well-rested and supercharged today thanks to blue skies, sunshine, and time with my parents. I decided to visit my family, and in true Hoather fashion, there was no rest for the wicked. We made the most of the good weather and decided to tackle the evergreen hedge at the front of the property. I had a great time, learning how to use electric hedge clippers – and I am glad to report no fingers or thumbs were hurt in the process of taking of these photos.
Before my journey home, I had a wonderful time collaborating again with my two friends Jenny Martins (Pianist) and Roger Paterson (Tenor). We met one another last year when we were working together for Northern Opera on their production of Much Ado About Nothing. In May, we decided to join forces and find a way to perform together whilst we were in Lockdown. We had so much fun, we decided to do another duet from the same opera.
I am delighted to share with you the duet from Act 4 of Much Ado About Nothing. Leading up to this point in the story, Claudio has dismissed Hero. He publicly shames her on their ‘proposed’ wedding day, as he believes that she has been unfaithful. After this brutal condemnation, Hero is advised by the Friar, to act as if she is dead. This may seem very dramatic in modern-day, but perhaps it is similar to lying low on social media and disappearing from the public eye. In the time that passes, Claudio learns the truth and realises that his accusations are false. Claudio now feels tremendous guilt by his actions, which he believes has ultimately led to her death. Luckily for Claudio, Shakespeare doesn’t leave the desperate lover in mental-torture purgatory for too long, he soon finds out that Hero lives and finds redemption through her forgiveness and love. This is the moment that you see in the duet that I am thrilled to share with you. There is a modern editing twist in our version, as Jenny has re-imagined the meeting under Lockdown circumstances. The power of a Video Call!
I had a great time contributing to this project and I even developed my home editing skills through the use of a green screen and Adobe editing software. Picking the backdrop was a really fun challenge. It was too tempting to be underwater – but alas professionalism kicked in. As the play is set in Messina, a port on the island of Sicily, I thought I better pick a Romantic Italian Balcony. I would love to hear what you think!
It has been a joy and such an engaging challenge to present 16 weeks of music alongside George from our balcony in London. We have explored a variety of repertoire, with the hope to engage with different tastes in music so that each week we hope that we brought a little fun to our neighbours, both virtual and from within our complex. Thank you so much for watching!
For me, it helped ground my weeks. Providing inspiration and a deadline for tasks, which would add up to a musical sharing. Sometimes it was our main priority and other times it was a joyful release of tension. I simply love performing and to be able to share and continue to make music has been a gift. I feel very lucky.
I would love to hear what you have enjoyed the most about our shared experience?
George and I decided to take a little break from the weekly concerts, so that we can attend some rehearsals and give us some time to relax, recharge and learn some new material. We hope to evolve the idea and see where it takes us. Would you be interested in the concerts continuing? I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments or by email.
One of my New Years’ resolutions was to experiment with video, and this string of concerts, which emerged from a spontaneous event, has opened my eyes to the fun of sharing regular video content with you. I hope to continue to explore this over the coming months. So, stay tuned and as always, I would love to hear your feedback as I explore the possibilities further.
I hope you enjoy this week’s balcony concert and celebrate 16 weeks with us.
Program: Do, Re, Mi– Sound of Music Bibbiti Bobbiti Boo! – Cinderella Be Kind and Courteous – Britten Piangerò la Sorte Mia – Handel Baby Shark – Pinkfong Quando m’en Vo – Puccini Don’t Cry For Me Argentina – Evita Oh Luce di Quest’anima – Donizetti Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious – Mary Poppins