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 🙂 )
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.
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
Last week we asked our neighbours for their song suggestions for this week’s balcony concert and we enjoyed reading through those they put forward. Several of the songs were from Disney Movies and this inspired us to try our hand at creating a Disney medley.
It was a really fun task. We thought about which films we enjoyed the most when we were both younger, and let’s be honest you can never run out of excuses to watch a Disney film! We settled on a set of eight songs. We tried to pick songs dependent on their key signatures and tempo so that they would flow from one to the other. However, it was so important to pick songs that were special to us which is why I chose ‘Colours of Wind‘ as it’s a favourite of my Mum and my brother, Matt. I included two songs from Mary Poppins as they reminded me of the time that I played the role in a Stagecoach production when I was younger and always evokes special memories for me. George’s favourite Disney song is ‘A Whole New World’.
We opened the concert with ‘When Daisies Pied’ by Thomas Arne based on Shakespeare’s words in ‘Love’s Labours Lost’ as the children in our community love the cuckoo calls and it is so sweet to hear them join in.
To finish, we thought it would be apt to perform ‘Art is Calling for Me’! A comic opera aria from ‘The Enchantress’ by Victor Herbert which opened in New York in 1911 – the song is about a pretend Princess called Vivian Savory (who is an opera singer), she sings of longing to be an opera singer in order to try to win over Prince Ivan of Zergovia, however, should the Prince fall in love with a commoner, he must abdicate, this story has Disney written all over it, I was introduced to the song by my first classical singing teacher Jayne Wilson GRNCM when I was about fifteen it was a tough song to sing then! All that was missing was a tiara and full-length gown, maybe next time 😊.
What is your favourite Disney song? Have you any special memories that come flooding back when you listen to it?
Programme: When Daisies Pied – Thomas Arne
Followed by a medley of : Colours of The Wind – Pocahontas – Disney Whole New World – Aladdin – Disney Part of Your World – The Little Mermaid – Disney Some Day My Prince Will Come – Snow White – Disney Spoonful of Sugar – Mary Poppins – Disney Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious – Mary Poppins – Disney Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo – Cinderella – Disney Under The Sea – The Little Mermaid – Disney
Finishing with: I Want To Be A Prima Donna – The Enchantress – Victor Herbert
Thankfully sufficient progress has been made in containing the virus in England (its slightly different rules in N Ireland, Scotland, and Wales) with shops allowed to reopen with physical distancing now, I’ve not been yet though other than to my local mini-market so I’m not sure how it’s going. The pubs, restaurants, cinemas, and hotels are allowed to re-open with restrictions from 4th July but the large London theatres have said they’re unlikely to re-open until 2021 possibly March? This week we can allow two people to meet from different households as long as you don’t stay overnight, so no visiting my parents yet. I think we can meet in a group of six outside but a lot of people had been going to the beach in the heatwave we had mid-week and going on demonstrations in larger groups. If we travel there is a two week quarantine when we come back for everyone in each household group. Are you venturing out yet?
We are happy to report that we have seen improvement in the WiFi quality in our home. Hooray!! This is fantastic news as our solution (a WiFi Booster) has enabled us to stream continuously whilst performing on our balcony. To mark this occasion, we decided to sing pieces that sadly suffered from our previous WiFi problems and that you may have missed. We combined these with songs from our first balcony concert on the 27th March 2020. Goodness, almost three months have passed – Time is whizzing by!
We hope you enjoy the concert and we are so thankful that you have stayed with us on this crazy, wonderful journey over the past 13 weeks.
The program includes:
You’ll Never Walk Alone – Carousel – Rodgers Somewhere – West Side Story – Bernstein Me Voglio Fa’Na Casa – Donizetti Over The Rainbow – The Wizard Of Oz – Arlen Danza, Danza Fanciulla – Durante Glitter And Be Gay – Candide – Bernstein
A special shout out to my Dad on Father’s Day, love you, and of course to George’s Dad and thank you to all Dads for everything that you do. We celebrate you all today 🙂
What have you been up to this week to lift up your spirits and cheer?
Have you made any homemade projects Glitter?
My good friend and authoress Noelle did an interview with me for her blog, Sailingaway and if you fancy taking a look here is the link :
Following our short performance last week George and I performed our second balcony concert on Friday 3rd April for our neighbours as we all continue to come to terms with staying at home here in the U.K.
Our song selection this week included a mix of styles to try and please a wide audience of tastes. The pieces that George and I performed were:
I Feel Pretty, from West Side Story, by Bernstein
I Could Have Danced All Night, from My Fair Lady, by Loewe
A Piper, by Head
O Waly, Waly (folk song) – for my blog friend Hilary, who suggested it.
O Luce Di Quest’anima, from Linda Di Chamounix, by Donizetti – for a sprinkling of Opera
However, after feedback from last week, we decided to trial live streaming on YouTube. The idea was suggested as our neighbours in our development, who do not face into our courtyard, got in touch and asked if there was a chance, we could share it with them online. So we researched how we could do this and decided to experiment with YouTube Live as I already had an account with them which I use on my blog from time to time.
We set up my phone to capture our performance in the corner of our balcony using a stand with a phone adapter screwed into the top – a little bit of repurposing with pieces that we already had at home. For this our first attempt at live streaming we decided to film live using the unlisted feature, which means people can only watch with a link. We copied and pasted this into our Neighbourhood Facebook page and then let rip.
Moving forwards we hope to share our third balcony concert with you all publicly via my YouTube Chanel. It will take place between 18:00-18:30, weather permitting (UK time) on Friday 10th April. We would love for you to tune in and celebrate music and people coming together during this difficult time.