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!”
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 :
This week George and I transported our courtyard into an Italian Piazza with an assortment of Italian songs and arias.
Vaga Luna che inargenti (Bellini) Me voglio fa’na casa (Donizetti) O mio Babbino Caro (Puccini) Danza, Danza fanciulla (Durante) Libiamo ne’lieti calici (Verdi) And a cheeky Encore!
We had a lot of fun preparing the repertoire for this week’s concert, as we revisited a couple of songs from 5 years ago as well as a couple of completely new pieces 😊
This week we also transformed our home into a recording studio with the help of a few pieces of kit, kindly lent to us from our friends Bob and Maya.
This allowed me to collaborate with Jenny Martins and Roger Paterson. Two wonderful colleagues, who I worked alongside last summer at Northern Opera Group in their production of Much Ado About Nothing. We decided to get creative during lockdown and challenge ourselves to record a duet from Act 2. Jenny kindly edited the piece together and I’m thrilled to be able to share it with you.
Much Ado About Nothing Duet:
Jenny Martins (Piano) Roger Paterson (Tenor – Claudio) Charlotte Hoather (Soprano – Hero)
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.
A strong childhood memory for me is watching The Phantom of the Opera with my parents on a Sunday afternoon. We would sing along with the 2004 film adaptation of the musical starring Gerald Butler and Emmy Rossum. To me, it is a beautiful film, with sparkling costumes and sweet moments of intimacy between the Phantom and Christine.
This Tuesday I was invited to watch a friend Eleanor Sanderson-Nash perform in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s production of The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London. Ellie and I shared the stage in Mansfield Park, whilst working for the Waterperry Opera Festival and we were also students at the Royal College of Music.
Ellie is one of the company’s ‘Swings’. A Swing is a member of the company who understudies several chorus roles, this involves memorising multiple parts (or as they call it in the biz “tracks”), which can involve different vocal harmonies, entrance and exits and actions. It is a very demanding role and needs an artist who is not only talented but one who is organised, able to remember multiple tracks and able to accommodate flexibility within their scheduling, (as they may the called upon with short notice). It was great seeing her rock her stuff on Tuesday!
Ellie also took me on a backstage tour before the show began. I was able to stand on the stage, see iconic props and moveable set such as Christine’s dressing room, Phantom’s organ, and boat, the life-size masquerade props – which click into the stairs to give the impression of raucous party-goers and of course the iconic, and very large, Elephant from the Hannibal rehearsal scene.
I was interested to find out that this show has a team of 130 people involved (cast, crew, and orchestra). The Show has been at Her Majesties Theatre for over 30 years and because the theatre is historically listed it still uses many old-fashioned techniques to manually change the sets. In modern theatres, these changes are normally done by a computer but at this theatre, stagehands are positioned at particular pullies with specifically timed queues to ensure the show runs smoothly. There are truly many phantoms who create this magnificent show, who the audience never gets to see!
I had a fantastic time seeing a different side to this show that holds a special place for me in my heart. Go to see it if you’re in London you won’t be sorry.
Often Opera companies and competitions require a selection of unedited video evidence of your singing. A one-take wonder you might say!
Recording a video of this style can be quite challenging. Firstly, you need to become relaxed whilst in the presence of a camera. For example, you need to consider where to look and where your imaginary audience is. This will encourage you not to stare down the lens of the camera, as this can be off-putting to the viewer.
A performer in the recording studio needs to have a great mindset that can focus on aiming to sing with your best possible technique on that day, whilst still telling the story of the text. We are all human and mistakes will occur, therefore you have to learn to forgive yourself quickly. Concentrate on recording a full take of your aria/song. Then at the end of the recording session, you can be critical so that you choose videos that provided the best results.
However, this recording mindset is similar to a Competition
mindset, where you have to try your best and not give up. If you make a
mistake… you can’t just walk offstage or stop the performance and request to
restart. You have to power on, and draw the audience and the panel into your
performance and hope that they enjoy it.
This week I’d like to share with you a video of my
interpretation of “Piangerò la sorte mia”, from Handel’s Opera “Guilio Cesare”.
This video was recorded live during a competition, that I entered last year and
I do hope that you enjoy it too 😊
I am on my way to Leeds today to start rehearsals for The Christmas Elf. It should be about a four-hour drive but often it can take an extra hour getting through London to the M1 Motorway. So I thought I would pre-empt the traffic and write my blog post this morning ready to launch when I arrive this evening.
This week I had the good fortune to be invited to two fantastic events. On Wednesday I went with friends to the Barbican to watch The Taming of the Shrew. . It was a Royal Shakespeare Company production which presented the audience with a really thought-provoking interpretation of this problematic Comedy. Director Justin Audibert switched the roles so that the play is gender-flipped by regendering all the pronouns. For example, the story’s protagonist Petruchio, (who is a fortune seeker who intends to marry the troublesome eldest daughter Katherine), becomes Petruchia. Claire Price presents a powerful interpretation of this role, hiding her venomous qualities behind charm and swagger.
Whilst the play unfolds, I suddenly realised how few lines the “female” roles of Bianco (Bianca) and Katherine have, despite me thinking that the play was about containing their wild spirits. It is only now that I realise that the center of the play focuses not on the prey but on the hunter. It became quickly uncomfortable, because even though the roles are now reversed to give the comedy a hint of female empowerment the general advocacy of dominance through psychological and physical manipulation is still present. Perhaps this is the message that the director was trying to put forward.
However there were many laughs had by all. A highlight for me was from Sophie Stanton’s giggle-inducing interpretation of a lovestruck Gremia who glides like a nymph in a Christmas ballet across the stage to swoon and salivate over a hair-flicking Bianco whose temperament was similar to a high school prom queen. It is interesting how through comedy we can shine a light on bitter truths and issues and how through laughter we can safely start an honest conversation.
On Friday I celebrated my friend’s birthday by attending a concert with him at the Wigmore Hall. There were three outstanding musicians Andrei Ioniţă cello; Stephen Hough piano and Michael Collins clarinet. The concert was part of the ‘Brahms series’ held at the Wigmore Hall to celebrate this composers prodigious amount of compositions specifically crafted for chamber music, song, and piano. I particularly enjoyed the 5 Stücke im Volkston Op. 102 by Schumann played masterfully by Ioniţă and Hough. It was also interesting to be exposed to a new composer, Carl Frühling and his exciting Clarinet Trio Op. 40. The music was very rich in melody, which was shared across the instruments. The harmony was very lush and late romantic in style but at times very non-intuitive which made it exciting for the listener. I have recently noticed a pattern of this whilst studying the Christmas Elf, which so happens to be composed by Pfitzner, who is a contemporary of Frühling. I found it really rewarding to hear this trio as it gave me inspiration and a better understanding of the German late Romantics, which I can use as I begin rehearsals tomorrow.
Today marks the first day of December and soon I will begin rehearsals for the Christmas Elf with Northern Opera Group in Leeds. With this in mind I thought I would share with you how I prepare and learn a new role.
After receiving the music I try to read the libretto (sung text) to get an idea of the overall story. This helps me to understand my character’s arc, their basic relationships with others, how people discuss and describe them and their key moments in the production.
If I am working on a piece that is in a different language to my own. I will take time to translate the libretto. This can be quite a time-consuming task. I aim to source/create a word-for-word translation. I often consult Nico Castel’s libretti Series, which can be found in music libraries such as at the Royal College of Music. This series contains a word-for-word translation, a phonetic translation and a poetic translation.
This series often helps speed up the process but I try to cross-reference with a dictionary to make sure I really understand what is being said and how it progresses the action of the story.
For each role, I often have a different time scale as I have to juggle all the projects that I have on the go along with other personal tasks so I try to work out a schedule for my learning. I try to break up the role, so as opposed to one big task I have several smaller goals. I use post-it notes to show different Acts, Scenes, and dialogue. If I am working on an opera by Mozart or Handel I will use different colours to differentiate between Recitatives, Arias, Duets , small ensembles, and Finales. These sections then make the overall task more approachable and easier to schedule.
I will then highlight my text and the music. Whilst I am doing this I create a list of the pieces that I am in, I acknowledge if there are any moments of tricky coloratura and harmonies as I personally make them a priority when scheduling in time for memorising. I always like to learn the first entry at the start and then move on towards the more difficult areas as I like to have a small victory to keep my motivation simmering.
After some careful planning, I will work out when to
schedule singing lessons and coachings, so that I can work on the role with my
teachers who know my long term goals or coaches who have expertise in a particular
language or period of music.
I will then sit down with my score at the piano and note-bash, and learn the melody methodically. Sometimes I create learning tracks that I can use whilst travelling on the tube, or in between singing practise.
Then with my schedule set, I make sure that I keep to it and with my fingers crossed and hope that nothing unforeseen turns up. Once I have the music underway I then have to start work on learning the words. But I will save how I do that for another time 🙂