It's wonderful to see how standard 'classical' vocal repertoire is being given a fresh interpretation by some of today's best selling artists. Apart from Barbara Streisand's delightful version of Debussy's 'Beau Soir' and Alison Moyet's compelling rendering of 'Dido's Lament', another very recent release that's worthy of mention is Sting's album,'If On A Winter's Night...'
It's an imaginative and eclectic selection of fifteen seasonal songs appropriately including 'Hurdy Gurdy Man' - Sting's version of Schubert's 'Die Leiermann' from 'Winterreise' and the album also features favourites like Balulalow, Gabriel's Message and Michael Preatorius' carol 'Er Ist Ein Ros'.
His version of Purcell's 'Now Winter Comes Slowly' - from 'The Fairy Queen' has a subtle ground bass (basso ostinato) very similar to the famous one in the aria 'When I Am Laid In Earth' (Dido's Lament) - clever and inventive stuff!
I still believe I hear hidden beneath the palm trees her voice, tender and deep like the song of a dove oh enchanting night divine rapture delightful memory mad intoxication, sweet dream in the clear starlight I still believe I see her half drawing her long veil to the warm night breeze oh night.
Sumer Is Icumen In... and it's always hard to know what to do to keep the kids happy during those long school holidays - especially if the weather turns rainy. Why not ring the changes with a little singing this year?
Why not go for the full multi-media experience and get out the coloured pens or paintboxes too. You'll be amazed at how many pictures of the stories and characters in the songs they can produce for you to decorate the fridge when they've all gone back to school.
And if all else fails to pacify, you can always try singing them 'Hush Little Baby'...
Earlier this year we were honoured to be the website of the week on the all-new opera blog Operagasm.
We thought we'd return the compliment by introducing you to the website, and the passionate singers behind the project. The site aims to offer a substantive, cutting edge perspective on current events, news, reviews, interviews, fashion and editorial contributions regarding opera and classical music.
The Operagasm blog was established by a collaboration of three singers: Mezzo-sopranos Christie Connolley and Erika Papillon Posey, and Soprano Melissa Wimbish.
It's an entertaining finger on the pulse of the US Opera scene with a very broad spectrum of contributions and topics.
Since his tragically early death in 1892, English composer Arthur Goring Thomas has been sadly neglected. We’ve recently uploaded two of his beautiful atmospheric songs ‘A Summer Night’ and ‘The Viking’s Daughter’ and hope that these might stand as a small tribute to his skills as a composer.
Not only has the British government launched a £6 million drive to promote singing in primary schools, but the BBC has just announced that the 2008 Saturday night talent show to keep us all on the edge of our seats will see choirs large and small give it their all for a place in the final of the Radio 3 Choir of the Year competition: Choir Wars!
A 'habanera' is a slow melodic dance with words to be sung. Characteristically, it has two beats in the bar split into four quavers with first one dotted. The melody starts on the second beat in two equal quavers with a triplet on the first beat of the next bar. The form, originally from Cuba (hence the name) is now firmly fixed in the Spanish and Spanish American music traditions, but is thought to have originated in Africa. One of the best known habaneras - hugely popular in the Spanish speaking world when it was written and still loved throughout the wider world today - is 'La Paloma' (La Colombe) by Yradier. It's one of the world's most recorded songs.
Not too much seems to be known about the life of Yradier. Born into a Spanish Basque family in 1809, he died in 1865, blind and in relative obscurity. We know he spent some time in Cuba and as a result, gave the world this wonderful piece inspired by his time there. We know too that his publishers persuaded him to change his name from Sebastián de Iradier y Salaverri to Yradier, presumably in the hope that it would be easier for most people to remember. One of his many habaneras, 'Ay Chicita' (from his work 'El Arregilito') was regularly sung in a popular Parisian café in the 1860s by a colourful character called (Celeste Vénard La Mogador) thought to have been Bizet's inspiration for 'Carmen' (although, not Merrimée's). It's said that Bizet believed 'Ay Chicita' was a just folk song when he heard Venard sing it (c.1865) and so used the tune in his opera, 'Carmen'. Today, we know it as the opera's famous Habanera - 'L'amour est un oiseau rebelle'.
Perhaps it's wrong to accuse Bizet of plagiarism, but Bizet and Yradier were contemporaries and it's highly likely that he would have known of the Spaniard's work. Who could blame Bizet for just recognising this song as an absolute show-stopper and using it in his opera?
From the dates, Yradier might only have recently died when Bizet decided to include it. Maybe Yradier was aware of it - or even approved. Who knows? The irony is that Bizet did not live long enough either to see how successful the Carmen habanera would become. He died only three months after Carmen's first performance in 1875 without knowing that the opera would ever achieve success.
So the next time you hear the 'Habanera' from Carmen, please spare a thought for it's original composer - 'Yradier', the Basque composer who also gave us the wonderful,
When a boy's voice 'breaks' it can be very upsetting for him until it settles down again into his adult register. It usually happens between the ages of eleven and fifteen and can be sudden or gradual. Male vocal chords more than double in length, the voice box tilts to create the distinctive 'Adam's Apple' and facial bones grow leaving bigger resonating spaces within the face.
The result of all this is that the frequency of the vibrating vocal chords may go from 200 times per second to around 130 - slower and deeper. Sometimes to avoid adding to the embarrassment of random squeaks or croaks, teachers just excuse their students from singing temporarily until it sorts itself out, but some authorities recommend that a boy doesn't sing at all for up to five years until his voice has completely settled down. Probably, most would opt for a compromise because there is a serious danger that if boys do stop singing at this critical time, they may give up completely.
Teenagers have enough to cope with without this extra worry, so reassurance has to be very important. As a parent, carer or teacher, try to prepare them for it so that it doesn't come as a surprise. Explain the physiology. Tell them that it happens to every young man and that it won't last for long. Not to worry if it hasn't happened yet - Aled Jones was sixteen when his voice broke - and if they're still anxious, encourage them to have a chat with their GP.
Keep them singing a little and experimenting so that they can look forward to the voices they're going to have. Choose your material carefully - maybe fall back on some sea shanties or something like Coleridge Taylor's Viking Song. If they were standing among the sopranos, let them move over only when they feel ready. Support from peers is very important so get everyone involved to accept it as normal and enjoy the outcome. Added bonus - maybe you'll get that extra tenor you were hoping for...
A marvellous pair of YouTube videos containing the musings of accompanist and ranconteur Gerald Moore, an English pianist best known for his career as one of the most in-demand accompanists of his day, accompanying many of the world's most famous musicians.
Here he offers a highly entertaining masterclass on the Art of the Accompanist.
Ever heard Hubert Eisdell or Trevor Jones sing? Nowadays, their style of singing might be considered a bit unfashionable, but no one could ever find fault with their diction – clear as a bell. Especially in ballads and Victorian songs where so much of the enjoyment and understanding of the song is bound up in the lyric, it has to be all about clear enunciation.
Producing notes in tune? Not so easy. Often the people who are responsible for teaching this skill can't remember ever learning it themselves - it's just something they've always known how to do. Unlike instrumentalists, singers have to 'magic' their notes out of their whole bodies somehow. But what if someone just doesn't know how?
A question of confidence How many times have you heard someone say, 'Oh, I'm completely tone-deaf?' Ask yourself, ‘What are they actually saying?' 'Who told him or her that was what was wrong?' Most of all ask yourself, 'Why did nobody help?' Sure, it might be an excuse not to join in - a bit like a reluctant cross-country runner. Fair enough. If someone chooses not to sing, ok, but so many times this is said by people who really do want to sing - witness the 'loosened' up wedding guest when the karaoke machine appears.
It's never too late to try A common undiagnosed problem is that children who have suffered ear infections early in life ('Glue ear') have often missed out on what is now recognised as a critical phase in their development, but that doesn't mean they can't 'rewire' at a later stage in life. There's plenty anecdotal and researched evidence to say that it's never too late at least to try. It is better though if you can do something about it sooner rather than later.
Singing strategies So if you're the one dealing with children; teenagers; adults who can't find their notes what can you do? Sounds obvious perhaps, but just keep at it - it will happen. You sing the note and let the child copy. Make it a game. Get them to help each other. Pair up ones who can with ones who can't and hope it's the positive that rubs off! Don't single out any child unless they really want to go solo. Absolutely do not go round the group listening to individuals and telling some to 'be quiet' (trust us, it happens) - or for that matter, to 'sing up'.
If they can hear you speak, then they can hear you sing and they will find your note eventually. Mostly, the problem is that they haven't had the chance. Until you came along, probably no one has ever asked them to do it.
Sirening One thing that works and you might like to try is getting them to 'siren' it . Get them to find a note just higher than their speaking pitch (if you can work it out). Then you sing one a bit higher and ask them to make a long continuous upwards sound like a warning siren - starting low (always) and rising until it hits yours on the way up. Stop them, when they arrive at the right note and say well done! Have another go and then another and another until they can see what placing a note feels like. Don't worry if it sounds like demented singspiel. In fact, don't worry about anything at all, just keep at it. It takes some doing especially with self-conscious and unwilling teens, but try to remember what Ghandi said, 'First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win'. Just insist.
Critical accompaniment Nothing wrong with unaccompanied or 'a capella' singing but it takes confidence and experience. So initially, another thing that helps -apart from your singing with them - is the support of an accompaniment (well, we would say that wouldn't we - but it's true!). It doesn't matter if it's a piano, guitar, or harp, it can be anything that can provide a reliable reference point for pitch (make sure it's in tune).
Don't be persuaded that untuned percussion is a great idea. It will just make already poor intonation execrable for you (and for listeners at the end of term concert) It's just a distraction. Leave it in the cupboard for later when their pitch is more secure. Don’t let it re-appear until then. Ignore the protests. Just resist.
Get practising In terms of suitable material, when they do begin to feel more confident, start simple and get it right before you move on. Nursery Rhymes can work for all age groups. Try simple well known hymns, work songs or sea shanties. If you're mindful of multi-cultural or heritage issues, try Ode to Joy sung to 'La'. Go for the tried and tested favourites rather than 'of the minute' material. There's a reason for why they've lasted and there's a better chance that they will be recognised and reinforced at home. Ignore the protests. It will come right. Just persist.
Kiri Ti Kanawa announces her retirement from opera
News that Dame Kiri Te Kanawa is to retire from the opera stage after her final performance as the Marschallin in Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier in Koln April 2010 will be met with understanding by opera-lovers - albeit, tinged with some sadness. She herself, at 65 years young admits that opera is exhausting work.
For the last 40 years, her glorious voice has delighted audiences worldwide and we're happy to know that she will still be giving recitals and touring.
Her public also will be reassured to hear that she intends to continue with her work in training the opera stars of tomorrow through the Solti Academy and the Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation.
Here she presents one of our favourite performances of one of our favourite pieces:Nell by Fauré:
As you can probably imagine, we've been following the developments in the BBC's Saturday night choir competition, Last Choir Standing. Now in it's fourth week of broadcast, there has already been much heartache and disappointment for those choirs who weren't chosen by the judges.
After this beginning, our anticipation of what's to follow is palpable. Any group of singers who even got to this first round has done well. Reducing the numbers by a half in the next round will probably be excruciating.
Some have already said, 'why can't we have nice singing without the pernicious element of competition'. Well, 'twas ever thus' as those of us who can remember music festivals from our youth must know. Unfortunately - or fortunately, depending on your standpoint - it's the competitive element that often generates interest in an activity. Once we're over the 'gladiatorial' hurdle, then we begin to look for the art.
We were particularly moved by the engaging and talented Dreemz from West Bromwich who prove just how far singers can get by listening to one another. We only hope that the choirs not successful in the competition will still continue to enjoy singing together. It was great to see such a young choir brimming with growth and potential after such a short time together. They should be proud of their achievement getting through to the final fifteen.
Standing out of the crowd, are the rather epic Ysgol Glanethwy, whose passionate of performance Adiamus this Saturday immediately confirmed their class and sent them through to the final six. We've loved them since they sang Rhythm of Life in Welsh at the callbacks! (Catch it on the bbc website). We wouldn't be at all surprised to see them go all the way.
We're looking forward to lots more excellent singing gracing our Saturday evenings, or indeed any time we like with BBC iPlayer! If you're not based in the UK and would like to follow the competition, or if you've missed an episode, you can catch up on the official website: www.bbc.co.uk/lastchoirstanding.
06 - Catalogue Update - November 2008 - New accompaniment MP3s
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The nights are drawing in
Although it's a pity that the summer is over, the long nights are a clear sign that the the festive season is on its way, and with it the excitement of choosing and rehearsing your pieces, limbering up your voice for the forthcoming carolling period.
Our congratulations to BBC2's Gareth Malone whose sterling, efforts to get teenage boys to sing strikes resonant chords in the hearts of those who have also tried... and terror into the hearts of those who have not.
Many of us have grown up singing carols at Christmastime. Often, it has been a very happy way for us to learn to sing. With all the excitement of each festive season, maybe we haven't had much time to think about why we do it or how the tradition started. Catch up now…
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Whatever kind of singing you enjoy, alone or with others, you'll find your favourite public domain songs in our catalogue. We cover a wide range of singing styles: classical to traditional; lullabies to lieder; operetta to art song; nursery rhymes to shanties and sea songs; oratorio to music hall. We've got over 1300 titles to choose from. So, get rehearsing and recording, and get in touch!