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It's our Birthday!

Welcome to this special birthday issue of the Your Accompanist Newsletter. We're one year old this month! To celebrate, we're offering a 10% discount on all purchases of three or more tracks until the end of April. Simply enter the code 'birthday' when checking out your order.

In this edition, we take you on a trip down memory lane to look at the John Curwen's modulator and we bring you some very good reasons for singing with even the smallest of infants. There's part two of our singers' glossary. We profile the talented Las Vegas mezzo-soprano and voice teacher, Heather Knowles and take a masterclass or two from the great Elizabeth Schwartzkopf in our performance tips section.

Best wishes from The Your Accompanist Team

PS: We now have all our back issues of the newsletter available to view online. You can view them in the original format, or browse the articles by type.


Latest AddtionsWhat's new to the catalogue?

Since our last newsletter, among others by Mendelssohn, Brahms, Schumann and Schubert, we have added...

Two favourite songs by Beethoven: 'Adelaide' and 'Ich Liebe Dich' in high, mezzo and low versions.

Gounod's 'Jewel Song' from Faust; several additions to our Fauré list including the wonderful, 'Notre Amour' and captivating, 'Les Roses D'Ispahan'.

Songs by George Butterworth (whose tragic early death in action in 1916 deprived England of a potentially great composer).

Several of the Mörike and Eichendorff songs by Hugo Wolf and a double volume collection of Mozart Lieder: Volume 1: 1781 - 1785 and Volume 2: 1787 - 1791

We hope you enjoy singing to them as much as we enjoyed recording them for you.

Latest additions: www.youraccompanist.com/latest

Collections: www.youraccompanist.com/collections

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Early development and auditory memory

Picture of small infantHere at Your Accompanist, we'd just been talking about how important it is to sing to your children as soon as possible when this wonderful picture arrived from one of our singers in Africa who clearly knows how important it is to start early. She describes her delightful new grandson as her 'little one-man audience' and sings to him regularly - he certainly looks as though he's very doing well as a result of her efforts!

It's all about our auditory memory and the part it plays in child development. If you are fortunate enough to have a well developed 'auditory' memory it means you have the very useful ability to recall and process information that has been received by your ears rather than by your eyes. Information received by listening - instructions, directions, shopping lists, verbal descriptions of events, stories, songs, jingles - is processed by a different part of the brain from information that has been absorbed visually. It's vital to everybody's functioning in day-to-day life and there's an increasing body of evidence now to suggest that auditory memory is active at a very early stage in a child's development, with a lasting beneficial effect for future learning and self confidence.

Some expert opinion argues that auditory memory is more developed in humans than visual memory. This could explain why an average person can sing along with 2000 songs they never intended to learn and why an 'oral tradition' is enjoyed by so many cultures. Research also shows that children who are exposed to sound patterns at an early age are at a real advantage when it comes to learning to read and develop language skills.

Music has a vital part to play in these processes. As every parent, grandparent or carer knows, even very young children respond well to familiar songs and nursery rhymes. When we sing action rhymes, memory and 'sequencing' songs like Old Macdonald or Ten Green Bottles to our children, it really can help them develop these memory and sequencing skills. It's now also suggested that it can improve a child's ability to concentrate. Just think of the concentration involved in 'The Twelve Days of Christmas'!

As well as having an important educational impact, this kind of singing is also great fun, developing our children's confidence and the strengthening the bond between generations.

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Singing Terms The Your Accompanist ABC of singing terms

Ballad - a narrative song, traditional or in a traditional style. By the 19th and early 20th centuries it usually applied to a rather sentimental 'parlour' song like 'Home Sweet Home' or 'drawing-room' ballad like Amy Woodforde-Finden's Kashmiri Song (note the 'Gosford Park' style class distinction!)

Ballad Opera - A light operatic entertainment in England made fashionable by John Gay's The Beggar's Opera (1728) and lasting until about 1760. Made up of short popular songs of the day linked together by dialogue - sometimes rather tenuously.

Bas-dessus - a very old name for a mezzo-soprano (literally 'low above' in French)

Bel canto - 'beautiful singing' in the traditional Italian manner - beautiful tone; perfect phrasing; perfect pronunciation and articulation - every singer's dream...

Bis! - what you'd hope to hear if you sing in France. English speakers say 'Encore!', but the French use the Latin word for 'twice'

Bravura - means courage, bravery or 'guts' in Italian and used to describe passages in the music that call for feats of incredible virtuosity. Good example? - closing section of Joan Sutherland's 1959 performance of the 'mad scene' from Donizetti's 'Lucy of Lammermoor'. (second thoughts - the whole thing!)

Break - where the tone quality of the voice changes between different registers of the voice. Described by some as a 'natural defect' which may (or may not) be able to be smoothed out by technique. - every singer's nightmare...

'Breeches' Role (also 'trouser' or 'pants' role)- where a mezzo or contralto takes the part of a young man. Good examples, Frederica von Stade's 'Cherubino' in Mozart's Marriage of Figaro and Sena Jurinac as 'Octavian' in Richard Strauss' 'Der Rosenkavalier'

Brindisi - a drinking song or drinking a toast to someone's good health in an opera. Famous ones - from La Traviata by Verdi and Mascagni's Cavallera Rusticana

Buffo - Often used to describe comic roles - like 'basso buffo', 'Don Pasquale'

Burden - another (very old) name for the refrain sung at the end of each verse of a song

Burletta - a light comic opera of the 18th and early 19th century (means 'a little joke' in Italian). Sometimes in English, it was also called a 'burlesque'.

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Performance tips: Elizabeth Schwartzkopf

The unforgettable Dame Elizabeth Schwarzkopf died in August 2006 at the age of 90. We're fortunate that some of her masterclasses are now available on You Tube as videos. Some might have felt daunted by her uncompromising rigour but surely no one would ever question her musical intelligence and generosity when sharing her experience with young singers.



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Newsletter

Special 1st Birthday Issue
April 2008


In this issue:
New to the catalogue
Mr Modulator: John Curwen
Early development and auditory memory
Gifts for Singers: The Book of Lieder
Singer profile: Heather Knowles
ABC of singing terms: Singing 'B's
Closing date for BBC's Choir Wars
We're on Facebook
Performance tips: Elizabeth Schwartzkopf
About Your Accompanist


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Mr Modulator: John Curwen

Curwen's ModulatorWe wonder if this brings back happy memories for anyone?

Curwen's 'modulator' hanging over the blackboard - as it had been hung for over a hundred years before - and teacher with long pointer, making what seemed like random prods at the names whilst encouraging her pupils to hit the right note (sometimes using hand signs too). Singing lessons in schools have changed a lot over the years but this was the experience of many of us who were at school in Scotland in the late 1950s.

Like other teaching methods of the time (learning 'times tables' or memorising poems) it was perhaps little bit less 'child friendly' than Maria's approach in Sound of Music's 'Doh-a Deer' but, surprisingly, it was actually very effective - if a little taxing for those of us who endured it. Teamed with time names (remember 'ta-fa-te-fe-ti-fi'?), it gave everyone a starting point for coping with reading pitch and rhythm. Interval leaps and sight singing from sol-fa became second nature and when presented with a page of printed sol-fa, many of us could read it as fast, if not faster, than 'lines and spaces'.

Hands up who can say what this song is, children (click on each one to find out the answers)

Practicality must have been Congregationalist minister, John Curwen's (1816-1880) watchword. He wanted to improve singing in Sunday Schools and was the great disseminator of Sarah Glover's (1785-1867) original invention of 'Norwich Sol-fa', developing it into what became known as 'Tonic Sol-fa' (the 'movable doh' system).

This accessible form of writing down music messages could cope with pitch and rhythm (yes, rhythm - don't let doubters tell you otherwise!) and made modulation (changing key) a 'breeze'. Interestingly, in America, although it's unlikely Curwen would have known it, a similar system was being developed by D. Sower called 'The Norristown New and Much Improved Music Reader' which used letter names on the staff.

Printed Tonic Sol-fa was a simple and inspired way to produce accessible music at a fraction of the cost of engraved staff notation - a very important consideration for mass education. Curwen eventually set up a printing works to cope with demand. It became so widespread in its use that even a Sol-fa College was established - awarding its graduates the most spectacular engraved certificates. Many hymnals were produced in Sol-fa versions.

Whole choirs in the burgeoning towns of industrial Britain learned from Curwen's method and often even undertook works like Handel's 'Messiah' in this format. In Wales particularly, the tradition was very strong. Pioneered by Eleazar Roberts - a great and unsung music educator, it underpinned all music making in the Principality from the 1860s. Even when presented with it now, children in Welsh schools will tell you that they can't work it but 'Nain' (grandma) can!'

Today in classrooms around the world there are still children learning to sing with John Curwen's method. It underwent a major revision in the 1970s and 80s to become the 'New Curwen method' using the hand signs almost exclusively.

But for those of us lucky enough to have caught the end of its full force, it gave us the confidence to sing out. The only problem came when we had to move on to conventional notation - but that's another story...

Further information
Robin Steven's fascinating work on the subject
John Curwen Society website
Solmization article in the Canadian Encyclopedia
Tonic sol-fa
history from Phonoarchive.org

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Gifts for Singers:
Richard Stokes, The Book of Lieder

The Book of Lieder by Richard StokesThis unique volume contains, in parallel translation, a thousand of the most frequently performed Lieder, both piano-accompanied and orchestral. Composers are arranged alphabetically, with their songs appearing under poet in chronological order of composition - thus allowing the reader to engage in depth with a particular poet and at the same time to follow the composer's development.

It's a must for serious lieder addicts everywhere!

Available from Amazon and all good bookshops.

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Singer ProfileSinger Profile: Heather Knowles

Heather Knowles is a mezzo-soprano who has been coaching private voice and piano students in Las Vegas since 2001. Her award winning students of all ages certainly keep her busy, but she found time to tell us a bit about herself, her work and how to make the most of your voice.

Heather Knowles

Hi Heather! Perhaps you could start by telling us a bit about how you got into singing?
I’d started piano at six and saxophone in 4th grade, but didn’t start singing officially until I was fifteen. I signed up for choir as a sophomore in high school and the choir director recommended that I should start singing lessons. Other early memories are of singing at church; pretending to be Olivia Newton John or Sheena Easton – giving concerts on the front porch; getting out my grandma’s guitar and the tape recorder singing with my cousin, Anne

Tell us about your favourite song.
Singing has come fairly easily to me and I just love to sing. With so many favorites it’s hard to pick just one. I love operatic arias just as much as blues songs and am always digging around for "new" songs. I feel the same about composers - there are so many great ones. Right now? - French chansons.

Who or what is your biggest musical influence?
So many people have influenced my musical career. My family have supported me at all times, even when they didn't think I’d make much of a living as a musician. All of my teachers - because they have helped me get to this point. My students – because, each and every day, they challenge me in ways that they don't even realize.

Do you have a top tip for getting the most from your voice?
You will sing well if you learn to listen to your body and listen to your teachers about what "fits" your voice. Learn about healthy singing, take care of yourself and learn how to find your "zone". Strive to find your natural voice. Don't try to make your voice fit music that doesn't suit you. We'd all love to sing every song we love, but it's just not possible sometimes.

Learn to be flexible and try new things. One of the most frustrating, yet greatest things in my singing career was when I learned I was really a mezzo-soprano. Once I adjusted my singing and breathing techniques to fit what I was, I really felt like I was "home" in my voice. I have to thank my teacher, Michael, for helping me discover these things.

Tell us about a recent concert you performed in. What was on the programme? Did you share the programme with other artists?
My most recent solo recital was in January, 2007 at the University of Nevada - Las Vegas. I performed with my accompanist, Amy Homer. It was called "Come to My Garden".

Read the full interview and hear Heather singing Handel and Cui

Heather's websites:
www.heatherknowles.net

www.myspace.com/heatherknowlesmezzosoprano

If you would like to be featured in a future singer profile, please email: profiles@youraccompanist.com

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Closing date for BBC's Choir Wars

If your choir hasn't already entered you'd better move quickly! The closing date for entering the BBC's UK choir competition taking place this autumn is Friday, 18th April 2008.

Get an application pack now, visit the website or call the information line on 09001 800 313 (BT landline cost 60p) for further details.

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We're on Facebook

If you're a member of the online community Facebook, you might like to know that we recently started a page for Fans of Your Accompanist. It's a great place to make contact with other singers, ask questions in forums and get answers from singers all over the world drawing on a wealth of varied experience at all levels. You can write reviews about us to tell us what you think of our products and communications. You'll also get regular special offers and sneak previews!

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About Your Accompanist

We make real piano rehearsal tracks for singers. All tracks are recorded by a real pianist on a real piano in a single take. You download them directly to your PC in MP3 format. They can then be transferred directly to any portable MP3 player (such as an iPod or, Sony MP3 walkman, Archos box or iRiver), or burned to CD.

They are ideal for soloists, ensembles, choirs and classrooms, for those who sing professionally, recreationally or secretly. The quality of the musicianship and sensitivity of the performances means that the accompaniments make great listening, even for those who don't sing along.

Our catalogue covers a large part of the standard repertoire and is growing all the time. We bring you a wide variety of genres and composers, and aim to cater for all vocal ranges and levels of proficiency. Each track can be sampled on the site so you can be sure you've got the piece you want.

We believe very strongly in the importance of music in education, and have a great deal of experience in the field. We hope to support music teachers, promote singing in the classroom and provide an effective low cost solution for singing teaching situations where good quality live accompaniment is not readily available.

All of our tracks are available for instant download, so if we've already got the piece you want, there's no need to wait for a CD via post. If you'd like something we don't already have, or you need it in a different key, let us know. If it's in the public domain and we can get hold of the music, we could have it online for you quite quickly.

Read more in our User Guide: www.youraccompanist.com/userguide.

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