Keeping it in the Family – Lily joins Fascinating Rhythm
Lily is well-known to Fascinating Rhythm because she’s been supporting our chorus at concerts and competitions and coming along to rehearsals with her mum since she was seven years old. It was in being part of the Fascinating Rhythm family that inspired Lily to join. “I really like all the ladies and wanted to sing with them”, she explains.
Lily is looking forward to learning our repertoire, especially the Pachelbel Canon (her favourite Fascinating Rhythm song) and singing on stage at the Ladies Association of British Barbershop Singers (LABBS) Convention. “I went to my first Convention when I was nine years old and have been every year since. I watched all the quartets and gave them marks. I loved it!” she says. “I’m looking forward to competing with Fascinating Rhythm and seeing what happens backstage!”
Lily’s mum, Sarah, says, “I came to my first Fascinating Rhythm rehearsal in June 2014 (having been to one of the Learn To Sing days) and passed my audition three weeks later. Now, exactly seven years on, Lily has done the same! I know the date because every year, I give our Musical Director, Jo, an FR anniversary card.”
Sarah feels pleased that Lily will be joining her in the Baritone section and keeping it in the family. “It’s brilliant because Lily’s a better singer than me and will help me learn. Plus, she knows how to download the teach tracks to her phone, so I’m hoping she’ll do mine too!” Sarah says.
Musical Director Jo Thorn says, “what an absolute joy to have Lily joining us; she is an incredibly talented young lady who we have witnessed grow and flourish over the last few years. We know only too well the social value of belonging to a community such as Fascinating Rhythm, and we hope that Lily will gain so much more singing skills whilst she is with us. The confidence that can come from spending time with like-minded people is priceless. I joined my first female chorus at the same age and instantly gained 40 new ‘mother figures’ – we aim to ensure that Lily has great fun with us whilst learning a whole host of singing and life skills. It also, of course, brings down the average age of Fascinating Rhythm, so a total win-win!”
Lily is a former member of Junior FR and is the first person to move up to Fascinating Rhythm from our girls’ choir. “I joined Junior FR when mum was helping direct their show ‘Cinderella’ in 2015. I got a part in the chorus, and I liked it because I met people and made friends from outside of school,” she remembers.
Junior FR’s Musical Director, Wendy, is over the moon that Lily is joining Fascinating Rhythm. “I was privileged to sing with Lily during her first assessment piece, and she sounds amazing!” Wendy says. “Lily holds her part really well and has a beautiful voice with a lovely tone. She’s going to be a cracking member of the chorus.”
“One of the things we’ve always flagged up for the Junior FR girls is to come through the choir and end up in Fascinating Rhythm, but it hasn’t ever happened before – Lily is our first candidate to do it! I’m absolutely delighted that she has chosen to carry on her singing and it’s so lovely that she can do it with her mum,” Wendy enthuses.
Wendy hopes that Lily will be an inspiration to other former Junior FR girls who left a few years ago. “We always invite ex-Junior FR girls to our Learn To Sing days, so they know Fascinating Rhythm is here, and we would love to have them come along to a rehearsal,” she says.
Sarah says, “If you’re thinking of taking up singing or joining a choir, I’d say just go for it! I walked into my first rehearsal alone, not knowing anyone, and it was the best thing I ever did… (apart from having Lily, obviously!).”
If you are inspired to join Fascinating Rhythm or Junior FR, please contact us via our website.
Fascinating Rhythm is getting back to rehearsals.
Fascinating Rhythm members are excited to be getting back to in-person rehearsals after more than a year of meeting online, thanks to Yate Town Football Club offering its stand as an outdoor venue.
According to the latest UK Government guidance, amateur singing groups can meet outdoors in groups of up to 30, as long as they adhere to social distancing and hygiene rules. In line with this, Fascinating Rhythm’s membership will split into two groups that will meet separately in Yate on a Thursday evening.
Fascinating Rhythm’s Chair, Iris, says, “We were following the timetable for lockdown easing and working with our usual venue on a risk assessment to ensure a safe return to indoor rehearsals. However, an unexpected change to the coronavirus guidance last month put those plans on hold. Thankfully, Yate Town FC stepped in and offered us the use of the covered stand until we can re-group as a single choir indoors.”
The past year has been challenging for singers, with choirs unable to meet in person due to the coronavirus pandemic. Since the first lockdown in March 2020, Fascinating Rhythm has adapted to weekly Zoom meetings and staying connected through social media.
“Over the past year, we’ve struggled to sing together online because four-part a capella harmony just doesn’t work on Zoom!” says Fascinating Rhythm’s Musical Director Jo Thorn. “But we’ve embraced the opportunity to work on other elements of our craft, learn some new songs and make a couple of lockdown videos. Most importantly, we’ve stayed socially connected in what has been an incredibly isolating time for the whole country.”
Fascinating Rhythm’s Social Media Manager, Erica, captured the chorus reunion on camera. “It’s quite emotional for us, coming back together and singing one of our favourite songs. I can’t wait until we can all meet properly as a full choir and get back to making that unique Fascinating Rhythm sound,” she says.
Jo agrees, “Whilst we don’t know how soon we will be able to return to indoor rehearsals at The Greenfield Centre, we’re glad to have the chance to get back to singing together and are grateful to Yate Town FC for their support and hospitality. Perhaps we can grace the stand with a four-part harmony football chant or two!”
The New Members Guide to Joining a Choir During a Pandemic!
Anne-marie, Emma and Fionna
Fascinating Rhythm members say that the best part of being in a choir is the fun, friendship and joy of group singing. However, when Anne-marie, Emma and Fionna decided to join Fascinating Rhythm after coming to our tenth Learn To Sing Workshop in February 2020, they got a little more (or less) than they bargained for.
Just a few weeks after our three ‘newbies’ passed their auditions, the coronavirus pandemic plunged us into a national lockdown. Our weekly face-to-face rehearsals at The Greenfield Centre in Winterbourne were cancelled, and we scrambled to find a way for our choir to meet online.
Despite the highs and lows of Zoom rehearsals, Anne-marie, Emma and Fionna have stuck with us over the past fifteen months, becoming fully-fledged members of Fascinating Rhythm.
Now, with the prospect of a return to in-person rehearsals insight, we asked them what it’s been like as a ‘newbies’ during the pandemic and what they’re looking forward to about singing with the chorus post-lockdown.
What encouraged you to join Fascinating Rhythm?
Fionna: “I’ve known about Fascinating Rhythm for about ten years because I made the bookings for Rangeworthy Village Hall, where you used to rehearse. I’ve always liked singing, and I sang in the school choir, but I never considered myself good enough to sing with you because you always seem so professional, dedicated and talented!”
Emma: “I did lots of singing when I was younger, but then family, marriage and work took over. I’d heard Fascinating Rhythm sing lots of times because my daughter sings with Junior FR, and I felt very jealous that she was singing with a choir. Wendy persuaded me to come along to the Learn To Sing day, and I was completely hooked!”
Anne-marie: “I’ve been coming to your Learn To Sing workshops for several years but wasn’t able to join the chorus because of work and family commitments. Then, in October 2019, Wendy came to a singing forum for my Music With Mummy business, and I just thought, ‘I have to do this now!’ I spend my life singing for work, but I also want to sing for pleasure.”
Fionna: “I’ve actually been to four Learn To Sing days! But it was the last two that really persuaded me to join Fascinating Rhythm because I just loved the songs. Attending the workshops helped me build my confidence, as I don’t read music or play an instrument.”
What were your first (in-person) rehearsals like?
Anne-marie: “What I loved about walking into my first rehearsal was feeling very comfortable. I knew quite a few people, and there were familiar faces from the Learn to Sing day, which made me feel happier.”
Emma: “I was petrified of coming to my first rehearsal – it’s a bit intimidating seeing you all on the risers being amazing! But everyone was welcoming and supportive, and people I’d met at the Learn to Sing day came over to say hello. It made me feel part of something special.”
Fionna: “Everyone was friendly, very chatty and welcoming, and to stand on the risers and hear the sound all around me – being part of that was amazing!”
Fionna: “Fascinating Rhythm has a reputation for a high standard, but I found that as long as you have the basics of singing, you can learn the rest. It’s been a really positive experience.”
Emma: “Joining Fascinating Rhythm pushed me outside my comfort zone, but I was brought in very quickly. I was terrified of the audition, but once I passed, it was the best feeling ever!”
What has been your experience of online rehearsals?
Emma: “When the pandemic started, everything went crazy! Working from home and home-schooling was challenging and I felt like I spent far too much time on Zoom. But Fascinating Rhythm gave me something just for me, away from work and the family – my escape (even if still at home)!”
Fionna: “Zoom has been good because everyone joins the call with their name on display, so I’ve been able to get to know who everyone is. But I don’t like being in a big group on screen – it’s quite daunting.”
Emma: “I’ve tried to turn Zoom into a positive, and Jo, Karen L, Wendy and others have put in so much energy, structure and momentum to the online rehearsals. I went through stages of “I can’t face it” on Zoom because of work, but I was never made to feel I had to be there. The fact that we’ve all kept going is a real testament to Fascinating Rhythm as a group.”
Anne-marie: “I lack the confidence to speak up when we talk about what the songs are about, but part of our new process for learning is getting to the essence of a song. I’m just concentrating on remembering the notes and words – then I’m happy.”
Emma: “Not knowing the warm-ups was a challenge, but Wendy and Karen did an amazing job of getting us up to speed. It was also hard to get to know people online, but the Bass WhatsApp group and buddying-up with Anne-marie and Kate B really helped, as did the breakout groups organised by Jo.”
Fionna: “One of the funniest Zoom moments was playing The Generation Game on party night. I knocked my laptop over when I was passing things in front of the screen – and that was just one of, lots of things, that went wrong!”
Anne-marie: “… and Becky’s voiceover commentary was hilarious.”
Emma: “I’ve laughed ’til I’ve cried on Zoom with Fascinating Rhythm. The Generation Game was a real Tena-Lady moment! And when Jo asked people to say the song lyrics in ‘what’s the next line?’ and no-one could remember the words! I’ve also cried because it’s been so emotional: when Di sang with her daughter Mads, it was so beautiful.”
Has singing helped during lockdown?
Fionna: “Jo did lessons with us in the early part of the first lockdown. It was like getting free singing lessons, and it really helped! It’s quite reassuring to feel like there is a process and a system for learning and assessment that you all follow. Although lockdown has taken away a huge amount of song-learning time because I used to do it in the car.”
Anne-marie: “I drive half an hour to work (and half an hour back) every day, so I use that time for song learning. Sometimes I’ll listen to teach tracks when I’m out walking and sing along in the quiet country lanes. My partner joins in too – he’s been learning with me!”
Emma: “During the lockdown, I’ve had time to catch up on the basics of learning songs. Anne-marie and I chivvied each other along. At the weekends, I’d go into the garden and sing for a couple of hours.”
Anne-marie: “I’ve loved learning the repertoire – it’s kept me sane during the lockdown. I’ve been doing about one song per month. Emma and I buddied up with Kate B, supporting each other on WhatsApp and motivating each other for recording – we call ourselves the Bass Buddies.”
Fionna: “The first two audition songs were assessed in person (singing in a quartet with the Section Leaders and Jo listening), and I found it hard to keep my part. I much prefer being able to record on my own at home against the teach track – it removes the nerves of doing it in-person during the tea break. So, I’m very keen to get as many songs signed off as possible before lockdown ends!”
Anne-marie: “The first song I have to record to send in was ‘And So It Goes’. I didn’t realise you just had to do an audio track, so I put make-up on and did a full video! Brenda always says lovely things when giving feedback on my recordings, even if there’s a bit I have to work on. She’s very supportive.”
Emma: “When I signed off ‘This Is Me’, I felt like I’d made it! The hardest to learn was ‘Listen To The Music’ – I was nearly in tears over that one, but Brenda’s encouraging feedback helped me to get there in the end.”
Anne-marie: “My best bit has been receiving a certificate for passing all my audition pieces – it was the highlight of my lockdown!”
What’s your favourite Fascinating Rhythm song?
Fionna: “I like ‘Make Your Own Kind Of Music, which I’ve learnt, and ‘Titanium’ is one of my favourite songs anyway.”
Anne-marie: “My favourites are ‘City Of Stars’, ‘Anthem’ and ‘And So It Goes’. I was learning City Of Stars’ when my dog was poorly. Sadly, he’s passed away now, but every time I sing it, I sing it for him.”
Emma: “‘And So It Goes’ is my absolute favourite Fascinating Rhythm song. ‘Titanium’ was one of my favourites before, and I can’t wait to sing it with the chorus. ‘Anthem’, too.”
What are you most looking forward to about returning to in-person rehearsals?
Fionna: “I’m looking forward to picking up where we left off in March last year. And that feeling of singing with others, rather than on my own.”
Emma: “I’m most looking forward to singing with everyone and hearing the Fascinating Rhythm sound. I think singing ‘Titanium’ will be really special, as a new song that we have learnt during the lockdown and therefore new to everyone (oldies and newbies alike).”
Anne-marie: “I’m slightly nervous about going back to face-to-face in case I’ve built it up too much in my head! But I’m looking forward to finally meeting everyone, the friends I’ve made online, and becoming ‘proper’ friends. And the singing, of course! I’ve been in Fascinating Rhythm a year, but when I go back, I’ll be a beginner again.”
Fionna: “It’s nice to be still thought of as new, even a year on. It’s really welcome.”
What would you say to someone who is thinking of joining a choir-like Fascinating Rhythm post-covid?
Emma: “Just do it! Go for it and do it for yourself because it’s the most amazing hobby. When you get signed off, it’s the best feeling. Embrace the opportunities and the scariness because it will take you out of your comfort zone… in a good way!”
Fionna: “Singing is a good way of losing yourself in something completely different, away from the day-to-day. It’s been good for my mental health.”
Anne-marie: “The sense of achievement I feel with Fascinating Rhythm has blown me away. I run my own business – I work long hours, and I love my job, but it doesn’t push me out of my comfort zone. Being part of Fascinating Rhythm pushes me to do more, and the sense of achievement and recognition has been amazing. Every time I get a sign-off, I whoop with joy! It’s a massive achievement that I can do it.”
Fionna: “And don’t think you can’t sing because you can probably sing enough. You do have to hold your own, which is tricky, but hearing all the notes is an amazing experience. So, give it a go, and you might surprise yourself!”
Anne-marie: “I’d say you couldn’t meet a more supportive group of people. And fun!”
Emma: “I can’t wait for the next Learn To Sing (when we’re able to do one), so I can bring other people along!”
…and if reading about our newbies’ experience of joining Fascinating Rhythm has inspired you to take up singing post-covid, we’d love to hear from you. You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
You might also like to see other articles in the Fascinating Rhythm Insight series:
05 – Why warm-up?
Why Warm Up
Getting in the zone for singing
Fascinating Rhythm is renowned across Bristol and South Gloucestershire for close-harmony a cappella singing and our unique choral sound. We strive for musical excellence through regular rehearsals on Thursday evenings.
A crucial part of our rehearsal time involves getting ourselves ready to sing. Far from being a tedious slog that we have to get through as quickly as possible, Fascinating Rhythm’s warm-up sessions are as much about coming together and having fun as they are about exercising our voices.
Musical Director Jo, Assistant Director and Choreographer Wendy, and Baritone Section Leader (and vocal coach) Karen make sure our warm-ups are efficient, effective and fast-paced. So, we asked them to tell us why warming up is important and share their top tips for preparing to sing.
Turn up and tune in
Barbershop singing typically involves standing up and being in close proximity to others. When we first step onto the risers, we take a few minutes to get used to our surroundings and tune in to each other. Each singer has her own ‘spot’ on the risers, with a unique environment created by her neighbours’ voices and physical space confined by singers in front, behind, and either side. Before we start singing, we must assimilate into our space and tune in our bodies to what’s going on around us.
Stepping onto the risers also takes us away from the day we’ve just had, allows us to re-connect as a team, and puts us in the zone of ‘we are singing now’. Warming up acts as the next step in the process of relaxing our bodies and entering a state of readiness for making music. We are expected to be engaged and give 100% to our rehearsal from the first blow of the pitch pipe.
Fascinating Rhythm dedicates half an hour to warm up at the start of every rehearsal. We use this time to switch on our brains, position ourselves with good alignment for singing and pump some adrenalin. The way we warm-up sets the tone for our whole rehearsal – if everyone is fully engaged, we know we’re in for a good night!
Care for your voice
Singing uses the whole body, from the tiny muscles in and around the larynx to the major rib and abdominal muscles. Warm muscles are stretchy and soft and less prone to injury but, if you don’t warm up, you risk causing damage. So, think of yourself as a vocal athlete, exercise your voice like you would any other muscle and make warming up part of your daily routine. Jo recommends aiming for 20 minutes per day. You could even consult a vocal coach for some personal training and ask them to tailor a set of warm-up exercises to suit you.
Warming up also aligns your vocal instrument, eliminates any tension that could affect your voice, and improves vocal quality. A warm voice will be less likely to break or crack, less prone to throat bubbles, and more likely to stay on pitch and in tune. Gentle breathing and warm-up exercises are also a really nice thing to do for yourself – mindful and relaxing, a kind of self-care for singers!
Follow a warm-up routine.
Fascinating Rhythm follows a structured warm-up routine covering posture, breathing, pitch, performance, vocal techniques and vocal quality. Each element has a purpose in getting us ready to sing, and Wendy follows a similar approach with Junior FR (with an extra focus on having fun)!
1. Posture: We take a few moments to settle our bodies, noticing our posture and any areas of tension. Then, we gently mobilise our neck, shoulder and back muscles and do some side stretches before aligning our posture for singing.
2. Breathing: Most of us breathe all day long without thinking about it, but, as singers, we need to be more aware of how we can use the breathing apparatus to control our airflow. Shushing or hissing will exercise the abdominal support muscles, and we practise squeezing out every last bit of air before taking in a new breath. (Taking care not to make ourselves dizzy!)
3. SOVT (semi-occluded vocal tract) exercises: Singing is more intense and covers a broader vocal range than talking, so we start with lip trills (or ‘bubbling’) and humming up and down a few notes to get our vocal folds vibrating. Beginning somewhere comfortable in our vocal range, we gently extend out to a full scale or a simple tune.
4. Vocal quality: The voice makes a different type of sound according to where you ‘place’ it – for example, it can be nasal or throaty. As singers, we want to create a nice, resonant sound with open vowels.
5. Vocal techniques: We try out different ways to add interest to our singing (such as dynamics, staccato and legato, the enunciation of consonants) by singing some simple songs. We also use rounds or simple harmony tunes to get used to singing against different voice parts.
6. Performance: Barbershop singing has a visual performance aspect, and it can be surprisingly tricky to move and sing at the same time. So, we do something that engages the brain – like ‘say what I say and do the opposite’, which always ends up with everyone giggling!
The critical thing to remember about warming up is taking your time and doing it gently from a point of comfort. Warming-up isn’t about pushing yourself – if it feels too intense, ease back down.
Warm-up time is never wasted.
Multi medal-winning barbershopper Sally McLean (Musical Director of the White Rosettes) has coached Fascinating Rhythm on several occasions and praised our commitment to warming up because it helps us achieve our unique look and sound. Jo, Wendy and Karen make sure our warm-ups are accessible and inclusive to suit the range of skill across the choir, and explain what each exercise is for (without getting too technical!) so that everyone understands what to do and is able to join in. Our greatest achievement has been staying in tune as we work up and down the solfege scale, which took weeks of practice!
We encourage every singer to get enthusiastic about warming up! Don’t just stick to scales and arpeggios but think about what you enjoy singing and build it into your warm up time. Fascinating Rhythm love singing rounds and our current favourites are “Alfred the Alligator” (complete with lots of visual performance and vocal dynamics) and “Gin and Tonic” (which is excellent for practising consonants, articulation and synchronisation).
Warm-up with Fascinating Rhythm
Warming up can help you to maintain a healthy voice for as long as possible. So why not warm up with us? We’ve created a CD of warm-up exercises designed to help improve vocal range and perfect various singing techniques.
You might like to see other articles in the Fascinating Rhythm Insights series:
Musical Director Lockdown Harmony Project
The Directors Teamed Up
Following a virtual four-chorus get-together last October, Jo (Fascinating Rhythm), Mary (Avon Harmony), Craig (Bristol Fashion) and nooj (Black Sheep Harmony) secretly formed a mixed quartet to record a special song.
Having all tirelessly supported our choruses in staying connected through online rehearsals for nearly a year, the Directors jumped at the chance to do some singing and combine their musical talents.
The Blind Date
Since Lockdown prevented the quartet from rehearsing, singing or filming together, they recorded themselves separately. nooj combined the audio tracks with video and visual effects to create the final film. Craig says, “It was a bit like a blind date because we didn’t know what it was going to look or sound like until we saw the final product.”
A four-part arrangement of ‘Somewhere Only We Know’ was chosen for its poignant lyrics and wistful melody. The four Directors filmed themselves in isolation to reflect the theme of being all alone in a lonely place. Mary says, “Lockdown has been hard because, for many of us, singing is an escape. This song is about hope and just keeping going…”
Reflecting on the project, all four Directors say they would like to work together on a similar venture in the future. Jo says, “The project has connected us as MDs in what has been a pretty isolating time.” nooj agrees, “We’re all good friends, but we’ve been apart for some time, and we miss each other.”
We are lucky to have such experienced barbershoppers leading our choruses and feel incredibly proud of them for producing this video. We hope they will be able to give us a ‘live’ performance of Somewhere Only We Know at the next four-chorus get-together (hopefully later this year)!
Teamwork makes the dream work for Fascinating Rhythm whose members have spent a lot of time online over the past year using Zoom and social media to stay connected – Thursday evenings are for singing, laughter, and friendship. We haven’t let lockdown prevent us from getting together (albeit virtually).
Fascinating Rhythm is devoted to a love of barbershop and musical performance. We are so much more than singing: we also care about teamwork, peer support, social connection and the health and wellbeing benefits associated with singing. Being off the risers has allowed us to work on some of the non-singing aspects of being a choir, like what makes Fascinating Rhythm a solid and supportive team?
One of our fabulous Lead singers, Hanna (a consultant in behavioural change and continuous improvement), has investigated Fascinating Rhythm’s personality profile and uncovered some fascinating insights. We asked her to explain how our individualities come together to make our chorus a successful team.
Check your personality
Everyone perceives the world and makes decisions differently, and this diversity is essential within a team. Understanding our individual members’ personalities can help us communicate better and work together even more successfully.
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a tool for finding out how you naturally prefer to focus your energy, gather information and interact with other people. It’s not an exact science, but this type of personality profiling can help you learn about your preferences and highlight your strengths. Towards the end of last year, 35 of our members volunteered to complete an MBTI questionnaire so Hanna could gain insight into our collective chorus personality.
MBTI divides people into 16 personality types based on four areas of preference or behaviour:
- Extraversion (E) / Introversion (I) is about focusing energy. Extraverted people tend towards action, oral communication and group work. Introverted people tend to be more reflective, prefer written communication and enjoy working alone or with one or two others.
- Sensing (S) / Intuition (N) is about gathering information. Sensing people, like specific examples, following an agenda and focus on the applications of a situation; intuitive people prefer general concepts, desire change and focus on the possibilities a situation can bring.
- Thinking (T) / Feeling (F) is about decision-making. Thinking people will seek general truths and objectivity by asking questions and wanting things to be logical and feeling people will seek individual and interpersonal harmony by expressing feelings and knowing when support is needed.
- Judging (J) / Perceiving (P) is about lifestyle. Judging people like order, they finish tasks before a deadline and dislike surprises. Perceiving people like to keep things flexible; they finish tasks at the deadline and reserve the right to change their plans or decisions.
There is no ‘right’ personality type, and none is better than another. Each type has its own unique strengths, and an effective team will have a spread of people from across the MBTI spectrum.
Our team: The Defender
The most common outcome for the Fascinating Rhythm members surveyed was the ISFJ profile (also known as ‘The Defender’), which makes us a warm, efficient, responsible and practical team. Singing in a choir is not a solo sport – everyone has to put in effort and enthusiasm – and our collective personality (particularly the SJ bit) means we are willing to take responsibility for helping our chorus succeed as a team.
We strive for musical excellence through dedication to rehearsals and the challenge of learning a diverse repertoire, and there’s plenty of help and support within the chorus. Being ISFJ means we are good at summarising our learning; we make notes, written instructions and visual materials to support people’s different learning styles. (It should come as no surprise that we focus on details, given that we have a strong IS preference!)
Our ladies are happy to share their experiences to help others in the team (that’s our SF tendency shining through). With Feeling as our most dominant trait, we nurture interpersonal harmony. We are lucky to have a committed Music Team who, along with our Section Leaders and Assistant Section Leaders, are always happy to provide peer support.
Our strong Judging tendency probably explains why our rehearsals tend to be quite structured, with a mixture of warm-up exercises, singing practice, perhaps some barbershop music theory and something fun that takes us out of our comfort zone. Whilst we vary the specific activities, we do like to have a rehearsal structure and enjoy setting goals and making plans.
Perhaps surprisingly, we have strong natural introversion! Whilst we may look super-confident on stage, performing our socks off, the majority of our members (including Jo, our Musical Director) don’t enjoy actively seeking out the limelight.
Smells like team spirit.
So much about being part of Fascinating Rhythm comes down to teamwork. We have teams for everything: from Wardrobe and Music to show-planning and organising our participation in the annual LABBS Convention. Everyone can play to their strengths and find their niche!
Indeed the unsung heroines of teamwork and communication are the Riser Team, who arrive early for every rehearsal to set up the staged risers for us to stand on. Their seamless coordination of this weekly construction challenge and commitment to health and safety ensure we can arrange ourselves on the risers in the way that best enhances our unique Fascinating Rhythm sound.
Joining our team
We believe that singing is for everyone and we are always on the lookout for new members. So, if you’re considering taking up a new post-lockdown activity, we’d love to hear from you!
You might like to see other articles in the Fascinating Rhythm Insights series:
05 – Why Warm Up?
Fascinating Rhythm has a diverse repertoire of songs well-suited to our style of a cappella singing. From show tunes like “City of Stars”, “This Is Me” and “Feeling Good” to a ten-part arrangement of ELO’s “Mr Blue Sky”, we have songs for every occasion, and we love to share them with our audiences at concerts and competitions.
Creating the classic harmonic barbershop sound is a key part of our craft, but Fascinating Rhythm also tries to connect emotionally with a song to give a more authentic performance. As well as using movement to enhance the song’s meaning, we express the emotions behind the lyrics and music using our voices and just as with visual performance, achieving unity in our vocal sound is an important aspect of making a song entertaining.
Professional vocal trainer Karen, our pitch-perfect Baritone Section Leader and trainee LABBS Singing Judge, has kindly agreed to share her top hints and tips for adding some vocal ‘wow’ to any song:
What is vocal expression?
The Ladies Association of British Barbershop Singers (LABBS) promotes a cappella four-part harmony singing in the barbershop style. Under competition conditions, LABBS singing category judges are looking to “…evaluate the degree to which the performer achieves artistic singing in the barbershop style […] through precise intonation, a high degree of vocal skill, a high level of unity and consistency within the ensemble as well as the use of the vocal expression.”
The five key elements of barbershop singing are:
– Intonation – precise harmonic tuning and staying in pitch
– Vocal quality – well-supported, freely-produced, resonant and accurate singing
– Unity within the ensemble – synchronisation and precision, matched vowel sounds, good diction and articulation
– Expansion and ring – well-sung chords and a balanced sound
– Vocal expression – nuance, dynamics, tone ‘colour’ and use of artistic effects
So, vocal expression is just as much a part of the barbershop style as singing in harmony and in tune, breathing effectively and using the voice as a musical instrument.
How do I ‘do’ vocal expression?
Vocal expression covers a range of techniques you can use to make a song sound more interesting:
– Dynamics are about volume – that is, how loudly or quietly you are singing. You can vary your volume across the whole of a song, across a particular phrase, or even within a single word.
– Tone colour is made up of the resonance of your voice, your vocal placement (for example, throaty or nasal) and the timbre (combination of frequencies) that make up your vocal sound.
– Vocal quality describes a spectrum of effects from airy whispering to a brassy, edgy, forced sound. You can change your vocal quality from one word to another or across whole phrases.
There are also artistic effects that can be added to a song.
– Moments of silence, audible breaths or adding vibrato to a word (a purposeful ‘tremor’ in the voice) can emphasise an emotional thought
– Diphthongs change the vowel sound part-way through a word (so ‘night’ becomes ‘nah-eet’); whereas ‘pre-thongs’ (a concept we learned from Frenzy quartet ) add a vowel sound to the beginning of a word (so ‘whenever’ becomes ‘oo-weh-nn-eh-ver’)
– Hard consonants (like ‘c’, ‘b’ or ‘d’) can be used to emphasise the start or end of a word, whilst ‘singable’ consonants (like’ n’ or ‘m’) add a musical softness.
– The way you start a word can also be made more interesting by using a glottal stop for a hard onset or an aspirate, breathy sound for a softer onset.
How can I improve my vocal expression?
One of the best ways to improve your vocal expression is to listen to other singers and choirs from a variety of genres and take inspiration from what they do. Have a think about what effect their vocal expression is creating and whether or not it is working. Then try playing around with your voice, recording yourself and listening back to see how you sound.
By testing things out and finding what feels right, you can internalise and practise the techniques for vocal expression until you can replicate them more naturally. The more you practise, the more you can expand the capabilities of your voice as an instrument. You might even choose to ask a vocal coach to help you work on certain aspects of your singing technique.
Sprinkling on the glitter!
You can think of a song as being like an artwork: notes and words are the pencil lines; dynamics and nuance provide the shading; tone colour adds the colours; and artistic effects are the glitter sprinkled on top!
However, whilst we love a bit of glitter, adding too much would smother the artwork and ruin it. So, consider using artistic effects sparingly for the best impact.
At Fascinating Rhythm, we put just as much work into our vocal expression as we do our visual performance. We talk about the emotional story of a song and the vocal techniques that help us to express it, so we can help each other to give a unified, authentic performance. We love using our voices to connect with and entertain our audiences, but the most magical and rewarding moments come when they are so caught up in a song, they don’t notice us sprinkling on the glitter!
You might like to see other articles in the Fascinating Rhythm Insights series:
05 – Why Warm Up?
Ali Jack LABBS Long Service Award
Celebrating 35 Years of LABBS Membership – One of Fascinating Rhythm’s founding members, Ali Jack, has reached the incredible milestone of being a member of the Ladies Association of British Barbershop Singers (LABBS) for 35 years!
LABBS has recognised Ali’s dedication to barbershop singing with a long-service award badge and certificate presented to Ali at home by her partner, Pete. Although Fascinating Rhythm was not able to celebrate with them in person, we did raise our virtual glasses to toast Ali’s amazing achievement during our annual awards and AGM on Zoom.
Ali is a central member of Fascinating Rhythm – quite literally, as she stands right in the middle of the risers on the back row! She is our Chorus Manager, a fabulous section leader for our Tenors, and always ready to keep us in tune with her pitch pipe.
We asked Ali to share some reflections on her barbershop journey…
How did you get started with singing barbershop?
“I grew up in a musical family, singing with my mum and sisters. Mum played the piano, and the four of us would sing together in harmony. My sisters sang Soprano, and I sang Alto.
Then, I sang in a trio/four with friends from the local church, making up harmonies with guitar accompaniment. I also sang in a local choir, and a lady from the choir introduced us to four-part harmony by sharing an arrangement of the traditional barbershop standard “The Story of the Rose (Heart Of My Heart)”. She encouraged us to audition for the Bristol-based barbershop chorus AvonBelles (now known as Avon Harmony). Three of us (me, Donna and Claire) joined AvonBelles, where I became the Baritone section leader and sang with them for about ten years.
Through AvonBelles, Donna and I set up a barbershop quartet. We were three Baritones and a Bass, so I agreed to try out a different voice part, and that’s how I started singing Tenor!”
How did Fascinating Rhythm get started?
“Donna and I were looking for a new challenge, so we started to meet with a group of like-minded singers in the back room of a pub in Chipping Sodbury. We called ourselves ‘Rainbow’ because one of the ladies in the group said, ‘singing is like a rainbow, giving you hope because there’s always a pot of gold at the end’.
After a while, we decided to change our name because there was another group in the area called Rainbow, so we drew suggestions out of a hat, and the winner was Fascinating Rhythm!”
What is your best LABBS moment?
“I’ve sung with lots of quartets and groups, but the best moment was definitely winning the Gold medal at LABBS Convention with Havoc.
Donna and I had sung in a quartet, which had folded when we met Linda (Musical Director of the Great Western Chorus), who introduced us to Jo (who is now Fascinating Rhythm’s Musical Director ). We practised in my house, and our first ‘performance’ was to my lodger (at the time), who thought we sounded quite good.
As Havoc, we entered the Irish Association of Barbershop Singers annual Convention 2003 and won! From there, we were encouraged to join LABBS, and we went on to win the Bronze medal (2005), Silver (2006) and Gold (2007)!
In our ‘Gold Year, ’ we were so lucky to represent LABBS at the USA International Convention at Anaheim, got to meet Dick Van Dyke, and we even sang at Disneyland.”
What has been your favourite Fascinating Rhythm moment so far?
“The first time Fascinating Rhythm went to LABBS Convention, we took part in the ad hoc Sunday morning show which was a fun moment. We did a comedy skit called “What a Load of Nunsense” where we dressed as nuns and sang “How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?” and “Eidelweiss” from “The Sound of Music”. Thelma made our costumes!
I feel so proud when I sit out and see how the chorus has grown in numbers and what we have achieved over the years from just five of us getting together for a sing.”
What have you missed most about singing over the past year?
“For me, singing is about feeling the music and being part of it. I like being in the middle of the back row on the risers and hearing the sound all around me.
I also like it at Convention when people are queueing up for food, and someone starts a song and then everyone joins in. Singing is something that is available to everyone.”
And finally, what are you most looking forward to about getting back to rehearsals?
“I’m looking forward to hearing the sound, Fascinating Rhythm makes. It will be emotional to hear the harmony. My favourite chorus song is “And So It Goes”, which my partner Pete arranged for us. I am looking forward to hearing that song again.
And I’m looking forward to hugging my Fascinating Rhythm friends (once it’s safe to do so).”
Thanks, Ali, and congratulations on your Long Service Award! Celebrating 35 Years of LABBS Membership. We are so proud of you and cannot wait to get back on the risers with you!
Making your performance authentic
Fascinating Rhythm has a diverse repertoire of show tunes, popular modern songs and jazz numbers, and a few seasonal and sacred songs and even a vocal version of a ballet movement!
Some of our show songs are fully choreographed, all-singing-all-dancing numbers, whereas our ballads are much more sensitive and heartfelt. Whatever we’re singing, we want to connect with our audiences and give them an entertaining musical experience.
Our fabulous Assistant Director, Wendy, is also our chorus Choreographer. With a dance and percussion background, Wendy is inspiring, enthusiastic, and always encouraging us to make our performances more believable and engaging. Here are her top tips for authenticity:
Barbershop singing has a strong visual element and iconic four-part a cappella harmony, and the way we perform songs is a key aspect of our craft.
Performance is about ‘giving life’ to a song – making it believable and entertaining. Performances can be creative and dynamic, but they must match the song’s vocal message, and all singers should present a unified message about the song’s meaning.
As explained by the Ladies Association of British Barbershop Singers (LABBS) “The Performance Judge is hoping to see and hear sincere, from the heart performances into which […] the audiences are drawn.”
Getting ready to sing
Over the past few years, the barbershop world has moved towards a musical theatre performance style, inspired by David Brunetti’s ‘Acting Songs’ approach. In musical theatre, songs form part of the story; they help with the storytelling and flow in and out of the actors’ spoken performances.
However, when Fascinating Rhythm stands on stage to sing a song as part of a concert or a variety show, we perform without a storyline. To give an authentic performance, we must connect with the story behind the song we’re about to sing. If we understand the song’s essence, we should all give the same heartfelt performance.
We can do this by thinking about three things:
1. Who are you as the person singing this song?
2. Why are you singing this song – what is it about?
3. What has just happened – why are you singing this song now?
What are you singing about?
One way to really understand a song is to read the lyrics aloud as if they were a monologue. In barbershop-style arrangements, the lyrics are usually found in the Lead line, with the harmony parts (Tenor, Baritone and Bass) picking up more melodic aspects of the music. It can be hard to connect with the meaning of a song if you’re singing ‘dm-dm-dm’ or ‘ooh-ooh’ rather than words! But if every member of the chorus knows the story behind the song, we can all connect with it.
What if the song doesn’t have a clear storyline? How can we connect with it and give an authentic performance? If lyrics don’t drive a song, it can be tricky to connect with its meaning, but we can instead focus on the musical elements.
Songs usually fit into one of five themes, according to the strongest element of the arrangement.
– Lyric songs are driven by the words or the story being told
– Melodic songs have a strong tune (usually in the Lead line)
– Harmonic songs feature the chord structure of the music
– Rhythmic songs are all about the beat, and they make you want to dance or tap your feet
– Comedy or novelty songs are funny!
Our performance journey
Fascinating Rhythm is known for bold and innovative performances and bringing new bespoke arrangements to the LABBS Convention stage. Over the years, we’ve put full choreography, and dance moves to up-tempo numbers and even added streamers and party-poppers to the final bars of South Rampart Street Parade! We’ve also experimented with the ‘fourth wall’ in on-stage performances and tried standing completely still to add tension to sacred songs and tragic ballads.
“Meet You At The Moon” (Harrogate, 2018), arranged by Liz Garnett, had an easy storyline that we all connected with. Subtle chorus moves from the risers complemented the mother-daughter story featuring Jo and Karen. It was effective and authentic because every member of the chorus could draw on their own personal experience of familial love and sing from the heart.
In contrast, “You Don’t Own Me” (Bournemouth (2017), also arranged by Liz Garnett, was a strong and sassy up-tune with great choreographic moves. The romantic ballad “City of Stars” (Llandudno, 2019), another fabulous Liz Garnett arrangement, had a surprise free-feeling rhythmic section in the middle that naturally lent itself to more dance-like movement.
Although we can’t take a competition package to the Convention this year, we have two fantastic songs lined up, ready to work on once we’re allowed back to rehearsals. We’re making good use of our Zoom rehearsals to immerse ourselves in the lyrics so that we can develop a truly authentic performance to enhance our singing and musicality.
Putting authenticity into practice
The great thing about authenticity is that you can practice it anytime, anywhere – even if you’re singing alone at home! Whatever the song you’re rehearsing, spend a minute before you sing thinking about who you are, why you’re singing the song, and what has just happened to make you sing it. The main thing is to try to really connect with the song and the music and sing it from the heart. Even focusing on one of these questions will enhance your performance authenticity.
You might like to see other articles in the Fascinating Rhythm Insights series:
05 – Why Warm Up?
Why singing is good for you!
Fascinating Rhythm is a barbershop chorus, which means we love making music with our voices, but Fascinating Rhythm isn’t just about singing – it’s about fun, friendship and feeling good. We can’t wait until it’s safe to return to rehearsals because there’s something really special about being part of Fascinating Rhythm that can lift a dark mood or release tension after a tough day.
Did you know that, in addition to the beautiful harmony and the friendship that comes from being part of a choir, there are several health benefits associated with singing ? We’ve asked our resident medic, Dr Hannah, to explain why singing is so good for our health and wellbeing.
Singing feels good
As humans, we are social creatures that thrive on being connected to each other. Being part of a group is good for our emotional wellbeing and has a positive impact on our physical and mental health. Our ability to make social bonds is an important part of what makes us human.
Group singing builds social connections really well, and the social bonding among choir members happens more quickly than with other hobbies. For many of our members, Fascinating Rhythm is like an extended family, and our strong social bond has seen 20-30 members Zoom into virtual rehearsals each week over the past year. And this connection has encouraged our three newest members, who joined Fascinating Rhythm just a few weeks before the first lockdown, to stick with us online!
The other great thing about singing is that it releases endorphins, which are chemicals in our bodies that give us a ‘high’ (similar to how you might feel after a run but without getting hot and sweaty)! Endorphins reduce pain sensation and increase pleasure, so they make us feel good. Activities that release endorphins are good for our physical and mental health and wellbeing.
No wonder singing feels really good for us!
Singing is good for our health.
Singing involves lots of muscles in our bodies. When we warm-up for rehearsal, we include some physical activity like shoulder rolls and stretches, as well as breathing exercises for our abdominal muscles. It can be quite a physical work out! A long rehearsal can be quite physically tiring, but singing builds our stamina and muscle tone.
What’s more, singing is good for our posture. We stand with good spinal alignment, soft knees, and relaxed shoulders, and rehearsals usually involve a lot of standing up! Being sedentary is bad for our bodies, but the lockdown has reduced our opportunities to move around during the day and take regular outdoor exercise. By standing to sing, we change our posture and engage different muscles, and barbershop singing involves physical movement to the music, which adds to the exercise benefits.
It almost goes without saying that singing is also good for our lungs and breathing. The British Lung Foundation has found that singing can help people to:
– breathe more slowly and more deeply
– improve breath control (and reduce feelings of anxiety and panic)
– improve posture to breathe more efficiently
Indeed, the English National Opera is running a breathing and wellbeing programme for people who are recovering from Covid. It uses singing techniques for breathing training to improve breathlessness and reduce feelings of anxiety.
There is also evidence to suggest that singing can reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol and boost our immune systems by increasing levels of immunoglobulins that help fight disease!
Singing is good for the brain.
Singing is mentally stimulating because you have to think about notes, music and words all at the same time. Then, if you add in the four-part harmonies, a cappella (unaccompanied) singing and any choreography or movements to a song, barbershop singing becomes a whole-brain workout!
The human brain has a tremendous capacity to learn and remember songs and music. Our ability to learn new music is quite astonishing – whilst new members of our chorus often feel nervous about getting up to speed on the whole Fascinating Rhythm repertoire, most find that they can pick it up within a matter of months!
Not only that but music and singing are another part of what makes us human, and they persist in people’s memories. For example, dementia classes that use singing have been shown to improve wellbeing, maintain cognition and increase social connectivity through participation.
With so many benefits for our physical and mental health and wellbeing, perhaps singing could be the perfect post-lockdown activity?
Over the past year, the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted many of our social bonds and networks. Many people will have experienced feelings of persistent anxiety, fatigue and isolation, and those who’ve been ill with covid-19 may also have long-lasting symptoms like brain fog and breathing difficulties.
Certainly, once it is safe for us to do so, Fascinating Rhythm are looking forward to getting back on the risers together for a jolly good sing!
And if you’d like to join us, we’d love to hear from you – please get in touch via our website to find out how to become part of our Fascinating Rhythm family.
Or if you’d just like to have a go at singing from home, why not buy our CD of warm-up exercises and sing along?
You might like to see other articles in the Fascinating Rhythm Insights series:
05 – Why Warm Up?