On Retreat with Rob!
On Retreat with Rob!

On Retreat with Rob!

As Fascinating Rhythm’s members continue to develop and polish their singing techniques, we invited Rob Mance to join us for our annual retreat in September. 

 Things kicked off with Rob at our usual Thursday evening rehearsal with his continued support with Personal Voice Instruction (PVI) for new members Sally and Sue (both baritones) and Lisa, our new tenor. When you’re a new chorus member, singing and being given your own PVI in front of the full chorus is a bit nerve-wracking, to say the least – I know – I’ve done it! Yet, despite some initial nerves, the ladies followed Rob’s guidance on posture and head position, resulting in a fuller, more resonant tone all round!

 Rob introduced the whole chorus to some new techniques to relax the tongue, wiggling it side-to-side to help release tension in the tongue. He also did some useful vowel sound work with “Hallelujah” (Leonard Cohen)- pointing out the impact on a chorus of people with different accents on the overall sound quality. Once we agreed on the vowel sounds and practiced, we noticed a brighter, fuller sound. 

 Our retreat started properly on Friday 16th September – with the majority of us assembling at the Alexandra House Hotel for an evening of fun, games and song. Sharon Marshfield organised a fantastic fun musical quiz/bingo called FRingo, which was very entertaining.

We got off to an early start on Saturday, with Rob working with each section on “Hallelujah”. He covered a variety of techniques, from adjusting head positions to give a longer back of neck to practicing “ha” and ‘le”, to bubbling to working on the vowel placement. Two new techniques he introduced were to help relax the tongue by pushing it back hard with the tip of a finger and pinning it to our chin. Some hilarity ensued as we looked a bit silly – but we agreed we could hear a positive, brighter tone to our sound after practicing this a few times. 

 After a hard morning’s work on these techniques, putting the parts together, Rob said it was “ringy-dingy and delicious!” 

We went on to do work on our individual interpretation of one of our newer songs, “I Wish You Love” by Nat King Cole. In discussing the different ways chorus members interpreted it, we agreed we need to be unified on the arc of the story and the arc of the emotion. 

After a focused and enjoyable day’s work, we partied that evening, and as ever, the prolific talent that FR holds was displayed. We heard solo songs from Amy Ford and Iris O’Loughlin, a fun selection of performances from the Bass and Bari sections and a hilarious adaptation from the Leads of the Beatles “When I’m 64” with the new title line “Singing through a Straw!” As the newest member of RhythmMix. Our smaller group, I was delighted to have the chance of a sing-out of our newest song, “Somewhere Out There”, from the Universal Pictures film “An American Tale”, which was well-received.

 Sunday started with more vowel work on our chorus version of “Anything Goes” by Cole Porter. Again, Rob pronounced our singing “delicious” and said the Lead section was producing the best pitch he’s heard yet – so the Leads ended the day on a real high! (I’m sure we all did – and Rob did say his brain was “being blown” by the bass section’s progress, too!).

Rob also gave some musical direction coaching to our MD Jo Thorn, including work on the ictus point and said he’s taught it to many, but no one has ‘got it’ as quickly as Jo!

He had the Tenor section joyfully strolling around the room, singing as they went to help with tension in the body, telling them to keep the body “loosey-goosey”. 

We did lots of work on diphthongs, and I learned a new word – “schwa”, which is the most common vowel sound in the English language – an unaccented, neutral vowel sound. We did more exploratory work on meaning, this time with “Hallelujah”, and did lots of work on these sounds and how Jo could help direct us – and, as ever, the importance of following Jo’s direction to ensure our best, most unified sound was clear. 

More work on bubbling ensued (oh, I find it hard!) and putting all the techniques we’d learned together over the weekend, we returned to the risers and created a perfect storm – our sound was emotional and authentic. Our performance of Hallelujah brought many of us to tears. We explored how being able to bring our own emotions into the song meant, for some, it was coming from a real place. 

As our weekend came to a close, it was clear this investment in our craft was paying dividends. The ability to bring deep feeling and connection into our performance is so important. It will have a more significant impact – an audience will always remember how you made them feel. By creating deeper emotional connections with the harmonies and the words, we hope to touch our listeners more deeply going forward! 

By Julie Macnamara

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