Dramatis persona*

helenhead Helen Chick

I've always wanted a bumper sticker that said "I'm a female, LDS/Mormon, Scout leading, geocaching, piano-playing, bicycling, mathematics educator with a PhD in maths ... and I VOTE"!

I think this makes me a minority group of cardinality 1!

* Since there's only one of me and "personae" is plural (I think), I've gone with dramatis persona.
September 2020
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Workshop with “The Idea of North”

The Idea of North would have to be my favourite a capella choral group (what kind of a group is an a capella group if not a choral one, I hear you ask?! And how many do you listen to, anyway? ………….. Well, I only need one!*).

When I was living in Melbourne I was lucky enough to see five of their concerts and I loved them all, from the album launch concerts for the James Morrison joint project Feels Like Spring (particularly memorable for the trumpet duel between James and tenor Nick Begbie who was vocalising a trumpet) and the recent Extraordinary Tale album (cover shown at left**), to a “by request” concert, where they performed requests and allowed audience members to conduct a couple of songs complete with directions to have parts disappear and reappear in one of their more complex pieces, to conventional concerts where they showcased their extensive repertoire that draws on jazz, gospel, pop, and also some original material. Many of the songs they perform have been arranged by group members, and there are some wonderful arrangements. They have such a rich vocal sound, that sometimes (aurally challenged as I can be) it sounds as if there are more than the four voices (and given that, at times, Andrew Piper, the bass, is throwing in some vocal percussion as well, it’s not just an illusion). And they are just so entertaining when you see them live, with good humoured and informative banter to accompany their great musicality. I always leave their concerts with a feel-good buzz.

Anyway, TION have come to Hobart this week for the “Festival of Voices” and yesterday, in a last minute decision, I decided to sign up for today’s masterclass with them. So at midday today I fled the office (and all the stupidities implicit in the previous post), and escaped to attend a 1.5 hour workshop along with about 40 or so other people. It nearly started late because three of the group had been fog-bound at Sydney airport, but they made it just in time, and proceeded to run a fun, educational workshop. We went through various warm up exercises, and did a few concentration-challenging variations on the 1-1-2-1 warm-up, and also spent some time really listening to the kinds of sound we were producing, trying to achieve a blend/equality of tone across the group but also extending (or, at least, building awareness of) our tonal range, from dark to twangy. The group also did a short Q&A session, where we learned about how they deal with their arrangements and pitch issues (the long-term alto Naomi Crellin has perfect pitch, apparently, and also does a lot of the group’s arrangements (she’s currently on maternity leave, and today we had her replacement Joy Hague, who discussed briefly the challenges of having to learn 30 songs in three weeks!)). We finished up learning a song β€” an arrangement of Since You Went Away, which is one that I don’t recall having heard them “do” β€” and it was sounding not too bad at all by the end of the session (I think I needed one or two more runs through, though, just to get it more securely “sung in”).

Of course, now I’m really kicking myself that I didn’t sign up for the big series of workshops that they are doing over the coming week (it’s a long story; short version is that it’s complicated). I can only hope that they’ll be back next year. And of course, although Melbourne is on their regular concert “circuit” I’m not there any more, and they don’t get down here to do concerts very often either. Sigh.

Just a few quick comments about them all to finish, because I had intended to do a review of the last concert I saw back in August, but just didn’t get around to it, so this is kind of that entry and today’s story combined. I have to confess that, thanks to the recordings that introduced me to the group, I had grown familiar with the voice of TION‘s earlier soprano, and so when current soprano Sally Cameron joined the group it took me a little while to get used to the different timbre of her voice, but I have now and there are several recent songs on which she shines. She was also particularly effective in her guidance in today’s workshops. I haven’t really heard Joy perform but she was good today; but I’ve always loved Naomi’s arranging work and she has a great alto voice (and, to be fair, although us altos think it’s wonderful to have an alto arranger because it means altos get some fun lines, what is most noticeable is that the arrangements actually play to all the group members’ strengths). Nick has the kind of voice that can blend well but then also do the contrasting soloist role as required, and has a great sense of fun in performance (except he was a bit poorly today, much to his frustration, I think). And last, but by no means least, Andrew would have to be my most respected bass singer. Now maybe this is just because I don’t know enough, but what impresses me every time is the accuracy and on-timeness of his notes, the fact that he is often playing an anchoring role that is quite different from what everyone else is doing, and, of course, his amazing vocal percussion work (not to mention his often very witty compositions).

But, in fact, it’s putting the four of them together that’s the best bit.

* I do listen to more, and, in fact, I perform with a group that includes a capella works in its repertoire, but, like I said, these guys are my favourites.

** This is because I was too chicken to ask if I could take a photograph today. Pathetic, really. (Very shy fan-girl!)

1 comment to Workshop with “The Idea of North”

  • Libby

    I love TION πŸ™‚
    I took Dad to a performance of theirs in Salamanca a few years back, it was super enjoyable. I can’t sing in groups of less than about 12, I just lose my pitch and wander all over, but would love to watch a workshop one day.

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