I was fortunate to actually hear my doorbell this morning. I have a pitifully small letterbox, so if I don’t catch the postman, (who, I’m convinced. simply tickles my doorbell and quickly runs away) I’m forced to wait another day. I then have to traipse to the main sorting office and queue for ages with the other disgruntled residents of Hove, clutching their proof of address – I digress.
The nimble postie presented me with a large parcel which, when I opened it contained a sparkly new copy of Oxford University Press’ sheet music collection of “Popular Voiceworks Volume 2, 28 songs in Jazz, Gospel, R&B, Soul, and Show Styles.”
My involvement with the composers Charles Beale and Steve Milloy began in 2007 in the recording studio of The Royal College of Music.
Charlie had directed the college big band from 2001-2007 and is the current director of the NY City Gay Men’s Chorus. They had both been commissioned to write a collection of songs and arrangements for choir of showstoppers: fun pieces that choirs could use for encores or even for a big finish to their concerts. I had been booked because we would have to cover many different vocal styles. The sheet music volume would come complete with a CD of recordings of the arrangements (as well as band backing-tracks to use). The forward explains that this is so the “singers can actually hear what they are trying to create.”
We rattled through a couple of days of sight reading, singing in every style ranging from Me Ol’ Bamboo, This Little Light Of Mine, Straighten Up And Fly Right through to Dancing In The Street.
Charlie and Steve had assembled a cracking team of singers and my fellow female vocalist was none other than Louise Marshall (better known as a singer from the famous Jools Holland Band amongst her MANY other accomplishments). One of the men was my old friend from my days in The Swingle Singers, Ben Parry. He is well known for his own published chorale arrangements and is now fabulously important, as he is the Director of the Junior Royal Academy of Music.
The composer and arranger Alexander L’Estrange was singing on some numbers as well as playing upright and electric bass and finally, we were joined on vocals by one of the arrangers and writers, Steve Milloy. Steve is a renowned conductor, composer, singer and educator in the Cincinnati, OH area of America. He also helped us to recreate the correct vocal style for each number.
Charles played piano and was in the control room to produce the whole recording, along with Steve.
The idea was not only to provide backing tracks and recordings for the choirs to copy the style, but on each song there are exercises and tips on getting a great performance. Both Charles and Steve utilizing their immense experience as choral directors and singers to produce a useful learning tool, which would be great fun to sing as well. We had a blast and. despite a lot of laughter. we got through twenty-eight arrangements in nine hours of recording sessions.
Here are some of the reviews for the first volume:
In terms of genre it’s a delightfully mixed bag, with everything from spirituals to 80s pop pastiches making an appearance. It is packed with useful teaching notes and handy warm-up ideas. For the most part, the arrangements are lovely, and Beale is at ease throwing deliciously scrunchy chords into unexpected corners of well-known tunes, while also getting a lot of fun out of pop numbers like ‘Dancin’ in the Street’.
(Eamonn O’Dwyer, Music Teacher, October 08 )
Above all for the least experienced of choir leaders, this volume could be invaluable . . . No other choral collection that I have seen is as thorough or as helpful in laying out a scheme of exercises for the start of rehearsal . . . Every song is individually prefaced with background information, suggestions for getting started (including specially devised exercises), lists of options for teaching the song and for adapting it to your group’s requirements, danger points, and ideas for performance. In other words, a complete lesson or rehearsal plan is presented for every one of the songs; all this plus a CD of model performances and backing tracks . . . Oxford University Press have, I would guess, produced a ‘pop’ hit.
(Armin Zanner, Classroom Music, Spring Term 08/9 )
Popular Voiceworks is itself a hefty number, ring bound and more than 200 pages long, many of them available to be photocopied. There are also 2 CDs of performances and backing tracks tucked in the back cover. Suitable for use for choirs of age 11 upwards, and with detailed strategies for learning each song that are effectively in themselves lesson plans, this volume will be a boon for teachers and is another remarkable achievement for this series.
(Matthew Greenall, The Singer August 08 )
Has loads of information and additional material about the different genres used in this book to get the most classically-bred singer ‘in the swing’. The recording and performing standards on the accompanying CDs are excellent.
(Sue Anderson, Singing Summer 09 )
When I got an email in September 2011 from the Senior Editor of the music department Oxford University Press, asking if I was free for some dates in early 2012 to record volume two, I was delighted.
Amazingly they managed to get the same team of singers, although Ben couldn’t join us until the second session.
I was a bit worried as we started the morning in a strange makeshift booth in the corner of the studio. I was relieved when we soon moved to the main part of the room, as it was very difficult for us to hear in such a confined space – these arrangements were often full-on, lusty singing and with four of us in a confined space it was LOUD – especially with headphones on. Actually most of the songs had pre-recorded guides or backing tracks for us to work to so we didn’t need to worry about ‘spilling’ onto the band tracks.
The arrangements were eventually split into three sections in the book. Getting Moving, Moving On and Showstoppers. This second volume would include some Country and Western style songs as well and we had to slip into our ‘deep south’ accents. (I KNEW that watching all the series of True Blood would come in handy one day!) I wonder if you’ll be able to recognize my singing on those numbers – my partner couldn’t!
There were lots of up-tempo gospel numbers of course, but added to that were some beautifully simple folk songs as well as high energy disco numbers. We all had the chance to do some improvising as well. The arrangers had allocated some solo sections and each singer had to switch voice and style constantly throughout the day. We did some overdubbing when there were more than four parts and often I had to sing soprano (which was the hardest part for this died-in-the-wool alto). Alexander, himself a formidable male alto, filled in any notes just too high for me!
I’ve made a montage of extracts from just eight of the twenty eight songs for you, featuring some of my different vocal styles and ranges, just to give you a flavor of the collection, and also perhaps to make you laugh!
It finishes with a very different version of Beethoven’s Ode To Joy to amuse my friends from the Monteverdi Choir before our upcoming tour. Click on the pink arrow and be patient.
Eight Extracts From “Popular Voiceworks 2”
I think it’s another great collection and I hope that it will be as successful for Charlie and Steve as volume one was.
Here’s looking forward to Volume three!
(Click on the links below to buy volume 1 and 2 of Popular Voiceworks)
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