Greetings from The Man At The Front



What does that mean to you? Answers on a postcard please…..

Song lyrics with ‘afterglow’ in the title seem to be mostly about relationships, and there is a category labelled ‘afterglow poems’ for loss and remembrance.

In science we are familiar with light or radiance remaining in the sky after the sun has set, a secondary glow from heated metal before it ceases to become incandescent, and of course the dying embers of a bonfire at evening’s end.

Geoff Evans, who is one of the longest-serving members of the Dunvant Male Choir from Wales, revealed in a Guardian article about the choir’s covid experience, that he “…is a regular at the choir’s afterglows, the post-concert singalongs in the nearest pub, hotel, or club…..massed voices whisper together, mesh and soar, often fuelled by ‘a few cwrws’ (beers).”  The article is a touching insight to the importance of the choir for the men and their community, keeping their singing up during the pandemic. Read it at ‘We were determined Covid wouldn’t finish us off’: the Welsh choir who sang through the pandemic | Music | The Guardian

I was really drawn to ‘afterglow’, which the dictionary defines as ‘good feelings remaining after a pleasurable or successful experience’ and knew exactly what Geoff meant. I cannot recall ever knowingly using the term for something which is so utterly familiar, and a fundamental component of choral activity. It is even more than that – the reason why many of us sing in a choir – to feel that afterglow.

On reading the article I nostalgically recalled those moments (and hours) after a great concert – and sometimes a good rehearsal – usually in a pub and always with other people who were involved, or at least shared the same experience (audience). It is that warm happy glow of achievement and success, the shared endeavour, the physical release of tension and elation after so much anticipation, the pride, the wash of ‘feel good’ hormones that make us elated, the bonding with fellow travellers that has a heightened special resonance only in that moment, before becoming a fond memory, leaving a thirst for more because it feels so good. Although challenging to explain to non-participants, the impact of the ‘singing effect’ is unmistakable. We all know what it’s like and it has been absent for too long!

The singing effect is so powerful in fact that in 2017, rugby player Warren Gatland, who is coaching the British Lions ahead of this summer’s World Cup in Africa ‘……introduced choir practice every night after dinner as not only a means to ensure the Lions could respectfully reply to traditional Maori greetings in New Zealand, but as a way of unifying his players.’

Contemplating all of this reminded me of the concept of FLOW, introduced in the 90s by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly (pronounced ‘cheeks send me high’) who, through decades of research on positive aspects of human experience – joy, creativity, and total involvement with life – established principles by which people can transform their lives into ones full of enjoyment and happiness. He describes the eight characteristics of flow as:

Complete concentration on the task

Clarity of goals and reward in mind and immediate feedback

Transformation of time (speeding up/slowing down)

The experience is intrinsically rewarding

Effortlessness and ease

There is a balance between challenge and skills

Actions and awareness are merged, losing self-conscious rumination

There is a feeling of control over the task

“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times . . . The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile”.

(Csikszentmihalyi, 1990).

It seems to me these characteristics precisely describe average CNCS rehearsals and concerts, and we never knew this was invented in 1990!! It will not be long now until we are back ‘in the flow’ and basking in well-earned afterglow. Perhaps it should be known as AFTERFLOW? (although this sounds like a kind of plumbing device) Looking forward to it anyway, only twenty-three more sleeps!

I will issue a rehearsal schedule for May 19 the R2S2 via email from Eric, but as a heads up – we will visit the Beatles’ song Here comes the Sun in addition to the Rossini. You will need a copy and possibly some practice – see my blog of 22.07.20 for the materials and links.

By the way…. Did anybody listen to the performance of the Vaughan Williams Dona nobis pacem on Radio 3 on Good Friday April 2? Thanks to a nudge from Ruth Nissim I flagged it up via email and reminded everyone what a superb performance we gave in Banbury in 2018. What was special about this radio concert was that the orchestral resources had been reduced from the normal 53 players to less than half in a special arrangement to comply with social distancing, and to match the reduced choir size – 24 voices of the BBC Singers. Although well-performed I had reservations about this experience, which I will share these with you in the next blog. I wonder what our listeners felt?


The Voicebox section aims to reconnect with your voice and gently exercise it to get it back to singing. The first session (21.01.21) focused on BREATHING; session 2 (23.03.21), making a sound with just HUMMING. Session 3 is about CONSONANTS & VOWELS.

Start with good posture, well balanced on both feet, shoulders proud but not tense

Roll your head round and side to side gently to loosen your neck and check you are feeling tall, confident and relaxed

Spend two minutes taking some long, slow and deep in/out breaths

Continue by adding a sigh and then some hums, gaining in intensity each time, to the out breath

Now take your hum for a walk, exploring pitch range then hum a tune you know well

Now it is time for some CONSONANTS:

In a gentle voice speak the words ‘The lips the teeth the tip of the tongue’, 4 times

Relax, then take a deeper breath and say it 6 times, faster

Notice that, obviously, you cannot articulate this effectively without active use of lips teeth and tongue and that the sound is all produced right at the front of your mouth. The less you move your mouth and focus on the lips and teeth, the easier it becomes!

Choose a comfortable pitch in the upper middle part of your register and sing the exercise 8 times, one to each note of a descending scale for an octave.

Try again two times, once starting on a higher note than the last, and finally starting on a lower note than the first one so you explore a wider vocal range.

Now make space for the VOWELS:

In a commanding voice speak each of the 5 vowels, smoothly A-E-I-O-U For fun, try this in different voices, starting with King Lear!

On a single pitch, sing them

Explore each vowel by singing these phrases – smoothly, to a single pitch:

Clare’s rare bear snares hares

We three fleas need trees

Ah Pa’s fast car’s last

Tom stops Ron’s long songs

Do you glue blue shoes?

Make sure that in each exercise the vowel matches. Tip: Don’t move your mouth too much so that the vowel shape changes, make the consonants work around the shape. Remember ROBERT DEAN’S advice – have your mouth in the right shape for the vowel as you breathe in (‘inalare la voce’!!)

On a different pitch (just in case you’ve been stuck on the same one!) sing:

Are there bees on you? (notice that all 5 vowels are required and in alphabetical order)?

Repeat a few times, paying attention to each vowel, making sure your mouth cavity (and lips and tongue) is in the same shape each time. Really listen to the sound and feel what your mouth is doing. You might feel that too much attention is required and it sounds unnatural, so relax but keep listening. You are aiming for a smooth connected sound; the consonants must not interrupt the flow and tone of the sound.

Well done if you are still here and did it!!

Opportunity knocks

Now that the future for group activities (and shopping) look brighter – but still with care! – you might be searching around for some additional singing opportunities. The support service Choraline has some listed which might interest you.

Vocal Scores for Run by Singers : Choraline

I heartily recommend this CD of singing exercises by Deborah Miles too:

Vocal Warm Up Exercises Devised and demonstrated by Deborah Miles-Johnson Deborah Miles-Johnson : Choraline

This is a new resource on the horizon which is targeted at choral singers is coming soon – look out for it on the Choraline website:

During the past twelve months the Choraline team has been working with Deborah Miles-Johnson and Brian Parsons from ‘Choral Clinic’ in developing a new range of singing tutorials starting with a complete beginner interested in joining an SATB choir through to a very advanced singer with years of experience.

Debbie and Brian are two of the most brilliant singing teachers we have ever worked with and we are absolutely delighted to include these tutorials within the choral repertoire. Their individual careers have included work with lots of major UK choirs and ensembles – the Monteverdi Choir, Schutz Choir, The Sixteen, The Tallis Scholars and London Voices.

In our view, most ‘learn to sing’ tutorials tend to be too general and not relevant for SATB singers, but these have been specifically produced with us in mind. You can select a tutorial for your specific voice part and level of experience. Each tutorial is carefully planned and includes exercises and excerpts (from Messiah) to improve your technique, voice, and confidence.

We are currently working on the finishing touches and will make them available via the ChoraLine App and ChoraLine website during the next few weeks.

Music Box

I love being surprised and delighted by chance encounters with music in passing on the radio – usually whilst eating breakfast (home-made muesli btw). Radios 3’s Record Review, April 17th at 10.27 featured the most exquisite singing from a hugely talented soprano from Egypt – Fatma Said. The song – Give me a flute and sing – was from her debut album El Nour and is a setting of text by Kahlil Gibran. Beautiful singing and incredible breath control!  The CD is a ‘crossover’ collection of European and Egyptian pieces reflecting past cultural ties and current folk influences with some contemporary settings, some of which are accompanied by a novel instrumental ensemble.

The extracts include Give me a flute and sing, some opera to demonstrate the versatility of Fatma’s voice and her BBC new Generation Artists interview, which reveals some interesting perspectives on her lessons and training as a classical singer.

Fatma Said records “Aatini Al Naya Wa Ghanni” أعطنى الناى وغنى – YouTube

Fatma Said & Rolando Villazón on “Stars von morgen“ BRINDISI – YouTube

Fatma Said Interview – BBC New Generation Artists – YouTube


I have just finished reading the most delightful book called LEV’S VIOLIN by Helen Attlee, which was Radio 4’s Book of the Week in early April. I recommend it. Beautifully written, it takes you on an absorbing journey inspired by the sound of a violin. I quote from the dust jacket – which has a nice cover too!

From the moment she hears Lev’s violin, Helen Attlee is captivated. She is told that it is an Italian instrument, named after its former Russian owner. Eager to discover all she can about its ancestry and the stories contained within its delicate wooden body she sets out for Cremona, birthplace of the Italian violin. This is the beginning of a beguiling journey whose end she could never have anticipated.

Making its way from dusty workshops, through Alpine forests, cool venetian churches, glittering Florentine courts, and far-flung flea markets, Lev’s violin takes us from the heart of Italian culture to its furthest reaches. Its story of luthiers and scientists, princes and orphans, musician, composers, travellers and raconteurs, swells to a poignant meditation on the power of objects, stories, and music to shape individual lives and craft entire cultures.

For once, this is not inflated hyperbole, the unfolding story is a ‘beguiling journey’ and like a good detective story, the end was truly a surprise. Why did I like this book? Not only was my knowledge of the violin and the Italian composers whose music was profoundly influenced by its development, significantly broadened, but I was fascinated by the making process and enchanted by the author’s exploration of the cultural and geographical threads that this popular instrument wove across Europe into the 19th century. The most interesting revelations for me were in the chapter about the ‘foresta dei violini in the Dolomites, where the Alpine spruce trees (‘wood of resonance’) were sourced, and the rich variety of people who were involved in every stage of the transformation from tree to luthier to performer. Through the book, the story of the violin becomes a metaphor for the difference between value and worth – does a multi-million ££ Stradivarius excite and communicate more than a cheap German copy in a folk band? Exactly why IS an Amarti worth millions of pounds and how can you tell when you hear one? Lev’s Violin is an absorbing 202 pages, make it part of your holiday reading.

On a completely different note: If you want an inspiring and gently jaw-dropping evening on TV, I recommend My Octopus Teacher on Netflix. It is a documentary about said eight-armed cephalopod mollusc narrated by a marine biologist who observed and ‘befriended’ it over a year. The director won a Bafta for it. The photography is breath-taking and it out-attenboroughs young David.

And finally…I am most excited about the possibility of gaining possession of a full set of Leading Notes which Shauni collected. Whilst chatting on the phone with her last year about the blogs, and much else, she said I ought to have them. I anticipate sharing more of their priceless contents with you in future blogs.

Until then, best wishes, TM@tF