Practice focus areas

Hi all,

Ok – so, easy bit over and done with – the first rehearsal where we all played individually !

I’ve spent a little time looking at 4 tunes as our initial selection, which we need to bring up to speed so that we can rehearse them effectively.  Two require little or no effort (depending on who confident you are !) – Moondance and Cool Saints.   I Feel Good has some new materials in the Alto 3 and Bari parts, but otherwise the same applies – easy.

This leaves Duke’s Suite – which needs some attention in key areas for most of us – usually where things get a little busier or feature unusual rhythms.

I’ve attached a sheet entitled “Focus Areas” – Please read it carefully and make sure you do your bit to get up to speed.


Are you expected to be perfect for Monday ?  – No, not necessarily *.  I am however looking for real evidence that you’ve taken time out to address the very few selected areas that need a little TLC.  This shouldn’t take more than an hour at max.  I’m looking for you to be able to play these sections confidently and at the correct speed to the MIDI backing.

ALL – This is a crucial time for the band.  Please support me in trying to move us forward – make sure you do your bit, and I’ll do the rest.

Cheers, Jem


* Matt and Ben – I’m hoping you’ll show the way, getting it right first time  🙂

New Sheet Music – Rehearsal Monday

Hi all,

Good news, bad news !

The bad is that it takes quite a while to change tunes to ‘Quartet +1′ even when the changes are subtle, hence this stuff being out on the web later than planned.  That and breaking my toe yesterday didn’t help !

The good is that I’ve gone with three tunes that we should already be familiar with, so we can be productive on Monday.  – Duke Suite (no change), Moondance, and I Feel Good (no change yet, so AATB at the mo’, with a fifth part coming soon).

The above are all on the MSE web-site current repertoire page.

Please give each of these a run through to make sure you’re comfortable with the notes, keys, repeats etc. as it’s a “good working knowledge” that we’re aiming for as our baseline.

Susie, can you please concentrate on Alto 2 for Duke Suite, and Alto 3 for Moondance

Jas, please take Alto 3 for Duke Suite, and Alto 2 for Moondance as your target for Monday

… and both run with Alto 2 on I Feel Good for the moment.

All – Monday’s session is mainly aimed at establishing the new process and helping everyone to understand what the baseline is in practical terms.  I’m sure it’ll seem a little wasteful of time in the first session or three, but I’m convinced that it’ll pay massive dividends over time if we follow it through properly.

cheers Jem

No rehearsal tonight – 10th October.

Hi all,

Really sorry to have to send out another email so soon – things seem to be moving pretty fast at the moment.

I just heard from Ray that he won’t be able to play with us until into the New Year.

As you know, I’ve been putting some time into re-arranging our material for a smaller band, and now taking into account Ray’s departure, I’m going to have to re-do much of it – i.e. for an even smaller band :).

You’ll also know that I’m not running on all cylinders at the moment, so I just can’t take on major re-writes of everything as a knee-jerk reaction, at very short notice.

Therefore, on thinking things over, I’ve had to make the following decisions ;

1  Tonight’s rehearsal session is cancelled – there’s no point in meeting to rehearse material that the band can’t then later perform (re-writes are needed).

2  By the time I re-arrange the Christmas stuff, and with Ben being unavailable for much of December, we won’t have time to comfortably put together a concert.  Therefore, whilst we can look at still playing Christmas tunes, it will be for busking only.

3  My concentration will now be on putting together arrangements for non-Christmas tunes, for a smaller band (4-part, plus one ‘spare’ to allow for absences).  This will take a little time, and I’m not going damage my health by trying to do it in a rush, so I’ll come back to the group as soon as I can with progress info.

Again, sorry for the short notice and the various decisions I’ve had to make – I’m merely reacting to the realities that are presented to me.

Speak soon, Regards, Jem

Tonight’s rehearsal

Hi all,

In my last email, I promised to have some Christmas music available for tonight’s session.

I’d planned to arrange some stuff and get it on line over the weekend, but instead found myself dealing with other matters as a priority.  Apologies.

I have indeed got some pieces for tonight (which I’ve also put on the website under ‘Christmas Repertoire’).  However, I’ll print out the parts for these pieces and hand them out tonight.  Of course, the usual MIDI, MP3 and other supporting docs will be available on-line to help with off-line practice.

Cheers Jem

A new approach to learning tunes

Hi all,

You may have picked up on the fact that I’m adopting a new approach to learning tunes within the group.

The new approach may seem a little scary at first, as it will definitely expose our individual foibles / slips more than previously (at least at first).  However, I firmly believe it’s the only way forward if we’re to regain our ability to put together a repertoire of tunes in time to put on at least one concert each term – which seems to be where many in the group want to head.

The new approach is pretty simple, in that for a given tune, each of us must learn our part (or parts) to the point where we can play confidently against a backing track (midi file), completing this phase before we move to rehearsing the tune as a group.

Why this approach ?

The easiest way I can explain the new tactic is via an illustration, and by doing this via the blog, it’ll hopefully save us time as a group.  Sorry if it’s patronising – but I couldn’t find a clearer way to illustrate why we’re taking this route.

The Jigsaw

A grand jigsaw competition was organised, with teams competing for a prize for the fastest successful completion.  The rules of the competition were ….

  • The jigsaws comprised 6 rows, each of many pieces.
  • Each team had 6 members, each of whom was allocated a row – 1 to 6 (top to bottom).
  • Each team featured a team-leader, to help with co-ordination.
  • The team could take their pieces home to practice with, before the competition date.
  • Every member of the team was provided with a picture of the completed whole jigsaw (on the lid of the box), and another of their allocated row.
  • Every member of the team was given a video showing step-by-step, how to build their row – as a learning aid.

Many different tactics were employed by the various teams – To save this being a 20-pager, here’s what happened to those who came last, and those who won 🙂

The Losers

The team all promised to learn how to assemble their parts at home before the competition, so that they could build their row quickly and methodically on the day.

In the event though, the promised practice never really materialised.  Hardly anyone had even glanced at their row-guides, and virtually no-one looked at the overall picture.

Certainly, there was little evidence that anyone could build their row quickly and confidently.

On the day everyone in the team was left to work out how the pieces fit within their row, and in real time.

The problem was that just when the guy in row 3 thought he had a section sorted, the guy in row 4 moved some of his pieces and put him off.  The guy in row 5 kept tentatively trying pieces to see whether they fit, but never really committed to a pattern. …. and the guy in row 2 began to panic, so started thumping his pieces in to make them fit, regardless of whether there position was right or not.

Soon, everyone became frustrated and joined in with “row 2” in forcing their pieces together.

The team leader had at least looked at the overall picture, so tried to advise the others on how to build the jigsaw properly, but time was running out, and most of the team were so intent on sorting out their own rows, that they took little notice.

In the end, after a very long time, a picture emerged.  It looked something like the illustration on the box cover, but it wasn’t right.

The Winners

Proving that there’s no short cut to winning the competition, and that practice makes perfect, the winning team turned up on the day, each member being confident in his ability to assemble his row quickly and accurately.

Each team member had built their allocated row several times over so that they could do so on the day without having to think too much about which piece went where – and they had also checked their work against both the row-picture and the overall picture to make sure they’d got everything just right.

With the help of the team leader who made sure that everyone moved at the same speed, the team worked together seamlessly, building their individual rows whilst keeping an eye on the whole picture as it emerged.

Where the team leader felt the need to guide the team, the individual row-builders had sufficient free concentration to pay attention and put his suggestions into action.

Predictably, the winning team’s jigsaw came together very quickly indeed, and with very little need for the team-leader to guide and correct the team.


Putting this back into a musical context, the implications for us as a small and are pretty obvious.  The evidence of the past couple of years is that when we don’t rehearse up-front or at home, and instead leave it to trust that it will all come right when we combine learning and rehearsing as a group activity, it takes an absolute age to build even an acceptable approximation of a given tune – in most cases it takes a full two terms of intermittent practice for any tune to reach acceptable concert standard.

Taking this amount of time to learn our tunes introduces frustration amongst those who learn their parts more quickly, and we even get to a stage where members of the band begin to forget what they’ve learned, before we can put together a full concert play-list.

In the past, I’ve tried to rectify the problem above, by getting everyone to promise that they will put in the off-line practice.  However, despite numerous attempts at enthusing the band, the required discipline at home hasn’t materialised.

Therefore, the only way is to ensure that we can each play our parts confidently as a first step, then assemble the parts into the whole.

Hopefully, we can establish this as a norm, so that we can eventually dispense with the need to check our individual work up-front – trusting in the band’s commitment to a good quality end result.








Christmas Prep.

Hi all,

A slight tweak to our arrangements on the run-up to Christmas, taking into account that we have an opportunity to perform in the IOMWO Christmas concert, and that Ben has severe restrictions on his time in December as he has no less than two accountancy exams.

We’ll press ahead with our individual-then-group rehearsal of “Duke Suite”, and also run “A whole new world” in the same fashion if the first one goes well.

However, thereafter we need to switch our attention to some of our Christmas non-carols.

Keep an eye out on the website / blog as I’m working on versions of a few tunes to suit our current line-up (one tenor, loads of altos !).

Cheers Jem