Final Message to Choir Teachers

Dear Choir Teachers – kia ora koutou

Patrick Shepherd

Many thanks for all your hard work this year with your choirs. “Fun and Games” was a great success and thankfully we didn’t have any fun and games putting it on – I did think I might have been tempting fate a little bit with that title!

The feedback that we have had has been overwhelmingly positive so thank you all for that and for supporting the festival through these difficult years at the Horncastle Arena. We have been well aware of its shortcomings but now we can look forward to going back into the Town Hall; some of the issues around sound and visibility will become less troublesome but there will be teething problems, not least of which will be external issues non-musical like parking. If we hear anything that will help we will pass it on through the website so do keep your eyes on that.

2018 Feedback comments

  • I know I say it every year but we do spend a lot of time selecting the songs, aiming to cover as many genres as we can to produce as stimulating a show as possible. We do small rewrites that ensure tricky rhythms make life easier for an 800+ voice choir while still retaining the character and feel of the original. I’d like to thank Josh McGirr for his arranging skills in this space as there were a couple of tricky “solo” songs that needed some real care and attention.
  • The pitch selection is always solidly in the range for a good head voice and rarely (if ever) goes higher than an E which is well within a child’s natural range, even unbroken boys’ voices can manage it, despite what they might tell you! If boys’ voices are breaking then taking it down the octave is fine for the really top stuff but most should be absolutely fine. We do experiment with adjusting keys so that each song sits well for children’s voices. The only time when there can be a trade-off is when we have songs for the Concert Band or Symphony Orchestra because there we need to be mindful of the keys that the transposing instruments (Bb clarinets, trumpets and tenor saxes; horns in F and alto saxes in Eb) have to read in, but prime consideration is always given to the tessitura of the voices.
  • We have no control over the length of the interval – it is set at 20 minutes and that’s that; VBase will not allow it to be any less. I believe it is a legal requirement for an event of this size.
  • Just addressing a couple of general issues, we hope the ticketing worked well again this year with clear instructions as to where the children will be sitting. With some schools bringing fewer or more children than they have indicated or not being present for the morning rehearsals (which is something we require for precisely these reasons, as well as getting acquainted with the performance space) there will always be minor adjustments. As we look at moving back to the Town Hall next year, we will need to be very specific as to the numbers in each choir and, as part of that transition, it is probably a good idea to start thinking about how you go about selecting choir members as we will not be able to be as flexible about choir numbers once we move into that space (ticketing will also be at a premium as there will likely be fewer seats per performance, although there will be four nights, rather than the three nights at present). Auditioning may well be a part of how you select your choir but what we really want is keen children who want to be there. Ability, however, does play a part – just try having that conversation with the sports coaches when someone who just isn’t up to it wants to make the top team – the Arts are no different, especially when you are engaging in public performance. I think it goes without saying that we would be wanting children who a) want to be there and b) have a genuine interest in singing and performing and c) have some aptitude for doing so. Being part of a 1000-strong choir is not going to suddenly magically transform unruly behaviour although it is gratifying to see that light coming on when a child sees how wonderful music can be.
  • We require a strong teacher presence at both the Area Rehearsals and the Horncastle Arena – one thing I always enjoy is seeing the teachers singing with the children (great role models!). From a behaviour management point of view, we (as in the conductors) can’t do this in a big rehearsal, not least of all because it ruins the atmosphere when we all want an uplifting experience, not a negative one, so it is up to teachers to manage the behaviour of their students at all times throughout rehearsals and performances.

So, next year’s theme is “You’re the Voice”, celebrating 80 years of our beloved Music Festival with some of the best songs from those concerts. The thinking is that the Festival is primarily a singalong festival but also, more broadly, it gives young people in Christchurch a platform to perform music i.e. “having a voice”. We want to celebrate that fact as part of our return to the Town Hall.

It is also a significant year as it is 50 years since mankind first landed on the Moon and 250 years since Captain James Cook landed in New Zealand, some of which may feature in the show, along with other things we are yet to discover. We have already selected most of the songs for next year and we think you’ll like them as we look to really celebrate our long-awaited return to the Town Hall.

So, it only remains for me to thank you all again as we look forward to “Around the World in 80 Years” in 2018. May you have an enjoyable end to the year, a well-deserved holiday and we look forward to seeing you all again next year.

Warmest wishes – Naku te rourou nau te rourou ka ora ai te iwi.

Nga mihi nui
Patrick Shepherd
Musical Director, CSMFA