Given the ever changing landscape of lock-downs and travel restrictions I have been researching different ways to keep working and studying over the past couple of months. Some conferences are being moved online and I decided to get an asynchronous ticket to the Spheres of Singing conference. I am not sure how I first heard about this, but I assume it was mentioned on twitter by a UK based singing teacher.
The conference took place from the 28-30th May, though I started watching the material a day or so after it was released. The conference was free, which was amazing, and the sessions were available to watch for 48 hours. This was great for me as I'm not sure I could have shifted to UK time to participate in real time. I also wouldn't have been able to attend in person, even if there weren't travel restrictions, as one of my theatre groups was finishing their season during the weekend of the conference.
There is also a risk in attending a conference or any sort of training for the first time. I do travel to the UK every year, but most of the training I attend has been at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. I keep going back to the same place as I know what to expect. This conference seemed academic with a leaning towards the classical. I mostly work with contemporary singers and in theatre. There is, of course, cross over between classical and contemporary singing, but when you can only attend a limited number of courses in a year I am always trying to find things that are closely aligned with my work. Being able to attend virtually and for free removed all of the risk.
I loved the vocal masterclass taught by Professor Janis Kelly. I had made some notes during the conference but I have pages from this masterclass. She worked with 3 singers, and I loved how practical her advice was. She gave the singers exercises to try to help with the issues in their songs, some of which gave immediate improvements. Seeing or hearing that a singer reaches for their notes, or that the volume increases as they ascend, or that the larynx is too high or depressed is useful, but it's much better if you can actually help the singer change these things. I was very impressed with her inhalare la voce exercises. This is something I struggle with and getting to see it demonstrated was wonderful. I use this with rock singing as just like opera it's an extremely athletic form of singing.
I really enjoyed Professor David M Howard's plenary on Voice Pitch and Choral Tuning. About this time last year I was struggling to get a group of singers to stay in tune with each other and it was great to hear an expert speak about the issues of pitch. I also enjoyed Patrick Freer's talk, Pedagogical Implications from Research with Adolescent Boys about Singing, and Suzanne Chadwick's talk, What do we do with the Boys? Practical Strategies for Working with Adolescent Male Voices. I now have a number of new practical things I can with the boys I work with, which is fantastic.
Thoughts On Going Online
Watching recorded material does mean that you can adjust the playback speed. I did find myself doing this, if a talk was very wordy, and it's great because I can get through more material. I also didn't have to choose between workshops or sessions as I was able to watch them all. I think I saw more talks that I normally would when I attend conferences in person.
I was watching by myself so I wasn't able to interact or discuss the material with anyone.
I do enjoy those conferences conversations with others who are interested in the same detailed aspect of singing, and hearing about other people's experiences.
I am very glad the conference was moved online and that I was able to virtually attend. Conferences are always a lot of work for their organisers and they have my gratitude and thanks for being willing to work in this new environment and to go ahead with the conference in what is a very stressful time.