Coaching sessions with Peggy Gram

Once in a while (read: quite often) we are visited by wonderful people in the barbershop community who coach us. This year, our first coach was none other than the wonderful, talented and amazing Peggy Gram. We were blessed to be coached by her over not only one but two rehearsals (or four, depending on how you count)!

It’s hard to explain how inspiring it was to have Peggy with us over those two days. She brings so many ideas and suggestions regarding how to develop our competition songs as well as our vocal techniques. Beyond explaining where the resonators are in our bodies, how to maximise each and how to improve resonace with those around us, Peggy also described a handful of vocal textures and placement tricks which could bring out different rhythmic and lyrical flourishes in our music. Building on these tips, she went on to describe how we can ‘spike’ our sound by concentrating it and tipping it forward, which gives the impression of increasing volume and intensity while leaving room for further crescendo. The second rehearsal focused on how to sing short vowels to get greater resonance, something even the best choruses must constantly work on to achieve that ear-pleasing ‘ring’ which makes barbershop so special. What a blessing to have the opportunity to sing the same beat over and over to really make sure you sing the vocal in the correct pitch and volume without losing the resonance.

Each individual applies their own approach and experiences to their coaching, as well as a whole lot of talent. Working with multiple coaches helps to strengthen different dimensions of our work (unity, resonance, energy, performance), and empowers us to draw on a wider set of tools and techniques than our own (wonderful) directors and sections leaders can provide. This shouldn’t undermine the important work that they do: Our directors make it possible to work with coaches with different types of expertise by preparing the chorus musically, by regularly integrating new kinesthetic tools into our vocal warm-ups and drills, and by using mental training to encourage self-confidence and openness for continued improvement.

The final evening with her finished with Peggy asking Britt-Hélen to stop conducting so emphatically, thereby forcing each and every member of the chorus to take personal responsibility for the dynamics and other parts of the musical plan. With tears in our eyes, we then sang our new ballad and said good bye to Peggy. What a memorable evening for all of us!