Learning Together: third-year Joe Prescott reflects on this year’s ABCD convention

Each year, we send the student Assistant Conductor of the University Chamber Choir off into the thronging embrace of the annual Association of British Choral Directors convention; this year, trumpeter, conductor, this year’s Music Society President, third-year Music Scholar Joe Prescott, headed off to Manchester; here, he reflects on time well spent…

Time flies when you are a student, particularly a student with an active Music Department, such as the one at the University of Kent. As I sat on the train heading north for ABCD Choral Directors’ Convention, it only seemed like yesterday that I was making the same journey west to Cardiff last year. Stepping out on to the platform at Manchester Piccadilly, I strode off in search of the venue this year, the prestigious Royal Northern College of Music.

Joe Prescott
Joe Prescott

Meeting old friends from all over the country was a great start to the evening, swapping musical notes and anecdotes! However, there was to be no slacking as following a brief introduction and the statutory issuing of badges , we were straight down to business.

The first sessions were warm ups, ice breakers and a bit of revision for those new to the convention. Name games, basic conducting techniques, reminders about posture and hand shaping all helped us to relax and focus, ready for sterner tests ahead in the second session.

Here we took the song, The Long Day Closes – a four part song with words by Chorley, set in four parts by Sir Arthur Sullivan – and looked at the techniques required when conducting this piece. It is a piece that we have performed in Chamber Choir so I felt confident in volunteering to conduct. It was great to have the expert tuition and the support of the others attending to bring out the soft, gentle, flowing nature of the piece. However, I could have done with longer as I had a image in my mind of how I wanted the piece to sound!

Scholars_PrescottAfter dinner we discussed the how to develop a repertoire to suit a community and the choral highlights that you might include.

A hearty and delicious breakfast set us up well for the second day which began with some Jazz ‘warm ups’ from Will Todd. This developed amazingly into some exploration of the Dorian mode and pentatonic scale. Always being on the lookout for good warm ups, there was one percussion- based one that I am looking forward to trying out on the Chamber Choir!  Creating ‘Vocal Baths was interesting as we held on 1st,3rd,5th, 7th and 10th notes in scales – another one to try out back in Kent.

Moving to more conducting, Campion’s Never weather-beaten sail was sight-conducting for many and the Elgar, As torrents in summer, proved tricky with its unusual entries.

After lunch we moved on to looking at more unusual time signatures, which will prove very useful in the coming year. Another warm up here based on nursery rhymes proved to be excellent practice for changes in tempo, speed and style. The great thing about this course is that you are learning together, there is constant discussion about conducting styles and techniques and we are always offering advice and support to each other. As last year I expect this will carry on throughout the year through social media.

The final part of Saturday was a Gala Concert given by a young all-boy’s choir (Cambiata North West) and a group from York University, The 24. Both groups performed to a very high standard but given the nature of the weekend it was very difficult to take your eyes off the conductor and to think how you might have interpreted these pieces! Finally The Academic Student Choir of the Ural Federal University (Russia) took to the stage. A choir that had incredible power but still had great prowess and technique.

Another highlight of the convention is always the chance to look at the latest choral publications and compositions. Many of these are free or sold at a much-reduced rate and I bought a number back for use this year at Kent with Sue and Dan. [Editor’s note: hurrah!]

I was very grateful to have been given the opportunity to attend the convention once again and felt honoured to represent the University in Manchester with some of the most important choral heads in the UK; can’t wait to embark on another great year of music-making at Kent.

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