What is one rehearsal activity that helps your choir bond as a group?
We do a lot of call & response during improvisation. So in a circle, each member has a turn at creating a musical idea on the spot which the group has to copy. This is great for people who are scared of improvising, because if an idea doesn’t go as planned, the group has to repeat something in unison – so they naturally “correct” the idea. Also, without trying, members find that they keep developing each other’s ideas, so you’re constantly working as a team. Sometimes we do this with percussive sounds to practice rhythm, or “silly” sounds just to warm up. This is great for group bonding.
Choir Name: The New Amsterdam Gospel Group
Style: Gospel, jazz, soul
Number of singers: 12
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Any funny moments in rehearsal you can share?
Learning how to sound exactly like a trumpet and proceeding to improvise over jazz standards!
So, how do you make a trumpet sound?
The way we make a trumpet sound is inspired by the French singer Zaz. In her tune ‘je veux’ she demonstrates it. We teach the singers how to use ‘twang’ – a term used by Jo Estill of Estill Voice Training and then make a trumpet shape over their mouth with one hand. The hand will amplify the sound. Check the video to see how Zaz does it:
A favorite piece of repertoire & why
“As”, by Stevie Wonder. This tune sings to combine all the genres we love – it has such groove and beautiful melodies, and the feeling when we sing it together is amazing. It brings us all together! We sing it every season without fail.
Any emotional moments during a performance?
Singing the “Amen” chorus from Richard Smallwood’s Total Praise – it’s the most epic ending ever- we brought down the house.
What about in rehearsal?
Whenever a member with very low confidence sings a solo!
What kinds of things does the choir/directors do to help low confidence singers tackle solos?
Our school is called Singing Circle because our ethos is that we believe participation in music and singing should not be competitive and that singers should support each other. So in rehearsals we discourage competitive attitudes and showing off, and try to create a safe environment for people to make mistakes and learn.
For improvising, tips we always give are:
- Use space!
- Try and tell a story
- Copy ideas that you’ve heard elsewhere- nothing is really new!
For singing regular solos:
- Don’t over complicate it/keep the original melody
- Be prepared – know exactly which notes you will sing
- Use nerves to your advantage. When we’re nervous, we our sense of timing and pitch can change. Find a way to be relaxed on stage, and channel the nerves effectively.
A turning point in the life of your choir?
When we grew from 5 members in our first season to 12 in our second. The energy, dedication and sound improved immensely!
A juicy fact you love to tell your choir members
That Michael Jackson supposedly cried after every take of recording “She’s Out Of My Life”, because he was so in character during the singing. Point: be in character when you sing, but also – make the audience cry – not yourself!
A performance you will never forget!
When we put on our first concert of only our own repertoire, and invited friends and family to watch! It was January 2018 at Cafe De Pianist in Amsterdam – a cozy, music-minded local bar, and thankfully, we were well received!
How long had the group been rehearsing beforehand?
For about three months! 12 rehearsals total, 1 hour 30 minutes each.
Any tips for a choir looking to put on their first concert?
Finding the right venue is very important. It’s important to find a venue that attracts the right kind of audience for your choir’s music.
Do all of the members have a background in Gospel music? If not, how do you introduce them to it?
All of our members have a passion for gospel music but many had never sung gospel songs in a choir before. We introduce harmonic and lyrical concepts from gospel repertoire as we go along. During the audition process we selected the singers who felt comfortable singing groove-based music and who wanted to improvise.
What is your audition process?
We ask members to send an mp3 of themselves singing. When we really like what we hear, we invite them to an audition, where we ask them to perform a song but we also teach them something and discuss the ethos of the choir.
Anne Brattinga (stage name: Anne Suzanne) and Beth Aggett co-direct Vocal Group 628 and The New Amsterdam Gospel Group. Anne is a singer/songwriter and is well known as the founder of Zangschool Singing Circle. Beth is a singer/musicologist/arranger/director that is particularly known for improvising and creating great harmonies on the spot.