John Potter
Musician & Author

News & Comment

Coaching in Coldharbour

Published at: 24/03/2024

Most of my coaching has been with student groups or young professional ensembles, many of which now have international careers. So I wasn’t sure what to expect when asked to do a session with the Abinger Church choir in deepest Surrey. My Dad was organist at Abinger as a teenager; his Dad was the blacksmith at Abinger Hammer, and generations of Potters still inhabit the churchyard. My two brothers still live in nearby Brockham and Betchworth (I was the only one to escape) so it seemed a great opportunity to combine business with pleasure.  Sadly, there turned out to be no time for family stuff after all, but I did get to sing beside my brother Ant, something the two of us haven’t done for decades.

Abinger churh  wasn't free so we assembled in Coldharbour church, near Leith Hill where my brothers and I had many a childhood adventure. The coaching was a joy. The choir (about 30 strong) sang their chosen repertoire of some half a dozen Elizabethan pieces, then split into small groups to work on the same music as ensemble pieces. I’ve always maintained that ensemble singing is dead easy – you basically just have to listen to each other and act on the information you give and receive (the reason the Hilliards made it look easy is because it is…)...

 …but no one ever believes me, so the task is to convince people that with an understanding of how the process works, the sky’s the limit. On this occasion the wonderful bunch of singers really got it, and the transformation they made was just the same as I would expect from a professional ensemble. It was an absolute delight, and big thanks to the indefatigable Martin Hall (who seems to conduct any choir that has at least one of my brothers in it).

If you want to know more about how it works the answers can be found in my chapter in The Cambridge Companion to Singing. Some of the Companion chapters are inevitably showing their age a bit, but my Ensemble Singing makes exactly the same points I’m still making today.

 And while on the subject of books, Song: a History in 12 Parts, which has been vying with Easy Piano Music for Adults for the top spot in Amazon’s Most Gifted Classical Music Theory chart has now been beaten into third place by Piano Blank Sheet Piano Music Manuscript.  I’ve been unseated by a book that not only has no theory but no notes; the end is clearly in sight.  On the other hand, there are plans afoot for an American radio series based on Song, so the news is not all bad. It’s also, incidentally, the only one of my ramblings available as an audiobook.


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