by Florian Städtler
While doing the network thing at the Kulturbörse Freiburg for three exhausting and inspiring days, I met a living legend of German a cappella, Tilo Beckmann. Founder and ex-member of the first German vocal group 6-Zylinder, he is currently working on his new ambitious project Sonic Suite, an a cappella group in which he acts as mentor, director and singer.
“Besides being a singer, I always loved to work with vocal ensembles to pass on the experience of more than 30 years of singing, arranging and organzing.” Asked what makes his coaching special, Tilo replied: “If there’s anything, I’m really trying to be good at, it’s my ability to listen and watch from the perspective of any regular guy in the audience.”
We agreed, that many groups tend to work on details of intonation, blending and sound, without really having got the basics right. But exactly what are the basics from the perspective of the regular, non-expert listener?
Tilo summed up his coaching concept in four main areas of work:
- Impact: What general impression does the group make towards the audience?
- Clarity: Is the group able to convey a clear message, musically as well as in terms of performance?
- Rhythm: “A wrong note in the right place is better than a right note in the wrong place”, says Tilo. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to work on intonation and don’t have to know your part. But, as Tilo added “Most of traditional vocal education emphasizes on sounding great. But what makes contemporary vocal music unique is its rhythm.”
- Hierarchy: Social structure is an issue in every team. As a coach, Tilo prefers straight talk, unaffected by the traditional roles of group members. “Critizising singers in a constructive way is very important. But even if the coaching causes discussions inside the group, the singers must value those things they have achieved and contributed in the past.”
No.3, “rhythm”, reminded me of Denmark and its fantastic scene of “Rhythmic Choirs”. As many small ensembles emerge as extracts of jazz, pop and gospel choirs, choirs like Jens Johansen’s Vocal Line and educational institutions like The Complete Vocal Institute seem to show the way for contemporary vocal education.
If you or your vocal group is interested in a coaching session with Tilo, these are two opportunities in the not so far future:
- Stimmen Festival Lörrach (GER), March 26-28, 2010
- A Cappella Workshop Coesfeld (GER), June 11-13, 2010
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