Sunday, 14 August 2022

Multi-faceted vocalist inspires choral society

MORE than 90 members of Henley Choral Society (HCS) plus some of Henley Youth Choir crowded

MORE than 90 members of Henley Choral Society (HCS) plus some of Henley Youth Choir crowded into d:two for a vocal workshop on Saturday.

London-based vocalist and teacher Randolph Matthews, who started out as a percussionist before finding his vocation as a vocalist, performer and lyricist, led the session.

He sang backing vocals for Don Blackman, Arthur Baker and Will Downing before going solo in 2006 and releasing his debut album.

His blend of jazz, soul and ethnic beatbox has led to him collaborating with a string of established artists as well as performing at Ronnie Scott’s and the London Jazz Festival.

Recent work with the Young Voices choir took Randolph around England from Manchester Arena to the Royal Albert Hall, performing with more than 6,000 children to in excess of 500,000 people during a two-year period, alongside Alexandra Burke, Beverley Knight and The High Kings.

HCS chairwoman Susan Edwards said: “We are constantly trying to improve our skills and develop. Our Midsummer Music concert at St Mary’s on Saturday, June 20 includes wonderful spirituals by Tippet and beautiful songs by Brian Shearing, the blind British jazz composer.

“We wanted to have some additional help to sing these pieces which are influenced by jazz, spirituals and blues â?? and we couldn’t have found anyone better than Randolph to inspire us.”

Randolph began the workshop with a multi-layered voice and beatbox performance, immediately connecting to participants through his vocal talents, sense of humour and engaging personality.

He initially used the traditional call and response techniques of gospel music, encouraging participants to focus on the pulse and rhythm and to use their bodies and gestures to ensure the sounds were free and deeply felt.

Susan added: “It was great to get away from the strict confines of the score and just to focus on the sounds, our breathing, each other and the conductor.

“Randolph got us to try out different vocal and breathing exercises and encouraged us to develop what he called an improvised musical conversation with him.

“By the end of the morning we were literally throwing sounds to each other across the room and the whole place was buzzing with energy and excitement!”

In the second half Randolph had great fun with some of the members of the junior choir representing different sounds and workshop participants following instructions to put these sounds together.

Using the Miles Davies piece All Blues, Randolph demonstrated scat singing, where the voice is used to create improvised melodies and rhythms with sounds and nonsense syllables.

He then explored the origins of spiritual and gospel music in the experiences of Africans forced into slavery to work in the sugar plantations and cotton fields.

He linked the sound of the music to their circumstances, to the landscape and the physical work they had to do and explored how these shaped the music.

Finally, choral society members sang Tippet’s Deep River.

Randolph said: “After working with these guys all morning and encouraging them, it was great to hear them do what they do best. I was so moved by the performance, I had to take a little moment at the end before we moved on.”

Susan added: “I think we all found it an incredibly enjoyable workshop. Randolph is a superb teacher and performer â?? and I am sure today has inspired us to give the best possible performance of the beautiful spirituals and jazz-influenced songs at the concert.”

Midsummer Music takes place at 7.30pm on Saturday, June 20, at St Mary’s Church, Henley.

Tickets will be on sale shortly.

HCS welcomes new members to the tenor and bass sections. There are no auditions. Call Wendy Hawkins on (01491) 576929 or see www.henleychoral for more information.

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