This year at my community choir, we are singing ‘White Winter Hymnal’ – it gives us the opportunity to learn something tricky as well as slightly Christmassy without being over the top in the religious stuff. It was originally a song by the Fleet Foxes in 2008 when they created this gorgeous video to go with it.

It’s a beautifully repetitive song with words that are ambiguous and yet gorgeous. The version I’m teaching is the 4 part acapella version by Pentatonix – I’ve adapted it as they have 4 guys and 1 girl and we have about 8 guys and 110 girls – so the vocal parts needed a bit of tweaking.

I know this song well – which helps massively with the arranging. Three years ago I taught it to my adult choir and the junior school choir where I worked – so I know it can be done. I’ve got the sheet music and there are a couple of great tutorials on you tube (including one which teaches the full Pentatonix clapping routine – we might give this a go but I’m mindful it might end up looking like something from the three stooges…)

Home studio

I’ve been trying to convince my husband to let me share his studio kit and we’ve finally worked out how to use Ableton software for me to be able to record each vocal track individually and then hear them all together. I then export each track separately for my singers to use. As I don’t teach with sheet music, this makes the process of learning accessible and I know my singers, they will do a bit of practice at home, especially when the goal is slightly higher than they’d like it to be! I like recording the parts as then I get to understand them better – it also means I don’t have to rely on being able to remember them on the spot on the day. I’m not that fond of listening to my own voice but this isn’t a performance or a chance for me to put my mark on the song, it’s just for teaching. I need a plain, clear voice which people can easily latch on to – no vibrato or fancy stuff. Luckily, I have a great teaching voice – it’s all of those things – plain, simple and clear just as it needs to be.

Recording the four parts wasn’t straight forward – I struggled with the green part (that’s bottom altos in my choir) and as a result needed to edit a piece into the track – you can see it on the picture. This wasn’t too hard. In a previous life I used to edit commercials for television and the Avid software I used for that isn’t dissimilar to Ableton so I was actually not only able to do it myself, but explain to my husband what I had done!

And then I taught it – to 86 enthusiastic, slightly confused singers on Monday night. It was a real test of concentration – I made sure they got a good tea break in first! It’s difficult to keep people’s attention if you’re focused on one group and not the others so I try really had not to make to boring for anyone. Next rehearsal, I think I’ll put them in different corners fo the room – this helps get them together and enables them to hear themselves better.

Every week I run a poll asking what song people have enjoyed singing most and this week it was this new song – which is unusual. I did spend a good 40 minutes on the song with them in each of the 4 parts. The mid line alto parts are the hardest. And yet, the sound we produced was pretty good and I have every confidence that this song will become one of our favourites… if it isn’t already.