Hark All the Herald Things You Are

Anita Wardell doing Bye Bye Good King Blackbird...

Anita Wardell doing Bye Bye Good King Wences Blackbird

Christmas is upon us. Festive thingies to you all, and may you realise that something you’ve always wanted is something you already have.

In what is starting to become a welcome little tradition of our own, we have the fabulous singer Anita Wardell with us again for our yuletide special on 21st December at Brasserie Toulouse Lautrec.

I usually pull out some daft entertainment on Christmas gigs. Often, it’s a quiz. One where I award points for stupid and funny answers, so it’s Google-proof. The prize for getting the most right answers is a bottle of beer and the prize for the most daftness is a bottle of champagne. So daftness pays…

But I decided to rest it this year. So this gig will involve audience members popping balloons, inside which are carols and jazz tunes, and we then do the lyrics of one to the tune of the other.*

If anyone can handle this challenge, Anita can. She’s one of the most accomplished interpreters of lyrics I’ve ever met (for instance, see here for my post on her use of vocalese). Plus of course, she’s always up for fun, our Neets…

But I learned from one of her students after I’d proposed the idea, that by happy coincidence this is actually an exercise she uses in teaching. She’ll get them to sing the back of her gas bill to the tune of Summertime.

There are many reasons this makes a great exercise, but off the top of my head here are just a few:

  • Dissociating the lyrics from the melody throws focus on the way you handle the latter (and highlights pitching problems)
  • It gives a vocalist all kinds of experience at randomly handling syllables and meter in all kinds of pitching and range situations, which helps to foster clarity
  • It builds confidence – someone once said that scat was invented one night when Ella forgot the lyrics. Many singers I’ve met have a fear of forgetting their lines that can really hinder them – this exercise short-circuits that fear
  • Another fear some singers have is of corpsing. Well, if you’ve already exposed yourself to doses of absurdity, you’re far less likely to dissolve in giggles (but please do retain a sense of humour)
  • It encourages spontaneity and exposes you to another level of improvisation. Pick something you’ve never read before (like the T&Cs for any Apple product) and do it cold
  • When you do return to the actual lyrics, you see them afresh and are inclined to be more sensitive to their meaning, rather than trotting them out like a parrot
  • You develop a deeper appreciation for the songwriter’s craft. Even if you don’t aspire to write songs yourself, your interpretation of any song will be strengthened

So, now we all shall rise and sing hymn 317: the assembly instructions to an Ikea flat-pack coffee table to the tune of Abba’s Dancing Queen. Mrs Pycroft in the organ loft, if you’d be so kind…

* The idea is flagrantly stolen from I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue – a fine British radio institution.

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Posted in c) Musicianship, e) Rants & Ramblings
One comment on “Hark All the Herald Things You Are
  1. Adam Cole says:

    I really like that idea.

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Wednesday Gig/Jam


We play every Wednesday night, 9 to 12.30, at Toulouse Lautrec in Kennington, South London. It starts as a gig then becomes a jam. We welcome and accommodate all, but please do have a squizz at Thoughts from the Piano Chair of a Jam Session.
Illustration by Sue Harding

June guest soloists
7 Sara Dowling voc
14 Ed Riches gtr
21 Duncan Eagles tenor
28 Tom Ridout tenor

More info on guests here


For London-wide jazz llistings see

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