I have known Mark Oldfield as a singer for many years, but it is only quite recently that I have got to know him as a teacher and choral practitioner. He first worked with me at the North London Chorus a year ago when we conducted our 3-yearly voice checks. He heard the whole choir in small groups and provided written feedback to each individually with constructive comments and suggestions for improving their vocal technique. He also provided follow-up one-to-one and group sessions for those about whom we both had concerns. His approach throughout was sensitive, but firm when necessary and I particularly appreciated his specialised knowledge and personal support through the process, which was not without its challenges.
As a direct result of this, he attended our 2014 Residential Workshop as guest vocal tutor and began to form a closer relationship with the choir through a series of excellent workshops. The choir’s response to his clear and thoroughly user-friendly group singing lessons and master classes was unanimously enthusiastic. He has a very clear style of communication and uses a perfect combination of physiological explanation and metaphor in his exercises. He is also very clear when applying the techniques learned through exercises to our repertoire.
We formalised his appointment as Vocal Consultant shortly after the weekend away, and this term saw the commencement of what we hope will be a pattern for the future. Mark now attends about four rehearsals per term. He begins with a technique-based sectional, leads a full choir warm-up, and then works with groups and individuals in a separate room before joining the full rehearsal for the last 20 minutes and working with me on repertoire.
I am not exaggerating when I say that the results of his work with the choir have been immediately obvious. The number of audience comments we have heard about the huge improvement in intonation, sound quality and projection speak for themselves, as does our most recent review which appeared in the Ham & High and is by a critic who has heard every concert for the last three or four years:
“The choir’s male voices seemed to have swelled….you get a better idea of what they are capable of, with more variety and strength to complement the terrific assembly of female voices … a choir in great form ...”
Although we are still in the early stages of the relationship, we already have a group of people who are growing in vocal confidence and collecting the tools they need to improve their singing. Mark has also worked as language coach and will appear as baritone soloist in our next concert.
Aside from his obvious skills as a singer and teacher, the thing which sets Mark apart from other practitioners I have worked with over the years is his unfailing positivity and enthusiasm. His ability to lift the spirits and raise the standard of a mixed ability and intergenerational group of amateur singers while at the same time helping me to confront a few major problems of blend and intonation has been invaluable.
Murray Hipkin is the Musical Director of North London Chorus, and is also a full-time staff member at English National Opera.