World Voice Day: Mastering Ensemble Singing - the Science and the Art

Event Report

The Expressive Nonverbal Communication in Ensemble Performance team ran a unique event for World Voice Day, showcasing ongoing collaborative research between the Universities of Leeds, Sheffield and York. 

Around 150 singers, researchers and members of the public participated in  'Mastering Ensemble Singing – the Science and the Art' in the Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall' on 16 April 2016.  Supported by WRoCAH, and by members of the Audio Lab at the Department of Electronics at York University, the session featured invited ensembles and coaches, and live audience feedback to create a highly interactive research and educational event.

Expert vocal coaches Robert Hollingworth (Reader in Music at the University of York and director of the acclaimed vocal ensemble I Fagiolini) and Rob Barber (internationally acclaimed specialist in barbershop performance) coached two quartets of singers: a classical ensemble of York University students and the local Barbershop Quartet, DelekatéAt the same time, the research team of the White Rose College of Arts and Humanities project 'Expressive Nonverbal Communication in Ensemble Performance' set up a range of audio and motion capture recording methods, measuring changes in the performers' individual and group sounds, their expressive body movements and their perceptions of their ensemble development through the session. The audience also provided valuable data on their own perceptions of the developing performances, using 'clickers'. The aim was to provide the public with insights into how researchers are developing both artistic and scientific understandings of how expert ensemble singing develops.  

Event description

The Science and the Art of Ensemble Singing
This year on World Voice Day we took this excellent opportunity for exchange with musicians, voice experts, voice amateurs and interested people from the general public; to go behind the scenes of an exciting research project between the University of York, Sheffield University and Leeds University as part of the White Rose College of the Arts and Humanities. Exploring 'Expressive Ensemble Performance' seeks to understand the nuances behind good ensemble singing.

The day  featured two master classes for two vocal ensembles specialising in Early Music and Barbershop by invited singing maestros Robert Hollingworth and Rob Barber respectively. The audience voted live on their experiences of the singing performances. Throughout the event we demonstrated some of the different measures of ensemble singing related to auditory synchronisation and visual communication that are critical aspects of the listening experience. 

Cutting edge research

We trialled technical aspects of the research project that have never been tried before, including different ways to measure ensemble performance using common and bespoke technologies including the XBox Kinect and electrolaryngographs.  As well as hearing how and why aspects of good ensemble singing are being measured the audience took part by listening out for specific aspects of the music.