vrijdag 20 juni 2014

Inspiration Day | BALK Net

Check out inspiration day with Merel Martens and Peder Karlsson on september 27th in Utrecht!

Inspiration Day | BALK Net

vrijdag 23 mei 2014

Dutch Organic Choir!

Here we are, heading towards the summer of 2014 and it has been way too long since I wrote my last blog. But here I am, with great news!

Next year I'll be entering my second and last year of the master choir conducting in Denmark, and therefore I have to create a massive 'Master's Project'. Since I have been inspired and influenced a lot by Peder Karlsson, I decided to go with his thoughts and make them into a cool project. Peder told me about his ideas for an 'Organic Choir', about two months ago and I loved the idea of involving many people in the actual musicmaking and decision process. Therefore, Peder Karlsson and Merel Martens present: 'Dutch Organic Choir'!

Check out all of the info here: http://www.therealacademy.se/mod/resource/view.php?id=1244

I would really like to hear your thoughts and opinion on this project, so please leave a comment. You can also visit me on facebook and twitter, and talk along.

For applying for the audition in september, go to:


maandag 25 november 2013

In the groove?!

In rhythmical (vocal) music, musicians often talk about this thing called 'groove'. And I've been asked for some explanation about this topic many times. Because most of the times, we talk about groove as if it's something that's just 'there', but a lot of people don't really know how to discribe it. I'm gonna give it a try! 

First, if we say that a certain song has a 'groove', we imply that the song has some sort of rhytmical feel. Let's say that in the music genre we (or at least I) work, almost every song has a groove. By which I mean; you can hear an ongoing rhythmical feel. I think that's what makes our genre ours. Even though I hate putting music into boxes, most classical music has no groove, while pop, jazz, folk and other styles we sing often have. So that's why I think 'rhytmical music' kind of explains the pile of genres we all like to sing together. You might also say 'non-classical music', but that doesn't sound really nice, does it? But to be honest, we are still waiting for someone to come up with the perfect name for our type of music...

The groove. When I was a student in Holland, I was explained that the groove of a song is the combination of the rhythm and bassline. It's what makes a song recognisable for us. I you put on a song like 'I want you back-Jackson 5', 'I wish-Stevie Wonder' or 'Thriller-Michael Jackson', of course everyone instantly links the groove to the song. But to be honest, maybe groove should be just about rhythm, and not so much about tones...

Therefore I have another discription of what makes the 'groove'. It consists of three components. The first one is the pulse/tempo. It should be steady and (alsmost) the same every time you play a certain song. the second on is subdivisions. If you have a song with a rhythmical feel, let's say 4 beats per bar, there will be different types of notes in one bar. If you find the shortest one (for example an 8th note or a 16th note) you're able to fill up the whole bar with these notes. So now every beat has 2/4 subdivisions, possibly going very fast. The third one is accents. Once you feel that the pulse/tempo is steady and every beat has subdivisions, it's time to make the groove! Within all of the subdivisions, there are accents. Once you are able to sing the accents while you internally still feel all of the other subdivisions, you are able to 'get into the groove'! 

And then, to make it even more complex, there's also a thing called 'timing'. If you want a song to be laid back or 'stuwend', as we say in Dutch, (like pushing or in front), you must implement this timing into the subdivisions feel. There's for example also a difference between heavy swing and light swing and this is also shown in the 'groove'...

I'm looking forward to hearing what you think! 
Hug, Merel 

maandag 2 september 2013

When music is work...

Hi there! 

I'm back in business. After an incredibly busy year of conducting, arranging and teaching, I was in need of a big, big break during the last few months. And since I got some new insights out of it, I'd like to share this topic with you. 

When music is work, things can get a little difficult. First, there is a moment or period in your life in which music turns from a hobby into a profession. But that doesn't mean the hobby part is gone! You really have to learn how to keep your balance, and how to decide what's worth spending your time on. For example jam sessions; a lot of fun, but yet another night/moment away from home, and I can imagine in most cases the critical musician in you wants you to be on top of your game, too. Or doing some arranging for friends, students or people you like, while at the same time having a lot of assignments, that pay the bills...

When I look back and evaluate last year, I almost always said yes. There was always some reason to go do this gig, arrangement, workshop, jam, etc. Mostly because I love my work, wanted to help out people and liked having no financial worries. But in the end this didn't work out for me, as I'm sure it wouldn't for anyone. I was exhausted.

Next to that, we now have the possibility to reach out to our college's and friends all the time, thanks to internet, what'sapp, email, facebook, twitter and so on. And thanks to our smartphones and tablets, the information comes in 24 hours a day...

On top of that, I think it's quite a difficult society we live in. Everything is possible, everyone wants to be happy, satisfied with work, healthy. Before you know it, you're working full time, having quality time with family, spending time on social life, sport multiple times a week, take care of pets and maybe children, and on top of that you want to travel, see the world, cook nice food and be 'zen' at the same time. 

So, during the last few months, I've been working on how to improve my lifestyle, evaluating what went wrong. Some simple things that I want to put down for you to read, and as a reminder to myself: 

- Set a goal and make sure every bit of work you do contributes to achieving it;
- Scedule your 'time off' as well, weekly and monthly;
- Change the settings on your phone and tablet, so YOU can decide when you want to work;
- Take time to evaluate.

And of course there's a lot more to say about this subject, but for me this is a start. 
Hope you all enjoyed reading this. Feel free to leave a comment. 

Hugs, Merel 

P.S. Here's me and my cat Henry, this is how I spent a lot of time last months. :-)

zaterdag 8 juni 2013

The power of a cappella

Dear vocal friends, 

a few weeks ago I went to Denmark with the 15 singers of Pitch Control. A trip we had been looking forward to a LOT! :-) From 16-20 may we had an amazing experience in Aarhus for the Aarhus Vocal Festival 2013. Interesting workshops, great concerts and we got selected to compete in the choir competition, with 5 other choirs. 

Since I went to the AAVF 2011 with VOÏSZ vocal projects, I already knew what a great trip our group was going to make. I told the singers the level would be really high, but I guess there's no way you can prepare your singers for concerts with the Real Group, Rajaton, Vocal Line, Voxnorth, and many other amazing groups and singers... Turns out we forgot to take our tissues, and that's definitally a good thing!

I'm not sure what it is that a cappella does, but it unites people. Not only within your own group, but also in general. The hugging starts when you enter the festival venue and everyone's talking about the great a cappella family we're in. To have a drink at the bar with your a cappella heroes, to sing beautiful pieces together with people you've never met before, it's all part of the a cappella culture we all love so much.

Pitch Control had a great first couple of days, and then on saturday night I sent them to bed in time, to prepare for our concerts on sunday. We had a foyer concert in the early afternoon, and I'm pretty sure it opened our eyes a little, because it was oké, but we all knew we had more to give in the late afternoon competition concert. We had an intensive warming up and last rehearsal. We ended with some hugging (why not do it the Danish way;-) and we got on stage to compete. 
I've been a conductor for about 8 years, but I've never felt such an intensive and common focus in a group! Every singer gave it all, and we had an amazing vibe together! This is what you hope will happen, as a conductor!

Sunday night the judges Jonathan Minkoff, Roger Treece, Malene Rigtrup and Ralf Schmitt announced Pitch Control as the winner! We couldn't believe it. We had a really good party that night and we got so much stronger as a group. And of course we are honoured we won the first price, but one thing stands out: we already won when we came off stage. We had such an amazing experience together, and felt so united!! It's the power of a cappella. 

I love my job. 

Hugs, hugs, hugs! 

zondag 12 mei 2013

Hand signals in vocal music!

Something all conductors and vocal teachers should use! 

When I was a student in 'teaching music', I was told many times about the value of teaching without explanation or using too many words. Stuff like, when you teach a simple song, use your hand to show if the melody goes up or down. So usefull! As much for kids as for grown ups! So I'd like to write to you about using these hand signals. They will make a great difference for both you as a choir conductor and your choir itself. 

For example, when you make a circle song or improvisation together, it's key that you shouldn't talk. At least, that's what I tell my singers. While you're making music, that's the language you speak. But of course you have to have some way of communicating and maybe someone has to be in charge. (of course, if you have a small group of well trained musicions, this might be different, bla bla..;-) 
If you make choices together, you could make a performance way more interesting. Like soft/loud, long/short notes, harmonize/unison, solo/tutti, airy/twangy and so on. Whatever the signals are you choose to use, the group will be more focussed and together.

If you have ever had lessons in EVTS (Estille voice training system), you know that there's hand signals for using twang, singing airy, lowering the larynx, etc. To suppport the singing technique, the signals show quite letterly what is happening inside when you make the sound. Like singing breathy or with twang.

(left photo shows the signal for 'breathy/airy')

Of course in some way choir conducting itself is about using signals. Moving signals, that support the melody or phrasing, of course. But also if you introduce a voice or end a phrase, you use some kind of language we all understand. 

Also, if you are performing with a choir/vocal group and you want to remind them of the musical choices that were made in the rehearsals, the signals work perfectly! The singers will be more focussed and will automatically link the sound they have to make to the sign the conductor shows. 

      (right photo shows the signal for singing with 'twang')

I hope this short blog can be of inspiration to you. There's so many signals you can come up with, that can be usefull for you, your choirs and your vocal students. I use them all the time! Can't conduct without them anymore. 

That's it for now, leave a comment if you feel like it! :-)

Best wishes,