Northern Voices Opera Project – The Survey

Over the last year Ian McMillan and I have written and set four songs using Ian’s own Barnsley accent for opera singers to perform. You can read about the project here and on my wordpress site. Now we’d like to know if you think it works to sing opera in a Northern accent. We’d be grateful if you could take the time to listen to one or more of the songs and complete this short survey. All responses will be anonymous (we won’t capture IP addresses) and you won’t be contacted again as a result. But we will take into account the responses given when we write the complete opera. Go on! It’ll take 5 minutes!

Alright, maybe 6.

  1. LIKE ME DAD

Me mam said he had a lovely voice

‘like an angel in a cap’ she said once

‘like an angel in a cap’ she said twice

You could hear him singing in the bathroom

Voice rising to the steaming ceiling

An angel with a watery body

He opened his mouth as wide as a shout

And his voice flew right out of the window

Circled round the yard like a pigeon

When we liberated the pigeons

And the neighbours said ‘eeee

Tha can see it reyt, can’t tha?

Tha can just abart see it theer

In’t air, turning like a chucked cap

In’t air, voice like a wing flapping

In’t Northern air’

 

  1. TEARS LIKE A BUST PIPE

Am blutherin and blubberin

Me soul-case art.

As’ll nivver be a singer.

Ah’ll be silent as a stick in’t

Bucket in’t coil oil.

As’ll nivver catch fire.

That’s why ah’m roooarin.

Tears like a bust pipe.

Tears like a bust pipe.

It’s all reyt singin’ in’t lav

Or singin on’t bus on’t way to’t pit.

Lads expect it:

‘Come on George, giz a tune.

Come on Caruso, giz a song.

Come on lad, mek them nooats fly

Like homing pigeons flappin’ back to’t loft!’

Till’t bus stops.

And we climb in’t cage.

And drop darn to ‘ell.

Tears like a bust pipe

Tears like a bust pipe

As’ll nivver be a singer

And it breaks me chuffin ‘eart;

As’ll nivver be a singer.

As’ll nivver hold that nooat

Like a promise

Till’t clappin starts

And’t cheerin.

Tears like a bust pipe

Tears like a bust pipe

I should stay on’t bus

Gu back through Plevna

ride through Slosh,

Ovver’t Wesh

End up in Jump

Then when I get to Jump

Just Jump. Jump in’t air

And sing as ah’m Jumpin

Jump in’t air

And sing as ah’m jumpin

Jump in’t air

And sing as I’m jumpin…

(Tears like a bust pipe etc)

 

  1. BOW TIE

 

Tricky, those

Dicky bows

To tie

 

I would stand by the bedroom door and watch him

 

Round your throat

A bow-tie

The tight lie

I would stand by the bedroom door and watch him

I would stand at the door and see him struggling

Fussy, those

Bow ties

To fasten

 

I would stand at the bedroom door and imagine

Posh folk in suits and frocks talking too loud

 

Over and across

In a mirror

Wrong way round

 

I would stand at the bedroom door and imagine

Voices strangled in the clinking light of glasses

 

Face knitted

Concentrating

Veins like drainpipes

 

I would stand at the bedroom door and imagine

Arias of braying nobodies saying nothing loudly

 

Neck wrapped

In black

Punctuation

 

I would stand at the bedroom door and watch him

Neck wrapped in black punctuation

  1. SMOKE DRIFTS AT SHIFT CHANGE

(The Arsonist Sings)

Smoke drifts at shift change

No one can see it as they run for the bus

Or walk to their cars

Their old cars.

Flames lick the shit walls

That nobody built with love or skill

They just put them up

Chucked them up.

I like the spikes of yellow

Like arrows in the matt black sky

Or trees in the oven too long

Far too long.

I love that shuddering time

When the fire grips the room

And won’t let it go

Won’t let go.

Learn to burn you awful place

Nobody will help you when you’re crying

When the flames lick the shit walls

When the smoke drifts at shift change

When the fire lifts the heat high

When the striplights start dancing

When the whole place starts melting

And no one will see me

when I get on the bus

and sit behind the paper

sit behind the news

that will soon be me

when the whole world

starts melting…

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Northern Voices Opera project- the survey

We’d be really interested in hearing how well you think singing operatically in a Northern accent works. Over the course of the project Ian McMillan and I wrote four songs using Ian’s own Barnsley accent. Here are links to videos of them being performed by singers Nick Sales (tenor), Zoe Milton Brown (soprano), Sarah Helsby Hughes (soprano) and Tom Eaglen (baritone), with John Wilson at the piano.

We’d love it if you could listen to one or more of the songs, and then let us know what you think with this short survey. The whole thing will take about 5 minutes if you listen to one song all the way through. We’ll be thinking about your responses when we write the full opera later this year and early 2016! Thanks so much!

1. Like Me Dad

Me mam said he had a lovely voice

‘like an angel in a cap’ she said once

‘like an angel in a cap’ she said twice

You could hear him singing in the bathroom

Voice rising to the steaming ceiling

An angel with a watery body

He opened his mouth as wide as a shout

And his voice flew right out of the window

Circled round the yard like a pigeon

When we liberated the pigeons

And the neighbours said ‘eeee

Tha can see it reyt, can’t tha?

Tha can just abart see it theer

In’t air, turning like a chucked cap

In’t air, voice like a wing flapping

In’t Northern air’

2. Tears Like a Bust Pipe

Am blutherin and blubberin

Me soul-case art.

As’ll nivver be a singer.

Ah’ll be silent as a stick in’t

Bucket in’t coil oil.

As’ll nivver catch fire.

That’s why ah’m roooarin.

Tears like a bust pipe.

Tears like a bust pipe.

It’s all reyt singin’ in’t lav

Or singin on’t bus on’t way to’t pit.

Lads expect it:

‘Come on George, giz a tune.

Come on Caruso, giz a song.

Come on lad, mek them nooats fly

Like homing pigeons flappin’ back to’t loft!’

Till’t bus stops.

And we climb in’t cage.

And drop darn to ‘ell.

Tears like a bust pipe

Tears like a bust pipe

As’ll nivver be a singer

And it breaks me chuffin ‘eart;

As’ll nivver be a singer.

As’ll nivver hold that nooat

Like a promise

Till’t clappin starts

And’t cheerin.

Tears like a bust pipe

Tears like a bust pipe

I should stay on’t bus

Gu back through Plevna

ride through Slosh,

Ovver’t Wesh

End up in Jump

Then when I get to Jump

Just Jump. Jump in’t air

And sing as ah’m Jumpin

Jump in’t air

And sing as ah’m jumpin

Jump in’t air

And sing as I’m jumpin…

3. Bow Tie

Tricky, those

Dicky bows

To tie

I would stand by the bedroom door and watch him

Round your throat

A bow-tie

The tight lie

I would stand by the bedroom door and watch him

I would stand at the door and see him struggling

Fussy, those

Bow ties

To fasten

I would stand at the bedroom door and imagine

Posh folk in suits and frocks talking too loud

Over and across

In a mirror

Wrong way round

I would stand at the bedroom door and imagine

Voices strangled in the clinking light of glasses

Face knitted

Concentrating

Veins like drainpipes

I would stand at the bedroom door and imagine

Arias of braying nobodies saying nothing loudly

Neck wrapped

In black

Punctuation

I would stand at the bedroom door and watch him

Neck wrapped in black punctuation

4. Smoke Drifts at Shift Change

Smoke drifts at shift change

No one can see it as they run for the bus

Or walk to their cars

Their old cars.

Flames lick the shit walls

That nobody built with love or skill

They just put them up

Chucked them up.

I like the spikes of yellow

Like arrows in the matt black sky

Or trees in the oven too long

Far too long.

I love that shuddering time

When the fire grips the room

And won’t let it go

Won’t let go.

Learn to burn you awful place

Nobody will help you when you’re crying

When the flames lick the shit walls

When the smoke drifts at shift change

When the fire lifts the heat high

When the striplights start dancing

When the whole place starts melting

And no one will see me

when I get on the bus

and sit behind the paper

sit behind the news

that will soon be me

when the whole world

starts melting…

Northern Voices video

Over the past year we’ve been working hard trying to develop vocal techniques which allow singers to project a northern identity through the operatic voice. Here’s a short video showing what we did: https://youtu.be/HIy9GBEOX3I

We’d be really interested in seeing what you think of the idea and whether we succeeded. Feel free to drop me a line here, or on a.e.williams”at”salford.ac.uk

Ta

Here’s the second of the new texts especially written by Ian McMillan for our opera (see below). This one is a lament about not being able to sing. Except the character can sing, he just thinks he can’t. I’ve already set this one.

TEARS LIKE A BUST PIPE

(A song for the Dad)

Am blutherin and blubberin

Me soul-case art.

As’ll nivver be a singer.

Ah’ll be silent as a stick in’t

Bucket in’t coil oil.

As’ll nivver catch fire.

That’s why ah’m roooarin.

 

Tears like a bust pipe.

Tears like a bust pipe.

 

It’s all reyt singin’ in’t lav

Or singin on’t bus on’t way to’t pit.

Lads expect it:

‘Come on George, giz a tune.

Come on Caruso, giz a song.

Come on lad, mek them nooats fly

Like homing pigeons flappin’ back to’t loft!’

Till’t bus stops.

And we climb in’t cage.

And drop darn to ‘ell.

 

 

Tears like a bust pipe

Tears like a bust pipe

 

As’ll nivver be a singer

And it breaks me chuffin ‘eart;

As’ll nivver be a singer.

As’ll nivver hold that nooat

Like a promise

Till’t clappin starts

And’t cheerin.

 

Tears like a bust pipe

Tears like a bust pipe

 

I should stay on’t bus

Gu back through Plevna

ride through Slosh,

Ovver’t Wesh

End up in Jump

And when I get to Jump

Just Jump. Jump in’t air

And sing as ah’m Jumpin

Jump in’t air

And sing as ah’m jumpin

Jump in’t air

And sing as I’m jumpin…

Until then, I’m roaring

 

Tears like a bust pipe

Tears like a bust pipe

 

 

 

 

and here’s Ian reading it

After the last time we met, the singers asked Ian to record the texts as the basis for their interpretation. I met Ian this morning in the appropriate location of Huddersfield railway station and he recorded these texts, which I’m in the process of setting.

The first one is called Bow Tie, and is for two singers – we imagined a female voice singing the lines in italics, and a male voice – a tenor  – singing the other lines. It’s partly about our slight discomfort with the trappings of opera – as a ‘posh’ artform.

BOW TIE

 

Tricky, those

Dicky bows

To tie

 

I would stand by the bedroom door and watch him

 

Round your throat

A bow-tie

The tight lie

 

I would stand by the bedroom door and watch him

I would stand at the door and see him struggling

 

Fussy, those

Bow ties

To fasten

 

I would stand at the bedroom door and imagine

Posh folk in suits and frocks talking too loud

 

Over and across 

In a mirror

Wrong way round

 

I would stand at the bedroom door and imagine

Voices strangled in the clinking light of glasses

 

Face knitted

Concentrating

Veins like drainpipes

 

I would stand at the bedroom door and imagine

Arias of braying nobodies saying nothing loudly

 

 Neck wrapped

 In black

Punctuation

 

I would stand at the bedroom door and watch him

Neck wrapped in black punctuation

 
…and here’s Ian reading it

Northern Voices: Like Me Dad

Why are there so few regional accents in opera? And of those regional accents, why is a vanishingly small proportion of them from the North? The North of England linguistically extends from Nottinghamshire and Shropshire up to the Scottish borders, and encompasses a population of around 14.5 million. If it were a country it would be bigger than Sweden and Austria in population. It would have its own orthography and linguistic tradition. It would have its own opera. There is opera in the north, of course, but why does one never hear a Northern accent in it? If a given set of vowels are the markers by which – linguistically – a northern identity is marked, why are those vowels never (or virtually never) heard in opera, the art-form which has traditionally defined a state’s cultural maturity. That’s why there’s an opera house in Manaos in the Amazon. That’s why there’s an opera house in Bratislava, and a new opera house in Oslo. Northern Voices is an ACE-funded project which seeks to redress the balance, and to ask if the absence of Northern accents from opera in English results from northern accents’ lack of “singability” or from other causes.

On May 27th, singer Richard Strivens and I worked on a song with the poet Ian McMillan, whose rich South Yorkshire tones are familiar to listeners of BBC Radio 3, and with University of Salford socio-phoneticist PhilipTipton. Ian wrote this beautiful, poignant text about a man who loves opera, but is afraid to sing it because of his accent, and I set it to music. Almost immediately we were faced with questions: is “mouth” pronounced as in Leeds, or as in Sheffield (‘mahth’). Philip Tipton, who works on vowel merger in Lancashire (which is why ‘fur’ rhymes with ‘square’ in Burnley), acted as a phorensic voice coach, taking every dipthong and every monophthong (not a place name near Upperthong) apart, until we had several lines of the song as close to Ian’s natural pronunciation as possible.

You can hear edited audio of the session here. I asked Richard Strivens, a bass-baritone originally from Kent, to prepare a song (which he got in score only, less than 24 hours before the session). I asked him to prepare it as he normally would, not worrying too much about trying for a Northern accent, and it was this initial version you will hear mostly on the recording, intercut with our initial discussions, and with our attempts to “Northern-ify” his pronunciation.