In the hot seat: Liz Garnett

Type of post: Choir news item
Posted By: Simon Broad
Status: Current
Date Posted: Fri, 20 Nov 2020

As part of “Musical Director Appreciation Week”, we thought we’d ask our MD,  Dr Liz Garnett, a few questions. 


Q: When you’re not singing, coaching or arranging, what do you like to do to relax?

Liz: I like to cook - I'll read a bunch of different recipes, then put them all aside and go play in the kitchen. The results are always nutritious and usually edible.


Q: What non-barbershop music do you love?

Liz: I feel like I became a musician (as opposed to just someone who happened to be learning the piano) when I discovered Debussy, and Stravinky's Rite of Spring remains endlessly fascinating.


Q: You have an impressive range of footwear - where does that come from?

Liz: I like to quip that it's to distract people from looking at my face. 


Q: Many barbershoppers are self taught musicians - are you?

Liz: No, quite the opposite in my case. One of the adventures in discovering barbershop soon after completing my PhD in Music was finding out just which bits of that training would be relevant to this new (to me) musical world, and which bits I'd need to learn all over from scratch!


Q: So when did you first get into barbershop?

In 1996. I went with my partner, Jonathan, to the BABS Convention when he had joined a chorus, and have not yet come up for air.


Q: What is so special about the barbershop community?

Liz: It's like a kind of parallel universe. There are people you see only a couple of times a year, but each time you see them you just pick up where you left off. And it's a universe in which the cool kids and nerds really like each other.


Q: Which barbershop singer, quartet or chorus do you most admire? Who have influenced you most?

Liz: At a personal level, special mentions to Tom Gentry for his support early on in my barbershop career, and the late Roger Payne for pushing me to put myself out there as an arranger at a time when I had almost given up through discouragement. At a more global level I'd say the architects of modern barbershop are the triumverate of Jim Clancy, David Wright and Cindy Hansen. A lot of the innovations we see these days would not have been possible without their work to pave the way.


Q: As well as singer and MD you have also acted as judge in music competitions.  What makes a really great performance? 

Liz: Sometimes a group simply outperforms themselves: something in their relationship with their music, with their skillset, with each other, and with the occasion lights them up and sets their performance on fire. 


Q: You’re known internationally as a vocal arranger - what have been your most popular arrangements?

Liz: Over the years, my most widely sung chart has been Happy Together, which was published by the Barbershop Harmony Society in 2005. My current biggest seller is Mr Blue Sky, originally commissioned by the Telfordaires. I mostly work by commission, so I never really know what's coming up, and I rather like that element of surprise.


Q: You also offer vocal coaching to groups and individuals.  Do you enjoy teaching? 

Liz: It is immensely satisfying to help people become more confident and skilled at doing something they love. And instructive - I learn so much from the people I work with.


Q: You have put enormous effort into sustaining Telfordaires rehearsals through an extended period when, because of COVID, we haven’t been able to meet on the risers.  What have been the biggest challenges? And what the biggest successes? 

Liz: Reimagining the rehearsal process when the technology prevents simultaneous singing as a group has been the fundamental challenge: how do we still connect with each other musically? 

Overall, the biggest success is the way the club has pulled together to make this work. The Music Team has been awesome - there's been a lot of extra work behind the scenes, made harder by having to do it all remotely - but the whole club has been great at taking initiative and making things happen. At an artistic level, my heart glows when despite it all we can still celebrate moments of beauty, of artistry, of increased technical control, of individual expressiveness. In a bleak year, we can still create genuine musical experiences for each other.


Q: And finally, what do you love most about the Telfordaires?

Liz: The chorus culture. So friendly and supportive and always willing to laugh. I love that we can all care deeply about making the music as good as we can without having to take ourselves too seriously.


If you’d like to find out more about Liz and her work as a professional coach and arranger, and to read her regularly updated blog,  then do visit her website