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Thomas M. Sterner's The Practicing Mind: Developing Focus and Discipline in Your Life. Sterner is a musician, worked for years as a piano tuner/technician, as well as having an interest in Eastern philosophy. It's one of the best books I've read about developing better habits of discipline and focus. He has a wonderful little section that speaks to our habit of rushing through things and multi-tasking: with a day ahead that included getting two pianos ready (one for the piano soloist with the local symphony), then travel to do other tuning work, then back in the evening to check both pianos before the concert. He notes that he'd done this kind of thing many times and knew very well how much time it took, and that it was about two and a half times the amount considered a day's work in the trade. I'll let him speak from here:
When I started on the first piano, I put all of my effort into "being slow." I opened my tool box very slowly. Instead of grabbing a handful of tools and thinking I was saving time, I took each tool out one at a time. I placed each tool neatly in position. When I began setting up the piano, I performed each process individually, trying to deliberately work slowly.

It's a funny feeling when you try this. At first, your internal dialogue is howling at you to get going and pick up the pace. It is screaming at you, "We'll never get this done, you are wasting time." It is reminding you of the whole day's worth of work you have to get done to meet everyone's approval. You can feel the anxiety start to build and the emotions floating up to the surface. However, your ego quickly loses ground to the simplicity of doing one thing at a time and doing it slowly, on purpose. It has no place to build stress and work up internal chatter. That is because working slowly in today's world goes against every thought system. You can only work slowly if you do it deliberately. Being deliberate requires you to stay in the process, to work in the present moment.

After I finished the first instrument, I even went through the process of packing up my tools with meticulous care, just to walk ten feet away and unpack them slowly, one at a time, to start the second piano. Usually I would grab two handfuls of as much as I could carry and scurry through the orchestra chairs on stage trying to sve time. Not this day, however. I was determined to carry out my goal plan of just trying to work slowly. We spend so much time rushing everything we do. Rushing had become so much of a habit that I was amazed at the concentration it took to work slowly on purpose.

I took off my watch so I wouldn't be tempted to look at the time and let that influence my pace. I told myself, "I am dong this for me and for my health, both physical and mental. I have a cell phone and, if need be, I can call whomever and tell them I am running late, and that's the best I can do."

Into the second piano, I began to realize how wonderful I felt. No nervous stomach, no anticipation of getting through the day, and no tight muscles in my shoulders and neck, just this relaxed, peaceful, what-a-nice-day-it-is feeling. I would even go so far as to describe it as blissful. Anything you can do in a rushing state is surprisingly easy when you deliberately slow it down. The revelation for me came, however, when I finished the second piano. I very slowly put my tools away one by one with my attention to every detail. I continued my effort at slowing down as I walked to my truck in the parking garage a block away. I walked very slowly, paying attention to each step. This may sound nuts at first, but it was an experiment on my part. I was experiencing such an incredible feeling of peacefulness in a situation that usually had every muscle in my body tense that I wanted to see just how far I could intensify the situation with my effort.

When I got to the truck, the clock radio came on with the turn of the key and I was dumbfounded. So little time had passed compared to what I had usually experienced for the same job in the past that I was sure the clock was incorrect. Keep in mind that I was repeating a process that I had done for many years. I have set up these pianos together sometimes five and six times a week. I had a very real concept of the time involved in the project. I pulled my watch out of my pocket as a second check. It agreed with the clock-radio that I had cut over 40 percent off the time. I had tried to work as slowly as possible and I had been sure I was running an hour late. Yet I had either worked faster (which didn't seem possible, given my attention to slowness), or I had slowed time down (an interesting thought, but few would buy it). Either way, I was sufficiently motivated to press on with the experiment throughout the remainder of the day. I got so far ahead of schedule that I was afforded the luxury of a civilized meal in a nice restaurant, instead of the usual sandwich in the truck or no lunch at all.

I have repeated these results consistently every time I have worked at being slow and deliberate. I have used this technique with everything from cleaning up the dishes after dinner to monotonous areas of piano restoration work that I don't particularly enjoy. The only thing that foils the result is when I am particularly lacking in stamina and find myself drifting back and forth between working with slowness and succumbing to my feeling of, "I have to get this work done quickly."
The rest of the book is certainly as good and as interesting as this passage.

How often do we rush our own work? Whether in preparation (score study, prepping for a class), teaching or rehearsal, does rushing (because we know we have so much to cover!) help?

One of the notable things about the Swedish Radio Choir is their ability to work in a slow, concentrated way on different elements in the music, for example, intonation--it's quite extraordinary. And I had a rehearsal on Rachmaninoff's The Bells with them where I moved at too fast a pace, which resulted in frustration (and not faster results). We need to think of this in our rehearsals: rushing (and not really mastering a passage in the music) rarely accomplishes much and may in fact build in bad habits or mistakes. But it also means we have to build up the ability of our singers (at different levels, of course) to focus, concentrate, and do the patient work necessary to succeed in difficult music. This is perhaps even more true today with all the distractions (cell phones, instant messaging, Facebook, etc.) of the modern world.

Lots to think about, but this is certainly a book that's worthwhile!
It looks like there's been a change recently to the travel and passport recommendation by the U.S. State Department. They are now recommending your passports be valid for at least six months prior to departing from the U.S. You might be denied entrance into the country you are traveling to, or be denied boarding in the U.S. even if your passport is valid. This particular rule primarily applies to the Schengen group of countries (26 Scandinavian and European Countries...basically all the European countries you were planning on going to this year). You might even be prevented from boarding a plane when traveling through one of these countries if you have to make a transfer and they have to recheck your passport.
 
So this totally changes how we account for the passports of those traveling with us. Before it was "do you have a valid passport that doesn't expire before we leave." Now we need to double check exaclty when the expiration date is, and we need be sure that everyone's passport is valid for a least six months prior to arrival in one of these countries. How awful would it be for one of your singers to be turned away at the gate, even though they had a passport that expired in two months.
 
Granted, the official rules for the Schengen Area is that you need three months left on your passport, but the U.S. State Department is taking a "better safe than sorry" approach. I think that is wise, and I will be adopting this rule for my choir. I think there is a chance that many of your tour companies are not aware of this change, so be sure to ask them about it.
 
 
 
 

If, like me, you have experienced the benefits of including contemporary a cappella in your choral program, I invite you to attend a new, transformative event—the first annual National A Cappella Convention April 24-25 in Memphis, TN.  Featuring the godfather of a cappella himself, Deke Sharon, as head clinician and master of ceremonies, NACC features professional concerts, showcase performances, group masterclasses, reading sessions, director roundtable discussions, industry exhibitions, and a unique, educationally focused high school competition.   

 

So what could NACC do for you as a director?

 
  1. Individualized director-specific learning track with focused classes.

  2. Reading sessions featuring new and exciting arrangements from the best in the business.

  3. Roundtable discussions wherein you can interact with and learn from the most experienced and successful a cappella educators in the country.

  4. Industry exhibits providing a way for you to interface with a cappella arrangers, producers, live sound engineers, and more.

  5. Over 10 concert performances from the finest high school, collegiate, CAL, and professional ensembles around (maybe including your own!).

 

Why should you also bring your group with you?

 
  1. Every group that attends will receive a free, 50-minute masterclass with one of the top a cappella clinicians in the country.   A few lucky groups will get Deke Sharon himself!

  2. While you are in classes, so are your students, in their own performer-focused individual learning track.

  3. Apply to perform, and you could have the chance to present a 25-mintue concert set in a brand new, state-of-the-art performing arts center.

  4. Apply to compete in the high school competition, and you could win a fully produced album from The Vocal Company, our presenting sponsor (a $10,000 value).

  5. Experience the mind-blowing musicality of Musae, our professional showcase performers.

 

NACC is being presented in cooperation with The American Choral Directors Association

 

Learn more at www.acappellaconvention.com


This is truly a unique and transformative weekend that will take you and your students to the next level of aca-awesome.  Join us in Memphis, April 24-25.
COMPOSITION SPOTLIGHT ~ by Jack Senzig
 
(Each week we look at one or two of the best choral works posted in the Composition Showcase here on ChoralNet.  This is where we store a treasure trove of works that your choirs will love to sing and your audiences will love to hear.)
 
They that sow in tears by M. Susan Brown for SATB divisi a cappella (Click here for PDF and here for AUDIO)
 
Level: High School Advanced
Uses: Concert or Funeral
Program Themes: Consolation, Joy, Grief
This Piece Would Program Well With: Precious Lord, Take My Hand arr. Ringwald available from JWPepper and Sheet Music Plus
 
In just two verses of Psalm 126 M. Susan Brown invokes strong emotions in this powerful work.  They that sow in tears would comfort those in grief or delight a concert audience.  There is a lot of repetition which adds to its usefulness as a meditation.  A returning rhythmic motif alternating eighth note triplets and quarter note triplets ties the work together.  I give this piece my highest recommendation. 
 
They that sow in tears is available from the composer’s website: http://www.noteableimpressions.com/page6.html
Welcome back, everyone! The new year is beginning for most of us, whether school, church, community, or professional choir, and it's time for auditions  (for some!) and getting ready for first rehearsals. It's an exciting time!
 
I'll begin the year with a series on books I think are worthwhile. Not all will be for everyone (that's impossible), but I hope you'll find some worth exploring. Posts will alternate between books written for musicians/conductors/about choral topics and those written for a non-musical audience, but offering something to us as conductors and teachers.
 
I'm going to begin with a book that deals with an important topic--that of classroom management: Classroom Management in the Music Room -- "Pin-Drop Quiet" Classes and Rehearsals, by David Newell.
 
We all know that no matter how good a musician we are, no matter how well we know our scores, if we can't teach our choirs how to rehearse well, how to focus, how to make the rehearsal room a productive place--we won't accomplish as much as we could.
 
David Newell's book has a well-thought-out and disciplined approach (requiring discipline from you as well as your students), stressing a minimum of rules or expectations with only two options: the singer is either in the "rules" box or the "consequences" box. Newell is a band director, but all of his ideas can be adapted for choirs. He's writing for the secondary level, but these are universal approaches which can be adapted to children's choirs, adult choirs, non-auditioned choirs or high-level choirs.
 
He stresses quiet, calm, unemotional discipline techniques and consistency--and that gradually classroom management techniques have to move towards musical skills and rehearsals that will minimize management problems. In other words, the kind of rehearsals we'd all like to have!
 
Here's an outline from a clinic he gave which will give you a better idea--but believe me, the book is much, much better! If your choirs don't yet have the rehearsal discipline you'd like them to have or if you teach future teachers/conductors . . . it's well worth the investment!
 
Have a great year!
 
P.S. By the way, if you missed it, my last series of the year was about learning from the great Swedish conductor, Eric Ericson. You can find the summary and links to the various posts here.
The new year is fast approaching for many of us. Those of you at the collegiate level on trimester, who don't start until the end of September (SZ!), well I'm just not talking to you (besides, you didn't finish until like, two weeks before the Fourth of July). So for the rest of you, I hope you get a few nice easy weekends from here on out, and that you are super excited about your repertoire, and that you have enough T1s, B2s, and A2s to make that divisi happen, and that some random rock star who nails the sight reading walks into auditions and blows you away...
 
I'm excited about this year's blogging. I have some longer form ideas I'm kicking around, and a big project that I think will interest a lot of directors out there. I'm really excitied about this new project, and I think it will have some relevance for the entire choral community, and I hope it will be interesting to a lot of you. I'm not going to say much more about it now, because I am still in the planning stages, but be looking for some posts coming in the near future about it.
 
I'll leave you with one of my favorite quotes about the nature of persistence and hard work. Time to buckle down and start making things happen!
 
"When nothing seems to help, I go look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before." - Jacob August Riis
 
 
THE NOVELTY CONCERT by Dianna Campbell
 
I often refer to myself as a classicist… I love classical music and classic rock.  At my wedding twenty-five years ago I played Bach and Led Zeppelin (Thank you). Each year at the college, I end our season with a “novelty’ concert. I have programmed an all-Beatles concert,”Night at the Movies” (complete with popcorn and soda), “TV Tunes” (with commercials and game shows), “Fun in the Sun” (all audience members received a lei at the door) to name a few. But I avoided classic rock because I didn’t think it could be done authentically on a choral stage. Well this spring, with the help of some really good arrangements, we did “Rock the Night Away”(and gave glow sticks in place of the old lighters). The audience, performers, my administration and I absolutely loved it! Here are a few things I’ve learned about presenting a successful  ‘novelty’ concert:
 
DO:
  • Keep musical standards (dynamics, phrasing, diction, etc…)
  • Pick music YOU love
  • Change ‘tutti’ to ‘solo’ to get a quick fix to a problem or spotlight a great singer
  • Add visual effects – multi-media approach
  • Have fun!
DON’T:
  • Perform with only piano. ( For “Rock” use bass, drums, guitar, keyboard and steel drum for “Fun in the Sun”)
  • Perform on standard choral risers. Use platforms and create visual interest
  • Perform in choral uniforms. (Wear black-on-black for “Rock”, Hawaiian shirts for “Fun in the Sun”)
  • Stand still. You gotta’ move and groove to the beat!
  • Start the year with this type of show. Treat it like the dessert at the end of the mealJ
  • Apologize for doing it! *These same students performed Haydn’s The Creation in the fall.*
I received a wonderful "tweet" from Homar Sánchez Díaz, who was bragging on the Virtual Choir video that he and his students created. I thought it was very impressive - see what you think:
This project was made by students, age 13-15.
 
A few Facts & Numbers:
-30 artists -200 film takes
-12 video hours recorded -900 minutes of audio recorded
200 sound takes 
150Gb of files and data
-12000 views in the first month 
 
Look here for a lot more information.
COMPOSITION SPOTLIGHT ~ by Jack Senzig
 
(Each week we look at one or two of the best choral works posted in the Composition Showcase here on ChoralNet.  This is where we store a treasure trove of works that your choirs will love to sing and your audiences will love to hear.)
 
You Stand Above Time by Julie Myers and Charles McCartha for SATB and piano (Click here for PDF and here for AUDIO)
 
Level: High School Intermediate
Uses: Fall, Harvest
Program Themes: Harvest, Wheat, Water, Baptism
This Piece Would Program Well With: Gift of Finest Wheat by Dan Schutte available from OCP
 
Is your church choir starting and you don’t know what to do first?  You Stand Above Time is an excellent welcome back for your choir.  They will love the catchy refrain and enjoy the harvest theme.   This is a great piece to have in the general performance arsenal with a text particularly suited to the second Sunday of Advent. 
 
Julie Myers is a regular contributor to the Composers of Choral Music community.  Did you know lyricists could be members? Join us here:  http://choralnet.org/list/grouppost/224833
 
Whether you work with elementary singers or graduate students, conduct community voices or professional, ChorTeach has something of value for YOU.  
 
The latest issue of ACDA's on-line magazine, ChorTeach, is now available.  The Summer 2014 issue of ChorTeach includes:
 
Except for a very few holdouts, the academic year is over.  Time for a little rest and rejuvenation.  A change of scenery is in order, as is some time for reflection.  Here, then, is a little something to ponder from your hammock.  The following is by Kevin Peter Hand, a planetary scientist/astrobiologist in Pasadena, California and a 2011 National Geographic Emerging Explorer:
 
The drumbeat of human civilization is the pursuit of new knowledge. We explore, we discover, and we advance. From fundamental research on cancer to revolutionizing our understanding of the universe, it is not an either/or: we must do it all. Anything less is a sign that our priorities as a race have been hijacked by agendas beneath our potential. As has become a refrain in my community, the drumbeat continues and we echo the wise words of Teddy Roosevelt: Dare mighty things.
 
What will YOU dare to advance the choral art next season?
 
 
 
COMPOSITION SPOTLIGHT ~ by Jack Senzig
 
(Each week we look at one or two of the best choral works posted in the Composition Showcase here on ChoralNet.  This is where we store a treasure trove of works that your choirs will love to sing and your audiences will love to hear.)
 
Les Cloches by David Solomons for SSATBB, Tenor solo a cappella (Click here for PDF and here for AUDIO)
 
Level: High School or Higher
Uses: General Concert Use
Program Themes: Spring, Bells, Mortality, Memory
This Piece Would Program Well With: Full Fathom Five by Brad Burrill see the Composition Showcase
 
 
A new work in the Showcase made me smile this week.  Bell-like vocables herald the joyful passing hours of our mortal lives in this arrangement of Debussy’s “Les Cloches.”   The text speaks of springtime and relates the ringing of the bells to the pure white flowers on a church altar.  This piece speaks volumes to anyone old enough or “country” enough to remember being called home by the ringing of a dinner bell or being called to prayer from the steeple of a distant church.   
 
The academic and performing calendars are winding down, and jealous friends and family may be starting in with the inevitable "So what will you do this summer?" As a colleague phrased it last week, those of us following the academic calendar tend to fall into two types: "put the work away, give it time and distance, and return in the fall refreshed," or "zoom out and spend the summer doing the big-picture things that you don't have the time to do during the year." I'm squarely in the latter, and (as many of you do) I look forward to the summer as the more unstructured time when I can dedicate large chunks of time to tinkering or experimenting with new ideas or materials, exploring new literature, learning new tools that have come out in the last few months, or making large changes to my practice that are harder to execute "in the moment." With that in mind, I thought I'd share my summer to-do list: the big ideas, tools, and projects that I'll be looking at over the 6 weeks (where do people get this three-month garbage from?) that I'm out of the school. No fear-- most of these can be done in the coffee shop or sweatpants of your choice!
  • Take a Class. This will be the summer that I finally complete a MOOC-- a free, online course. Even if I don't fully complete a course such as Gary Burton's Jazz Improvisation or Introduction to Acoustics, just having access to high-quality lectures and discussions in courses that I either want to explore or that I am interested in a different take or teaching style seems like a good way to sit down for that morning cup of coffee. Take a look at: Coursera, EdX, iTunes U.
  • Read an (e)Book. I'm finally going to get comfortable with my Kindle. As with most technology tools, moving from "substitution" (doing the same thing as before with a different /new tool) to "transformation" (doing something that I couldn't do before) takes a little bit of exploration time, and a commitment to getting over the comfort hump with some new habits. The advantage that I'm interested in over a physical book is the sharing and note taking capacities of the Kindle (and Kindle app). Have you ever been reading something and thought, "I would love for xyz to read that"? It could be your musicians, your colleagues, or just friends or family, but the ability to quickly and easily send ideas, excerpts and quotes from the book itself seems like a great capacity that I'm not yet taking advantage of. Again, it will just take a little practice over the summer, when I can afford to stumble a bit, to get fluent by the fall. I'll also be tinkering with: Building a virtual scale demonstration in Scratch, Rethinking how I teach Audacity.
  • Network. All those great reading sessions and conferences are wonderful opportunities to meet our colleagues and share resources. But they can also be very overwhelming, and many of the great resources and connections that we meet might need to be saved and organized for a later time. Summer's when I can get on top of some new organization systems so that I can find and share things easily in the fall. I'll be cleaning up: Scanning and tagging my new incoming sheet music (using Mac OS or Evernote), Finishing my About.me contact page to make it easier to share all my contact info, Redesigning and cleaning up some blog posts, and Saving useful articles and resources in an online social bookmarking site such as Diigo to share with my students and colleagues. 
  • Take Time. One of the great gifts of summer is the ability to work on the things with a little more autonomy-- with that comes the time to work a bit slower and try new things. Listen to great new music (and tweet about it to share your discoveries). Revisit your favorite or most inspirational recordings (and build a playlist in Spotify to share with your ensembles in the fall). Take a deep dive into blogs of your favorite conductors, composers or thinkers (and consider sharing your thoughts on your own). However you spend it, may it treat you well and may you rejoin us in the fall primed for another great year of music making.
Thanks to all who have contributed articles, ideas, questions or comments during the year. If "writing an article for ChoralTech" seems like a good summer goal for you, we're always looking for submissions on any level from beginner to advanced. Click my name up top to message me your ideas!
COMPOSITION SPOTLIGHT ~ by Jack Senzig
 
(Each week we look at one or two of the best choral works posted in the Composition Showcase here on ChoralNet.  This is where we store a treasure trove of works that your choirs will love to sing and your audiences will love to hear.)
 
The Lake Isle of Innisfree by Peter Bird for SATB, SAT solos and piano (Click here for PDF and here for AUDIO)
 
Level: High School or higher
Uses: General Concert Use
Program Themes: Longing, Nature, Isolation, Stress Relief, Simple Life
This Piece Would Program Well With:  The Monk and His Cat by Samuel Barber available from JWPEPPER® and sheet music plus
 
 
Peter Bird is new to the Composers of Choral Music Community.  His first entry to the Composition Showcase is worth an in-depth look.   This mostly up-tempo work drives forward with changing meter of 3/4, 2/2 and 5/4 a stirring soprano and alto duet, a tenor solo and contrasting accompanied and a cappella sections.
 
This piece is available for free from the composer: http://peterbird.name/choral/Innisfree/The_Lake_Isle_of_Innisfree.html
(Microsoft Surface Pro 2, microsoft.com)
 
This week Microsoft announced the third generation of their Surface Tablet PC, and the attention it garnered shows that the market is starting to mature for these hybrid devices, which combine the processing power of a laptop with the touchscreen interface of a tablet or smartphone. To some degree, these devices (called Hybrids, Tablet PC's, or Touchscreen Laptops) are hard for consumers to wrap our brains around: is it a tablet (albeit a more expensive and heavier one)? Is it a computer? Why would I need this when I already have 'x'? These devices can offer some interesting possibilities in the music technology field, but I suggest that properly understanding what these devices are meant to do will help us understand where they can best be utilized.

The Players

While Samsung and others have made Android-powered tablets that tout their increased power and productivity over devices such as the iPad, the Tablet PC's run on the new Windows 8 platform. Windows 8 attempts to merge both a touchscreen interface and apps with the familiar Windows desktop that we're used to from the history of that operating system. While Windows 8 got some decidedly heated feedback, the subsequent update to 8.1 has been much better received (8.1 is a free update to 8). Complicating things a bit, and driving some of the misunderstanding about the power of the Tablet PC's, has been the release of a stripped-down version of Windows 8 (called RT) designed for mobile devices such as phones and lighter tablets. RT is the version which is meant to compete with the Android- and iOS-powered tablets, but it is limited in terms of what it can run. Developers have been much slower to embrace Windows RT and move their apps already developed for iPads and Android tablets into a third operating system. This has led to a collective impression that the Windows Tablet PC's "don't have many apps to run."
 
If you can discard mobile-purposed Windows RT devices for the moment, devices running the full version of Windows 8 suffer from no such limitations on the programs available-- since it's a full-version of Windows, it runs everything that your Windows laptop or desktop runs on these devices as well. Rather than thinking of devices like the Surface Pro, or the Lenovo Helix or Yoga as tablets, think of them as laptops that you can write directly on. And therein lies the potential for the music field-- the combination of touch interface and the computing power of a full operating system.
 

Audio Recording

One of the most recurring statements that I hear about working with audio recording on the iPad is that it's much easier to do the fine controls of music editing with the touchscreen devices than with a mouse and keyboard. Being able to physically manipulate the software sliders as you would a board, drawing envelopes and filters, or manipulating the playback head for fine editing and splicing are all controls which lend themselves well to the fine finger control available in the touchscreen (or with a stylus) rather than the large and more clumsy mouse control. On a Tablet PC, we gain the ability to use this style of interface, but can apply it to fully-powered Windows software. Again, while mobile-oriented RT devices have to wait for programs to be designed specifially for that space, chances are that all of the software currently running on your Windows device will translate to the Windows 8 hybrids-- your full Cubase setup, for example.
 
The processing power and storage capacity of these machines is significantly higher than a mobile tablet as well, and that combined with built-in USB ports means that you can use them in combination with external audio interfaces to a much greater degree than is possible with mobile tablets. While still being smaller and lighter than your traditional laptop, and thus easier to deploy in a field recording setup, it can be the computer hub for your recording needs.
 

Notation and Composition

As with the recording, the ability to use your full Windows programs in combination with the touchscreen interface is an intriguing combination for composition. Whatever your preference of notation program, running it one a hybrid device will allow you to "ink" and edit your manuscripts by hand using the stylus. In comparison to iOS or Android, I find the Windows 8 stylus capacity to be much smoother and higher-quality. Writing on an iPad, for example, always feels like the pen tip is a bit too thick for my tastes, and my script usually ends up being a bit "fat" and sloppy because of it. Writing on my Surface Pro 2, by comparison, feels very realistic. This review of the upcoming Surface 3 from WIRED describes writing within one row of graph paper. That level of detail makes writing within a notation program very smooth and satisfying. With a little practice, I was able to use the keyboard number pad to switch note values while writing with the stylus in the other hand for a pretty efficient workflow. And of course, with the USB interface, things like keyboard input and external sound synthesis devices are still available as well.
 

One More Toy?

Some people are the natural gadget-collectors, and the idea of adding another device to the quiver isn't intimidating at all. For the rest of us, using a Tablet PC involves thinking a bit about what place in the toolbox it best occupies: does it replace an existing device? Does it make something else redundant? Thinking of these devices as tablets with more power, I initially held it up against my iPad and found it unsatisfying. It was once I decided to use my Surface Pro 2 as my full-time work machine that I understood its value-- it is truly a laptop with extra capacities. As such, I added some extra work considerations (extra monitors, external keyboard) that make it indistinguishable from my previous desktops or laptops. When coming to something in graphics or audio which is best served by the touchscreen capacity, I can pick up the stylus and work directly on the screen. It's a great combination of modes, and of course I still have the mobile flexibility. There are times when I use it in a traditional "tablet" capacity as well, although there is a lack of the apps that we're used to from the iOS and Android space.
 
In the end, ironically, it did end up largely making my iPad redundant, but because most of the things that I used to do with that device have now either been scaled up to the Tablet PC or down to my smartphone. As more devices appear in the market with this model, including the (much larger) Surface 3 from Microsoft and what now feels like a steady rollout of devices from other manufacturers, a wider range of power and size will be available letting people choose whether they want a true powerhouse machine or something closer to the traditional tablets. Regardless, the combination of the full operating system and the touchscreen interface gives us huge possibilities in speciality or niche computing needs such as music and audio, where a wider range of software, diverse input/output capacity and higher processing power are all necessities. 
 

How About You?

Have you experimented with a hybrid or Tablet PC running the full version of Windows 8/8.1? What are your thoughts or experiences? Do you have questions about these devices? Join in the comments below!

Eric Ericson is one of the giants of our field and his work has been a model for many others: in his enthusiasm for performing and commissioning new music, in raising standards in a cappella singing, as a teacher, and as a conductor. His ensembles (Chamber Choir, Swedish Radio Choir, and Orphei Drängar) became models of their type and their recordings are likely to live on.

For me personally, it's been fun to look back at my own experiences with Eric and talk to Swedish friends who've worked with him closely. Looking back at these interviews, the following are significant aspects of his work and success:

  • curiosity - about music of all kinds and periods, for new music, for better ways of achieving excellence - this is something we can all emulate - it's a huge reason for his success - he did an enormous amount of new music and constantly encouraged composers to write for the medium of a cappella choir
  • his concern for getting it right (and being willing to work--and work the choir!--until he did)
  • his superb piano skills and his way of communicating through the keyboard to his ensembles - this is not something all of us can do, but for those who have great skill as a pianist, his use of the keyboard can provide a model for a way to work . . . and all of us can learn to play and give pitches in a way that supports beautiful choral sound, rather than call forth harsh and un-vocal ones
  • his conducting technique - while one may not want or be able to copy Eric's exact technique, his concern with mastering technical elements of conducting and (more importantly) making sure the body reflects what a singer needs to sing well should concern all of us -- as Stefan Parkman said, "He wanted to wave his arms and hands in such a way that it allows the singers to produce the sound."
  • the choral sound he developed came out of working for clarity, balance, and beautiful intonation - that he did this with big, well-trained voices helped define a new standard
  • his joy and love for music - as Arne Lundmark said, "In the concert itself I often had the feeling that all his love to music suddenly was shown and we were willing to give him all he asked for." 
Here's a summary of the series in one place:
IV - Eric on conducting technique I (notes from several sessions I observed)
V - Eric on conducting technique II (notes from continued sessions)
 
This is my last post of the academic year -- see  you again in the fall!
COMPOSITION SPOTLIGHT ~ by Jack Senzig
 
(Each week we look at one or two of the best choral works posted in the Composition Showcase here on ChoralNet.  This is where we store a treasure trove of works that your choirs will love to sing and your audiences will love to hear.)
 
Abound in You by Rick Bartlett for SATB some divisi a cappella, (Click here for PDF and here for AUDIO)
 
Level: High School or Higher
Uses: General Concert Use, Sacred or Secular
Program Themes: Love, Trust, End of the Year
This Piece Would Program Well With:  Precious Lord, Take My Hand by Roy Ringwald available from JWPEPPER® and sheet music plus
 
This is a very special work.  If you direct a choir that looses a large percentage of your singers each year to graduation, listen to the recording of Abound in You.  I feel it encapsulates the feelings of love and shared experience that directors have with their members along with a sense of loss as the experience comes to an end.  As singers, we hand over control to our conductors and in so doing open a channel of trust.  This may be true for instrumentalists as well, but for singers, lyrics help to strengthen that bond.  As your seniors go on to graduate in the coming weeks, listen to this piece and smile at the lives you have touched and shared.  Share with us your experience of love and trust you have encountered with your choir or your director in the comments below.
 
This piece is available from the composer: crickb88(a)cox.net
Stefan Parkman has had a long association with Eric. Born in 1952, he first studied medicine, but began singing with Eric in Orphei Drängar in the early '70s. Just a few years later he began his studies in the Royal College of Music. Stefan's an exceptionally fine tenor (listen here or buy the album here to hear his solo in "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square"--conducted by Robert Sund, by the way) who's regularly sung the Evangelist role in Bach's St. John Passion--often while conducting the performance! Consequently, he began at that time to sing as an extra (but ended up singing most projects) for both the Chamber Choir and Radio Choir, and that continued until probably the late '80s. For example, he sang in the Radio Choir for their big US tour in 1983, when they sang for the National ACDA Conference in Nashville. In 1989 he became conductor of the Danish Radio Choir and that ended most of his singing with Eric. Some of his recordings can be found here.
 
In a conversation on March 29 he talked about characteristics of Eric and his ways of working:
  • His curiosity was insatiable and he was always eager to find new ways of solving problems, loved to explore new music, and always wondered, "how can we make this better?"
  • He always worked up until the last second until either the concert or broadcast, not giving up on making it better. "We could all hear that something was out of tune, but he had the curiosity to find keys and tools to solve the problem."
  • With his Chamber Choir he could work longer than with the Radio Choir, which was state-run and had to follow strict rules. With the Chamber Choir he would just go on working as long as he felt he needed. Today, people wouldn't accept that, but he was in the right time to be able to do that.
  • About his piano playing: "I don't think that any singer or choir can sound as beautiful as when Eric played the piano."
  • About his conducting and teaching of conducting: "He always tried to find ways to conduct that are comfortable and good for singers. In this his gestures (and playing) were very vocal. He wanted to wave his arms and hands in such a way that it allows the singers to produce the sound."
  • "He never talked much about text or its interpretation, but I later realized he'd thought about it and it was addressed by his hands or way of rehearsing."
  • "His choral sound was orchestral and homogeneous, a combination of beauty of sound and intonation."
  • New music: "This is a large part of his curiosity, of course. It's not unique, but during his time was unusual."
  • What he learned from Eric: "Gesture that gives both singers and instrumentalists time to breathe, to get their instruments going. In concerts, a vocally wonderful way of conducting. The never-ending eagerness to find solutions. And I can't conduct a piece such as Friede auf Erden, for example, without thinking of Eric, having sung it so many times with him. That doesn't mean my interpretation will be the same--he always expected us to do it in our own way--but learning it and so many other great works with him made a huge impact."
While I'm sure there could be more to say, I'll finish up next week with a summary about Eric and his work. After that, a summer hiatus!
COMPOSITION SPOTLIGHT ~ by Jack Senzig
 
(Each week we look at one or two of the best choral works posted in the Composition Showcase here on ChoralNet.  This is where we store a treasure trove of works that your choirs will love to sing and your audiences will love to hear.)
 
Dream Within a Dream by Michał Ziółkowski
for SATB. Soprano Solo a cappella (Click here for PDF and here for AUDIO)
 
Level: Advanced High School or Higher
Uses: Masterworks Concert
Program Themes: Dreams, Edgar Alan Poe, Sadness, Loss, Philosophy
This Piece Would Program Well With:  La Bella Dame Sans Merci by Charles Villiers Stanford available from sheet music plus
 
What a text!  It maybe should come with the warning label “Caution: Reading this may make you contemplate life, the universe and everything!”  Ziolkowski complements Poe’s words with this dreamlike setting.  It is beautiful from first note to last.  This could be the centerpiece of a concert of Choral Masterworks!
 
This piece is available from Michał Ziółkowski and is listed as “Free.”
 
Google Drive (formerly Google Docs) is a very powerful tool for sharing files and information amongst large groups or multiple devices. Whether through your own Google account or through a Google Apps for Education (or Business) system, using Google Drive lets you create entire folder/file structures that can be shared with anyone you choose (as with any other cloud storage system), with much more storage available than many other competitors. A couple of new features just released help Google Drive be even stronger in a music rehearsal space or ensemble.
 
Baby, You Can Drive My WAV
Now that Google Drive has finally caught-up by offering a robust mobile app, it can be a direct pipeline to your musicians for sharing recordings in rehearsal for them to take home and practice. By using either the app (for mobile devices) or client (for desktops/laptops), depending on what you're recording on, you can transfer large files very quickly. Consider this possible scenario:
  1. While rehearsing a tricky technical section, you record it for the group to be able to consult for practice at home. You do this using any range of recordfing devices connected to a computer or mobile device.
  2. Save the file into a Google Drive folder which you have previously shared with your musicians. On a laptop with the Google Drive client installed, you'd have a folder on your computer to drag the file into. On a mobile device, you'd send the file from your recording app to your Google Drive app, which would then let you place it in the shared folder.
  3. The file would then appear for all of your musicians to access on their devices -- syncing is automatic, so once you've started the process by putting it in your Google Drive, there's no need for any other steps. They can now listen to the file later on for their own review.
This model works with any kind of file-- where Google Drive started as Google Docs, and was limited to those types of files, it now allows you to host any kind of file you like and share it. This means that videos, rehearsal notes, scanned score corrections or pictures are all fair game as well. If you'd tried Google Drive in the past and found it too limited for your purpose, I suggest you take another look-- the additions made to Google Drive in the last 6 months have really improved the experience and potential of the software. In addition, their mobile apps are much more stable and reliable than they were even a few months ago. Where as of last summer, I was reluctant to recommend Google Drive as a full-time storage and sharing solution, it's now become my go-to solution for these scenarios.
 
Class is in Session
In addition to increasing the reliability and stability of the service, Google added a major set of tools to Google Drive this week for Google Apps for Education users. Classroom by Google is their attempt to make an official "Learning Management System" toolkit for Google Drive in order to address a major educational technology market. An LMS is an evolution of the class website, where students and teachers can share files, communicate on assignments and have an online class workspace. Teachers have used third-party scripts and services to boost Google Drive towards these functions, but now Google is making them available within Drive itself. Classroom by Google is only a part of the Google Apps for Education package, though, so it is only available to schools who use that system.
 
One of the Classroom features which will have a big benefit to supplementing rehearsals is the ability to automatically make copies of a document/assignment for each student. In the choral classroom, this makes reflective writing and practice logs very easy to accomplish. In our scenario above, we took a brief recording from a rehearsal as a model for students to use in their own practice. Using the "make a copy for all" feature in Classroom, you could then open up a Google Doc for each student to write a couple of sentences of observation about the recording, or make notes on how they used it to practice during the week. Since students can also share files back to you or with their choirmates, sectional rehearsals could work the same way-- have a section record themselves and submit the recording and "practice plan" or log amongst themselves for reference.
 
Much of this functionality already exists within Drive, so if you are not a teacher and want to use Google Drive without having access to Google Apps for Education, you can still accomplish these steps. Use of Classroom will streamline the process for teachers, but the core power of Google Drive to quickly share files across users and devices applies to everybody. With your recorder in hand, it's a very easy process now to make rehearsal exerpts available to everyone in your group for practice and reference.