Date: September 30, 2014
CHORAL ETHICS (Part 1): SONGS MY MOTHER TAUGHT ME by Marie Grass Amenta
(This is the first installment of a five-part series on choral ethics, exploring what it means to be ethical in this often unethical business.)
Choral Ethics isn’t rocket science, complicated or anything we haven’t heard before, we just need to be reminded. Regularly.
I had planned to spend the summer much as I always do—relaxing with a bit of travel, doing research for future concerts for my chamber choir and concentrating on whatever writing projects I have on my plate. This summer’s writing included finishing editing a book of essays and work on my Choral Ethics book. I did not do anything because beginning in mid-June my Mother’s health rapidly deteriorated and she passed away in late July.
Mom was an opera singer (pictured in the accompanying photo), singing the role of the Queen of the Night and many operettas as well. As her six children came along, she specialized in oratorio work and was a paid church choir ringer until she was in her early 70s. We didn’t think it strange to have a mother gone several evenings a week for rehearsals or to be asked to help figure out what jewelry would go with which gown. During one of her hospitalizations last February, my brother and I agreed in the hospital corridor outside of her room she must be feeling better because she “had her Diva back” much to the horror of one of her nurses. We explained she had been an opera singer and we meant “Diva” in that sense….and it was good she was asking for her lipstick!
Mom’s death wasn’t a surprise but the quickness of her downhill spiral was. Driving back and forth to my parents’ home gave me time to think about Choral Ethics and my book. And I came to the conclusion the real inspiration for Choral Ethics and the whole concept was because of my mother, the coloratura soprano Rose Marie (Ditto) Grass. And in my drives to my parents’ home, it became clear those lessons occurring at Mother’s knee were attitudes I have brought into my adult life. I kept thinking about Mom in various situations and how she practiced what she preached. Through all the opera productions, concerts and worship services where Mom was soloist or Prima Donna, she had a graciousness, humbleness and kindness I thought everyone who was a musician possessed. She taught me much by the way she lived; managing to have a bit of a singing career, raising six very different individuals while being married to the same man for almost 60 years.
There is an incident when I was in high school which sticks in my mind. I was a junior and had just auditioned for the school musical, with my audition being pro forma since it was already understood I would have the lead. I came home from the audition gloating and, as Mom would say, “being ugly.” She snapped at me about my behavior. She told me not to get too comfortable about “always” getting the part and there would be plenty of times in my life I wouldn’t. She told me to treat everyone the way I would like to be treated if I hadn’t gotten the part. And she said if I didn’t behave as a “gracious winner,” she would pull me out of the show. I shaped up pretty quickly! Being a gracious winner, in addition to being a gracious loser, was just one of her lessons. We were expected to not gossip, be on time if at all possible and to pick up after ourselves.
As an adult and conductor, I try to uphold her values …but it is difficult. The evening she lay dying, we sang songs she taught us…songs no one sings anymore because they are old fashioned. I like to think her legacy besides those old songs will be the Choral Ethics Movement and being an ethical, moral choral conductor will never be out of fashion. It will be another “song” she has taught me.
Date: September 28, 2014
(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.)
Level: Church Choir, or High School
Uses: General Anthem or Concert
Program Themes: Faithfulness, Deer, Love of the Divine
This Piece Would Program Well With: Like as the hart desireth the waterbrooks by Herbert Howells available from Sheet Music Plus and JWPepper
The delicate opening measures harken to Prelude in C from Bach’s Well-tempered Clavier mixed with a little of Franck’s Panis Angelicus. This sets the tone for an uplifting hymn-like work. Psaume 42 is worth more than a 30 second listen. Stick around for the whole picture as it unfolds and develops. The French text is based on the “Like as the Hart doth pant for fountains of water” text you are probably familiar with. The flute adds to the heavenly timbres that Anthony Sylvestre shares with our ears.
Your audience is going to love this!
Date: September 27, 2014
We have no scientific data to support this, but it seems reasonable to guess that many (dare one say “most”?) current choral conductors were at one point in their very young lives singers in an honor choir. The present writer was certainly one of those kids; weren’t you?
But what about the next wave of choral musicians?
There is the possibility that a potential Weston, Eph, or Robert is sitting in your classroom this semester. Are you going to give that young choral mind the incredible experience that launches them to the musical moon by helping them apply for an ACDA honor choir?
During the upcoming national conference, the American Choral Directors Assoiation will offer FIVE exceptional honor choir experiences that will involve a wide range of students:
Children's Honor Choir
Middle School/Junior High School Boy's Honor Choir
Middle School/Junior High School Girl's Honor Choir
High School Mixed Honor Choir
College/Community Latin American Honor Choir
There is a great deal of information about this offering at your fingertips, including basic data, audition hints, conductor bios, and the application.
Have you been thinking about an application for one of your students? Well, it’s time to stop thinking and START DOING. The deadline for honor choir applications is 11:59 p.m. (CDT) on TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 30.
Date: September 26, 2014
We are fortunate as Internet-era musicians to have access to a vast collection of music resources online through collections such as the Choral Public Domain Library, Internet Sheet Music Library Project and Mutopia. With such a volume of music available for free use, ranging from new compositions shared under public license to editions of standard rep from chant through the Romantic era, it is possible to do a large portion of our programming at no cost and save our limited music budget for new compositions and settings or editions. Cost aside, there is a valid musical case to be made for utilizing public domain music projects-- the ability to create your own settings or voicings to fit your ensemble or program. While you can recreate a score in your notation program of choice by re-entering an entire printed composition, the fact that public domain music sites give you your desired scores in an existing digital format makes it much easier to input them directly into a notation program for your own arranging needs. From something as simple as changing the key to fit a young ensemble to adding voicings or accompaniment, being able to create your own editions gives you incredible flexibility in your programming.
Know Your Software
Both Sibelius and Finale have built-in score scanning software that will allow you to scan music directly into the program. The scanning software will make a best guess as to the manuscript and convert it into an editable score in either file type. In my own experience, I have had better results with Sibelius' PhotoScore package than Finale's SmartScore, but the difference is nowhere near large enough to advocate for Finale users to jump ship to Sibelius, for example. In each case, some editing is usually required, especially to clean up text or articulation markings. This works well for hand-written scores, although the results are highly influenced by the neatness of the score, especially as it comes to spacing of rhythms and barlines. For our purposes, though, we can use the scanning software but bypass the scanner entirely-- again, since we get the files digitally from the public domain sites, we can avoid having to print and re-scan. This saves us two ways: first it saves us time by eliminating steps, and secondly it preserves the files' resolution in as high a format as possible to reduce the risk of scanning errors.
Each of the three sites I mentioned above have different dominant file types, which will inform how we process a composition. ISMLP stores most pieces as image files or PDF documents. Since they're high-quality scans from libraries around the world, they are often very clear and easy to read (and very large!). They're also usually hand-written, which can introduce a layer of complexity and usually a bit more editing. CPDL primarily uses PDF, although users can submit compositions in a wide range of formats, including MIDI, Postscript or Lilypond (more on that in a moment). Mutopia primarily uses LilyPond, although PDFs and MIDI files are usually available. When you have a choice, the files will each give you different advantages:
Sibelius can import .PDF files directly as well as the image files and MIDI. PhotoScore (Sibelius' scanning package) will make its best judgment about the intent of the printing and create the file as a score within Sibelius, ready for your editing and arranging. From there, you can save it as a Sibelius file to preserve your work and use any of the recording/playback features you may need there as well. Finale will import the MIDI files, and any .TIF image files, but can't take .PDF or .JPG image files natively. Thankfully, it's very easy to find converters online or use a virtual print driver to print an image file or .PDF as a .TIF and import that into PhotoScore (Finale's scanning package). Again, once it's in Finale, it can be manipulated and treated as any other Finale file.
Check your Licenses
Public domain works are free to distribute and use as-is, and all three of these services host works explicitly for you to use as a musician. Copyright and fair use doctrines apply to the process of creating new arrangements based on someone else's work, though. In essence, the copyright applies not to the original composition (copyright there having expired), but the edition that someone created and uploaded to the service. Check the copyright rules on the server you're planning to utilize to ensure that you're operating correctly. As of today (Sept 25, 2014):
Using the scanning tools built-in to Sibelius or Finale, you can import files directly from public domain sites to re-arrange or edit as necessary for your ensembles. While a careful eye is still needed to proof-read the scans once they're in, being able to import files directly reduces import errors and gets you to the work more quickly. In addition to new works shared by the composers, these sites are filled with standard literature representing some of the richest eras and composers of our art, and can be a cost-effective way to access great literature in ways that you know directly fit your ensemble's needs.
Date: September 25, 2014
For this blog series I started out with the idea of alternating books on music with books on other subjects. But I've realized that most of the great music books are fairly well known or are are so specific that they might have limited interest (maybe I'll combine some in a post later).
So I'm going on with books on other subjects that I hope you'll find of interest.
Next we go to Daniel Coyle's The Little Book of Talent--52 Tips for Improving Your Skills. Coyle is the author of The Talent Code, a book I can also recommend.
Coyle is a journalist who, for an article, researched places—training centers, camps, charter schools, etc.—which created a much higher level of talented people than others ("hotbeds of talent"). He also visited with scientists doing research, notably K. Anders Ericsson from Florida State University, who coined the term "deliberate practice" to describe a very focused, intense type of practice (it's also his research that led to the "10,000 hour rule," which Malcolm Gladwell popularized in his book, Outliers, the Story of Success). And if you want to know more about deliberate practice (it's worth it), this article has some great links.
Honestly, all of those books are worth reading, but The Little Book of Talent is exactly that, a little book, the hardback edition the physical size of a paperback, 119 pages long. Since Coyle himself is a "father, volunteer basketball coach, and husband of a hockey-playing wife," while he did his research he wondered about all sorts of practical problems:
So, he started taking notes when he spotted a great tip for teaching or learning. And those notes became the basis for this book, divided into several categories (his words quoted below):
Tip #1 is "stare at who you want to become." This is about using role models—those people who already can do those things you'd like to be able to do—and truly and deeply observe what they do and how they do it (in Coyle's words, "the kind of raw, unblinking, intensely absorbed gazes you see in hungry cats or newborn babies"). For example, very early on I started to focus on and track how the conductor of the choir rehearsed (Rod Eichenberger was my undergrad teacher). After doing this for awhile, I would try to guess what Rod was going to do when he stopped the choir. Would he address pitch, rhythm, sound, intonation, phrasing? Did he stop to address the altos or the tenors? And I got pretty good at knowing what he was going to do. I was not analyzing what he was doing—I didn't write things down or classify the kinds of things he'd did. I was simply absorbing how he prioritized in a rehearsal and, of course, was listening intently to what the choir did. And in doing this, I was absorbing a chunk of his rehearsal technique without thinking about it consciously. I continued to do this with any conductor I worked with and could often start to catch on to what a conductor would most likely do after a relatively short period of time. This was even true when I visited Wilhelm Ehmann in Germany when I was 21. I didn't understand any German at that time, but could still begin to make good guesses at what he'd do after even a few days. We all have people we admire. Don't be afraid to do all possible to absorb what they do.
Tip #15, "break every move down into chunks."
In teaching vocal skills, most teachers separate out elements of good singing—posture, breathing, onset of tone, vowels, etc.—and work on each separately, then combine in order, since breath builds on posture, etc.. However, I found the Meadowmout idea fascinating and it reminded me of some aspects of Eric Ericson's rehearsal technique. He'd often take a piece and work on just one section of it in a rehearsal (the one that needed most work, of course!). But over the course of the rehearsals, all would gradually fit together and make sense.
Re-reading that little tip was already worth it for me! See if the book can offer you some ideas as well.
Date: September 24, 2014
The Your Are Not So Smart website and podcast are really interesting. This episdoe of the podcast, consists of a discussion of a number of issues surrounding learning, memory, and motor skills (all important issues for musicians). The intervewee is David Epstein, the author of the book The Sports Gene. They discuss a number of things, including the 10,000 hour rule. He pokes some holes in the theory by looking closely at the study that the 10,000 hour rule is based on. They also talk a number of issues surrounding about mastery of skills and predictors of achievement. It's a fascinating interview, and should promt you to go out and read the book. I highly recommend it.
Date: September 23, 2014
Recently, a colleague wrote indicating that he “had an itch” to have a greater involvement within the profession. He was curious about how one finds their way into an area of professional responsibility and service within ACDA.
It’s not an unreasonable query.
Spend even just a short while reading the Choral Journal or attending any of ACDA’s various events, and you’ll start to read a lot of the same names and see the same faces of those who function in various leadership and service roles. It’s easy to wonder how one gets an opportunity to participate.
The present writer is by no means an expert on the subject, but a few thoughts for “getting out there” do come to mind.
FIND THE HOLE. Identify some area in your state ACDA organization that is being under-served. Is every Repertoire & Standards Chair in your state filled? Does your state newsletter offer repertoire reviews? Who stuffs the reading session packets into those handy tote bags before the conference? Is there an ACDA student chapter that could use an extra hand from an experienced teacher? Once you find a hole, then . . .
MAKE ‘EM AN OFFER. Contact your state or division president and volunteer. Volunteer for what? Anything! Hand out programs at the door during the state conference. Help set up the risers! Offer to pick of the clinician from the airport. Offer to write a repertoire or concert review for the newsletter. Your state president will squeal with delight to hear you utter the words, “I couldn’t help but notice that our board needs someone to . . . .”
WRITE IT DOWN. Our association has an enormous publication footprint; from the smallest state newsletter to the Choral Journal and the ever-growing online presence, ACDA is dedicated to sharing of ideas and creating inspiration. You, too, have thoughts and experiences to share. State and divisional editors are on an almost maniacal search for material. We can almost guarantee that your state newsletter editor would be thrilled to receive an unsolicited well-written article about some facet of the art. You might also consider writing a guest blog for this very space right here on ChoralNet. We would be happy to help you get started (you can reach us at email@example.com).
START SMALL. It’s important to remember that we grow into things; some call it “paying your dues.” No one starts their conducting career on the faculty at Enormous State University nor do they begin their ACDA service life as a divisional president. Most of the folks in those positions had their first association job in some small but important role at a state event. ACDA’s current President, Karen Fulmer, started her ACDA career by sitting at a table processing honor choir registrations at a divisional conference. Oh, and if you think that a small component isn’t important, try losing your car key.
No matter how one starts, service to one’s professional association is an amazing way to gain experience, develop life-long friendships, and serve the greater good of the choral art.
Date: September 21, 2014
(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.)
Prayer and Answer by Michael Sandvik for SATB divisi a cappella (Click here for PDF and here for AUDIO)
Level: Advanced Church Choir
Uses: General Anthem
Program Themes: Christmas, Holy Week
This Piece Would Program Well With: Be Born in Me by Jay Rouse from Contemporary A Cappella Christmas II available from http://www.singers.com/7025b/Jay Rouse/An A Cappella Christmas/
From a simple, gentle beginning, this piece blossoms into a heart rending song of faith. Michael Sandvik’s multi-colored pallet reveals deep emotions. The warmth of the text “I held you in my heart”, the raptured setting of “Cast away your chains, Take up your cross and follow me”, and the rhythmic augmentation of the final “I will hold you in my arms” show Sandvik to be a true aural artist. I often use the goosebump test to divine an audience’s response and I find myself visibly moved by Prayer and Answer. Bravo!
Date: September 20, 2014
ACDA HOSTS AMERICA CANTAT VIII, by Tim Sharp
The America Cantat is an international choral festival that takes place every three years in a different American country. Past host countries include Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Venezuela, Columbia, and Mexico. I am proud to say that through ACDA’s hosting and sponsorship of this event, the United States of America now joins this American list of host countries. I am thrilled to also announce that partnering with ACDA and the America Cantat organization in this unique collaboration is the commonwealth of the Bahamas, which is where America Cantat VIII will take place on August 21-31, 2016.
Choirs from the United States and throughout the Americas are invited to participate in this once-in-a-lifetime international festival. Of the many rich experiences offered to choruses of all descriptions and voicings, the outstanding feature of America Cantat VIII is the opportunity for individual singers to participate in a choir outside of their own, with singers from other countries working side by side under the baton of a specialist from one of several South, Central, and North American countries.
The artistic director for America Cantat is the organization’s president, Oscar Escalada of Argentina, who has been a member of ACDA for many years. He has formed an artistic committee comprising representatives from past participating countries, along with representatives from the United States and Canada. The operational side of the planning will be accomplished by representatives from both the Bahamas and ACDA national staff as well as ACDA members.
By sponsoring America Cantata VIII, ACDA further moves into my vision of creating an association that has direct ties with our North, Central, and South American colleagues. Choirs participating in America Cantata VIII will experience an immersion into the many cultures represented throughout the Americas and have the opportunity to contribute their own music to the understanding of our guests joining us from the Americas and around the world. Furthermore, this all will take place in the paradise setting of the Bahamas.
Registration for America Cantat VIII will open in January 2015 when full schedule and artistic and concert details will be presented by the artistic committee. ACDA is thrilled to partner with the Bahamas as we host a festival unlike any other available to us throughout the world. All choirs are invited, and all choirs will find a place in this cultural, noncompetitive event.
Please plan to join us in the Bahamas in August 2016 for America Cantat VIII. It is exciting for our American Choral Directors Association to be able to offer choral singers and choral directors this performance and cultural immersion event. Watch for the opening of the website on January 1, 2015, along with full details and registration material. Above all, put August 21-31, 2016, into your calendar now and prepare for the event of a lifetime.
Date: September 19, 2014
Browsing the forums in ChoralNet, many of our members are sharing their thoughts and questions about using the iPad in rehearsal. Many of these uses are personal-- organization, notes, scores/sheet music or other individual uses. There are many cases, though, where the iPad might be used for the whole group, whether through a projector or sound system. Sharing or making recordings (audio or video), playing accompaniment or pitch examples, projecting score markings or other notes, or displaying the rehearsal order for the day are all examples where the contents of the iPad are made public. What happens when a message comes in, though, or a calendar event pops up? If you've ever had a notification or pop-up appear in the middle of a public presentation, you know how distracting (and maybe even embarrassing) it can be. Even if you're not projecting, an iPad hooked up to a sound system will amplify all of the dings, dongs and beeps that come with your notifications to the whole rehearsal. Thankfully, there is a way to suppress all notifications when you're using the iPad in a rehearsal setting using a setting called Guided Access.
Guided Access allows users to lock into one particular app to help minimize distractions while working. It's a great tool for parents who want to keep the little ones in the finger painting app without being able to access the "all staff" e-mail. Once the feature is activated, you can't leave whichever app you're in until you deactivate it (which can be configured with a passcode for more security). It also has a feature where you can specify parts of the screen that won't receive any pop-ups. If you have a free app that pop-ups up with advertisements from time to time, for example, this could help eliminate those distractions. The real key of Guided Access for our purposes, though, is the fact that while it's turned on, no aural nor visual notifications will occur from any other app. This includes:
You can, of course, disable many notifications permanently in the Settings app. Guided Access gives you the opportunity to temporarily disable them while you are sharing the iPad in the rehearsal setting and then have it go back to normal mode once you're done.
To activate Guided Access, first turn it on in the Settings app under General->Accessibility->Guided Access. Here, you'll specify if you want to use a passcode in order to turn it off once it's activated. While this helps prevent accidental toddler-mail, it can slow you down unnecessarily if you only use it for "presentation mode" as we're discussing here. Once Guided Access has been activated, go to the app you plan on projecting or playing and triple-click the Home button. You'll be notified that you're in Guided Access mode (and, as a bonus for those of you projecting, you can lock the rotation here so that you don't accidentally rotate your image while sharing). When it's time to leave the app, triple-click the Home button again to disable Guided Access and return to normal use.
Herein lies the limitation for some uses: Since Guided Access locks you into a particular app in order to prevent the notifications, if you actively flip between multiple apps in the course of the rehearsal, you'll have to turn Guided Access on and off each time you do so. While not a long process, it does add an extra step each time you want to switch between apps. Because of this, it works best for scenarios where you'll be in one app for a long period of time-- playing recordings, projecting sight-reading examples or presenting information, for example.
Using Guided Access can help you leave your iPad connected to a sound system or projector without having to fear a pop-up or audio notification causing a distraction or sharing your next doctor's appointment with your ensemble. While it's not a perfect tool for "app smashers" who are flipping between multiple apps in quick succession, it works very well for in-rehearsal use of individual apps.
Date: September 18, 2014
How do we, given the enormous number of things we do in our jobs as conductors, keep sane and healthy? How can we deal better with stress?
Are there ways for us to do what we do with joy, full energy, and full engagement?
This week's title is The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. The subtitle tells the story: "Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal."
Jim Loehr has been a coach to hundreds of athletes, working with, among others tennis players Pete Sampras, Jim Courier, and Monica Seles; golfers Mark O'Meara and Ernie Els; basketball players Nick Anderson and Grant Hill; and speed skater Dan Jansen. Loehr's coaching was not about their athletic skills or technique, but in helping them manage their energy more effectively. After those successes, Loehr's company expanded to corporate clients and entrepreneurs.
In his language, you have to become a "corporate athlete"—we might say "conductor athlete" or "teaching athlete."
In order to achieve great performance he outlines several principles:
This has to do with all the elements that go into those areas of energy: what you eat, how you exercise, how you rest and sleep, etc. He says, "The richest, happiest and most productive lives are characterized by the ability to fully engage in the challenge at hand, but also to disengage periodically and seek renewal. Instead, many of us live our lives as if we are running in and endless marathon, pushing ourselves far beyond healthy levels of exertion. We become flat liners mentally and emotionally by relentlessly spending energy without sufficient recovery. Either way, we slowly but inexorably wear down."
The space (and time to write!) I have for this blog is far too short to fully describe the book. He uses a hypothetical example of a stressed out manager who's falling apart that they work with in order to go through the steps of building capacity (in all the areas: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual). It's a good way to illustrate the process they take clients through in their work (and to imagine your own challenges).
I've found this immensely valuable, although I'm not equally successful in all areas! However, this year is a good test for me: last year, in addition to my teaching and administrative job at UNT, I became Interim Chancel Choir Director at the largest Methodist Church in the world: Highland Park UMC. This year, however, I've added the title (and most of the job) of Interim Director of Music & Arts in a program with a big concert series and many other things to administer. I have help, of course, and the staff at HPUMC is wonderful. But I still have to find the time to get all the work done at both jobs and not short either place.
I'd already learned one of the biggest lessons from the book, which is that humans work best naturally in a rhythmic, pulsing way—i.e., we need to regularly exert effort, but then disengage, even if briefly. Over the last decade or so I've gotten much better at being able to work intensely with lots of focus and energy, but then disengage for a short time with an activity (which can be surprisingly short) that allows me to recharge my batteries. Much like the waves in the ocean, the energy we exert needs to be used in pulses of both energy and rest and renewal.
I'm much better at giving myself time for mental, emotional, and spiritual renewal. And I find ways, when I have a day off to truly disengage, renew and recreate (and I usually schedule a massage!). All of that is invaluable.
I'm not nearly as good keeping up with the physical side: making time for regular exercise, eating better, and getting enough sleep . . . but I'm working on it!
I think you'll find this book and its ideas a valuable addition to your library. All of us need to find ways to renew ourselves to be able to give our choirs the best we have to offer! And we need it to truly live life and not just survive it.
Date: September 17, 2014
I just got back from my fall retreat with my top choir, and again I am faced with this inconsistency: Why do choirs go on retreat? Bands don’t. Orchestras certainly don’t.
I often receive a little grief from folks about the large expenditure of money. “Is this really necessary” and all that. My response is usually something like “Do you think I want to spend three days away from my family? Do you think I like to give away my entire weekend after working 14 hours days the first two weeks of school? Do you think I prefer spending a really big chunk of my budget on this and not on commissioning a piece, or bringing in a guest artist or going on tour, or whatever?” That usually ends the conversation.
Thing is, there is a pretty big benefit to retreat. Some might argue that it’s mostly in the minds of the singers, and not so much in the actual effect it has on the sound, but that is debatable.
The reason we go on retreat is trust. Singing is unique. It is a profoundly personal experience. We as singers know this. When you critique someone’s singing, you are, in some way, critiquing them; not like just their singing but them as a person. When a singer makes a mistake, there is no instrument sitting there between you and the mistake. It’s clear you made the mistake, and you need to fix it.
And so it is, that to sing in choir day after day, with people you don’t know, requires trust. And to take vocal risks in order to find your way to an informed and gratifying performance, it helps to know and trust those singers around you. Of course, this gets easier both with age, experience, and skill, but it is always an issue. Without trust, it is hard do this thing.
So for 18-21 year-olds, going on retreat, bonding socially, digging deep into new music, and sharing social time, we come to know and trust each other. I think it makes us better singers. We certainly enjoy being in the same room together for five days a week a little it more.
I guess this makes singers “weird” in a way. I guess I don’t care about that too much.
Date: September 16, 2014
MY SUMMER WITH ACDA: A TREASURE REVEALED, by Lucas B. Ensign
As I was walking to the vending machine at the University of Wisconsin Platteville before my Choral Literature course, I was stopped by Dr. Bob Demaree about a potential great opportunity. He said something to the effect of “How would you like to spend your summer in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma at the ACDA national office funded through UW-Platteville’s PACCE program?” Without hesitation, I simply responded “YES!” This opportunity appeared to be a great segue into my student teaching semester this fall. From there, everything began to come together for this internship to take place.
Prior to my time with ACDA, I had a basic knowledge of the association. I understood that it served thousands of choral teachers, it produced a monthly Choral Journal, and it put on great national conferences every other year. I knew that most of the offices in the association were volunteers and I envisioned a staff of fifty strong. Choral Net was a resource I had used before, whether it was the daily posts by Dr. Dorsey, or the forums posted by different members. By and large, ACDA was a new resource that I was still learning about.
After spending two months with the national staff, I learned all about ACDA.
The national staff contains twelve full time members working in almost entirely one person departments. Each staff member contains individual responsibilities that develop, renovate, and perfect according the association’s needs.
On Site Resources
New Teacher and Seasoned Teacher Benefits
After spending quality time with each of the employees at the national office, I have learned how ACDA functions, how I will proceed as an educator to use these resources in a respectful manner, the importance of being active within the association; whether as a conference attender, a guest blogger for Choral Net, an author for the Choral Journal, or an R & S chair member. The deepest lesson learned comes down to a new perspective as a student and soon to be teacher.
As an undergraduate, we live, breathe, and think choral music. When graduated, he or she is unleashed into the public school systems, and put into a situation where the wheel is awaiting creation. Often times he or she is the only choral music educator in the school, and a longing for the intellectually stimulating environment that is within a college choral program begins to come forth. ACDA is a professional organization wishing to fill those needs, in whatever length is desired. This association is available to help accelerate your growth, dive into top quality discussion on teaching methods and literature, and lifelong professional connections develop. My summer experience has taught me that ACDA covers the gamut of resources, and you can benefit greatly from becoming a member.
READ MORE about Lucas Ensign's "Summer of ACDA."
Date: September 15, 2014
A LAUNCH WE CAN ALL RIDE by Sundra Flansburg
Sing it Up! Today ACDA launches its annual membership campaign, which runs through November 14. There has never been a better time to join ACDA.
Over the past year we have added a new ACDA Career Center, which has taken off as the place to find choral conducting and teaching positions across the U.S. If you are a job seeker, you can search available jobs, as well as upload your CV and create job alerts that will notify you when new relevant positions are posted. Your profile remains anonymous until you give permission to be identified. Employers know that the ACDA Career Center is the place to find the finest choral directors, teachers, and professors who are part of their professional association.
ACDA has two active pilot tests of the ACDA Mentoring Program running in the Eastern Division and in Minnesota, with a national rollout planned by December. Our custom-built online program takes the headache out of registering mentors and mentees, helps mentees find mentors who fit their particular interests, and offers a suggested program for developing a fulfilling mentoring relationship.
These new member benefits have been added to an already exciting list of reasons why choral conductors and teachers find ACDA an essential resource in their professional life. Are you a student or choral music educator? Visit our mini-website, designed especially for potential members. Watch some of the powerful member testimonials. Then join ACDA!
Date: September 14, 2014
(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.)
Self-Awareness Missa Brevis by Bill Heigen for SATB Flute and Piano (Click here for PDF and here for AUDIO: Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, Agnus Dei)
Level: Advanced High School or Higher
Uses: General Concert Use
Program Themes: Sacred Mass Settings
This Piece Would Program Well With: Missa Brevis Sancti Joannis de Deo by F. Joseph Haydn available from Sheet Music Plus and JWPepper.
Bill Heigen is new to the Composition Showcase. His first entry is a masterpiece. The parts are very approachable, the range is reasonable and the overall affect is stirring. I hear a kaliedoscope of color within each movement and throughout the work as a whole. The harmonies are full and enticing yet approached in each part with excellent voice leading. This would be a pleasant change from more traditional Mass settings.
Date: September 12, 2014
The choral ensemble is a poor vehicle for teaching individual vocal technique. With the limited time we have in front of our groups, and hopefully a large number of singers eager to rehearse, taking rehearsal time to work on individual singing technique beyond a basic level (breath, posture, free easy tone, etc) isn't realistic. At the same time, sending choristers home to practice their parts on their own often begins and ends with singing along to a practice recording, since most singers lack the functional piano skills to accompany themselves or the ear training and reading ability to accurately rehearse parts a cappella. In our ideal worlds, I'm sure many of us would envision our singers working in private study individually to develop their technique while we craft these skilled and trained voices into a cohesive ensemble. Using a variety of free or low-cost online resources, we can build a library of vocal exercises which allow singers to continue to develop their instrument individually without depending on advanced piano or reading skills.
I'll say up front that none of this is designed to replace instruction from a qualified vocal teacher. At the highest level of all ensembles will be singers who have desire and resources (time, interest) to pursue individual instruction and craft their voices as trained singers. For many ensembles, though, the bulk of our singers would probably like to develop their voice but are unlikely to add vocal lessons in addition to the choir. This is for them-- something they can practice at home that will positively contribute to their development.
Get a Method
Our first step is to find material in the public domain that relates to vocal instruction. Our normal public domain standby is CPDL, but aside from one sight singing collection, there is little for us in vocal methods there. Searching the voicings for solo voice does give us ample art song/lieder resources, which may be of interest.
The Internet Sheet Music Library Project is an extensive collection of works targeted for instrument and voice. While there are some choral works present in the database, the strength of the ISMLP is solo literature. Like CPDL, navigation of the ISMLP can be a daunting task at first, but one can find a category dedicated to Methods - a listing of instructional methods for a variety of instruments, voice included. Most of the resources in the ISMLP are high-quality .PDFs scanned from the original source.
Because they're in the public domain, you can assume that most of these methods are quite old. That's not to say that they are necessarily out-of-date, though-- The Modern Italian Method of Singing (1795) opens with the same technique instructions found in many current methods, and then launches in the Mezza di Voce (a familiar starting point for most technique methods today).
Create your Web Tools
Remember that our goal is to create resources to help the whole range of our singers, especially those without access to a keyboard or piano. I would argue that anyone studying choir at any level of school should at least be able to play find do and play it on the piano to give themselves a starting pitch, and some comfortable readers may be able to simply take the .PDF file and play the exercises for themselves. Let's assume that we want to provide some more aural support, though-- both to help the singers navigate the exercises and for the ear training benefits of practicing technique within the tonal context.
I suggest three possible examples of aural support:
At this point, we are now staring at a seemingly daunting creation process-- recording each exercise in all of the appropriate keys. Considering differing vocal ranges, we are likely to have students start in different keys as well, meaning the order of exercises is going to be different. An oft-overlooked aspect of Sibelius is going to come to our aid though: the Scorch Plugin.
Scorch is a web plugin which displays Sibelius scores and will play them back from within a web window. If we enter our public domain method exercises into Sibelius, we can embed the file into a web page so that singers can play them back without having to have Sibelius. In addition, and this is where it gets interesting for our purposes here, the user can control the tempo and key on their end. In other words, singers can choose the key in which they would like to perform the exercise. To move up the scale, they would click the new key and the accompaniment will transpose with them. Scorch is also available as an app for iOS ($1.99) and can access files sent via e-mail or stored in Dropbox. In the iOS version, musicians can turn on or off playback for individual instruments, so you could enter the exercise itself on one track and a sustained do on another, allowing musicians to practice with and without the exercise itself.
Differentiating our Musicians
Doing exercises out of a method book downloaded from the Internet is not a substitute for individual vocal instruction, nor will it grow soloists from our beginner singers. Using public domain material and generating these kinds of practice exercises can give our musicians ways to expand their skills, though, by giving them tools to use to practice their voice on a daily basis. What would a few minutes of scales and exercises in an individual setting, accompanied by a strong tonal accompaniment, do for your singers' instruments? Connecting your warmups and your choice of methods further reinforces the technique being developed in the rehearsal and allows the singers to continue to practice those skills developed in-ensemble on their own (while allowing you to introduce technical concepts during the rehearsal).
Date: September 11, 2014
Sorry for the late posting! Crazy day/week!
My next recommendation is a book by Doug Lemov, who you may know from the book Teach Like a Champion or its follow-up, Teach Like a Champion Field Guide. Both are terrific, all about better ways to teach. I recommend them, too!
But today I'll look at Doug's most recent book (along with co-authors Erica Woolway and Katie Yezzi), Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better.
This is all about the art (and science, in some cases) of practice. Using examples from top-level athletes and established teachers, as well as those in business or even long-time surgeons, the authors show how deliberately engineered and designed practice can make us better at almost anything we do (this quoted from the inside dust jacket, but very accurate. The fact that they don't use musicians in their examples won't get in the way of figuring out how better to teach your students, or rehearsing/practicing with your choir to make them better.
Since much of what they did in looking at champion teachers was to try to find ways to get other, less experienced or less skilled teachers to learn how to follow those models, they discovered that it was important for them to find better ways for the teachers to practice their new skills. Otherwise they weren't successful. So now they had to discover the rules of successful practice, or their teaching technique wouldn't improve.
I'll give a random set of examples of chapter titles ("Rules") to give you an idea:
Let the Mind Follow the Body
Unlock Creativity . . . with Repetition
Practice "Bright Spots"
Correct Instead of Critique
Isolate the Skill
Integrate the Skills
Make Each Minute Matter
Shorten the Feedback Loop
Describe the Solution (Not the Problem)
Break Down the Barriers to Practice
Make it Fun to Practice
Leverage Peer-to-Peer Accountability
Walk the Line (Between Support and Demand)
Some of these won't be clear until you read the chapters (and remember, there are 42 "rules"). But it should give you an inkling of what's going on here.
Just as an example, "Shorten the Feedback Loop." This built on John Wooden's teaching (you can find a series I wrote about him here, fourteen posts about Coach Wooden's technique and approach): as a former player noted, "he believed correction was wasted unless done immediately" -- in other words, without quick correction, the player was building in the wrong thing--practicing the incorrect thing.
I wrote about this in terms of work with my choirs telling them the difference between scrimmage and drill. In a scrimmage, we're looking at a game (for us, concert) situation in practice--running through a section or complete piece. Whereas in drill, we focus on fewer things, much repetition, and constant corrections. While we need both (and the percentage spent in each will change as we get closer to the concert), without lots of drill, certain things simply won't get better. It's focused drill, with constant feedback, that will make the choir better in the shortest time. We still have to mix in scrimmage, otherwise they don't know how to get through a section or piece, but that's a matter of balance. I also discovered that my students quickly got the idea of the importance of drill and this made them much more patient with the quick start/stop/correction/sing it again of drill. As I put it in an earlier post, it greatly increased the density of accomplishment in my rehearsals.
I'm still reading and re-reading this book in little chunks, then thinking about how a particular technique or way of thinking might apply to me in my work with choirs. I suspect I will for a long time. And I hope you'll find it valuable, too!
Date: September 9, 2014
This article talks about the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and their model of creating a sense of mission, vision, and purpose. It's an interesting read. I'm not sure it totally translates to the rest of the world...I wonder whether the model is repeatable outside of the community that it comes from (though not to cast an dispersions on the incredible impact the organization has, or the level of it's accomplishments). But still, the lessons are good ones, and certainly proivde me with some insight into how I might lead my chorus to new things. It certainly helps to have some world class organiztional folks behind you. The infastructure alone is remarkable. I think the most remarkable thing for me (aside from the remarkable organization and the clearly huge budget), is the sense of purpose and mission that everyone who is a part of the organization feels. It's inspiring.
Tonight was the first meeting of my community chamber choir. We are a good group: auditioned, mostly music teachers, professors, or folks with music degrees or currently pursuing degrees. We read through some new music, and we sounded darn good (better than last year in fact). At some point in the middle of rehearsal I looked around and saw all these people - some whom I'd only recently met, some who I've known since they were in middle school, a few whom had been in the chorus for decades - and I had this overwhelming feeling of gratefulness sweep over me. Here were people following me, but more importantly, following the vision of the organization. I just felt so lucky to be a part of it tonight.
I think in some small way, the singers in my community group feel the way they do about this group in a similar fashion to the folks interviewed about the MTC. I guess I feel pretty lucky that we've got a healthy vision and common purpose. We recently hired a new Executive Director, who is all fired up to take us to new places. The future is bright.
How is your vision? Are the singers a part of it, or are they still finding their way? How hard has it been to create, nurture and grow that vision? Have you achieved your goals? What now?
Date: September 9, 2014
This week marks the 200th anniversary of the United States National Anthem. The occasion will be marked by a large number of celebrations, from small town-square affairs to exhibits and events at the Smithsonian Institution. Perhaps the biggest splash commemorating the bicentennial of the Star Spangled Banner will take place in Maryland, home of Fort McHenry, where the week-long Star-Spangled 200 festival will celebrate the anniversary with over five dozen events, including concerts, tall ships, air shows, fireworks, and more. Closer to home, you can participate, too. The foundation Star Spangled Music offers may ways for you to mark the occasion in your own classroom or rehearsal space.
For those of us trapped at our desks during this celebration, we can enjoy this performance of the original version of our National Anthem.
Date: September 7, 2014
Seek a Place of Breathless Beauty by Philip Orem for SATB Flute and Piano (Click here for PDF and here for AUDIO)
Level: Church Choir
Uses: Ordinary Time/Sundays after Pentecost, Funeral
Program Themes: Peace, Beauty
This Piece Would Program Well With: Speak and We Will Hear by Joseph Martin available from Sheet Music Plus and JWPepper.
This is an excellent piece to start off the year. The range and difficulty level are right for your typical church choir. There is one G above the staff for sopranos that could easily be sung down the octave if that is an issue for your choir. With the addition of the flute part, Philip Orem really caught my attention with Seek a Place of Breathless Beauty.