Date: April 25, 2015
Date: April 23, 2015
More from Daniel Coyle: Tip #50 - Cultivate Your Grit
"Grit is that mix of passion, perserverance, and self-discipline that keeps us moving forward in spite of obstacles. It's not flashy and that's precisely the point. In a world in which we're frequentlly distracted by sparkly displays of skill, grit makes the difference in the long run."
There's been a lot written in the past few years about the concept of "grit" and it's importance—much of this comes from research by Angela Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania (and a winner of one of the McArthur "genius grants)," who studied what made a difference in cadets doing well in or just surviving the famed "Beast Barracks" training at West Point. Beforehand, a brief test was given (you can find a version of it here), "questions that asked them to rate their own ability to stick to goals, to be motivated by failure, and to persist in the face of obstacles." Grit proved extraordinarily successful in predicting success (much more so than intelligence and many other measures) and has also done well predicing success in many other areas.
As Coyle says, "Grit isn't inborn. It's developed, like a muscle. . ." and it's a muscle that's important to develop in ourselves and in our singers. The ability to perservere through learning challenging music, complicated musical and vocal skills, to persist in what Coyle calls, "deep practice," is what brings success.
If you find this interesting, a longer interview with Angela Duckworth is here. For a look at an opposing opinion, however, writer Alfie Kohn has a very good article questioning the concept of grit here.
What do you think? How important is it to success? If you believe it is, how do you cultivate grit—perserverance to reach difficult goals—in your singers/students?
Date: April 20, 2015
It’s that time of year, isn’t it? Many of our students have morphed from being simply squirrely into vicious little monsters. Their helicopter parents have become fully-armed battle copters. All the while, our greedy administrators have gone into hiding, cowering like despotic little tyrants at the beginning of a coup d’etat.
As a result, we educators are running out of steam . . . and many of us are questioning why we put ourselves through this grief all the while being paid pennies.
A couple days ago, a colleague posted the following plea on the ACDA Facebook Group:
“Had a rough day today. Remind me why I do this . . . .”
One can almost feel this poor fellow’s exhaustion and frustration in those plaintive eleven words. It is heartbreaking, and agonizingly familiar.
Yet, there is hope, brought by those dear folks who replied to this aching plea, offering words of solidarity and support . . .
“I think it’s something in the air... I have heard more disasters today than at any time the past month.”
“For the kids. For the kids. For the kids.”
“You're not the only one. Lots of people have said the same thing. I rehearsed all day long and thought to myself, ‘I did some masterful teaching" (at times) and it felt like we made no forward progress at all.’ I know that all the things we hit on today will sink in and make a better product in the end (I hope).”
“For the "thank you for giving me a safe place to be" and the "thank you for helping me find my voice"
“Because you know you are part of saving lives and making our world a better place”
“You touched someone's life today, even if s/he didn't mention it! You brightened somebody's day, made someone smile!”
“This too shall pass . . . I cannot speak for you, but I do it for the lasting relationships, the honor of teaching creative thought, the hope of teaching responsibility for something/someone beyond oneself, and the opportunity to plant the enjoyment of pursuit of excellence. All may sound cliché, but I have many a letter/note from a former student that proves that ‘most’ days I succeed at what I do. Bad days just make the good days that much sweeter.”
“I'm a mom of a music Ed college student and I know how amazing you are just for doing what you do and what you have already done.”
“Because the days can be brutal and long, but the weeks, months, and years are short! The time will go by anyway...at least we get to spend ours making music, even if it means fielding some rubbish along the way. Here's to a better tomorrow!”
“Because . . . music!”
“Because you are passionate about your craft, you strive to make a positive impact on your students that you see each and every day. You produce amazing music that people love and adore. You take what is on the score and you make it brilliant and add many artistic elements of brilliance to it. You are outstanding!!”
“Passion, love, excitement and satisfaction of helping kids become culturally literate and discovering their love of music.”
“When you look into the eyes of a student who finally understand a concept you've been teaching. The Ah-Ha’ moment. That single second of recognition that you just made someone understand something and that someone who understood something is truly happy they understood it.”
“Because you make a big difference in the lives of many students over the long haul. Just remind yourself that this is the toughest part of the year as you go into the home stretch! Breathe and then smile!”
“Because there is at least one student who needs to be in your class because it's the only place they can truly be themselves.”
“Because of the days when they amaze you with how much of your artistry they have made their own. You, as are we all, are part of a continuum between your teachers, their teachers, your students, and their students. Stay in the chain.”
To the colleague who posted the plea in the first place, Hang in there, brother. We are all with you. And Bravo to those who shared words of encouragement.
Be strong, friends.
Date: April 19, 2015
The pieces that are discussed in this blog series are given the Silver Platter Award for repertoire. This award began last year before the series started, therefore some of the very best works in the showcase have not been displayed here. I would like to share these gems with you and encourage everyone to visit the Siver Platter Award Recipient Page in the composer's community for a complete list of winning works. You can find it in the side bar of the Composition Showcase at www.choralnet.org/showcase. You can also search for "Silver Platter" using the FIND command while on any of the voicing pages: SATB SAB SSAA SSA SA TTBB UNISON
Please click through the PDF's and sound files for these extrordinary spotlighted works:
The Music of the Spheres SSA Horn and Piano Brian Holmes (PDF, Audio)
O Magnum Mysterium SSAA divisi a cappella Kurt P. Erickson (PDF, Audio)
There are other navigation features in the Composition Showcase. For works recently added click on the FEED link. For pieces of a seasonal nature click on the SEASONAL link.
Feel free to add your comments or critique below for any of the works discussed in the Spotlight series. All of the composers really appreciate the feedback. You may just start a conversation that leads to benefits for you and your choir. You won’t get that at JWPepper of Sheet Music Plus!
(Original publication: January 20, 2013)
Date: April 18, 2015
Date: April 17, 2015
Over the history of computer notation programs, the methods for getting music into the machine have stayed largely the same: use the computer keyboard and mouse, play notes live on a MIDI keyboard, or combine these methods using a program's favorite shortcuts. Anyone who spends enough time in notation software will eventually develop some fluency and preferences for working with the software, but they've always presented a slow, steep learning curve, and each program's developments have been to refine the same basic processes for inputting musical material. As the computing industry is experimenting large scale with how people will interact with computers in the future, we've seen some additional technologies develop (such as scanning and PDF recognition, or audio input/dictation), but they have yet to replace the keyboard and mouse as the most common ways to enter notation. One of the main reasons that Windows 8 touchscreen devices are so exciting to me as a technologist is that they signal a shift in the industry towards an underlying principle: the keyboard and mouse are inefficient ways to interact with a computer. Touch and handwriting reflect much better our natural methods of creating and interacting with work, and the ability to use those in a full-computing environment can lead us to much more transparent and natural use of technology. Now that Windows 8 has been in the field for a few months, programs built solely for that environment are starting to emerge that show the potential for touchscreen work, and a new program called StaffPad has finally broken the barrier to a new way of inputting music into a full notation workstation: by writing directly on the screen.
To be clear, StaffPad is not the first handwriting-based notation program. NotateMe for iOS (and NotateMe Now, the free version) also offers the ability to handwrite notes and have them captured into a score. I'll write more about NotateMe next week, but in brief, there are many music teachers who swear by both versions of the app, especially when students have access to devices. They can be very useful for classroom work, but for composition or arranging, I find them unsatisfying for two reasons: first, the size of the iPad (too small), and second, the size of the stylus or my finger (too big). They work well for writing individual lines or even in grand staff on occasion.
StaffPad on my Surface Pro 3 is an entirely different ballgame. Using the active Surface pen, which is the same size as a regular ball-point pen, feels like writing on paper rather than the big blobby writing on an iPad. For better or worse (and my past composition teachers would all tell you "worse,"), StaffPad accurately captures my handwriting and script. The detection and recognition engine work very quickly to translate all of the handwriting into notation as soon as I leave an active measure. Once a measure is "inked," the pen works much like you'd expect a mouse to work in usual notation programs: you can drag notes to correct them, or erase erroneous markings or add ones that were missed. StaffPad comes with a full orchestral sound library, and the playback is high-quality audio. At $69.99 in the Windows Store, there are a few areas where StaffPad doesn't hold up to Finale, and certainly StaffPad doesn't compete with Finale's sound library. It's sufficient for most needs, though, and given the price difference I suspect most will be fine with StaffPad's playback sounds.
The handwriting engine is very sophisticated, and as such, has a few quirks. Using it on the plane over the course of a long flight, I was able to adapt to some of its requirements fairly well, but it may require you to tweak your handwriting a bit. In particular, one oddity is in writing sixteenth-notes: the program much prefers that you write a block of sixteenth-notes in a specific order, starting with the first note of the block, then the last, and then fill in the beams and finally the inner notes. It's less cumbersome than it sounds after a little practice, but it does require a little practice. StaffPad comes with some very friendly videos demonstrating its best practices, but the best training guide is the tutorial section which lets you practice notating key figures and trains you to write them in the most error-free method possible.
Again, testing on the Surface Pro 3, the display is large, clean, and exceptionally easy to work with. Pinch-to-zoom lets you play with the amount of score you see at any given time, and is very useful for viewing full-score or individual parts. The display is fixed in landscape mode (horizontal), which is best for scrolling individual lines. I can see a case to be made for viewing full-score in portrait mode, but that's not supported at this point. The display is clearly optimized for the Surface, but StaffPad will run on other devices which meet the following requirements: Windows 8, touchscreen, and active digitizer/pen. That is a pretty limited field at this point-- many consumer Windows 8 devices such as the Yoga or Helix have a touchscreen, but a passive pen. A rule of thumb (not ironclad) is that if the pen has neither a battery nor any buttons on it, it's passive, not active. Since the StaffPad is built totally without keyboard and mouse support, you need the buttons on the pen to control features such as erase. Finally, Windows 8 tablets (especially the Surface) have thrown standard conventions of screen size out the window, so the screen display that's optimized for the Surface may be less satisfactory on devices that don't share the Surface's extreme-Letterbox dimensions. Much of that is mitigated, however, by a very clean, minimalist design and the pinch-to-zoom/touch navigation.
Predictably, many of the responses to StaffPad thus far have been "When is it coming to iPad?" StaffPad has been very clear to say "It's not," and it's fairly easy to see why: From the active pen support to the processing requirements, this program is far beyond what the iPad is technically capable of running (same with Android). It's not a program meant to run in a mobile operating system-- it needs the full power of a large-scale OS. If Apple ever relents and builds a touchscreen Mac, porting there would be a possibility, but I don't see that happening anytime soon. Their blog does suggest that you can run Parallels on a Mac to load Windows and use an active Wacom tablet if you so desire.
As with most new products, StaffPad has some omissions, and a couple of glaring ones. The lack of support for advanced time signatures will turn some users off. Your common x/4 or x/8 are there, but there's no capacity for more adventurous signatures or ability to create your own, and editing or changing time signatures once notes are entered is ungainly at best. I'll admit that I have yet to figure out how to change the playback tempo, which I'm sure exists, but reflects on the lack of user documentation. Some people love training from friendly videos, but I much prefer an exhaustive manual with a good index, which is nowhere to be found. StaffPad doesn't have chordal notation or playback-- you can write chord symbols in, either by entering text or handwritten, but they won't play. In addition, there's no alternate notation such as slash or rhythmic notation. Those who do lots of work in jazz or rock/pop music may sorely miss those features. Their blog does promise that "more in-depth and intuitive support for chord symbols [is coming] in the near future." Finally, and perhaps the most bizzare, there is no support for lyrics. Again, you can handwrite them in, but I for one shudder to think of an ensemble reading a full score's of my handwriting as text. Again, StaffPad says, "coming soon." In the meantime, when you're ready to add text, you can export via MusicXML to another editor and set the lyrics there (or into a PDF editor).
StaffPad isn't ready to be my full-time notation program, and at $70 US and without any trial version, it's hard to recommend that you "give it a try" and see if it works for your use until some of the larger omissions are rectified. That said, I downloaded StaffPad in the airport before a long flight. At takeoff, I was completely blown away by the novelty of writing directly on the screen. By halfway through the flight, it had become completely transparent and I was simply writing score with the speed and fluidity of handwriting and the instant software capacity for playback and editing. The present experience of StaffPad is very exciting, and the future potential could signal an end of our keyboard-and-mouse dependency for computer notation.
Date: April 16, 2015
More from Daniel Coyle: Tip #42 "Six ways to be a better teacher or coach"
More than one tip, but six for improving our skills!
Date: April 14, 2015
WHAT POWERS THE CHURCH CHOIR? by Thomas Vozzella
As we begin the 50 days of Easter, following intensive Holy Week worship experiences, I have been renewed with a deeper understanding of why some church choirs give, give and give more, whereas other choirs make the whole experience torture for themselves and their director(s). From Palm Sunday to Easter Day our choir, that usually has one two-hour rehearsal and sings two services weekly, went far and above what is seemingly unimaginable. In summary – our Holy Week included eight services, eleven anthems, four festival hymn settings, children’s choirs, brass and percussion at three services, an abundance of responses, sung Psalms and Canticles, and hymns with and without accompaniment. Plus, we had an additional thirteen hours of rehearsals. I had to say WOW.
However, mid way through the Easter Vigil I began to feel weary. It was at this moment it all came together for me and my understanding of our choir’s commitment, without limitation, to the choral ministry at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Kansas City, Missouri. What hit me, hit hard, and more intensely than ever before: Our time and our commitment to music ministry is required, and is expected. Why is it expected? “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”. (John 3:16)
WARNING: The next paragraph is graphic, not for the faint of heart. Proceed with caution.
Who do you know that would be beaten/whipped to the point of bleeding, carry a large-heavy wooden cross through their current city of residence, with a crown of thorns pushed deep into the flesh of their head causing blood to run down their face and garments, completely emaciated? Then to top it all off, they are hung from the cross they carried with nails driven through the palms of their hands, and feet. Finally, after they die, a spear is pushed deep in their side, allowing all the blood and water remaining in their body to drain out. Do you know anyone that would do this for you? Yes, I do, Jesus Christ would, and did!
This blog may not be filled with the butterflies and the flowers of Easter. It might not include bunnies, baskets and candy. What it does contain, is the reality of the suffering God’s only son, endured on our behalf.
I am not asking you to believe anything I have written here. I am only sharing with you how my choir and I find the strength to give of ourselves without reservation during Holy Week and throughout the year. It also serves to answer why we do not have the right to complain about how time consuming Holy Week, or any other feast day we celebrate is to the people involved. We do not have the right to whine, until we are willing “…to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”. (John 15:13) or at least “…love your neighbor, as yourself”. (Matthew 22:39):
Love your Muslim Neighbor…
Love your Black Neighbor…
Love your Gay Neighbor…
Love your White Neighbor…
Love your Asian Neighbor…
Love your Jewish Neighbor…
Love your Christian Neighbor…
Love your Atheist Neighbor…
Love your Disabled Neighbor…
Date: April 12, 2015
(Each week we look at a piece of useful repertoire from the ChoralNet Community Composition Showcase. A variety of voicings and levels of difficulty will be presented. Enjoy!)
Level: College or higher
Uses: Lenten Service or Concert, Masterworks Concert
Program Themes: Songs of Pain and Suffering, Supplication
This Piece Would Program Well With: Lacrimosa from Requiem by W.A.Mozart available from JWPepper or Sheet Music Plus.
Out of the depths this piece cries out to Thee O Lord! The opening soprano solo tears at the heavens with pain and supplication. Goose bumps will be crawling across the collective skin of your audience.
With altos down to a low Eb and the soprano soloist up to high C this requires some well-trained resources.
(Original publication: January 13, 2013)
Date: April 11, 2015
Date: April 9, 2015
More from Daniel Coyle: Tip #37 - To choose the best practice method, use the R.E.P.S. gauge. (as always, consider reading the book yourself!)
Coyle says to find the best practice strategy, measure the options with the following gauge, remembering the elements with an acronym:
R: Reaching and Repeating
S: Strong, Speedy Feedback
Coyle gives great examples of each:
Reaching and Repeating: "Does the practice have you operating on the edge of your ability, reaching and repeating?" For us, we have to find ways to keep our choir members working hard on things that are possible for them, but outside their current ability. There's always something to strive for, not only the difficulty of the music—we can push them to sing with more beautiful sound, more musically and expressively. But it should be rare that we don't demand the singers do something at least a bit outside their current comfort zone. And, of course, repetition or practice (if done correctly) is the way we improve.
Engagement: "Is the practice immersive? Does it command your attention? Does it use emotion to propel you towards a goal?" He uses the example of two trumpet players practicing an excerpt, one just running through it 20 times, the other setting a goal of playing it five times perfectly . . . and if she makes a mistake, she starts the count over again. I know many stories of athletes who do this kind of practice—that they have to make so many shots in a row before they can finish practice, for example. But we also have to find ways to involve his last question about whether it uses emotion or not. If our rehearsal is only technical (even though that may be a part—perhaps even a large part some days—of our practice time) it's unlikely to engage the singers fully. What is the composer trying to express? How is the text expressed through the music? How can the singers express emotion? These are important questions for us and, if we're successful in answering them, we'll engage our singers much more effectively.
Purposefulness: "Does the task directly connect with the skill you want to build?" Coyle uses the example of practicing free throws: one team waits until the end of practice and each player shoots 50 shots—the other scatters free throws throughout the scrimmage so the player has to shoot "tired and under pressure, as in a game." The second is more successful because it has the players practice what they'll actually do in a game (they won't shoot 50 free throws in a row!). I've talked before about finding ways to do intense, short drills to improve what the choir does (related to my series on coach John Wooden), but also that you also have to find ways to scrimmage/run through music so the choir has the ability to do what they'll need to do at the concert. Right now (as I write this, it's March 26 and our concert is April 14) I'm working with Jan Sandström's challenging (but fun!) Biegga Luohte with my University Singers. There's much that needs to be drilled over and over in short chunks to make the piece work (and for them to master the tricky rhythms and clusters)—but it's also necessary for them to be able to put it all together. So today we rehearsed a few difficult transitions and then ran it for the first time. I will need to continue to mix the two types of practice, gradually moving towards more and more runs of all the repertoire on the concert, so when we get there, we can sing it all confidently, musically, and expressively.
Strong, Speedy Feedback: "Does the learner receive a stream of accurate information about his performance—where he succeeded and where he made his mistakes?" Most of us are used to doing this, of course. It's a major part of what we do in rehearsal. But we need to be reminded that the feedback (to be speedy!) needs to be concise and clear. Don't use more words than necessary. Sometimes it can be general: "You're not together—better ensemble!" At other times it needs to be much more specific: "You're dragging behind because consonants are late--put the vowels on the pulse," or "Altos, you're late after the dot." You have to decide quickly why it isn't right, determine what the necessary feedback is, tell them (or show them) in the fewest words possible (speedy!), and get them singing it again . . . either correctly, or better (after which you might need to refine your feedback so it can be correct).
So for better rehearsals, remember your R.E.P.S.
Date: April 6, 2015
Sometimes, a voice in our midst hits the nail squarely on the head. Here, composer John Rutter does just that.
Whether you are questioning your career, dealing with a challenging parent, besieged by a sociopathic administrator, or just need a moment of artistic refreshment, this three-minute commentary will fill the bill.
Date: April 5, 2015
(Each week we look at a piece of useful repertoire from the ChoralNet Community Composition Showcase. A variety of voicings and levels of difficulty will be presented. Enjoy!)
Abraham's Test by Joy F DeCoursey-Porter SATB Divisi and tenor solo a cappella (click for PDF and Audio)
Level: High School or higher
Uses: General Concert Use
Program Themes: Tough Decisions, A Father's Love
This Piece Would Program Well With: Randall Thompson's Alleluia available at JWPepper and Sheet Music Plus.
Have you ever been a week out from performing the Barber Agnus Dei and realize it just isn't going to happen? Having another beautiful work ready to pull out that can be learned in a week could be a blessing. Abraham's Test can stand on it's own as a featured work or can be used as a training piece to get your less experienced choir singing in divisi in preparation for grander more difficult pieces. With just a minute and a half to focus on, it is an economical vibrant work.
This work is available from the composer or email joyfulporter(a)hotmail.com
(Original publication: January 6, 2013)
Date: April 4, 2015
Date: April 2, 2015
More from Daniel Coyle: Tip #35: Use the 3x10 technique.
This is an interesting idea, coming from a neurologist, Dr. Douglas Fields, "who researches memory and learning. He discovered that our brains make stronger connections when they're stimulated three times with a rest period of ten minutes between each stimulation. . . . 'I apply this to learning all the time in my own life,' Fields says. 'For example, in mastering a difficult piece of music on the guitar, I practice, then I do something else for ten minutes, then I practice again."
I've used something similar in my rehearsals with a tough passage, working on it, then putting it aside and working on something else, then coming back to it in the same rehearsal. I've done this primarily with relatively short passages, but it has worked well. I think it'll be interesting to try it in a more organized way, working three repetitions and spacing close to 10 minutes apart.
I've mentioned this in the past, but when I conduct the St. Matthew Passion the sudden and dramatic "Barrabam" (Barrabas) chord is a challenge for the choir. After I've worked on it a bit, I tell the choir that whenever they hear the recitative lead-in, they have to be ready to sing it . . . and I sprinkle it throughout the rehearsals here and there. It becomes almost an automatic conditioned response. By the time of performance there's no fear and the entrance can be confident and dramatic.
The idea of enhancing learning by spacing repetitions has been researched extensively, with the quickest and most thorough learning coming from timing each review so it happens just before one would be about to forget (i.e., just before it passes out of short-term memory). This particularly works well with individual facts, vocabulary, etc., with the timing of review periods (gradually getting further and further apart) the quickest way to put them into long-term memory. There are systems for spacing repetitions of material and one of the best is available for free through Anki (essentially it's a computerized—and scientifically spaced—version of flash cards). If you're learning a language or anything that involves this kind of knowledge, try it out.
I think the same idea might be interesting to experiment with when learning scores (not Anki! the 3x10 idea). As you practice or work on a particular passage or section of music and try to get it clearly in your mind, after an intense study period, put it aside, work on something else for 10 minutes or so, work on it again, and do it one more time. I suspect it will get it into your mind more quickly and efficiently. Something to try!
Date: March 31, 2015
REHEARSAL STRATEGIES OF SIR DAVID WILCOCKS by Carl Smith
Sir David Willcocks, Music Director Emeritus, King's College Choir, King's College, Cambridge University, UK, used three rehearsal strategies which differed from rehearsal strategies used by other choral conductors, with whom I have sung.
The first strategy was teaching releases. Many times, in dealing with choral-orchestral works, he would tell us to "clear the beat!" The idea was to release a phrase before the downbeat of the next measure, or a beat within a measure. This was certainly different from what I had been taught! To teach the concept, he would have us say "1-2-3-4- ONE!" Then he would have us whisper the "ONE!" Finally, he would have us say silently say the "ONE!" Worked every time. Anyone out there use this rehearsal strategy?
The second rehearsal strategy was the use of the piano in helping us to learn a difficult line, He would play the part an octave or two higher to help us hear the articulation he wanted and the sound of the line. Anyone out there use this rehearsal strategy?
The third rehearsal was to have everyone in the chorus sing a particular line, for example, a line in Renaissance polyphony, such as a Palestrina motet. Anyone out there use this rehearsal strategy? I’d love to hear from you!
Date: March 30, 2015
Some days we seem to be surrounded by rampant narcissism and seemingly endless self-promotion by wanna–be mini-celebrities. So when something like this comes along, the only word that comes to mind is “refreshing.”
The recent ACDA national conference in Salt Lake featured a service project where choral students from Waukee High School (Iowa) led a choir exchange with their peers at Granite Park Junior High School in Salt Lake City. The accompanying video fragment shows just a small taste of that valuable experience.
This is exactly the sort of altruism our founders had in mind when they penned the first six words of ACDA’s Purposes: “To foster and promote choral singing . . .”
Thankfully, most of us educators already know that this life isn’t about cash. It’s about helping others.
Bravo, one and all!
Date: March 29, 2015
(Each week we look at a piece of useful repertoire from the ChoralNet Community Composition Showcase. A variety of voicings and levels of difficulty will be presented. Enjoy!)
Level: High School or higher
Program Themes: Winter Holiday
This Piece Would Program Well With: 'Twas the Night Before Christmas arr. Harry Simeone JWpepper and Sheet Music Plus
Merry Christmas! I'm sure most conductors have had just about enough of the standard holiday fare so I'd like to serve you up something quite different. Moon Man has an unusual text that Greg Bartholomew adapted from a poem by American poet Tom Clarke. This song will have you eating your Moon Man cheese in a tin for Christmas Day. Enjoy!
(Original publication: December 22, 2012)
Date: March 28, 2015
MUSIC CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE AND SO CAN YOU! by Heather MacDonald (Volunteer & Community Engagement Director, United Way of Salt Lake City)
The mission of the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) is to inspire excellence in choral music through education, performance, composition, and advocacy. The ACDA hosted their 2015 National Conference in Salt Lake City which provided a unique opportunity for two UWSL Community Schools to experience performances, coaching, and student interaction with two of the visiting choirs.
Almost 300 choirs auditioned for the opportunity to perform at the Mormon Tabernacle and Abravanel Hall during the conference, and only 22 were selected. From that select group of top performers, Baylor University from Waco, TX and Waukee High School from Waukee, IA were given the opportunity to volunteer as part of their conference experience.
Through the planning process, the ACDA was clear they wanted an opportunity for the visiting choirs to not just perform but to be able to interact with students and offer their expertise. Granite Park Junior High students started out by participating in icebreaker activities led by the Waukee High School students. During their time they also shared lunch, performed for each other, and were treated to a clinic where they learned performance tips and how they could better work together to be a cohesive choir.
“My kids TRULY enjoyed every moment of this experience and it was a highlight of our Salt Lake City experience. I think every conference should have a component that resembles this as it was educational, fun, and incredibly rewarding to work together–confirming that music is a powerful tool that brings people together in unexpected ways.” – Amy Hall, Waukee High School Director of Vocal Music
“The ACDA experience with Amy Hall and the Waukee High School choir was incredible for the students at Granite Park Junior High. The faces of my students said it all. Many of my students have never had the opportunity to see such a high-quality choir performance. It was also incredible for my students to get feedback on their singing from Mrs. Hall. It was an experience that truly inspired my students and one that they, and I, will never forget.” – Melissa Drake, Granite Park Jr. High Choir Teacher
Kearns High School partnered with Jefferson Junior High to share their choir experience with both Kearns High and Jefferson students. The Baylor University choir, directed by Alan Raines, provided an engaging musical performance, participated in some activities with the Kearns and Jefferson students, and shared the message that college is important.
“I think that Alan’s and the choir’s enthusiasm and very approachable manners made the assembly not only an inspirational showcase of college-level talent; but it also sent what I felt was a very clear message to the students that “college is a great place to go…you will have amazing experiences and opportunities if you go.” That message is so powerful with our students here in Kearns where only 68% of Kearns High School students graduate on time.” – Steve Whatcott, Kearns High UWSL Community School Director
Through the power of volunteers, students were able to be inspired, have fun, and learn together.
Date: March 27, 2015
MOBILE RECORDING ISN'T "WHAT IT ISN'T," by Jeff Tillinghast
"Is it better quality than a DSLR?"
I wanted to test a new iPad video accessory called the Swivl this week, so I set it up in our auditorium for Music Day student performances. The Swivl is a base into which you set your iPad to record presentations and video with two major distinguishing features: first, the base features a rotating motor which tracks a remote held or worn by the presenter via infrared. This device has earned a lot of attention in education and in business by making it very easy to record presentations since the camera will track the presenter and keep them in the center of the frame. I'd tested it in several of our classrooms with student and faculty presentations already, but in the name of curiosity, I was using it in Music Day to test a second unique feature: the remote has a small microphone in it which transmits the audio signal back to the base to record directly into the iPad. Again, for presentations this is a great benefit since it will get clear audio signal from the speaker no matter how far away the iPad is. I wanted to take the notion one step further and record an ensemble from the stage with the remote mic. The ability to put a wireless microphone on the podium, for example, and transmit to a video camera further back in the hall was very intriguing to me.
I was setting the Swivl up in the Auditorium when a student looked at me and asked, "But is it better quality than a DSLR?" I hear variations of this question whenever I talk about mobile-based audio or video recording, and I think it misses the larger question. Certainly the recording quality of an iPad or any tablet or smartphone falls short of a professional-grade rig. Even a dedicated pro-sumer level specialized video camera or a handheld audio device like the Zoom H2 is going to have better input and be designed to process cleaner A/V. For the really important projects, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend any of a number of single-purpose devices to create superior multimedia. That said, it is surprising the results that can come from smartphone or tablet video and audio with some of the aftermarket accessories that are available. Furthermore, that I believe that these tools have a place in our recording arsenal isn't because they can imitate what they aren't (try and be a professional-grade field recorder, for example), but because of some of the things that make mobile computing so powerful:
Ease of sharing. I don't think this point can be overstated-- the highest quality recordings have very little value if they never get off the recorder. I have stacks of memory cards from projects gone by or rehearsals that I recorded and meant to share, but never took the time to move the files, do any necessary editing or converting, and then think about distributing. Mobile operating systems are built to publish and share content, and can do it in a variety of ways depending on your apps and subscriptions. By the time the audience had left the auditorium, I had created a Google Drive folder shared with our Music Department from the iPad and was uploading the video files to them. Similarly, I could have used Dropbox, or uploaded straight to YouTube or Vimeo if I wanted to publish them externally.
Simplicity. Mobile operating systems are built to be easy to navigate and the devices place a premium on design that's easy to learn quickly. That aesthetic extends to most of the apps available for mobile devices as well: there are many exceptions, but mobile apps generally tend to do one or two specific things and strive to achieve them with a minimal learning curve and amount of user input. This has a flipside in that many of the apps are more limited in their capacity, but when you find a great audio recorder such as Twisted Wave, its simplicity translates to quick setup and learning curve which won't bog users down.
Widespread Adoption. Gadgets are expensive, and none of us have large enough budgets that we want to dominate them with recording technology. By taking advantage of the devices that you, your musicians or your colleagues already own, you can build a range of accessories while not having to purchase single-use devices. In many cases, the app that corresponds to a piece of hardware is provided free from the manufacturer, meaning that you can have many people in your ensemble with the apps on their phones or tablets to allow for sectional or small ensemble recording, or to get help with setting up recording for concerts or events.
In the end, some of the biggest determining factors in the quality of audio or video are external to the recorder no matter what the hardware: lighting is going to make an enormous difference in the quality of video, and my tests for Music Day were hampered by not having the microphone in a good location for the often boomy acoustics in our hall. I gave the Swivl an "incomplete" for recording music via wireless remote, and I'll come back to it in the future with more thought to mic placement. The distinction is significant, though: in this case, I evaluated the device as a way to make capable recordings via iPad because of what that offers (the benefits of mobile computing), not what it doesn't.