Date: April 18, 2014
Many of us in the field have a huge responsibility to the musicians in our ensembles: we are the channels of everything wonderful about our choral tradition, through which our singers learn about the history and future of composition, performance traditions and culture of music. If you went through a college music program, or an intensive professional training, you remember not only the performance training, but the theory, pedagogy and history training that went into your "comprehensive" musicianship education. For our singers, be they students or community and church members, we may be their only source of music "training" or expertise. While we are first and foremost conductors, and our singers come to us to experience singing rather than (or alongside) studying theory and history, we teach a de facto "survey of choral music" by what we program: our careful selection of literature from eras, styles, purposes and traditions. The common phrase in music education is "the literature is the textbook." What if we expanded that idea just a little-- instead of saying "the literature (that we perform) is our textbook," it was "the literature (of choral music) is our textbook?"
I believe that there's a performance-oriented argument to be made that our singers should listen to a representative sample choral music. We, as deeply passionate and well-versed professional musicians, who have spent our lives training a particular speciality, run the risk of taking for granted that our singers have the same intuitive aural performance ideal that we do. We know "the sound" that we have in mind. Do our singers listen to choral music enough to recreate it? How much rehearsal time could be saved, and what higher levels of performance could be attained, if your ensemble had a truly solid understanding of fluid tempo (as opposed to the metronome-controlled rhythm tracks that lock commercial music into a rigid beat)? There's a natural comparison to language learning: online language resources are flourishing because teachers and students understand that there's an inherent value to spending time listening to the language as often as possible rather than simply having direct classroom instruction to recreate a dialect and accent. Art rooms and studios, furthermore, are filled with samples and models both of projects that are there for direct modeling (e.g. we're studying lines, so here are examples of lines) and those that are simply great exemplars of art for purposes of inspiration and seeding one's creative toolbox.
There's also an aesthetic reason for us to encourage our singers to listen to music beyond that which we program: Everything that we do to raise the public level of knowledge about choral music serves our art. Last week, I wrote about some sources for streaming music online for you and your singers. If we believe that our role as conductor includes being a steward of the choral tradition, and we accept the responsibility of being the only "choral experts" that many of our singers encounter in their lives, then we may look for ways to expand our "textbook" beyond just the music that we program. I had the chance to sit in an English faculty meeting this week where the department was trying to build a list of "core texts"-- those works of literature that the department believed a student must experience before they left the school. Are there choral works that you think all of your singers should experience? Are there works which are the hallmarks of our field to which you would like to expose your ensemble? This list may sound like a programming list, but there are many reasons why your "my singers must hear" list could be different than "my singers must sing:"
It's Not Just Mixtapes
There are a few easy and light-weight ways that you could offer supplemental listening to your singers. While you may initially think of this as a required element to add in (shades of our history-class "drop the needle" listening exams), I'd encourage you to think of this as a supplemental service to offer your singers for their enrichment. After all, they already must have some level of interest in music-- they showed up to your rehearsal!
Feed Their Ears
No matter how you do it, a small amount of effort could provide a great resource for your singers to expand their musical knowledge and experience. Offering this exposure to the breath and depth of the choral field to our singers is a rewarding service to our art, and can prompt great discussions during rehearsals as singers talk about their favorite new music. As the English faculty asked-- "What music do your singers need to know?"
Date: April 17, 2014
NOTES FROM ERIC ERICSON'S CONDUCTING SESSIONS AT HAYSTACK , 1986
These notes are from several sessions (hence I've abbreviated in some places) that Eric Ericson did on basic conducting technique. This took place at the Haystack Workshop in Astoria, Oregon. I was singing in the 16-voice chamber choir that did a concert as well as providing the workshop choir. These are exercises to practice, or which are useful in teaching conducting (I've used them regularly). I'll spread this over two posts, corresponding to the two days Eric did this. (Sorry for any formatting "oddities" -- I had to scan and old typed version to pdf and then convert to MS Word, which made for some challenges)
1) Posture - find a balanced posture - now rotate your body side to side—relax your arms and let them follow your body - note that the arms follow in a circular way - "you need to find a natural way for your body to conduct"
2) Put your thumb and forefinger together and press intensely, so intensely that your fingertips become white - but localize the tension so that it's only in your fingers, not your arm - move your arms freely, tension only in the fingers - "too much muscle can kill the music"
3) Now bring your hand up to a 'normal' position - feel attachments that lift your arm
4) Now clasp your hands together and press them together hard - feel the intensity, but no tension in your shoulder
5) To find the position of the hand while conducting, simply lift up from by your side - find a natural position - avoid the elbow out or in, just ''natural”
6) what the conductor does must help vocal production (E. doesn't want baton for this reason)
7) the focus of the beat is the entire hand (not the fingers—too tense/ not the wrist—too floppy)
8) conduct in 1 (Eric plays the piano) - "feel the magnetic pull towards the rebound spot" (ictus)
9) bounce the beat off of the left hand, held at belly level
(Eric plays a waltz - "you want a clear one that provokes what follows"}
10) now conduct with the whole arm - now focus in the elbow - see how awkward and inefficient
11) now conduct in a four pattern - E. watches and says: "don't let your elbow go out for beat 2" "don't put beat 1 in front of the body - it makes for an unnatural position"
12) (continue conducting in 4) - feel the hand leading the beat , the arm follows
(comments to class while conducting) "relax your shoulder" "concentrate the beat in the hand" "walk around a little bit" "smaller beat , very small"
13) E. has class alternate bars conducting 4 while counting 2 and vice-versa
14} "The size of the beat is related to the tempo, not the dynamic”
15) Independence of hands: r.h./1.h.
16) Articulation: alternate:
17) now conduct 12/8, but sing only the first 8th note of every beat on the syllable “pom”
Date: April 16, 2014
(The abstract to the article “The Many Facets of Madeleine Marshall: A Historical and Cultural
Perspective of Madeleine “Graham Jones” Marshall Simon (1899-1993), Author of The Singer’s Manual of English Diction,” by Sheri Cook-Cunningham, published in the International Journal of Research in Choral Singing)
Date: April 15, 2014
If you have attended even a single ACDA Conference, you’ve seen it. It’s the look on the face of every conductor as they turn to acknowledge the applause of peers at the conclusion of their appearance on the main stage of the Conference. One calls it “The Grin.”
But it’s the NEXT look to cross their faces that is the most profound and to our way of thinking vastly more important. It is the look of unrestrained pride in the accomplishment of the singers under their care – a feat that often bring tears to their eyes.
It’s a fair bet that most singers in the choirs we hear at Conferences don’t grasp the magnitude of performing for a room full of choral directors. But the conductor certainly does. One colleague summed it up rather nicely. As he stepped off stage following his performance at a recent divisional conference, he said to us, “That was the best thirty minutes of my career.” He wore the biggest grin one has ever seen. And a well-deserved grin it was, too.
Then you – yes, YOU! – should audition to perform at the 2015 ACDA National Conference, scheduled for February 25-28 in Salt Lake City. Read the Audition Guidelines for Performance, then complete the On-line Application. The deadline for application is April 30.
You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. The best 30 minutes of your career awaits!
Date: April 11, 2014
In the early days of listening to music on the Internet, the only available offerings were those "commercially viable" genres that could attract enough attention to warrant the high set-up and operation costs. Now that streaming music online has become standard and widespread, there are wonderful sources for choral music and other classical/art musics available online. For conductors and singers alike, this is a huge opportunity-- for us as conductors, it's an easy way for us to discover new compositions or ensembles. For singers, especially young singers who may not have exemplars of "the choral sound" in their ears, an opportunity to experience what choral music can sound like at its highest levels can be highly valuable. With that in mind, here is a quick run-down of some options which may help you and your musicians fill your ears.
Spotify is both an app and a web service which allows you to select particular albums, artists or songs to listen to (as long as they are in Spotify's licensed library). There is a free version with ads, and a paid subscription model without ads. A relatively recent development is that the mobile apps for Spotify are now free (they previously were part of the paid subscription), although you do have to be online to listen. Spotify has built up a comparatively sizeable choral library, and is continuing to add to their resources.
A benefit of Spotify for conductors and teachers is that other users can follow you, similar to Twitter or the like, and see what you're listening to. You could use this to curate a weekly listening list or just recommended examples. You can also create individual playlists and share them.
iTunes Radio has been around since early iTunes days, but it recently got a significant facelift. iTunes obviously has an enormous volume of licensed material through the iTunes store, but it is limited to curated radio stations that have failrly broad categories (e.g. "Classical," "Gospel"). Also, the selections tend to be fairly conservative-- the chances of an expert ear stumbling upon something new and interesting under the heading of "Classical" are fairly low. Regardless, it is an easy and accessible option for younger musicians looking for an entry point into art musics.
SoundCloud is becoming an interesting mix of performers recording music that is in the public domain and recordings from new composers and works seeking publication. While, like Spotify, you can search for individual tracks, you can't easily connect one to another (i.g. "If you like this, then..."). SoundCloud has no major licensing agreements, although curiously some recordings from Sony Classical appear in their library. All in all, this is not likely to be useful for passive exploration, although a browse for new works and compositions from time to time yields some interesting fruit.
Perhaps the first major player in the current audio streaming landscape, Pandora has always seemed to be less interested in licensing choral and classical works than expanding the commercial genres. Offering no individual song choice selection, Pandora asks you for a place to start and then selects songs that it thinks you will like (according to Pandora's own "Music Genome Project"). The thumbs-up/thumbs-down device helps prune the radio selection. Unfortunately, once you get specific in a genre of limited selection through Pandora's library, that means you're likely to get a lot of your original track repeated as it tries to figure out what else to offer you. It is, however, a great way to easily fill entrance music before a concert.
Finally, we get to Grooveshark. This is a bit of an oddity in that, like the early days of YouTube, it offers forward whatever content users upload regardless of ownership. This means that there can be much more varied selections available contributed by aficionados of particular artists, genres or eras. It also means that, in the most part, those recordings are in flagrant copyright violation. The RIAA is obviously pretty vocal in opposition to Grooveshark's existence, but Grooveshark has been able to so far fend off legal shutdown based on its compliance with specific takedown requests. The controversy around it causes other third-parties to keep their distance, so it's a website only (no apps available).
If that all sounds a bit contrived for you, here are the basics: Grooveshark advertises themselves as the largest library of streaming audio on the Internet. That may be true, but it's mostly illegal (certainly in the spirit of the law if not the letter). Be warned when a singer comes to you wanting to share a Grooveshark playlist with the class that the product itself is most likely not legal--- but that can be a great entry point into a conversation about copyright and digital citizenship as artists with your ensemble!
I'm a big fan of what Spotify offers as an educator and listener. Pandora and iTunes Radio have advantages if you're looking to create background music for something, but aren't great tools for targeted research or sharing specific examples with your group. Grooveshark is very popular, but should come with a large red flag for you if it comes up in your ensemble.
Date: April 10, 2014
As you read the thoughts of various musicians who worked with Eric, you’ll discover commonalities—which is only natural—but each from a slightly different perspective.
For me, one of the best things about doing this series is giving me the excuse to get in touch with my Swedish friends. This week it’s Robert Sund. I met Robert in 1989, on my first trip to Sweden. But I really got to know Robert when we were judges that same year at the first Marktoberdorf competition. Since the judges’ deliberations were all done in German he helped me find the right word as we discussed the performances. I’ve had many meetings with Robert over the years, but I learned still more during this conversation.
Robert has a background that is out of the ordinary compared to Swedish choral conductors. He took piano lessons for 6 years (until he was 14) but his real love was jazz. He played piano, trumpet, trombone, and other instruments, listening to a lot of music (Swedish Radio had a big band in those days), formed his own band and did arrangements for them. When he went to Uppsala in 1963 to attend the famous university there (the oldest in Sweden, founded in 1477), he went to study English and his intention all along was to be an English teacher and for music to be an avocation. He hadn’t even sung at that point.
He auditioned for the orchestra at Uppsala on trombone, but was told that they rarely used trombones and he ought to sing. He quickly met a group of singers who heard him play jazz and they formed the Olsson Quintet, an all-male group singing jazz and other light music. He auditioned for the great men’s chorus, Orphei Drängar, conducted by Eric, in 1964, but didn’t get in that year, so sang in Allmänna Sången (one of the oldest choirs in Uppsala—formed in 1830, but had just become a mixed choir in 1963) and took voice lessons. The next year he was accepted into OD—Eric had already heard of the Olsson Quintet—and began his long association with Ericson. He says he’d never even heard of Eric when he arrived at Uppsala!
Robert and the Quintet became involved in the famed “Caprice” concerts which were held every December and were programs with fun, funny, and surprising elements (and usually a special, surprise guest—if you want to hear more—you can order CDs containing music from different Caprice years: here or here). Because of Robert’s skills as an arranger (again, self-taught) he was on the program committee and very involved with OD early on.
You should know that Eric loved jazz, so this was something he and Robert very much shared. And if you were around Eric very much or heard him sitting and improvising at the piano, you’d inevitably hear some jazz.
As time went on, Robert did his master’s degree in psychology (as well as musicology) at Uppsala and later worked briefly as a psychologist. However he gradually realized that music needed to be more than an avocation, so he began studies at the College of Music in 1971. He was Eric’s assistant with OD from 1968 (taking rehearsals when Eric couldn’t be there) and became conductor of Allmänna Sången in 1970. His conducting debut with OD was in 1969 when Eric was ill and he also took the choir on tour.
During the time he was at the College of Music (1972-75), he sang in the school’s chamber choir (which he said was fantastic in those days with many fine singers and conductors who’d later become well-known) and also in Eric’s Chamber Choir from 1973-77. From 1985 to 1991 he and Eric were co-conductors of OD and he took over totally in 1991, retiring in 2008.
So now, to let Robert speak about his experiences with Eric:
Date: April 9, 2014
(The abstract to the article “Update on Community Choir Singing in the United States,” by Cindy L. Bell, published in the International Journal of Research in Choral Singing)
This article reviews and responds to recent reports by professional music and arts associations, most prominently the 2003 Chorus America study, announcing that over 23 million American adults sing weekly in community-based choirs. By considering this recent research in combination with studies of community choirs spanning the past 40 years, this article presents an updated literature review of the research on adult amateur singers. These studies produce a consistent demographic and musical profile of today’s adult amateur singer and point to collective universal issues facing community choirs, such as diversity, gender, and developing communication systems. In focusing on the significance of community music in the lives of adult amateur musicians, the author proposes research agendas and models for addressing emergent issues. Additionally, this article advocates that community choirs are valuable resources by which to construct research studies that examine the long-term effects of public school music education and extend our knowledge of lifelong musical learning.
Date: April 8, 2014
TOP HYMNS OF ACDA MEMBERS by Thomas Vozzella
How many times does the average church attendee, currently around once a month, leave worship thinking, “I only knew one of the hymns this morning”? Below is a list of the top 100 hymns in America, give or take a few. The most frequently mentioned top hymns are highlighted (*). With “How Great Thou Art”, as the all time number one. Each reader will determine what is missing from/or should be removed as each weighs the most beloved hymns in their local congregation. This list was compiled from the most used hymn sites online, i.e., CCLI, Hymnlyrics, LifeWay, CyberHymnal, etc.
What we would like to accomplish, WITH YOUR HELP, is to create a list of the top hymns of ACDA members. Let’s try to post at least ten each. Although there are numerous choruses that have earned their way to this list, i.e. “As the Deer”, please, limit your responses to hymns, such as those listed below, however. Do not forget hymns by such notables as Calvin Hampton, David Hurd, John Ferguson, Getty & Townend, etc., if they are popular in your congregation, or with you.
When we reach 100 posts, we will compile the list of the top hymns of ACDA members. This is not a scientific survey, but rather a summation of the most beloved hymns of ACDA members and their congregations. Along with your name, would you please list your denominational affiliation, church, location (i.e. Los Angeles, CA), and ACDA Division.
We thank you for your participation.
Have a blessed Lent and Easter!
* A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
Abide With Me
Alas And Did My Savior Bleed?
All Creatures of our God and King
All Hail The Power of Jesus’ Name
All The Way My Savior Leads Me
* Amazing Grace
Are You Washed in the Blood?
Battle Hymn of the Republic
* Be Thou My Vision
Because He Lives
Before The Throne of God Above
Blest Be The Tie That Binds
Child of the King
* Christ The Lord Is Risen Today
* Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing
Count Your Blessings
* Crown Him With Many Crowns
Day By Day
* Doxology (Old 100th, Praise God from Whom all Blessings Flow)
Eternal Father, Strong To Save
Face To Face
* Fairest Lord Jesus
Faith is the Victory
Faith of our Fathers
Fight the Good Fight
For All the Saints
God Leads His Dear Children Along
God Will Take Care Of You
* Great Is Thy Faithfulness
Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
Have Thine Own Way, Lord
He Hideth My Soul
He Is Coming Again
His Eye Is On the Sparrow
* Holy, Holy, Holy
How Firm A Foundation
* How Great Thou Art
I Am Thine, O Lord
I Love To Tell The Story
I Need Thee Ev’ry Hour
I Surrender All
I’d Rather Have Jesus
I’ll Fly Away
* In Christ Alone
In the Garden
In The Hour of Trial
In The Sweet By and By
* It is Well with My Soul
Jesus, Lover Of My Soul
* Jesus Loves Me
Jesus Paid It All
* Joyful. Joyful, We Adore Thee
Just As I Am
Leaning on the Everlasting Arms
Lord I’m Coming Home
Love Divine, All Loves Excelling
Love Lifted Me
Moment By Moment
More Love To Thee
Morning Has Broken
My Faith Looks Up To Thee
Nearer My God, To Thee
No One Ever Cared for Me Like Jesus
Now We Thank All Our God
O Come All Ye Faithful
O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing
O Holy Night
O Little Town of Bethlehem
O Worship The King
Old Time Religion
Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior
Peace, Perfect Peace
Praise Him! Praise Him!
Precious Lord Take My Hand
Rescue The Perishing
Revive Us Again
Rock of Ages
Safe in the Arms of Jesus
Saviour, Like a Shepherd Lead Us
Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling
Standing on the Promises
Take My Life and Let It Be
Take Time To Be Holy
* The Old Rugged Cross
There Is A Fountain
There Is Power In The Blood
Till The Storm Passes By
Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus
Trust And Obey
Victory In Jesus
What A Day That Will Be
What A Friend We Have in Jesus
What Child Is This?
* When I Survey The Wondrous Cross
When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder
When We All Get To Heaven
Wherever He Leads, I’ll Go
Yesterday, Today, Forever
Date: April 7, 2014
Driving past an amusement park on a summer’s day is a bit frustrating. Okay, fine . . . it’s MADDEDNING! One sees all of those delightful rides and attractions just waiting to be explored, but we don’t get to go in and play.
So it is for those of us who, for one reason or another, were not able to attend the recent ACDA conferences. Knowing that we are being prevented from attending an amazing choral experience is frustrating to one’s soul.
There is no way to synthesize or digitize the genuine experience of an ACDA conference, but perhaps we can take away a small bit of the sting.
Every day throughout the next two and a half months the ChoralBuzz feature here on ChoralNet will highlight excerpts from conference interest sessions under the banner of “Conference Morsel.” The diversity of interest sessions is staggering, so too the diversity of "Conference Morsel" offerings.
While it’s still not as much fun as riding the choral roller coaster of an ACDA conference, we hope you will enjoy the daily “Conference Morsel” feature.
Date: April 6, 2014
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.)
Level: High School advanced or higher
Uses: General Concert Use Winter Concert
Program Themes: Death, Deliverance, Wrath, Redemption
With gentle wings your heart will rise and fall with each careful dynamic change in this absolutely stellar creation. If you like the Morten Lauridsen Dirait-ons, you are going to love this piece. It tears at your soul and brings tears to your eyes just form the beauty of the writing. Such pain, wonder and beauty!
French composer Anthony Sylvestre recently joined the Composers of Choral Music Community. I am looking forward to more works by this extremely sensitive artist!
Reflections is available from the composer’s website: http://www.asturiamusic.com/
Date: April 5, 2014
Date: April 4, 2014
A teacher came to me last week asking if it was copyright-compliant to download a YouTube video to show in an upcoming concert. "After all," she surmised, "it's publicly viewable already, and we're a school, so it's fair use, right?" Fair Use is that aspect of U.S. copyright law which gives considerable leeway for use of otherwise protected materials to schools and educational institutions "for educational use." As the notion of copyright lurches into the digital distribution era, that has been interpreted fairly generously for schools and teachers, although sometimes "educational use" becomes a universal trump card that far exceeds its purpose and intent. While there are few truly definitive laws thus far with digital materials, there are some princples and legal guidelines which, when applied to questions of use and distribution, help us know whether we are operating within the spirit and scope of copyright and Fair Use.
Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice.
What's Your Audience?
In my example above, the teacher wanted to show a few YouTube clips of orchestras as people entered the concert. Her idea was that it would be great to a) set the tone of the concert with appropriate music, as well as b) showing students that music is practiced by many different kids of ensembles and musicians. Clearly, she has an educational intent for both the students and the audience, but does it count as "educational use?" One of the major digital-era copyright laws is the TEACH act, which gives teachers the right to distribute digital materials to students. One of the keys of the act is that you have to be able to show that you have a reasonably-defined group of students (e.g. your students/ensemble), and that whatever materials you share are only shown to them.
For example, if I would like to show an episode of BBC's "The Choir" in class to talk about sectional rehearsal techniques, I can. If I would like to share a recording of that video on an internal website which is only accessible to members of our group (e.g. a LMS/CMS, internal blog, etc.), I can. What I cannot do is hand a copy of a DVD to each singer and say "go watch this at home"-- by making copies and passig them around, I can no longer say that it's only accessible to members of my educational body.
In our initial example, the teacher wants to display the video to people outside of her ensembles (the audience at the concert), so it does not count as educational "Fair Use."
Ownership Still Matters
YouTube (as well as Vimeo and other services) is an incredible resource for musicians and music educators: countless examples of genres, eras and instrumentation/voicing all across the spectrum from beginning musicians to professionals. It's rife with copyright pitfalls, though, and Google (which owns YouTube) adjusts the rules every few months to try and keep it on the correct side of the law. One common issue when it comes to educators is the use of downloaders (either plugins/software or websites) which allow you to download videos from YouTube and keep them on your computer. Educators do this for several reasons: YouTube might be blocked at their schools, so they download the videos at home and bring them in, or their Internet connections at school may be unreliable, leading teachers to download the video to try and ensure that they'll be able to show the video effectively.
The catch is that none of these solutions are YouTube-sanctioned. Furthermore, YouTube does not grant anyone permission to download and keep any movies that it hosts on your own computer. To do so deprives YouTube of the advertising revenue and data mining which are the basis of its commercial model. This runs afoul of the other common misunderstanding of educational use: the "commercial integrity" test. In essence, you cannot do anything under the auspices of Fair Use which violates the commercial integrity of the product in question. Take the common example of photocopying sheet music: Sheet music is meant to be sold as individual copies, commesurate to the number of singers who will be using the score. If you take one copy of a score and photocopy it for all of your singers, you are violating the commercial integrity of the product-- you are only buying one copy for a scenario which clearly entails purchasing more than one, and short circuiting the commerical model of the publisher in the process.
YouTube's commercial model is that users should go to the website in order to view the videos. Downloading them and hosting them on your own (even if it's for educational use, and even if it's for a closed population) defeats their commercial model. Our teacher above made the mistake of thinking that having access be "public to view" was the same as it being "public to own." While digital sharing is completely embedded (sorry!) in the Internet now, it does not remove the distinction between those materials which you have right to view and access, and those which you have the right to own and manage.
Digital copyright law is an enormous and evolving conversation, and one that likely has several more shifts before it arrives at anything resembling a "new norm." The underlying principles of "defining your audience" and "commercial integrity" are at the heart of media ownership, though, and keeping them as litmus tests for your own media questions will help you navigate the complex world of copyright. If you a producer of media, these are questions that you have the ability to define more specifically for your work using tools like Creative Commons, where you can specify to greater detail what rights you grant to the world using your materials. Finally, the underlying question for many people will be "am I going to get in trouble if I go too far?" In the current climate it's hard to imagine that any one individual is going to get pinched for copyright infringement given the tidal wave of intentional piracy online. It's true that the odds may be low that your concert program or class website is going to attract legal attention. As professionals in the field, however, we have a vested interest in media ownership and protection, and ensuring that we fully understand the system as it stands today makes us more prepared and qualified to help shape the conversation moving forward.
Date: April 3, 2014
Eva Wedin is our guest-blogger this week. Eva began singing with Eric as a student at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm (1973-78). She sang as an alto in the Radio Choir from 1979-2012, when she "retired" . . . and still occasionally subs with the choir (imagine all the music she's sung with high level choirs!). She also has her own choirs, including Engelbrekts Vokalensemble. I first met Eva when I first worked with the Radio Choir in 2002 and we became fast friends. When I came back to work with the Radio Choir in 2007 and 2008 she was also the choir's librarian, so we worked together on getting scores. She's also visited with us in the US. Here's her guest blog post:
Eric Ericson – my Musical Father! I can without a doubt say that 90% of all that I've learned about music during the 40 years that have passed since I began my studies at the Royal College of Music, I've learned directly from him or through him as a choir singer. I feel so blessed that I had the opportunity to have him as my teacher and conductor for an intense period of more than ten years and at numerous occasions after that.
The first word that comes to mind when I think of Eric's approach to music is ENTHUSIASM. He looked like a child in a toy store every time he sat down in front of the choir ready to rehearse. Whether a simple folk tune or a brand new score by Ligeti or Lidholm. It was always a joy for him to tackle whatever obstacles to reach the perfect performance.
He worked very much like a CONSTRUCTION WORKER building a house. Harmonies and rhythms became the frame work of the house, intonation the paint work and the sound the shiny clean glass windows. Dynamics became beautiful stair cases and terraces. The house was furnished with lyrics, words and syllables. Finally he built a playground in the garden with his wonderful sense of humor. (A childish metaphor, I know, but these thoughts just pop up when I think of him.)
He was a fantastic PIANIST who could play in a way that demonstrated how he wanted you to sing. He could almost create a choir sound with the piano.
His CURIOSITY was huge, especially when it came to new music. He loved to explore a new score, preferably with the composer by his side, so he could ask questions and get as close to the composers intentions as possible. I don't think he ever said that a piece was impossible to do, no matter how difficult it was. He DEMANDED A LOT from the choir, but he never demanded more than what he gave himself. He was the hardest worker of all. I remember a tour with the Radio Choir to the US in 1983, when we traveled and had concerts pretty much every day for three weeks. If there was any possibility for him to go ahead to the next place, he did and by the time we got there, he had already done a couple of master classes in the afternoon.
He knew that everyone expected the most from him and his choirs which of course inspired him, but I think also sometimes weighed him down. He felt that every concert had to reach world class level, whether it was in a small church in the Swedish countryside or the Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. But that also gave room for small miracles to happen. The Radio Choir had sung Ligeti's Lux Aeterna in a small Sami church [the Sami are an indigenous people in the north of Sweden and Norway] in the very north of Sweden and after the concert an old Sami woman came up with tears in her eyes and thanked Eric and the singers for Ligeti, that made her see stars she had never seen before. And that little story makes you wonder how many more such stories there are all around the world, that we don't know anything about. All thank's to Eric and his curiosity…
…and COURAGE. It must have taken a lot of guts many times to dare to tackle all those extremely difficult pieces that landed on his music stand. Pieces that today are performed by every other choir in the world, but back then took a year to learn. I'm obviously thinking of Lidholm's Laudi, or Canto LXXXI for that matter. All the pieces that Eric performed for the first time that later became door openers into a new era in choir music, available for all.
VERSATILITY is another quality in Eric. He did all kinds of music. Had a composer written a choir piece, Eric did it. From renaissance to jazz and all in between. And he was just as THOROUGH and DILIGENT whether he worked with a jazz piece together with Bengt Hallberg or the Matthew Passion with the Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble.
He was a TEACHER not only to his students, but he also turned every rehearsal into a lesson. And that's what I mean when I say that everything I've learned, I've learned from him. Music theory – when he explained the harmonic and rhythmic structures in a piece. Music history – from singing all kinds of music from all the different periods. Musical interpretation – how he shaped and performed the piece.
Conducting technique – his hands could, just like the way he played the piano, show how you needed to sing in order to produce the sound he wanted. He could with just a slight elbow movement get the whole choir to breathe and phrase together. Knowledge of repertoire, of composers, conductors, of other singers, orchestras, concert venues, places around the world I would have never visited other than on a choir tour. People I've met, friends I've made…
This may sound very personal, and it is. But the thing is, I'm only one out of probably a thousand that would say the same thing. What Eric has meant for all of us is unfathomable and I will forever be grateful for everything he has given me.
NEVER has one choir conductor meant so much for so many!
Date: April 2, 2014
Awhile back I wrote a post about the dos and don’ts of leaving a conducting or music teaching job. Some interesting discussion was generated from that post, and I think some good things came out of it. The main conclusion I came to was that leaving a job is not a passive endeavor. One must take steps, send messages, and actively work, in order to make the situation for the incoming conductor (and therefore the students and singers) a good one.
I was recently thinking along similar lines, but with a different topic. I direct an auditioned community chorus. Over the past seven years, the issue of retirement has come up with a number of singers. It’s one heck of an issue, and I think a lot of choirs deal with it on a regular basis. My current solution is to craft a set of tenure and age based policies within the organization to help remove some of the “personal” nature of the process (for example giving tenure to skilled singers, and then after a certain age removing that tenure and then they must reaudition). Suffice to say that I have not come up with a good policy. But I’m working on it.
Obviously, for the singer, this is an awful thing to think about and deal with. At it’s most basic level, we are talking in some ways about death. And not many of us are just totally cool with that. So, we as singers ignore our own decline, and wind up staying past our usefulness. Then comes the “hard conversation” between the director and the singer, in which the singer gets cut from the ensemble. And when this happens the result is a bitter singer who won’t come and see the concerts in the future, and who leaves the organization with a negative experience.
I think very few people are actually good at leaving when it’s time, without having to be cut. Look at all the professional athletes who stay in the game too long. They love what they do, don’t want to admit they can’t live up to the expectations, and then one day they get called into the managers office...
I have heard that this is an issue for all auditioned, adult choirs. And some have told me that there is no good solution. But I think I have come up with a way to help everyone in the transition. We must begin, now, to speak to our young, highflying, rock star singers about their own retirement. Say to them now, “There will come a day when you will become a liability to the organization that you love. Be ready. It will come. And when it does, take the initiative. Announce at the beginning of the year that this will be your last season, that you are retiring. Allow the chorus to honor you at the last concert, and let your leaving be on a positive note. Think about this now, as the time will come. And when it does, go gracefully.”
This won't solve all the problems, but at least the conversation is there, and it can be referenced. Plant the seeds for a graceful exit, and maybe someone will hear and understand.
Date: April 1, 2014
ATTACHING STORIES TO CHORAL TEXTS by Amanda Bumgarner
The May 2014 issue of the Choral Journal features a cover article written by Philip Silvey titled “Fashioning Compelling Stories” in which Silvey argues for the importance of the role of stories in a choral singer’s experience—what he calls “text narrative exploration.”
Undoubtedly, there is a unique power in the creating or telling of a story, but the question for choral educators remains: How should that power be applied to music? Some might even ask: Should that power be applied to music?
Many choral purists take issue with the idea that a work of art cannot be appreciated simply for what it is without attaching a story to it. Others, like Silvey, maintain that creating a story to supplement a choral text adds depth and ultimately leads to a more enriching experience for the conductor, singers, and audience members. Silvey says, “By fashioning their own compelling narratives, singers create a context for what is being said, shed light on possible motivations, and enable words to make expressive sense.”
Then there is this sentiment from English musician John McLaughlin: “The moment you start to talk about playing music, you destroy music. It cannot be talked about. It can only be played, enjoyed, and listened to.”
Which side do you fall on? Do you think fashioning stories for choral texts allows for greater expression? Or do you take artistic issue with the notion that a text cannot stand alone?
Feel free to share your thoughts here on ChoralNet or even send in a “Letter to the Editor” for consideration for publication in an upcoming issue of Choral Journal. I would love to hear from you! Better still perhaps YOU should write an article or column in the Choral Journal. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Date: March 29, 2014
A collaboration between the University of Rochester Computer Science and Eastman School of Music departments has come up with an interesting vocal teaching tool:
Obviously analyzing one voice is far different than analyzing a whole ensemble, but this idea of visually demonstrating aural information opens up a lot of possibilites in teaching and conducting. Also, I'm intrigued by the idea that it compares the student performance not to an "ideal" but to the teacher's performance.
What do you think about this project? What would you like to see a program like this analyze or display about a singer or ensemble?
Date: March 28, 2014
Eric Ericson (1918-2013) was one of the major choral conductors of the last century. His work was influential for many of us and the standards he set with his own Chamber Choir, with the Swedish Radio Choir, along with the men's chorus Orphei Drängar, raised standards around the world. The many tours with those three choirs (and the chamber choir at the College of Music), in addition to his many recordings, were how most of us first knew his work.
While he prepared and/or conducted most of the standard choral/orchestral masterworks, his primary focus and love was for a cappella music. It was always his goal with the Radio Choir, for example, to have 80% of the repertoire the choir sang be a cappella (he wasn't always successful with this).
As the primary teacher of conducting at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm he influenced generations of Swedish conductors from the early 1950's into the 1990s (for a considerable number of those years he was the teacher for all choral conductors, whether music education or church music, and for many years it was also the only place in Sweden where one could study conducting). Later in his career he influenced conductors from around the world through masterclasses and conducting courses.
I've written before about his use of the piano in rehearsal, but we'll explore more of what made Eric . . . well, Eric. And, of course, to ask which of his methods and approaches will be useful to us. A number of posts as well will be guest blogs or interviews with some of my Swedish friends who've known Eric for many years.
A wonderful interview with him from 1997, the 50th anniversary of his Chamber Choir, can be found here. It will tell you a lot to get started.
Date: March 27, 2014
We recently completed completed a run of 'spring cleaning' on the ChoralNet membership database, for the first time in several years. Over February, you probably received an invitation (or several) to re-confirm your membership in various ways, and a big thanks goes out to everyone who did. This has put us (back) in the good graces of the major e-mail providers, as well as solving several long-standing problems that have kept a number of you from receiving ChoralNet emails in a timely manner (or at all) recently. We were also able to clean out a large number of user accounts that were inactive, had unreachable e-mail addresses, or were suspected of being used to send spam, so things are now more secure and easier to manage.
However, there are a number of you who didn't confirm your account before the March 1 deadline and, as a result, are no longer receiving ChoralNet emails and are also finding yourself unable to log in to ChoralNet. If you're trying to log in or retrieve your password and are getting a 'no such user' message, your account probably got flagged as being inactive (or we didn't have a valid e-mail address for you) and has been removed as part of the clean-up effort. Don't fret, though: we still want you here, and you're welcome to rejoin! All you need to do is re-register with a valid e-mail account, confirm the e-mail you get when you register, and you'll be good to go! You'll need to rejoin any Communities of which you were a part, and you'll also likely want to check out and possibly subscribe to any forums of interest.
We apologize for the inconvenience, and we don't expect to need to do this again anytime in the near future.
Date: March 26, 2014
It is probably safe to say that all places of religious worship are supposed to be about fellowship, spiritual enrichment, peace, and love. Thus it is always amazing to hear people complain about one church or another, demonizing them because of some practice or perceived ill that the find objectionable. Such folks even criticize the music.
In his article, “Worship Wars Can and Should Be Avoided” (Indiana ICDA Notations Vol.34, No.1), David K. Lamb examines this curious phenomenon.
Too often, certain people seem to think that everyone else should be moved by the same type or style of music. The result? Worship music wars.
Never mind the fact that many of us have choir members who have shared their time and talents with the church four or five decades. A few well-meaning but misguided folks think they know what everyone will or should like. Their opinion is that whatever is modern/new is far better than the old, outdated stuff with its soaring descants, beautiful choral anthems from oratorios and cantatas, and memorable hymns that have offered inspiration and comfort for centuries.
These “informed” parishioners are sure that guitars, microphones, drum sets, and electronic keyboards are needed to attract new members. These same people appear to have a wealth of information to share concerning those who will join the church if we simply expand the program to include more contemporary music.
Many of us know of churches where long traditions of fine choral music have been dramatically affected by the addition of the guitars and microphones.
Choral directors who hope to preserve the tradition of fine choral singing in houses of worship need to embrace flexibility in an effort to continue creating inspirational experiences both for the singers and for the worship partners in the pews.
(For additional articles on a dazzling array of choral topics, visit ChorTeach.)