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This is a difficult choice, since I've been lucky to have some wonderful teachers and mentors. For example, Neil Lieurance was an influential teacher—without him I probably wouldn't have made a career as a conductor. Neil died this past year at the too-young age of 70. I wrote about him here. But beyond his influence in HS, Neil immediately treated me like a colleague after I graduated and began my undergraduate studies at the University of Washington—I'd visit and he'd share whatever music and recordings were interesting him. He followed my work with early ensembles I conducted and was always willing to give advice. He was a true mentor.
Rod Eichenberger, my undergraduate conducting teacher (although he let me take part in the graduate conducting class as an undergrad), has been another great teacher and mentor. I started hanging around his office and listening to his conversations with the grad students around my junior year (among them Bruce Browne and Larry Marsh) and he told me if I'd file the large stacks of scores for him, I could keep any duplicates. This not only gave me the beginning of my personal library but a great overview of choral literature—if I filed a piece by Hindemith, I'd look through the file to see what else Hindemith wrote for chorus. And, like Neil, he remained a mentor long after I graduated (to the current day, in fact). When I took the job at Pacific Lutheran University, following Maurice Skones, he called and congratulated me, but also said, "As someone who followed Charles Hirt at USC, I know something about the challenges of following a legend. If you ever want to call and talk, don't hesitate." This was a gift . . . and a relationship that has continued up to the present.
But for this post about my most meaningful mentor, I'll speak of Eric Ericson. Eric was never my teacher, but has undeniably been a major influence on my music-making, repertoire, and approach to so many things.
I was aware of Eric's recordings from at least the early '70s (Neil Lieurance or Rod probably introduced me to them). I was fascinated with the amazing sound of his Chamber Choir and the Swedish Radio Choir, the purity of their intonation, and the repertoire they performed. In 1983 at the ACDA Conference I heard the Radio Choir live for the first time. And since I'd just auditioned for the DMA program at CCM, was invited by John Leman to join the masterclass conducting choir and got to observe Eric's teaching first-hand.
The following fall I began at PLU and in 1985 Bruce Browne called and said Eric's Conservatory Chamber Choir would be performing at the ISME conference in Eugene, OR and wanted some other opportunities for the choir. So I built the PLU Summer Choral Workshop around Eric and the choir. They were in San Francisco before coming to Tacoma, so Eric flew up and the choir came a day later on their tour bus. This was my first time to get to know Eric, watch him work on conducting technique with the whole group and a small group of master class conductors who worked with the Chamber Choir. It was an amazing experience.
About a year later I participated as a singer in a choir put together by Bruce Browne for his Haystack Workshop for which Eric was the clinician, I brought Eric and the Conservatory Chamber Choir back to PLU's summer workshop a few years later as well.
When I began thinking of a topic for my dissertation, I knew it would be about Swedish choral music, so I traveled for the first time to Sweden in April of 1989, where I searched for "the" topic, and Eric was the guide, introducing me to lots of people and resources. I sublet the apartment of one of his wife Monica's sons. I would then return for the full summer of 1990 to do research (and sublet the apartment of another of Monica’s son’s). Given the topic of my dissertation, Swedish A Cappella Music Since 1945 (published later here) I spoke with Eric numerous times, spent time in the Radio’s library, spent time going through Eric’s personal library of scores in his apartment, and Eric made connections for interviews with virtually every important choral composer of the this time period, plus many conductors and administrators.
I’ve also seen Eric work many times with his various choirs in rehearsal, recording sessions, and concerts. He was also the first conductor with a group of singers that would become Choral Arts. I’ve had numerous discussions with him (and those close to him) about his art. Eric was eternally curious about anything choral—always wanted to know what you were doing, what others he knew were doing, what repertoire you were doing (and it wasn’t easy to stump him about a huge range of rep: “Oh yes, I did that in the late ‘60s" or (about some obscure American piece), "Yes, I know that."
It’s hard to separate out all aspects of Eric as mentor, but so many opportunities have come from my work with him. There’s so much repertoire I’ve learned due to him. Approaches to sound (even though few of us have the level of voices of the Radio or Chamber choirs), and intonation have also come from him. And incredibly important is his work ethic and dedication. Eric lived for music and this showed in his every approach to music, music-making, and his choirs.
I owe him an immense debt. And thanking all my teachers and mentors, I hope I have been a mentor to those students and conductors I’ve come worked with over the years. That will certainly continue as long as I’m able to help. It’s an important way of giving back all that I (or you!) have been given over the years.
ACDA has a great new mentoring program and I hope you’ll consider being a mentor or mentee. Make sure you check it out!
(Will you one day be someone’s most meaningful mentor? Plant the seeds today for tomorrow's choral world. ACDA Mentoring [])
Picking one mentor in my life is difficult. There have been so many folks that have influenced me. I’m focusing on three right here, but there are countless more. Basically everyone at Florida State had some sort of impact on me. Likewise, colleagues at every place I’ve worked. I did not start this life as an old already filled with a well of wisdom and thoughtfulness. I basically learned by screwing up, and then having smarter people lead me to the truth, sometimes with a carrot, sometimes with a stick, but always with my best interest in mind.
Bruce Browne
Bruce was a huge musical mentor, and recently he has become my friend, too (something that you young conductors out there get to look forward to if you are lucky). One of my first foundational musical experiences was when he brought his professional choir, Choral Cross-Ties, to my high school (Ulysses S. Grant High in Portland, Oregon, where Rodney Eichenberger taught for a short time). The singing from that group was just out of this world. Hearing them sing was one of the top two or three foundational experiences in my life.
I later went to Portland State University for one year and somehow managed to make it into Dr. Browne’s PSU Chamber Choir. It was that year that really made me finally decide to be a conductor. We sang some incredible music...Ligeti, Distler, Brahms, Bach, and so much more. We also had as our guest conductor the one and only Eric Ericson. I was a young, stupid, freshman who could barely find his way around a Ligeti score, let alone have the awareness that I was in the presence of one of the greatest and most influential conductors of all time. The rehearsal were incredible. I remember him sitting at the piano to demonstrate a particular phrase in the Brahms, and being blown away by his musicality. That year of music making was prehaps one of the most memorable, and still influences me today.
Andre Thomas
So after that year I decided I wanted to be a conductor. There was some part of me that needed to get out of Portland, and so on the recommendation of Kenny Potter, I went to Florida State University. I wound up getting both my undergraduate degree in Music Education, and my doctorate from Dr. Thomas (Doc, for those in the know).
My experience at FSU made me the man I am today (and by the way there are a number of folks at FSU who could also be mentioned in this post...Judy Bowers and Kevin Fenton to start with). As I said before, I am not an old soul. I floated about, not really applying myself and making a lot of mistakes...I failed aural skills twice, mostly because I didn’t go to class.
Andre influenced me in different way than Dr. Browne. My rehearsal technique and demeanor are stolen almost note-for-note from Doc’s playlist (though no one I know can replicate the ‘Doc” stare. Ask around. It is a truly legendary look. You can see a version of it here). His ability to hold a room, to demand more from his singers, and to instill passion and devotion is unparalleled. Watching him work, either as a singer or an observer, is a truly wonderful experience. I’m not sure if there are many choir folks who haven’t seen him work, but for you young directors out there who haven’t, do yourself a favor and watch him work. Take notes. Steal his ideas. They are gold.
He also helped me by showing me how to really be a man and handle my business. He did so much tell me what to do (thought there was some of that), it was more through the model he presented. People rise up to do great things around him because of they see how he is, what he can do, and are inspired to push themselves. Plus, if you are around him and slacking, he’ll go after you hard! So there’s a little but of fear there, but it’s healthy. :)
Without Andre and also Judy, and Kevin, I wouldn't be here doing what I’m doing. Bottom line.
Steve Zielke
I got my Masters degree at Oregon State University with Steve Zielke. What I got from Steve was not so much musicality (though there was plenty of that), or “life skills,” though there was that too. What I got from Steve was the political, interpersonal, and opportunistic (in a good way) skills to help to expand and improve a program. Steve is talker. And he can talk to anyone about anything. He is great at observing the landscape of his department and community and finding opportunities to improve things. He knows how to find money. He knows how to get a kid excited and interested in coming to OSU. He thinks outside the box and comes up with thoughtful, creative ways to expand and grow his programs in a way that I haven’t seen from many folks. I learned a ton about recruiting from him, again, not so much by what he taught me directly, but by my observations of what he did.

So those are my mentors. I’d love to hear your feedback about the folks mentioned above, or your own mentors. Let’s share with the world the great people in our lives.
I am fortunate to have had many meaningful mentors, but it was Dr. Dee Romines who set me on my career path. Currently on faculty at Hardin-Simmons University, I knew him as Mr. Romines, director of the Academy choirs at Punahou School in Honolulu, HI. 
Choir was my Thing, and it happened at 7:30 every morning. No matter how early I arrived, the choir room door was unlocked, and some kind of record was playing...sometimes Robert Shaw, sometimes Elvis...and he would be preparing for rehearsal in the office. I understand now the ever-present cup of coffee. The choir room was my safest place, my most ME place, and I'm forever grateful that it was always open when I arrived.
Mr. Romines gave me the words to put on what I could already do: rhythmic integrity and exactitude, scale degrees and harmonic function. He challenged me to learn and love Palestrina and Handel and Mendelssohn and Poulenc. He helped me earn my first pay as a chorister, let me accompany the choir (perhaps to the detriment of the choir, but to the benefit of my education), and made me know I had something important to offer. I learned the importance of letting someone know when they perform well; always demanding excellence in rehearsal, after our concerts he would sit and look at us all and say, "I thought you sang well. No really, I did!"
I chose to pursue a music major solely because of the influence of Dee Romines. (I can hear his gentle self-deprecating voice saying "sorry" here...don't worry, it was the right path.) Clearly, here was a man who worked hard at a profession that fed his passion...maybe I could also. Maybe I could make a living doing what I loved. Maybe I too could provide a safe place, a "most ME" place for a young singer. I hope, somewhere through the past 20 years, I hope I have. 
He is Dr. Romines now, and has influenced the lives of thousands of choristers. And Dr. Romines, with me, I thought you did good. No really. Really, I do.
Will you one day be someone’s most meaningful mentor?  Plant the seeds today for tomorrow’s choral world.  ACDA Mentoring (
Photo of Punahou Chorale Japan Tour Choir, 1989. Dee Romines, back row, 4th from left. Julie (Schroeder) Parsons, back row, 6th from right.
My Most Meaningful Mentor
Next to my parents, no one had more influence on me than Jerry Jordan, the former Director of Choral Activities at the University of Mississippi.  I am always thinking about the lessons he taught me and I am thankful to have had such a wise person in my life.  Without him, I can’t imagine who I would be or what I would be doing.
There are many things that he taught me when it comes to choir:
  • The power of an interpretive idea and how it can shape an entire work.
  • That nuance is the element that separates good choirs from great choirs.
  • How meter informs every beat of every measure.
Most choral conductors work diligently to get all of the notes, interpretive markings, and dynamics just right for a performance.  For Dr. Jordan, excellent execution of the musical elements was just the point of departure.  His sense of phrasing was unique and his interpretations were eloquent commentary.  I remember Kodaly’s “A Song For Ever” and Barber’s “The Coolin’.” I remember the complexities of Bach’s “Singet” and Brahms’ “Warum ist.”  I remember Luboff’s “Deep River” and Liebau’s “Wonderful World.”
The non-musical things stick with me even more.  He modeled courage and conviction as he challenged young minds to embrace new ideas.  He encouraged us to act ourselves into new ways of thinking and embrace all forms of beauty in the world. 
Will you one day be someone’s most meaningful mentor?  Plant the seeds today for tomorrow’s choral world.  ACDA Mentoring (
(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.)
Child of Mine by Dianna Robin Dennis for SSA a cappella (Click here for PDF and here for AUDIO)
Level: High School or Higher
Uses: Winter Concert
Program Themes: Winter, Lullaby, Christmas
This Piece Would Program Well With: Christmas Lullaby arr. Mac Huff available from JWPepper and MusicNotes
Did your girls learn your holiday repertoire faster than you expected?  Looking for one more piece?  This beautiful SSA lullaby will do the trick.   Dennis uses her skill as an author to create a wonderful original text.  Her employment of several different meters can be the focus of several informative theory lessons.
Composers should take note of how Dianna Robin Dennis uses many of the sources available to our profession to create and promote her music.  In particular having Matthew Curtis of Choral Tracks LLC produce a choral recording, public domain photos on the digital cover of her music, using JWPepper for promotion and making music available through e-print show her skills in the modern marketing world.
More from Daniel Coyle:  Tip #8 - To Build Hard Skills, Work Like a Careful Carpenter
To develop reliable hard skills, you need to connect the right wires in your brain. In this, it helps to be careful, slow, and keenly attuned to errors. To work like a careful carpenter. . . . Precision matters early on, because the first reps establish the pathways for the future. Neurologists call this the “sled on a snowy hill” phenomenon. The first repetitions are are like the first tracks on fresh snow: On subsequent tries your sled will tend to follow those grooves. “Our brains are good at building connections” says Dr. George Bartzokis, a neurologist at UCLA. “They’re not so good at unbuilding them.”
This can have to do with building conducting skills, but has more to do with teaching our choirs.
As we rehearse, we help our choirs build all sorts of hard skills: the rhythms and pitches of the music we’re teaching, the way they approach a high note vocally, proper intonation, etc.. It means making sure that you build each of these correctly. It’s necessary at some points in the learning process to isolate elements to do this.
It’s one of the keys to Robert Shaw’s rehearsal process, which developed through his work with his large symphonic choruses (the Collegiate Chorale, Cleveland Symphony Orchestra Chorus, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus) in order to build in all the different elements correctly. He’s been known to say, “You have to clean the floor before you hang the drapes.”
Pamela Elrod Huffman, who sang with Shaw, has written about Shaw’s techniques and done workshops on them. Here’s an article by Dr. Elrod from Southwest Musician (the journal of the Texas Music Educators Association).  Think through what this means in the careful building of the skills (rhythm, pitch, dynamics, text) to sing a given piece of music.
As I’ve stated before, I use some of Shaw’s techniques but work in a different way—and in doing so, run the risk of moving too quickly and the choir learning some things incorrectly (and then having to spend time unlearning them). It’s definitely something for me to think about!
One of the areas I’ve learned you have to be very careful is in working with intonation (you can find my Intonation series through ChoralBlog or my own blog). Allowing your ensemble to sing (even for a surprisingly short period of time) under pitch can build that in so it’s very difficult to overcome.
Think carefully about those hard skills you teach your choir . . . and how you can work more “like a careful carpenter."
THE MOZART SIDE-EFFECT, by Christopher Härtel
       We choral musicians are intimately familiar with language.  Often we hear beauty in words that others miss.  We understand the power of words, but sometimes we don’t appreciate how words can frame a discussion.  Case in point: Recently, a friend of mine who is a very talented musician and a very competent music educator posted a link on Facebook to a study trumpeting the value of music as an aid to learning in mathematics.   To be sure, this trope has been making the rounds for a while, going all the way back to the infamous “Mozart effect” that was over-hyped in the 1990’s.   While I don’t have the space here to go into the causation/correlation argument, what troubles me most about these ideas is how they infer a hierarchy in the learning process, placing music beneath other ‘serious’ disciplines.  With all due respect to my very learned colleague, we need to stop using this argument to support our programs.
       We musicians may know that music is not subordinate to math, language, or science; yet when faced with looming budget cuts, many of us fall back on the Mozart effect arguments to convince administrators to spare our programs.  By using these arguments, we may win the battle sometimes, but we virtually guarantee that we’ll lose the war.  We know that music is something humanity has been making pretty much since we came down out of the trees; certainly music pre-dates mathematics and written language by thousands of years.  Pythagoras and the Ancient Greeks understood that music was a part of the Quadrivium of Knowledge; one of the four essential subjects for study. There is physical evidence that we were making music millennia before the earliest civilizations took shape.  There are even studies to suggest that music pre-dates spoken language, yet when pressed, it’s as though we are afraid to say these things.  Why?
       I have taught in two districts where music was cut, in one case for a year, and in the other, for five years.  I came to both districts just after music was restored.  In both cases, what brought music back was community outcry.  Passionate educators made the case to parents, not that music supports learning in other disciplines, but rather that music is central to the development of a fully-functioning human.  They made the cutters face up to the fact that they were cutting something essential, and the public came to our aid.
       Words matter.  If we continue to argue that music is best for supporting learning in other subject areas, we sell ourselves short, and we will never take our rightful place in the center of the curriculum, with the other ‘core’ subjects.  If the only thing the public hears from us are words that put our subject in a subordinate position, then that’s what they’ll believe at budget time.  No one would dare try to cut math, or science; ask yourself why that is.  You’ll never hear a math teacher argue that her subject supports learning in another area.  It’s time we started talking about our discipline in terms that illustrate its true importance.  ARS GRATIA ARTIS!
(Each week we look at one or two of the best choral works posted in the Composition Showcase here on ChoralNet.  This is where we store a treasure trove of works that your choirs will love to sing and your audiences will love to hear.)
The Windhover by James Johnson for TTBB and organ (Click here for PDF and here for AUDIO)
Level: Advanced High School or Higher
Uses: General Concert Use
Program Themes: Freedom, Birds of Prey, Awe of Nature
This Piece Would Program Well With: Soar Up Falcons by Valetin Mantulin available through from JWPepper and Sheet Music Plus
This setting of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ moving poem by the same name is filled with musical imagery.  James Johnson gives life to the falcon through some marvelous text painting.   Though the writing is a bit chromatic at times, the voice parts are well supported by the organ making this piece approachable by a good high school or college level choir.   I find The Windhover to be rhythmically refreshing.  Enjoy!
The Windhover is available from the composer at jjphoenix(a)
The use of PDF Markup apps for the iPad, such as GoodReader or Notability, allow quick and easy markup of scanned scores. An advantage of digitally marking up scores is that it can be easy to distribute edits or notes to your ensemble. Windows 8 devices including tablets and hybrid devices such as the Surface have a larger screen and make great music stand displays, and offer a built-in PDF reader with some markup capacity. At first glance, this is a great out-of-the-box score tool since it can natively markup PDFs and distribute them easily. In addition, the stylus on the Windows 8 devices is much finer than that on the iPad, making writing and annotating much easier. In my testing, though, the built-in Reader app slows dramatically to the point of being unusable as the number of marks increases. In a search to find an alternative to Notability for Windows 8 for PDF markup, I tested four programs available now in the Windows Store.

Drawboard PDF - $9.99 (3 day trial available)

Drawboard has an interface very reminiscent of OneNote. Drawboard has an interface very reminiscent of OneNote.

Drawboard has an interface very similar to the Win 8 version of OneNote. Menu options are presented in a multi-level palette, which can take some getting used to if you've not seen it before (in, for example, OneNote). As I've been playing with OneNote for a few weeks now, it was totally natural for me to dive in, but I anticipate that it'll raise an eyebrow or two you are new to Win 8. As with eBooks or Kindle, you swipe horizontally to navigate the pages. It has the most features of any of these apps, thus the more layered interface and higher cost.

Multi-layer palette menu in Drawboard. Multi-layer palette menu in Drawboard.

Drawboard was also the only tool of these to support using the trigger button on the stylus as an eraser-- one of my personal favorite UI touches of the Win 8 stylus.

PDF Touch - 2.99

Far fewer tools in PDF Touch, but everything's immediately accessible. Where's "Erase?" Far fewer tools in PDF Touch, but everything's immediately accessible. Where's "Erase?"

This is a much simpler interface, although much more limited. There's no nuance to access here-- the tools you see in the initial menu are what you get, although you can customize size, color and opacity of pens, for example. Use the navigation arrows on the side of the screen to click through each page.

While this was a 1-minute impression, I could not find an eraser, nor any way to remove previous marks. You can undo your last mark, but you cannot step further back than that. Also, the document autosaved, so when I tried to open it up in my next app, all of the marks were retained. I could have missed something very basic, but the inability to erase marks would be a non-starter for me.

Xodo - Free

Selecting tools in Xodo. You'll do this a lot if you want to use anything besides the pen. Selecting tools in Xodo. You'll do this a lot if you want to use anything besides the pen.

Xodo gives you the pen tool by default, and allows other tools to be accessed by the edit menu. The input defaults back to the pen tool after every mark, though, which makes highlighting inefficient. In other words, if you were to highlight two separate words, the tool defaults to the pen when you lift up the stylus-- you have to reselect the highlighter to continue using it.

Perfect PDF - 2.99 (2 day trial available)

Markup tools are a couple of levels deep in the interface. Markup tools are a couple of levels deep in the interface.

This is the only interface with vertical scrolling. I found the interface here a bit non-intuitive for our purposes and desire to get to markup as quickly as possible-- pen and markup tools are two layers deep in the menu. While that may make sense for a generic PDF reader, it's a bit slower for our purposes. Out of the box, the pen and highlighter are set much too thick-- they have to be reset to a smaller size under "Show Properties" to be useable for paper markup. The settings do persist to subsequent files, though-- once reset, they don't have to be configured each time. Also, a minor pet peeve-- the eraser tool is a graphic-style eraser which erases specific points, not entire lines. In other words, if you circled a word and wanted to erase that circle, you have to retrace the circle with the eraser rather than simply touching some part of the shape.

Paint-style erase if you want to clear your marks. Paint-style erase if you want to clear your marks.


Unfortunately, of these four apps it's clear that you get what you pay for-- my recommendation for someone looking for a quick and efficient paper markup tool would be Drawboard, even at $9.99. Frankly, thinking about the frequency with which I use these programs on my iPad, the extra cost seems worth it to me. If the cost is too dear, my second choice out of these four would reluctantly be Perfect PDF. While the interface will be a touch slower than PDF Touch, the inability to erase marks in the latter program completely disqualifies it in my mind and I use the highlighter often enough that Xodo's resetting after each stroke would slow me down more.

There are obviously myriad options for PDF markup in Windows, and this only includes some of the most common apps for Windows 8, not the desktop programs. Are there others that we should consider? What did we miss?

From Daniel Coyle’s The Little Book of Talent: Tip #7 “Before you start, figure out if it’s a hard skill or soft skill.”
Coyle divides up the skills we learn into two basic types:
“Hard skills are about repeatable precision, and tend to be found in specialized pursuits, particularly physical ones.” He then gives examples, such as swinging a golf club or tennis racket, learning the multiplication tables, or a worker on an assembly line. “Here, your goal is to build a skill that functions like a Swiss watch—reliable, exact, and performed the same way every time, automatically, without fail. Hard skills are about ABC: Always Be Consistent.”
“Soft, high-flexibility skills, on the other hand, are those that have many paths to a good result, not just one. These skills aren’t about doing the same thing perfectly every time, but rather about being agile and interactive; about instantly recognizing patterns as they unfold and making smart, timely choices. . . With these skills we are not trying for Swiss watch precision, but rather for the ability to quickly recognize a pattern or possibility, and to work past a complex set of obstacles. Soft skills are about the three R’s: Reading, Recognizing, and Reacting.”
It’s an interesting and helpful way to think of particular skills we want to master, or those we want our choir to master. In the next two tips, Coyle talks about how to develop either a hard or soft skill and I’ll deal with that in the next couple posts.
However, I think that one builds on another. You can’t be truly creative until you’ve mastered some of the underlying hard skills.
I’ll go back to John Wooden again, drawing from Ronald Gallimore and Swen Nater’s book on his teaching/coaching: "drill for Coach Wooden is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Drilling is intended to achieve an automaticity or mastery of fundamentals that opens up opportunities for individual creativity and initiative.”
In other words, the soft skills can’t come until the hard skills are well established.
If you want to improvise well, you have to have an incredibly thorough understanding of the fundamentals and great technique with your instrument. A friend told me a story recently about the late Gerre Hancock (marvelous organist and choral musician who was a prodigious improvisor) going to Paris to study improvisation with the noted pedagogue, Nadia Boulanger. He came to her apartment the first time, expecting a lesson on improvisation, but instead she handed him a fugue subject and asked him to go write a fugue. He was a bit confused, but did so (one wouldn’t argue with Madame Boulanger) and came back at the next appointed time, fugue in hand. She corrected it, then handed him another fugue subject. This continued for months. One week, after bringing his fugue, he took the subject she handed him and began to leave. “But no,” she said, “now you will come in and play a fugue based on this subject.” In other words, he’d so thoroughly mastered the art of writing a fugue that he could now begin to improvise one on the spot.
For conductors, clearly, developing the hard skill of a reliable conducting technique is a necessary prelude to being able to improvise gesture that fits the music one is conducting. As I tell my conducting students, I rarely think about my gesture—but if I know the music really, really well—have internalized it—then my gesture should do what it’s supposed to do, elicit the music I hear internally from my singers and instrumentalists.
The same is true of rehearsal technique. I’ve written about it here, here, and also here. As your rehearsal technique becomes more and more secure, it allows the freedom to improvise in rehearsal. Just as mastering the skills of cooking and an understanding of how different ingredients will combine allow a great chef the freedom to modify a recipe to great result.
In this sense, so much that we do is both craft and art: we have to work incredibly hard to develop our skills, our craft . . . but after that art has the possibility to flourish.
One of my fondest memories at PLU was taking the choir on tour and getting to that point where the details of performing our repertoire were secure in such a way that on a given night I could “play” with the music and the choral "instrument." But this was always a two-way street—the singers’ response (to the room, to the music) could also influence me—in that way at its best, performance becomes a complex, creative, and artistic dance between conductor and ensemble (and room and audience). Those are the moments (not always present, of course) when the experience transcends our usual music making. And those transcendent moments and performances are what makes it all worthwhile.
THREE Choral Journal UPDATES YOU SHOULD KNOW, by Amanda Bumgarner
A few months ago, I introduced a Choral Journal reader survey, and I have had hundreds of responses so far. For those of you who have not yet offered feedback, the survey will remain open until the end of 2014 and is available at: <>. We have already been making changes based on some of the survey comments, and following are three things you can be aware of:
  1. New Table of Contents Page
The December issue will introduce a new Table of Contents. Ron Granger has been with ACDA as layout designer and managing editor for many years, and he and I have been working hard to brainstorm ways to make the first page of the Journal look professional and easy to read. Department headings have been updated to reflect the variety of material available to you in each issue.
  • Features: the three main feature articles that have been vetted through the Choral Journal editorial board
  • Articles: articles that fall under any of the rotating columns and article series you are already familiar with
  • Reviews: book, choral, and recorded sound reviews
  • News: relevant ACDA news such as conference information or upcoming event deadlines
  • Editorial: executive director, president, and editor columns
  1. Downloading full issues and individual articles from
Most of you already know that the entire Choral Journal archive dating back to May 1959 is available to ACDA active, retired, student, associate, and international members online at <>. Once you choose the issue month and year, there will be a link located underneath the cover image for you to be able to download that entire issue.
You may not be aware, however, that you can also download individual articles on that same page. Simply select an article or column by clicking on the title. A new page will open containing only that article, and you can then download it directly to your computer as a PDF by clicking the “download” button.
  1. Clickable Table of Contents page for the online version of Choral Journal
The Table of Contents page on the online eCJ now contains links that will take you directly to the article or column of your choice. No more flipping through the pages or typing a page number into the search box! If you experience any difficulty getting the links to work, please let me know. Note: these links will only be available on the eCJ booklet, not on the PDF version.
Want to add your input on future CJ updates? Take the Choral Journal survey by clicking here: <>
       Links leading to the ACDA Journal (hard copy/online), AGO (American Guild of Organists) Journal, Creator Magazine, IJRCS, NATS, and numerous other publications abound on Facebook and other online sites. Throughout these publications, numerous articles on the choral art are easily accessible; some are scholarly articles with documentation, many are practical, contain lovingly written bios of our mentors past and present, and numerous ways to hone in on ones skills throughout. Of late, I have found recent ACDA articles referencing Paul Salamunovich, and from a Facebook link to Within these articles, there is one secret ingredient that makes music come alive.
       What is the spice that brings out the flavor of the music? Is it, the beautiful tone we want to achieve? Yes, this is very important and a component of the choral experience. Is it, the dynamics or the placement of singers? It is all this, and more! However, one element that comes to the forefront is, what is the composers intent, and how do I, as a conductor, accommodate these suggestions. These suggestions are either in the composer’s hand, or in that of the editor/arranger.
       I once received an email, from a very well intentioned conductor regarding an arrangement I had written. This conductor was so pleased with her reinterpretation of the ending of this work, as she believed it would be more effective to have a grandeur ending. Well, the piece was titled “Echo Nowell.”  The first word in the title gives it away. Has anyone ever heard of an echo increasing in volume as it decays?
       Paul Salamunovich has always made light of his fantastic gift of creating beautiful sound. However, this is not what makes the difference, according to the maestro. He continually states, paraphrased: People think I am creating all kinds of marvelous sounds, for which people "oo" and "ah!" Simply, I am reading/conducting what is in the score, i.e., dynamics, tempo markings, etc., this, as stated by Salamunovich, is why my work seems dynamic. Although tone, phrasing, and quality singing play a major role. The music itself has something to say.
       In the article, the author references a violinist, John Man, and his teacher Dorothy Schnupsky’s teaching methods. Man admits, “I tried just playing the way I want over and over and over again, hoping that it would get better,” he said. “It never did! It was like, the more I played it the same way the more it would sound the same. What could I do?” Then Man had a thought. I should try what my teacher has been telling me.
       Schnupsky, on a regular basis sarcastically shares with Man and all her students the secret to her teaching philosophy, The Job. “As musicians, our Job is to play the music as musically as possible,” she said. “So if you look at things like the notes, and perhaps the dynamics and phrase markings, and basically every other instruction that has been dutifully laid out on paper using a sophisticated and clear system of notation developed over centuries, then your playing will improve. I charge an hourly rate to say this.”
       “The results have been incredible!” said Man. “It’s as if following the advice of an older, more experienced musician allows me to somehow cultivate effective working habits better than my own.”
       A hard-learned lesson that runs throughout music making, follow the map. Sure, we can apply our great ideas to the music we are performing. However, when we run up against a wall with our ensembles, we need to circle the wagons, and start from the beginning of the trip using the map, to keep from ending up in the same place, lost. Follow the notation, it is a musicians GPS.
(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: Advanced High School
Uses: General Concert Use
Program Themes: Trust, Freedom, Birds
This Piece Would Program Well With: Birds from The Little Prince by Rachel Portman available through from JWPepper and Sheet Music Plus
This piece has received many performances throughout the world.   It is bright, fresh and approachable.   The length and a few of the harmonic changes make it a bit difficult but it could be handled well by an advanced high school women’s choir.  There are two videos below that show a range of performance possibilities. 
Faith is the Bird That Feels the Light is available from the composer’s website:
 If you work at a K-12 or Higher Ed school with Google Apps for Education, you are quietly getting a fall gift from Google: Drive storage will be unlimited for education users within the next few days. Over the last few months, Google and Microsoft have been waging war over cloud apps for the education market, and for the last year Microsoft's OneDrive for Business (also used to support education clients) had the upper hand with 1 TB of storage per user. Google's far more popular Apps for Education service has now fired back with unlimited storage per user (still at no cost). Even more appealing to those of us who work with digital audio or multimedia is the per-file cap of 5 TB. 
For most users, even Google's prior limit of 30 GB seemed to be ample. Google Apps users who only use the core Google products (Docs, Sheets, etc.) would be hard-pressed to use even half of that. What many users still don't realize, though, is that all types of files can be stored in Google Drive, and using Drive to store large files (multimedia, for example) allows cloud backup and web-based access without relying on e-mail or external devices like a flash drive. Furthermore, I believe one of the most under-utilized features of Google Drive is the local client, which installs a folder on your Mac or PC desktop allowing you to access, edit and upload files without having to use the web interface. With unlimited storage and the local client, you could now put your entire hard drive within a Google Drive folder and have complete backup (and web-access), or sync individual project folders to share with your singers, students or department-mates. The large per-file limit will easily accomodate even a full concert recording in HD, meaning that a shared Google Drive folder now becomes an incredibly flexible means of sharing recordings with your ensembles.
A standard note of caution for teachers: The TEACH Act and Fair Use Doctrines give you the authority to share copyrighted material with students online as well as in person. That sharing does not extend to sharing the file itself though-- you cannot, for example, share a copyrighted file within Google Drive. Anyone you shared it with would be able to download the file itself, which is not covered by the TEACH Act. Uploading your listening library into your new unlimited storage account would be beyond Fair Use.
Google announced at the beginning of October that these benefits would roll "over the next few weeks," and as with many Google updates, they have begun to appear slowly and somewhat at random. If you belong to a school that uses Google Apps for Education, you will soon have unlimited storage in your Google Drive if you don't already!
From Daniel Coyle’s The Little Book of Talent: Tip #5 - Be willing to be stupid.
The point, of course, isn’t to be stupid, but to be willing to fail, to take risks. Coyle uses the example of Wayne Gretzky falling in practice and says, “As skilled as he was, Gretzky was determined to improve, to push the boundaries of the possible. The only way that happens is to build new connections in the brain—which means reaching, failing, and yes, looking stupid.”
There is a great Nike ad with Michael Jordan, which you probably already know, but it makes the same point: without taking risks (and failing) you won’t fail . . . but you’re unlikely to grow either.
But what does this mean for the conductor?
It certainly means challenging yourself. How can you push yourself beyond your current boundaries, your current skill level?
Repertoire is one logical area—it’s the basis for all we do, after all. Eric Ericson always maintained that his choirs (and he) grew through the challenges of particular repertoire:
You asked how technique and proficiency developed, and I can almost mention certain pieces which were "rungs on the ladder" . . . because that's how I feel so strongly when we've learned a difficult and very good piece. I'm thinking naturally from the viewpoint of the Chamber Choir with [Lidholm's] Laudi from 1947, Fyra körer from 1953, then the big pieces of Stravinsky, Nono . . . Dallapiccola perhaps most of all, which is where we learned to read notes and rhythms. And then of course we have a Swedish piece, again by Lidholm [1956--Canto], that we struggled with for half a year. I have a certain sense that, when you "come out on the other side" after having done a piece like Lidholm's Canto, you are a better musician, a better conductor, a better chorister. Canto feels like a final exam for the '50s choral life . . . early pieces that were difficult tonally and rhythmically became less so. Canto combined all the difficulties one was thrown between.
What repertoire will push your musicianship, your conducting technique, your ability to teach a particular style? The risk of failure or looking stupid is there, but believe me, it’s worth it.
Coyle says, “Feeling stupid is no fun. But being willing to be stupid—in other words, being willing to risk the emotional pain of making mistakes—is absolutely essential, because reaching, failing, and reaching again is the way your brain grows and makes new connections. When it comes to developing talent, remember, mistakes are not really mistakes—they are the guideposts you use to get better."
Another worthwhile book I’ve written about is Mindset by Carol Dweck—the full post is here.
It deals with two different mindsets regarding learning. From that blog post:
Dweck says, "Everyone is born with an intense drive to learn. Infants stretch their skills daily. Not just walk and talk. They never decide it's too hard or not worth the effort. They walk, they fall, they get up. They just barge forward."
Somewhere along the line, though, some children learn that they are being evaluated and become afraid of challenges (and paradoxically, continual praising children as being smart or supremely talented can lead to the fixed mindset).
She tells of a study where they offered four-year-olds the choice between redoing an easy jigsaw puzzle or trying a harder one. Even at this age, kids who had a fixed mindset--that is, they believed in fixed traits--chose the safe one. They told the researchers, kids who are born smart "don't do mistakes." The other children with a growth mindset--who believed you could get smarter--couldn't imagine doing a puzzle they'd done before. One girl said, "I'm dying to figure them out!"
Again from Dweck, "So children with the fixed mindset want to make sure they succeed. Smart people should always succeed. But for children with the growth mindset, success is about stretching themselves. It's about becoming smarter.”
All of us have things we’re comfortable with: our conducting technique, rehearsal technique, our usual way of doing things. Sometimes in order to grow, we have to give up our comfortable ways and change our technique—in a very real sense, change who we are. This almost certainly will mean that for a period of time you’ll be uncomfortable and, in fact, probably won’t do as well. But you need the time to grow those new connections in your brain—and perhaps, feel “stupid” for awhile. But if you’re not willing to go through that process you won’t grow.
So, if you want to grow and improve, don’t be afraid of mistakes and failure: "be willing to be stupid.” Challenge yourself, put yourself in situations where you’re certain to struggle. And give yourself the opportunity to change and grow.
(This is the fifth and final installment of a five-part series on choral ethics, exploring what it means to be ethical in this often unethical business.)
“Fine manners are the mantle of fair minds.” Louisa May Alcott
Do you ever say “please” to your singers?  Or is it always a command to “turn to page 3, top score, measure 2?”  If you occasionally said, “please turn to page 3…..” would the sky fall? When was the last time you said “thank-you” to your accompanist?  After they sight read an open score, eight-part, bi-tonal, mixed meter, multi-clef monstrosity you decided to include in rehearsal on a whim? Or do you thank them on a regular basis?  If you have a good relationship with your accompanist, you probably don’t thank them enough. But if you have a tenuous one or a new relationship, it is very important to say thanks. People perform better and are willing to go the extra mile for you if they feel appreciated. Saying please and thank you—and meaning it—are simple ways of showing appreciation. Simple courtesies are simple and not always common among our brethren.
Mom used to tell us having good manners is not knowing which fork to use and when but a way of showing people, by your behavior, you respect them.  You said, “excuse me” if you bumped into someone or wanted to leave the room.  You said, “please” and “thank you” if you wanted something and then received it.  You stood for your elders or the President of the United States and gave your seat to someone who needed it more.   In our business “manners,” or whatever you call it, can make a world of difference in our relationships with those we work with us. 
We expect our singers to let us know if they are not able to be at a rehearsal or are running late.  Many choirs have an absence sign-up sheet or a way of letting someone know if they are ill or stuck in traffic. It seems only fair we expect the same of ourselves. I know a community chorus director who was notoriously late.  He was the only person allowed by the venue to have the keys to their rehearsal space and as a result, half the time his chorus sat in their cars in the parking lot waiting for him, often of upwards of 30 minutes.  Two rehearsals before one December holiday concert, in a sleet storm, members of the chorus’ board of directors sat in a mini-van and decided they had had enough.  If you’ve ever sat in a car, in the Midwest, in a sleet storm, you can understand why that would be enough. His contract was up that spring and not renewed.  The reason he was given for not renewing his contract? Chronic tardiness. Their new director is not as good a musician but they like him more than the other guy simply because he respects their time….and is never late.
Do you clean up after yourself? In your office or rehearsal space, are there unfiled octavos strewn about or empty (and dirty) coffee cups or two year-old music schedules or concert programs or Choral Journals from 1998/99?  Are you supposed to do the cleaning up or is someone else, such as a music librarian or sexton or custodian? If you are supposed to do the cleaning up, it is your mess and if you can live with it, great.  But if someone else is to do the straightening up, it is not fair to them to have to pick up your garbage. My graduate school department chair used to say the custodians ran the school, so cooperate and be nice. Throw away (or wash) your coffee cups, recycle those old schedules and programs and put away the Choral Journals. Let the music librarian file the music.  The sexton or custodian can wash or vacuum the floor without worrying they will disturb something important, your space will more pleasant to work in and all will think you are thoughtful.  And that’s good.
Often the simplest things to do are ones we don’t do.  We have to deal with the fall out of not saying “thank you” because we couldn’t be bothered. And it’s not necessary when a kind word or a “please” could make our lives much more pleasant.
     READ the entire series on choral ethics by Marie Grass Amenta.
          Choral Ethics (Part 1): Songs My Mother Taught Me
          Choral Ethics (Part 2): Amateur Versus Professional
          Choral Ethics (Part 3): Kindness is NOT for Wimps
          Choral Ethics (Part 4): Reaping What We Sow
          Choral Ethics (Part 5): “Maestra Manners” Explains All
(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.)
Micronczarnia by Jakub Neske for SATB a cappella, also SSAA and TTBB (Click here for PDF and here for AUDIO)
Level: High School or Higher
Uses: General Concert Use
Program Themes: Torment, Speech pieces, Uncertainty
This Piece Would Program Well With: Full Fathom Five by Brad Burrill available through the Composition Showcase
As Halloween approaches this is a sure case of Click-For-Treat!!  Your singers are going to LOVE LOVE LOVE this piece.   Who has the coolest choir in town? You do, after singing Jakub Neske’s Mironczarnia! 
A series of syllabic utterances followed by powerful ostinati and a lofty soprano solo are what make this piece take off.  That it is in a Slavic language is not a hindrance, rather it enhances the epic flavor.  Take this to your state, divisional or national ACDA convention.  They will remember your performance forever.
Micronczarnia is available from the composer’s website:
       Each year throughout the world, thousands of choral music concerts and concert productions take place that are made possible to hundreds of thousands of audience members through the hard work and creative efforts of a very important segment of ACDA’s membership. This constituency of ACDA is the companies and individuals who make up our travel and concert production industry membership. While thousands of performances and concerts take place in our schools, communities, and faith environments, similarly, thousands of concerts take place through the creative work of our conductors working in collaboration with travel and concert production companies. Through both industry and individual efforts, all of our members overlap in ACDA’s mission to inspire excellence in choral music education, performance, composition, and advocacy.
       In September of this year, I met in Chicago with a large number of ACDA members from the travel and concert production industry to discuss meaningful ways we could work together to advance our mission. The threads of overlap are easy to identify, and throughout the day, opportunities to enhance our work together became more and more apparent. The leadership of our current industry representative and national board member, Brad Matheson, aided our discussion, as well as our immediate past industry representative, Alec Harris. Alec had successfully led the effort to align our print music publishing industry members in a similar pursuit during his term as industry representative, and Brad has been eager to help us pursue similar advancement with this membership category. Leading up to this event, travel industry member Oliver Scofield helped to get the ball rolling on this summit meeting at our 2011 National Conference in Chicago.
       Throughout the day of our meeting, it became apparent that our association and our travel and concert production industry members had several areas we could embrace that would advance our collective mission. These included maximum coordination when planning division and national conferences, collaboration on international initiatives that ACDA is now embracing, strategic scheduling of time at division and national conferences, and joint participation for future festivals and cultural exchange programs. It was vividly clear to all participants in the meeting that we value each other and that we pursue parts of the same mission.
The good news for all of us who tour and participate in concert productions away from home that are created by our industry partners is that ACDA and the travel and concert production industry members of ACDA want to work even closer together for the promotion of choral excellence in the United States and around the world. Even more exciting is the fact that we have identified specific areas where we can work even more closely together at connection points in our overlapping mission. These specifics include the 2016 America Cantat Festival, our International Conductor Exchange Program, our hosting of international choirs at division and national conferences, and the future possibilities of choral festivals in the United States.
       The American Choral Directors Association is proud of and grateful to our strategic industry partners who collaborate with and support us in our performance work. While we may come to our performances from educational, aesthetic, faith, or profit motives, as members of ACDA, we are all united in our motive of the pursuit of excellence in our performances.