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I just got back from my fall retreat with my top choir, and again I am faced with this inconsistency: Why do choirs go on retreat? Bands don’t. Orchestras certainly don’t.

I often receive a little grief from folks about the large expenditure of money. “Is this really necessary” and all that. My response is usually something like “Do you think I want to spend three days away from my family? Do you think I like to give away my entire weekend after working 14 hours days the first two weeks of school? Do you think I prefer spending a really big chunk of my budget on this and not on commissioning a piece, or bringing in a guest artist or going on tour, or whatever?” That usually ends the conversation.

Thing is, there is a pretty big benefit to retreat. Some might argue that it’s mostly in the minds of the singers, and not so much in the actual effect it has on the sound, but that is debatable.

The reason we go on retreat is trust. Singing is unique. It is a profoundly personal experience. We as singers know this. When you critique someone’s singing, you are, in some way, critiquing them; not like just their singing but them as a person. When a singer makes a mistake, there is no instrument sitting there between you and the mistake. It’s clear you made the mistake, and you need to fix it.

And so it is, that to sing in choir day after day, with people you don’t know, requires trust. And to take vocal risks in order to find your way to an informed and gratifying performance, it helps to know and trust those singers around you. Of course, this gets easier both with age, experience, and skill, but it is always an issue. Without trust, it is hard do this thing.

So for 18-21 year-olds, going on retreat, bonding socially, digging deep into new music, and sharing social time, we come to know and trust each other. I think it makes us better singers. We certainly enjoy being in the same room together for five days a week a little it more.

I guess this makes singers “weird” in a way. I guess I don’t care about that too much.

MY SUMMER WITH ACDA: A TREASURE REVEALED, by Lucas B. Ensign
 
       As I was walking to the vending machine at the University of Wisconsin Platteville before my Choral Literature course, I was stopped by Dr. Bob Demaree about a potential great opportunity. He said something to the effect of “How would you like to spend your summer in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma at the ACDA national office funded through UW-Platteville’s PACCE program?” Without hesitation, I simply responded “YES!” This opportunity appeared to be a great segue into my student teaching semester this fall. From there, everything began to come together for this internship to take place.
       Prior to my time with ACDA, I had a basic knowledge of the association. I understood that it served thousands of choral teachers, it produced a monthly Choral Journal, and it put on great national conferences every other year. I knew that most of the offices in the association were volunteers and I envisioned a staff of fifty strong. Choral Net was a resource I had used before, whether it was the daily posts by Dr. Dorsey, or the forums posted by different members. By and large, ACDA was a new resource that I was still learning about.
After spending two months with the national staff, I learned all about ACDA.
 
The Staff
The national staff contains twelve full time members working in almost entirely one person departments. Each staff member contains individual responsibilities that develop, renovate, and perfect according the association’s needs.
 
On Site Resources
  • Staff members, working hard each day for the members.
  • Multiple archival rooms that include original Choral Journals dating back to 1959, thousands of recordings, conference program books, newsletters from each state, monographs, and more.
  • A museum in which ensembles perform and learn about ACDA, this includes an original Eric Whitacre electronic piano.
Online Resources
  • The Choral Journal, 1959 to present.
  • Monographs, individual pages for each division and state chapter, “how to” guides for just about everything needed from a member, ACDA history, competition information, national conference information, ACDA radio, up and coming initiatives, and all of the necessary contact information.
 
Student Benefits
  • Developing a student chapter
  • The Choral Journal
  • Chor Teach
  • The up and coming mentoring program
  • Job postings
  • Choral Net
  • ACDA Radio
  • Research Opportunities for all
  • The International Journal of Research in Choral Singing
New Teacher and Seasoned Teacher Benefits
  • The up and coming mentoring program
  • Research Opportunities for all
  • The Choral Journal
  • ACDA Radio
  • A gateway to address those issues so many other new teachers face
  • Job postings
  • The International Journal of Research in Choral Singing
  • Leadership potential, making a difference and paying it forward
  • Chor Teach
  • Graduate and Continuing Education opportunities
  • Choral Net
       After spending quality time with each of the employees at the national office, I have learned how ACDA functions, how I will proceed as an educator to use these resources in a respectful manner, the importance of being active within the association; whether as a conference attender, a guest blogger for Choral Net, an author for the Choral Journal, or an R & S chair member. The deepest lesson learned comes down to a new perspective as a student and soon to be teacher.
       As an undergraduate, we live, breathe, and think choral music. When graduated, he or she is unleashed into the public school systems, and put into a situation where the wheel is awaiting creation. Often times he or she is the only choral music educator in the school, and a longing for the intellectually stimulating environment that is within a college choral program begins to come forth. ACDA is a professional organization wishing to fill those needs, in whatever length is desired. This association is available to help accelerate your growth, dive into top quality discussion on teaching methods and literature, and lifelong professional connections develop. My summer experience has taught me that ACDA covers the gamut of resources, and you can benefit greatly from becoming a member.
 
READ MORE about Lucas Ensign's "Summer of ACDA."
A LAUNCH WE CAN ALL RIDE by Sundra Flansburg
 
Sing it Up! Today ACDA launches its annual membership campaign, which runs through November 14. There has never been a better time to join ACDA.
 
Over the past year we have added a new ACDA Career Center, which has taken off as the place to find choral conducting and teaching positions across the U.S. If you are a job seeker, you can search available jobs, as well as upload your CV and create job alerts that will notify you when new relevant positions are posted. Your profile remains anonymous until you give permission to be identified. Employers know that the ACDA Career Center is the place to find the finest choral directors, teachers, and professors who are part of their professional association.
 
ACDA has two active pilot tests of the ACDA Mentoring Program running in the Eastern Division and in Minnesota, with a national rollout planned by December. Our custom-built online program takes the headache out of registering mentors and mentees, helps mentees find mentors who fit their particular interests, and offers a suggested program for developing a fulfilling mentoring relationship.
 
These new member benefits have been added to an already exciting list of reasons why choral conductors and teachers find ACDA an essential resource in their professional life. Are you a student or choral music educator? Visit our mini-website, designed especially for potential members. Watch some of the powerful member testimonials. Then join ACDA!
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.)
 
Self-Awareness Missa Brevis by Bill Heigen for SATB Flute and Piano (Click here for PDF and here for AUDIO: Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, Agnus Dei)
 
Level: Advanced High School or Higher
Uses: General Concert Use
Program Themes: Sacred Mass Settings
This Piece Would Program Well With: Missa Brevis Sancti Joannis de Deo by F. Joseph Haydn available from Sheet Music Plus and JWPepper.
 
Bill Heigen is new to the Composition Showcase.  His first entry is a masterpiece.  The parts are very approachable, the range is reasonable and the overall affect is stirring.  I hear a kaliedoscope of color within each movement and throughout the work as a whole.   The harmonies are full and enticing yet approached in each part with excellent voice leading.   This would be a pleasant change from more traditional Mass settings.
 
Self-Awareness Missa Brevis is available from the composer’s website: http://www.billheigen.com/ - !store/cggp
(imslp.org)

The choral ensemble is a poor vehicle for teaching individual vocal technique. With the limited time we have in front of our groups, and hopefully a large number of singers eager to rehearse, taking rehearsal time to work on individual singing technique beyond a basic level (breath, posture, free easy tone, etc) isn't realistic. At the same time, sending choristers home to practice their parts on their own often begins and ends with singing along to a practice recording, since most singers lack the functional piano skills to accompany themselves or the ear training and reading ability to accurately rehearse parts a cappella. In our ideal worlds, I'm sure many of us would envision our singers working in private study individually to develop their technique while we craft these skilled and trained voices into a cohesive ensemble. Using a variety of free or low-cost online resources, we can build a library of vocal exercises which allow singers to continue to develop their instrument individually without depending on advanced piano or reading skills.

I'll say up front that none of this is designed to replace instruction from a qualified vocal teacher. At the highest level of all ensembles will be singers who have desire and resources (time, interest) to pursue individual instruction and craft their voices as trained singers. For many ensembles, though, the bulk of our singers would probably like to develop their voice but are unlikely to add vocal lessons in addition to the choir. This is for them-- something they can practice at home that will positively contribute to their development.

Get a Method

Our first step is to find material in the public domain that relates to vocal instruction. Our normal public domain standby is CPDL, but aside from one sight singing collection, there is little for us in vocal methods there. Searching the voicings for solo voice does give us ample art song/lieder resources, which may be of interest.

The Internet Sheet Music Library Project is an extensive collection of works targeted for instrument and voice. While there are some choral works present in the database, the strength of the ISMLP is solo literature. Like CPDL, navigation of the ISMLP can be a daunting task at first, but one can find a category dedicated to Methods - a listing of instructional methods for a variety of instruments, voice included. Most of the resources in the ISMLP are high-quality .PDFs scanned from the original source.

Because they're in the public domain, you can assume that most of these methods are quite old. That's not to say that they are necessarily out-of-date, though-- The Modern Italian Method of Singing (1795) opens with the same technique instructions found in many current methods, and then launches in the Mezza di Voce (a familiar starting point for most technique methods today).

Create your Web Tools

Remember that our goal is to create resources to help the whole range of our singers, especially those without access to a keyboard or piano. I would argue that anyone studying choir at any level of school should at least be able to play find do and play it on the piano to give themselves a starting pitch, and some comfortable readers may be able to simply take the .PDF file and play the exercises for themselves. Let's assume that we want to provide some more aural support, though-- both to help the singers navigate the exercises and for the ear training benefits of practicing technique within the tonal context.

I suggest three possible examples of aural support:
1) create a recording of the entire exercise,
2) play tonic triad (or other relevant chord) on the pulse to help the singer navigate the exercise, or
3) play the tonic note (or appropriate root) in the rhythm of the exercise.
Each of these place the burden on the singer to follow different levels of support while performing the exercise. Of course, if your chosen method has a piano accompaniment, you can simply play that.

At this point, we are now staring at a seemingly daunting creation process-- recording each exercise in all of the appropriate keys. Considering differing vocal ranges, we are likely to have students start in different keys as well, meaning the order of exercises is going to be different. An oft-overlooked aspect of Sibelius is going to come to our aid though: the Scorch Plugin.

Scorch-ed Scores

Scorch is a web plugin which displays Sibelius scores and will play them back from within a web window. If we enter our public domain method exercises into Sibelius, we can embed the file into a web page so that singers can play them back without having to have Sibelius. In addition, and this is where it gets interesting for our purposes here, the user can control the tempo and key on their end. In other words, singers can choose the key in which they would like to perform the exercise. To move up the scale, they would click the new key and the accompaniment will transpose with them. Scorch is also available as an app for iOS ($1.99) and can access files sent via e-mail or stored in Dropbox. In the iOS version, musicians can turn on or off playback for individual instruments, so you could enter the exercise itself on one track and a sustained do on another, allowing musicians to practice with and without the exercise itself.

Differentiating our Musicians

Doing exercises out of a method book downloaded from the Internet is not a substitute for individual vocal instruction, nor will it grow soloists from our beginner singers. Using public domain material and generating these kinds of practice exercises can give our musicians ways to expand their skills, though, by giving them tools to use to practice their voice on a daily basis. What would a few minutes of scales and exercises in an individual setting, accompanied by a strong tonal accompaniment, do for your singers' instruments? Connecting your warmups and your choice of methods further reinforces the technique being developed in the rehearsal and allows the singers to continue to practice those skills developed in-ensemble on their own (while allowing you to introduce technical concepts during the rehearsal).

 

Sorry for the late posting! Crazy day/week!
 
My next recommendation is a book by Doug Lemov, who you may know from the book Teach Like a Champion or its follow-up, Teach Like a Champion Field Guide. Both are terrific, all about better ways to teach. I recommend them, too!
 
But today I'll look at Doug's most recent book (along with co-authors Erica Woolway and Katie Yezzi), Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better.
 
This is all about the art (and science, in some cases) of practice. Using examples from top-level athletes and established teachers, as well as those in business or even long-time surgeons, the authors show how deliberately engineered and designed practice can make us better at almost anything we do (this quoted from the inside dust jacket, but very accurate. The fact that they don't use musicians in their examples won't get in the way of figuring out how better to teach your students, or rehearsing/practicing with your choir to make them better.
 
Since much of what they did in looking at champion teachers was to try to find ways to get other, less experienced or less skilled teachers to learn how to follow those models, they discovered that it was important for them to find better ways for the teachers to practice their new skills. Otherwise they weren't successful. So now they had to discover the rules of successful practice, or their teaching technique wouldn't improve.
 
I'll give a random set of examples of chapter titles ("Rules") to give you an idea:
Encode Success
Let the Mind Follow the Body
Unlock Creativity . . . with Repetition
Practice "Bright Spots"
Correct Instead of Critique
Isolate the Skill
Integrate the Skills
Make Each Minute Matter
Shorten the Feedback Loop
Describe the Solution (Not the Problem)
Break Down the Barriers to Practice
Make it Fun to Practice
Leverage Peer-to-Peer Accountability
Walk the Line (Between Support and Demand)
 
Some of these won't be clear until you read the chapters (and remember, there are 42 "rules"). But it should give you an inkling of what's going on here.
 
Just as an example, "Shorten the Feedback Loop." This built on John Wooden's teaching (you can find a series I wrote about him here, fourteen posts about Coach Wooden's technique and approach): as a former player noted, "he believed correction was wasted unless done immediately" -- in other words, without quick correction, the player was building in the wrong thing--practicing the incorrect thing.
 
I wrote about this in terms of work with my choirs telling them the difference between scrimmage and drill. In a scrimmage, we're looking at a game (for us, concert) situation in practice--running through a section or complete piece. Whereas in drill, we focus on fewer things, much repetition, and constant corrections. While we need both (and the percentage spent in each will change as we get closer to the concert), without lots of drill, certain things simply won't get better. It's focused drill, with constant feedback, that will make the choir better in the shortest time. We still have to mix in scrimmage, otherwise they don't know how to get through a section or piece, but that's a matter of balance. I also discovered that my students quickly got the idea of the importance of drill and this made them much more patient with the quick start/stop/correction/sing it again of drill. As I put it in an earlier post, it greatly increased the density of accomplishment in my rehearsals.
 
I'm still reading and re-reading this book in little chunks, then thinking about how a particular technique or way of thinking might apply to me in my work with choirs. I suspect I will for a long time. And I hope you'll find it valuable, too!
This article talks about the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and their model of creating a sense of mission, vision, and purpose. It's an interesting read. I'm not sure it totally translates to the rest of the world...I wonder whether the model is repeatable outside of the community that it comes from (though not to cast an dispersions on the incredible impact the organization has, or the level of it's accomplishments). But still, the lessons are good ones, and certainly proivde me with some insight into how I might lead my chorus to new things. It certainly helps to have some world class organiztional folks behind you. The infastructure alone is remarkable. I think the most remarkable thing for me (aside from the remarkable organization and the clearly huge budget), is the sense of purpose and mission that everyone who is a part of the organization feels. It's inspiring.
 
Tonight was the first meeting of my community chamber choir. We are a good group: auditioned, mostly music teachers, professors, or folks with music degrees or currently pursuing degrees. We read through some new music, and we sounded darn good (better than last year in fact). At some point in the middle of rehearsal I looked around and saw all these people - some whom I'd only recently met, some who I've known since they were in middle school, a few whom had been in the chorus for decades - and I had this overwhelming feeling of gratefulness sweep over me. Here were people following me, but more importantly, following the vision of the organization. I just felt so lucky to be a part of it tonight. 
 
I think in some small way, the singers in my community group feel the way they do about this group in a similar fashion to the folks interviewed about the MTC. I guess I feel pretty lucky that we've got a healthy vision and common purpose. We recently hired a new Executive Director, who is all fired up to take us to new places. The future is bright.
 
How is your vision? Are the singers a part of it, or are they still finding their way? How hard has it been to create, nurture and grow that vision? Have you achieved your goals? What now?
 
       This week marks the 200th anniversary of the United States National Anthem.  The occasion will be marked by a large number of celebrations, from small town-square affairs to exhibits and events at the Smithsonian Institution.  Perhaps the biggest splash commemorating the bicentennial of the Star Spangled Banner will take place in Maryland, home of Fort McHenry, where the week-long Star-Spangled 200 festival will celebrate the anniversary with over five dozen events, including concerts, tall ships, air showsfireworks, and more.  Closer to home, you can participate, too. The foundation Star Spangled Music offers may ways for you to mark the occasion in your own classroom or rehearsal space.
       For those of us trapped at our desks during this celebration, we can enjoy this performance of the original version of our National Anthem.
 
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.)
 
Seek a Place of Breathless Beauty  by Philip Orem for SATB Flute and Piano (Click here for PDF and here for AUDIO)
 
Level: Church Choir
Uses: Ordinary Time/Sundays after Pentecost, Funeral
Program Themes: Peace, Beauty
This Piece Would Program Well With: Speak and We Will Hear by Joseph Martin available from Sheet Music Plus and JWPepper.  
 
This is an excellent piece to start off the year.   The range and difficulty level are right for your typical church choir.  There is one G above the staff for sopranos that could easily be sung down the octave if that is an issue for your choir.  With the addition of the flute part, Philip Orem really caught my attention with Seek a Place of Breathless Beauty. 
 
 
Despite steps forward by standards such as Teoria and MusicTheory.net, theory and notation instruction software has yet to catch up to the types of software and services that would let music teachers take full advantage of 1-to-1 and BYOD teaching environments. MusicFirst is a new company with several familiar faces aiming to capture the blended learning music market, although it is still a work in progress. I had an opportunity this summer to see some of the features of MusicFirst in action, and hear their goals moving forward.
 
MusicFirst comes from noted Music Ed Technologist James Frankel. As Frankel described at a special interest session at ISTE this summer, he originally started with needing a web-based content package for music which would allow recording and distributing audio along with access to sheet music selections. The absence of a robust web-based recording platform is a major weakness in music classrooms trying to move to a 1-to-1 environment, and even app-based solutions such as GarageBand or TwistedWave on the iPad are a bit clunky for most music class needs. The recording and playback engine in MusicFirst appears to be much more satisfying for individuals recording and submitting practice examples, and will allow ensemble directors to really manage the process of collecting and reviewing those recordings. Anyone who has tried to manage that process through Audacity and Dropbox, for example, knows that there is much opportunity for a new tool here.
 
In these initial tools, MusicFirst resembles a true web-based competitor to SmartMusic-- distribute sheet music, including access to method book libraries, and record practice examples. MusicFirst is seeking to build out a comprehensive platform, though, by including other features that represent history, theory and notation, including some you may recognize:
  • Musition
  • Auralia
  • Noteflight
  • Naxos Music Library
  • Focus on Sound
Other components round out what is clearly a package designed offer a wide range of music education resources. All of these are wrapped within a learning management system which offers the tools and features one would expect from any classroom LMS: assign activities, collect student submissions, grade/evaluate and return comments, and manage student data over time. Again, since this is all web-based (and is built on HTML 5), the entire package should be device-agnostic and work for a variety of school technology deployments.
 
Herein lies two key questions about MusicFirst. First, how successful will the web-based environment be? Musition and Auralia, for example, are still available only in their traditional desktop application settings. While data can be collected through the web portal, the program must be run within Windows or Macs, which would eliminate Chromebooks or iPad programs and force choral students to use laptops. If Musition and Auralia could be ported to a completely web-based package, it would represent a major step forward above currently available web-based theory and ear training software. Those familiar with these two programs know that there is little in the programs that couldn't be rebuilt using HTML 5, so this seems like an easy problem to solve.
 
Second, and this question may be more fundamental to the nature of the product, do music teachers want a complete learning management system purely for music classes? This platform will clearly be most appealing to schools with some kind of 1-to-1 or BYOD environment. Those schools, though, largely have their own learning management systems such as Moodle, Canvas, Haiku or Schoology already in place. It has been my experience in the case of textbook publishers who offer their own assignment portal or LMS-lite that teachers find it awkward or burdensome to use a seperate environment for their classes while complying with school, department or district requirements to use their core LMS platform. In essence, they must use two duplicate systems and find shortcuts to connect the two. If MusicFirst can integrate Single Sign-On authentication with other LMS, employ a standard linking file that makes it easy to access individual assignments from an external website or LMS, or even deploy their individual tools as external packages in cooperation with the other LMS vendors, it would go a long way to avoiding some of the burden of early textbook web systems.
 
In the end, these may point to a different audience for early adoption of MusicFirst: youth choir programs, which often offer theory/ear training curriculum, but with a minimum of dedicated instructional time set aside. These programs could ensure that their young musicians have the appropriate technology to support the entire platform, and likely don't have existing systems which MusicFirst would duplicate. 
 
MusicFirst has an impressive goal and is already offering tools which are major contributions to a technology-enhanced music teaching environment in the web-based recording platform. Monitoring their growth and how they manage the entire suite of tools they're trying to integrate will show how useful the platform will be as a comprehensive teaching environment.
I finally found my copy of Ron Jeffers' notes from attending a workshop with Eric Ericson. These are so good and illustrate many aspects of Eric's art, so I thought it worthwhile to interrupt my current blog series on worthwhile reading to give this. As the pdf states, it's from a workshop in 1981 (Haystack is a large rock--shaped like a Haystack--at Cannon Beach, OR).
 
Most of you will know Ron as the owner of publisher earthsongs or for his (invaluable--and this really is a book you want on your shelf!) book on translations of Latin texts (or the follow-ups in other languages by different authors). But you may not know that Ron was an absolutely first-rate choral conductor at Oregon State University and other places.
 
Well, so I did recommend a book after all!
 
Enjoy Ron's notes!
Take three minutes and thirteen seconds. Maybe grab a cup of coffee. Close the door, turn up the volume. Listen.
 
THE BUILDING ALWAYS WINS, by Thomas More Scott
 
            I just returned home from Paris, where I had the incredible opportunity to study at La Schola Cantorum under the auspices of the European American Musical Alliance (EAMA). The month-long program is modeled on the pedagogy of Nadia Boulanger, the iconic teacher of Aaron Copland (and dozens of other influential 20th century musicians). While the program is predominantly geared toward composers, there were five of us who studied conducting.
            Of course, one of the benefits of hosting a program such as this in Paris is, well, Paris !  Some of the most famous churches in the world are there and we wasted no time exploring them. As it happens, while we were there, the Ensemble vocal de Notre-Dame de Paris performed a concert at Notre-Dame Cathedral. The repertoire consisted largely of music that was written and performed in and around Notre-Dame between 1518 and 1731, with a particular focus on Léonin and Pérotin and the Ars Nova period.
            The concert began with an Ave Maris Stella, a chant whose original manuscript currently resides in the Bibliothéque Nationale de France in Paris, to which the performing ensemble had access. As soon as they began singing, the audience of over 1,000 people was transported back 500 years. I got chills up my spine when I realized that I was hearing the same music in the same space as the very first performance of this piece. The effect of sitting in the middle of Notre-Dame Cathedral hearing music that was intentionally written for this space 500 years ago (yet I was hearing it LIVE) was absolutely astonishing.
            It was then that I remembered something that Rev. Louis Weil, professor emeritus of liturgics at Church Divinity School of the Pacific, once said, “Don’t argue with the building: the building always wins.” The reason why that music sounded so perfect was because it was being performed exactly where it was written to be performed, the very church in which we were sitting. The design of the church, the acoustics of the church, the materials with which the church is constructed, these were all taken into consideration before a single note was ever sung.       
            May we, as conductors, always remember this lesson when we are choosing pieces for our concerts and programs, and the buildings therein; the building always wins.
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.)
 
When the song of the angels is stilled by Paul Ayres for SATB a cappella (Click here for PDF and here for AUDIO)
 
Level: High School or Church Choir Advanced
Uses: Concert or Church
Program Themes: Christmas, Angels, Peace
This Piece Would Program Well With: Sweet Dreams From a Shade by Emma Lou Diemer available from Santa Barbara and Sheet Music Plus
 
Rich harmonies fill this unusual Christmas song with reflective light.  It is a bit complex, with frequently changing meter aimed at tantalizing the brains of your more musically learned audience.  In ABA form, the middle section speaks to what the work of Christmas truly is.  I would program this gem among other works with simpler harmony and more straight-forward melody. 
 
Here is a live performance:
 
When the song of the angels is stilled is available from the composer’s website:  http://paulayres.co.uk/catalogue/286
 
The National Anthem of the United States, The Star-Spangled Banner, turns 200 this year, in fact the anniversary is just days away.  In commemoration of the auspicious national anniversary, the American Choral Directors Association, in partnership with the Star Spangled Music Foundation, is planning a nation-wide celebration of our national anthem on Friday, September 12, 2014.
 
On that day, singers throughout the U.S. will be asked to sing the National Anthem and discuss both its history and the work’s significance to our country.  A variety of commentaries and instructional materials are being prepared to elevate the discussion.  Numerous other special events are planned and ACDA is also planning to feature the Star Spangled Banner during the various divisional conferences scheduled for 2014.
 
(The accompanying photograph depicts the original Star-Spangled Banner, the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the song that would become our national anthem.  The flag is among the most treasured artifacts in the collections of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.)
This one will be short (busy week!) and is not a book to read, but a great reference to have on your shelf: The A to Z of Foreign Musical Terms, by Christine Ammer. Scores often have terminology in foreign languages and since the composer put them there to give you information about performance (calando, marziale, etc.), it's imperative to know what they mean. I've almost never found a term that isn't included in this lovely, compact, inexpensive (currently $9.68 on Amazon) reference! Incredibly helpful. For "calando," for example, it tells you that it's Italian and that it means, "Becoming softer and slower." That's opposed to "calcando," which means: 1- "Forcefully, pressing on" or 2- "Imitating, copying."
 
Definitely worth having on your shelf!
So this first one has been going around for awhile. David Belisle, the Rhode Island coach in the Little League World Series, pulls his team together after they were eliminated by Chicago in a close game. His speech is pretty damn good, and I find myself tearing up a bit there toward the end. This is how I feel about my choir at the end of every year, after every convention performance, and at the end of every tour. The video may be about baseball, but as we all know, it's really all about so much, much more. We've run into some problems embedding videos on choralnet lately, so you'll have to click through to view it:
 
 
The second video I found is one of the the most unique and original things I've seen in the choral world in a long, long time. The group performing is the Harmonious Choral of Ghana.  In this clip they are performing the Call Him Louder portion of Mendelssohn's Elijah. Before you scoff at the singing, or the "instrumentation" or anything else, just look and listen with an open mind. What they are doing here is nothing short of amazing. First of all, they are making due with what they have, and they are in no way ashamed of it. Second of all, this performance has distinct cultural spin on it. We all filter our performances through our own cultural lens which informs how we direct the performance, but this cultural lens is HUGE. The result is, if you can get past the lack of authenticity and all that, one of the most original performances you'll see. I say we bring these folks to the next National ACDA convention!
 
WHY WE MIGHT WANT TO PERFORM GOOD MUSIC, by Jameson Marvin
 
       The central thesis of this brief discussion is: perform music of good quality. Music of distinction, performed well, is an experience of lasting value. In contrast, performing "trendy," easy-access, instantly effective music is, by nature, an ephemeral pleasure, a temporary titillation. The satisfaction of the experience is generally short lived. Each individual piece rarely has the capacity continuously to enrich, though the emotions it taps may be strong.
       Rock music, for example, appeals so greatly to so many because its principal means of communication-a pulsating, repeated beat projected at enormous volume-is primal. The sound-continuum, over time, is mesmerizing, provocative, and quasi-erotic. Appreciation of it requires little thought. “Pop" music holds an extraordinary attraction for much of our contemporary society. Some pop music may rise above stereotypical cliches, but most of it tends only to solidify the values, traditions, and mores of the current popular culture. Why would we need to hear it in church when we are surrounded (drowned) by it every day?
       Choral repertoire is the richest and most diverse in the field of music. Today, conductors have the great fortune of being able to select from an inexhaustible treasure-trove of music from the 15th through the 21st centuries. The major sacred genres of the Church -Mass, motet, cantata, oratorio, Passion, magnificat, Requiem, chorale, and anthem are contained in anthologies, collections, and collected works in music libraries in most colleges and universities. Publishers make available an enormous quantity of significant choral literature, and most offer a wide range of repertoire. Some cater to popular demand and are under financial pressure to publish music that is easily accessible, but probably will be of little enduring value.
       One of the profound rewards of performing the vast wealth of sacred choral music drawn from the heritage of seven centuries is that for the participants and listeners, the cumulative experience provides insight into the cultural and aesthetic values of past eras. Singers and listeners who are challenged and invigorated through the performance of the great choral works of the church acquire a broad perspective upon which to base their own values. By cultivating within us the capacity to experience the profound enrichment of "enlightened cherishing”, the choral conductor satisfies one of her/his primary responsibilities: to educate. In the process, choral singers and listeners may be inspired by the depth inherent in this music and how it enriches their lives.
       Great choral literature demands participation in the process of creating, recreating, and listening. The reward gained in performing and receiving a Bach cantata, a Brahms motet, concerted works of Schütz, Britten's Rejoice in the Lamb, a Josquin Sanctus, Britten’s War Requiem, a Schubert Lied, Monteverdi’s madrigals of Book V, Purcell anthems, a Palestrina motet Handel’s “other” oratorios, Poulenc’s chansons, new works by Argento or Harbison or O’Regan is directly proportional to the mental and emotional energy put into rehearsing it.  The greater the degree of intrinsic compositional integrity, the richer the rewards singers experience in meeting the challenge.
       Performing the great sacred choral literature of our western heritage will impact significantly on the quality of spiritual lives. Much of the rich choral repertoire of the Renaissance lies dusty on library shelves, and contemporary composers of significant talent and originality languish in obscurity. This is a great shame, because this music, Schiitz's motets from Geistliche Chornusik, Monteverdi's Vespers, Haydn's Masses, Bach's motets and Passions, Purcell's anthems, Brahms's Fest und Gedenksprüche, Mozart’s C Minor Mass, O’Regan’s motets, Stravinsky's Symphonie de Psaumes - can challenge, educate, invigorate, and impact significantly on the quality of spiritual life of students and conductors who perform them. To deny students the pleasure and life-enriching experience of rehearsing and performing the best choral literature of the master composers of western music, with its multi-leveled challenges, denigrates our principal purpose: educating and inspiring.
Taking Attendance on the iPad, by Stephen Rotz
 
If you have large ensembles, you know that taking attendance is not always simple.  Inspired by Barbara Retzko’s article in ChorTeach, I have begun taking attendance using the iPhone/iPad app ‘Attendance2’ by David Reed. It is a fantastic tool that is worth much more than the $4.99 price tag. I highly recommend that you explore the app by reading Ms. Retzko’s article, exploring Dr. Reed’s Attendance2 website, and downloading the app itself.  A few minutes on each of these sites will show you how you can take attendance using app-generated QR codes for each student.
 
Each year I print a folder cover for each of my students.  It slides in the clear plastic sleeve on the exterior of their 3-ring chorus folder.  It has their name, lists which choir they are in and shows their folder number. This year, it also includes their QR code that corresponds with Attendance2! This means no scissors—no cutting out QR codes! I simply scan their folder as they enter the room. (You could also use an iPad document camera stand to have an attendance station.) Having figured out how to use Microsoft Office’s mail merge capabilities to incorporate the QR code onto their chorus folder, I have made a tutorial video sharing the QR/mail merge process. The process is not always intuitive, but I walk you through each step very carefully.
 
Happy scanning! 
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.)
 
Fighting Over What We Believe by Elizabeth Alexander for SATB soloists and piano (Click here for PDF and here for AUDIO)
 
Level: High School Advanced
Uses: Concert or Church
Program Themes: Compassion, Differences, Opinions, Divided Beliefs, Peace
This Piece Would Program Well With: Day by Day by Schwartz/Poorman available from JWPepper and Sheet Music Plus
 
And now for something REALLY different.   On first listen I wasn’t sure what this piece was.  It sounds like an ensemble number from a Broadway musical sung at an ecumenical church service.   What you will find here is a wonderful work with a passionate text that sums up the biggest issue of American culture at this time.  
 
How many of you have friends of diverse political parties and religions on your Facebook Account?  How many of you regularly discuss politics with people of other beliefs without demanding you are right?  How do you feel about that?
If you want your audience to stop and think, this piece is for you!