Advertise on ChoralNet 
ChoralNet logo
The mission of the ACDA is to inspire excellence in choral music through education, performance, composition, and advocacy.
Search 

 

ChoralBlog RSS

REHEARSAL STRATEGIES OF SIR DAVID WILCOCKS by Carl Smith
 
Sir David Willcocks, Music Director Emeritus, King's College Choir, King's College, Cambridge University, UK, used three rehearsal strategies which differed from rehearsal strategies used by other choral conductors, with whom I have sung.
 
The first strategy was teaching releases. Many times, in dealing with choral-orchestral works, he would tell us to "clear the beat!" The idea was to release a phrase before the downbeat of the next measure, or a beat within a measure. This was certainly different from what I had been taught! To teach the concept, he would have us say "1-2-3-4- ONE!" Then he would have us whisper the "ONE!" Finally, he would have us say silently  say the "ONE!"  Worked every time. Anyone out there use this rehearsal strategy?
 
The second rehearsal strategy was the use of the piano in helping us to learn a difficult line, He would play the part an octave or two higher to help us hear the articulation he wanted and the sound of the line.  Anyone out there use this rehearsal strategy?
 
The third rehearsal was to have everyone in the chorus sing a particular line, for example, a line in Renaissance polyphony, such as a Palestrina motet. Anyone out there use this rehearsal strategy?  I’d love to hear from you!
Some days we seem to be surrounded by rampant narcissism and seemingly endless self-promotion by wanna–be mini-celebrities.   So when something like this comes along, the only word that comes to mind is “refreshing.”
 
The recent ACDA national conference in Salt Lake featured a service project where choral students from Waukee High School (Iowa) led a choir exchange with their peers at Granite Park Junior High School in Salt Lake City.  The accompanying video fragment shows just a small taste of that valuable experience.
 
This is exactly the sort of altruism our founders had in mind when they penned the first six words of ACDA’s Purposes: “To foster and promote choral singing . . .
 
Thankfully, most of us educators already know that this life isn’t about cash.  It’s about helping others.
 
Bravo, one and all!
 
 
COMPOSITION SPOTLIGHT ~ by Jack Senzig
 
(Each week we look at a piece of useful repertoire from the ChoralNet Community Composition Showcase.  A variety of voicings and levels of difficulty will be presented.  Enjoy!)
 
Moon Man by Greg Bartholomew SATB (or SA) a cappella (click for PDF and Audio)
Level: High School or higher
Uses: Winter/Holiday
Program Themes: Winter Holiday
This Piece Would Program Well With: 'Twas the Night Before Christmas arr. Harry Simeone JWpepper and Sheet Music Plus
 
Merry Christmas!  I'm sure most conductors have had just about enough of the standard holiday fare so I'd like to serve you up something quite different.  Moon Man has an unusual text that Greg Bartholomew adapted from a poem by American poet Tom Clarke.   This song will have you eating your Moon Man cheese in a tin for Christmas Day.  Enjoy!
 
This piece is available from the composer.
 
(Original publication: December 22, 2012)
MUSIC CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE AND SO CAN YOU! by Heather MacDonald (Volunteer & Community Engagement Director, United Way of Salt Lake City)
 
       The mission of the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) is to inspire excellence in choral music through education, performance, composition, and advocacy. The ACDA hosted their 2015 National Conference in Salt Lake City which provided a unique opportunity for two UWSL Community Schools to experience performances, coaching, and student interaction with two of the visiting choirs.
       Almost 300 choirs auditioned for the opportunity to perform at the Mormon Tabernacle and Abravanel Hall during the conference, and only 22 were selected. From that select group of top performers, Baylor University from Waco, TX and Waukee High School from Waukee, IA were given the opportunity to volunteer as part of their conference experience.
       Through the planning process, the ACDA was clear they wanted an opportunity for the visiting choirs to not just perform but to be able to interact with students and offer their expertise. Granite Park Junior High students started out by participating in icebreaker activities led by the Waukee High School students. During their time they also shared lunch, performed for each other, and were treated to a clinic where they learned performance tips and how they could better work together to be a cohesive choir.
       “My kids TRULY enjoyed every moment of this experience and it was a highlight of our Salt Lake City experience. I think every conference should have a component that resembles this as it was educational, fun, and incredibly rewarding to work together–confirming that music is a powerful tool that brings people together in unexpected ways.” – Amy Hall, Waukee High School Director of Vocal Music
       “The ACDA experience with Amy Hall and the Waukee High School choir was incredible for the students at Granite Park Junior High. The faces of my students said it all. Many of my students have never had the opportunity to see such a high-quality choir performance. It was also incredible for my students to get feedback on their singing from Mrs. Hall. It was an experience that truly inspired my students and one that they, and I, will never forget.” – Melissa Drake, Granite Park Jr. High Choir Teacher
       Kearns High School partnered with Jefferson Junior High to share their choir experience with both Kearns High and Jefferson students. The Baylor University choir, directed by Alan Raines, provided an engaging musical performance, participated in some activities with the Kearns and Jefferson students, and shared the message that college is important.
       “I think that Alan’s and the choir’s enthusiasm and very approachable manners made the assembly not only an inspirational showcase of college-level talent; but it also sent what I felt was a very clear message to the students that “college is a great place to go…you will have amazing experiences and opportunities if you go.” That message is so powerful with our students here in Kearns where only 68% of Kearns High School students graduate on time.” – Steve Whatcott, Kearns High UWSL Community School Director
       Through the power of volunteers, students were able to be inspired, have fun, and learn together.
MOBILE RECORDING ISN'T "WHAT IT ISN'T," by Jeff Tillinghast
 
"Is it better quality than a DSLR?" 
 
I wanted to test a new iPad video accessory called the Swivl this week, so I set it up in our auditorium for Music Day student performances. The Swivl is a base into which you set your iPad to record presentations and video with two major distinguishing features: first, the base features a rotating motor which tracks a remote held or worn by the presenter via infrared. This device has earned a lot of attention in education and in business by making it very easy to record presentations since the camera will track the presenter and keep them in the center of the frame. I'd tested it in several of our classrooms with student and faculty presentations already, but in the name of curiosity, I was using it in Music Day to test a second unique feature: the remote has a small microphone in it which transmits the audio signal back to the base to record directly into the iPad. Again, for presentations this is a great benefit since it will get clear audio signal from the speaker no matter how far away the iPad is. I wanted to take the notion one step further and record an ensemble from the stage with the remote mic. The ability to put a wireless microphone on the podium, for example, and transmit to a video camera further back in the hall was very intriguing to me.
 
I was setting the Swivl up in the Auditorium when a student looked at me and asked, "But is it better quality than a DSLR?" I hear variations of this question whenever I talk about mobile-based audio or video recording, and I think it misses the larger question. Certainly the recording quality of an iPad or any tablet or smartphone falls short of a professional-grade rig. Even a dedicated pro-sumer level specialized video camera or a handheld audio device like the Zoom H2 is going to have better input and be designed to process cleaner A/V. For the really important projects, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend any of a number of single-purpose devices to create superior multimedia. That said, it is surprising the results that can come from smartphone or tablet video and audio with some of the aftermarket accessories that are available. Furthermore, that I believe that these tools have a place in our recording arsenal isn't because they can imitate what they aren't (try and be a professional-grade field recorder, for example), but because of some of the things that make mobile computing so powerful:
 
Ease of sharing. I don't think this point can be overstated-- the highest quality recordings have very little value if they never get off the recorder. I have stacks of memory cards from projects gone by or rehearsals that I recorded and meant to share, but never took the time to move the files, do any necessary editing or converting, and then think about distributing. Mobile operating systems are built to publish and share content, and can do it in a variety of ways depending on your apps and subscriptions. By the time the audience had left the auditorium, I had created a Google Drive folder shared with our Music Department from the iPad and was uploading the video files to them. Similarly, I could have used Dropbox, or uploaded straight to YouTube or Vimeo if I wanted to publish them externally.
 
Simplicity. Mobile operating systems are built to be easy to navigate and the devices place a premium on design that's easy to learn quickly. That aesthetic extends to most of the apps available for mobile devices as well: there are many exceptions, but mobile apps generally tend to do one or two specific things and strive to achieve them with a minimal learning curve and amount of user input. This has a flipside in that many of the apps are more limited in their capacity, but when you find a great audio recorder such as Twisted Wave, its simplicity translates to quick setup and learning curve which won't bog users down.
 
Widespread Adoption. Gadgets are expensive, and none of us have large enough budgets that we want to dominate them with recording technology. By taking advantage of the devices that you, your musicians or your colleagues already own, you can build a range of accessories while not having to purchase single-use devices. In many cases, the app that corresponds to a piece of hardware is provided free from the manufacturer, meaning that you can have many people in your ensemble with the apps on their phones or tablets to allow for sectional or small ensemble recording, or to get help with setting up recording for concerts or events.
 
In the end, some of the biggest determining factors in the quality of audio or video are external to the recorder no matter what the hardware: lighting is going to make an enormous difference in the quality of video, and my tests for Music Day were hampered by not having the microphone in a good location for the often boomy acoustics in our hall. I gave the Swivl an "incomplete" for recording music via wireless remote, and I'll come back to it in the future with more thought to mic placement. The distinction is significant, though: in this case, I evaluated the device as a way to make capable recordings via iPad because of what that offers (the benefits of mobile computing), not what it doesn't.
More from Daniel Coyle:  Tip #32 Make positive reaches
 
"There's a moment just before every rep when you are faced with a choice: You can either focus your attention on the target (what you want to do) or you can focus on the possible mistake (what you want to avoid). This tip is simple: Always focus on the positive move, not the negative one. . . .
 
A violinist faced with a difficult passage should tell himself, 'Nail that A-flat,' not 'Oh boy, I hope I don't miss that A-flat.' Psychologists call this 'positive framing,' and provide plentiful theories of how framing affects our subconscious mind."
 
So, do we ask our choirs to focus on the positive, on the goal? Or do we say, "Watch that pitch, it's a little under?" Demonstrate (play or sing) the correct pitch and make that the focus.
 
When the ensemble isn't precise, have them count-sing and focus on singing precisely together, then (when the countsinging is together) have every other one count-sing and and the other half sing the text, making sure that the consonants are line up exactly with the count-singing members of the ensemble. Then switch it around.
 
What are other ways you can make sure your ensemble focuses on the goal, not avoiding a mistake?
 
 
 
 
FIRST THINGS FIRST, by William McConnell
 
            Every high school journalism student learns a simple formula for the lead paragraph of a news story: Who - What - Where - When - Why - How. Those are the basics. If a reader goes no farther than that first paragraph, he or she has all of the pertinent information contained in the story.
            I regularly receive communication from church music leaders and pastors struggling with mandates from governing bodies that translate into some version of "we have decided that we are going to have a contemporary worship service." Some of those mandates come attached to an implicit or explicit message that the leader's continuing employment is contingent on that service's success in addressing whatever problem the governing body is addressing. "How," the church staff members opine, "do we do this?" And, sometimes the most poignant question, "Why?"
            My response usually begins with a series of questions. These include "Who is your church?", "What is your congregation trying to accomplish?", and "What need does a contemporary service (whatever that means) fill, that isn't being addressed somewhere else in your congregation's ministry?"
            Like the news story, every congregation's identity includes a Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How. Edicts regarding changes in style of worship imposed by congregational governing bodies often skip the first five of the vital components of a congregation's story. Style of worship is a question of How. That is the final question in building the story - not the first. How questions make sense only when Who, What, Where, When, and Why have been thoughtfully considered and conclusions internalized. Only then can questions of How be considered in proper context.
 
 
 
 
COMPOSITION SPOTLIGHT ~ by Jack Senzig
 
(Each week we look at a piece of useful repertoire from the ChoralNet Community Composition Showcase.  A variety of voicings and levels of difficulty will be presented.  Enjoy!)
 
This is Why My Homework Isn't Done by Mike O' Mara SATB a cappella (click for PDFAudio and Video)
Level: High School
Uses: General Concert Use
Program Themes: High School Life, Choral Comedy
This Piece Would Program Well With: PDQ Bach's My Bonnie Lass She Smelleth available from JWPepper and Sheet Music Plus.
 
High school directors, let me present your new best friend.  Mike O'Mara is the Jonathan Coulton of the Madrigal! He has his finger on the pulse of youth culture and will have your students sharing that life with your audience.  It is my opinion that we choral directors do not always have the needs of our audience in mind.  We focus on moving the choir to the next level and desire to present masterworks because they are what we know and enjoy.  Take a step back and think about what a little humor will do for the parents and families that attend your events. Laughing together builds community.
 
This is Why My Homework Isn't Done is one of ten modern madrigals written by O'Mara.  My personal favorites have texts about why the science teacher must be an alien and why Facebook is keeping you up at night. See videos below.  I think you will be seeing more from this composer.  Watch the FEED in the Composition Showcase for a chronological list of new entries.  
 
(Original publication: December 16, 2012)
 
This is just one of the 74 choral conductors on the ACDA Wall of Honor. LEARN MORE about the Wall of Honor and MEET ALL of the award recipients.
 
More from Daniel Coyle:  Tip #31 To learn a new move, exaggerate it.
 
"Going too far helps us understand where the boundaries are. . . . Don't be halfhearted. You can always dial back later. Go too far so you can feel the outer edges of the move, and then work on building the skill with precision."
 
This has multiple uses:
  • Many things a choir does need exaggeration at first—dynamic shapes and all kinds of expression. Then they can be brought back to the desired level of subtlety.
  • In teaching a new concept to your choir (let's say the difference between bright and dark sound), an exaggerated example will make the concept clearer—not intellectually, but in concrete terms—faster than anything else. Royal Stanton used a great example: asking your choir to sing a passage as if they were a country western singer . . . then as an operatic basso. It's a quick way to fully understand what you mean. After that the concept can be made more subtle, to the point that your choir knows exactly what you mean when you ask them for a little brighter or darker tone quality.
  • Much as mentioned in the earlier post on slowing things down, exaggerating slowness can make certain things much clearer to the choir.
  • And in conducting, for yourself or for a student of yours, a new move can be exaggerated until it becomes natural. If you have a particular habit you'd like to change, practice the opposite in an exaggerated way—the new habit (the way you'd like to do it) will feel quite natural fairly soon.
Think of other ways you can exaggerate . . . to get to where you or your choir need to be.
 
WRITING FOR THE CHORAL JOURNAL by Amanda Bumgarner
 
The Choral Journal editorial board reviews all article submissions through a blind review process that typically takes 8-10 weeks. After that time, the author will receive notice of acceptance, rejection, or request for revision and resubmission. A high quality of writing and solid research is expected from all submissions. First-person language should be avoided, and there should be a clear thesis statement and headings to guide readers through the articles. Full submission guidelines are available at: http://acda.org/page.asp?page=writersguidelinescj. Contact information for column editors is available on the last page of every Choral Journal.
 
Possible reasons an article is rejected for publication are:
1) lack of scholarly writing style
2) little or no citation
3) no value to readers (i.e., not a new topic or not offering new research)
4) self-promotion or promotion of a teacher/colleague
5) unclear thesis
 
Approximate word counts for articles are:
Feature articles: 4,000-6,000 words // Column articles: 1,500-3,000 words
 
The editor is currently accepting submissions on any of the following topics:
 
Rehearsal
The voice
Performance practice
Pedagogy
Adult choral music
History of choral music
Multicultural choral music
High school choral music
Music in worship
Philosophy of music making
 
If you would like to discuss a topic or abstract, feel free to contact the editor at: abumgarner@acda.org
COMPOSITION SPOTLIGHT ~ by Jack Senzig
 
(Each week we look at a piece of useful repertoire from the ChoralNet Community Composition Showcase.  A variety of voicings and levels of difficulty will be presented.  Enjoy!)
 
 
Prothalamia: In Celebration of Marriage for All by Charles Norman Mason and Dorothy Hindman TTBB and Organ (click for PDF and for audio from each movement Kyrie GloriaCredo Sanctus Agnus Dei)
Level: College or higher
Uses: General Concert Use, Marriage Ceremony
Program Themes: Love, Marriage, Equal Rights
This Piece Would Program Well With: David and Jonathan by Stefan Weisman available from the composer.
 
Do you have a special event, theme or idea that you want set to music?  Consider commissioning a composer to realize your purpose.  Each work in the Composition Showcase has a link to message the composer.  A list of composers is available in the Composers of Choral Music Community. 
 
Prothalamia, which means songs in celebration of marriage, was commissioned by the Empire City Men’s Choir of New York City.  Though the movements are titled after the movements of the Catholic Mass, the text is far from traditional.  Sources include a poem by Gertrude Stein (1910), a paraphrase of John Boswell’s Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe and a poem of dedication from Anne Bradstreat (1678) to her husband.  The text in the final movement is a description of the marriage of two men in early Rome.
 
Musically the Credo is the strongest movement and could stand alone excerpted from the larger work.  Contrasts in texture, juxtaposed vowel ostinatos and melodic writing add to the strength of the piece. 
 
The work is available from the composer by emailing info@charlesnormanmason.com
 
(Original publication: December 9, 2012)
This is just one of the 74 choral conductors on the ACDA Wall of Honor. LEARN MORE about the Wall of Honor and MEET ALL of the award recipients.
 
More from Daniel Coyle:  Tip #29 - When you get it right, mark the spot
 
Coyle: "One of the most fulfilling moments of a practice session is when you have your first perfect rep. When this happens, freeze. Rewind the mental tape and play the move again in your mind. . . . The point is to mark the moment—this is the spot where you want to go again and again."
 
We can look at this in two ways. When we as a conductor, get something right—a conducting gesture, a tempo, a particular rehearsal technique—we need to do exactly as Coyle says, "Rewind the mental tape and play the move again in your mind." It's one of the ways that we improve, that we incorporate something new into our repertoire of skills.
 
But it's also true for our choirs. I know when my choirs have accomplished something very difficult that they've struggled with, they need that moment of marking and remembering . . . but it is also something else—the feeling of accomplishment and pride—that I want them to remember. If it's singing a chord beautifully in tune, make sure they realize how wonderful it is, and feels, and help them want to go back to that sensation again and again. My colleague at PLU, Richard Nance, and I used to joke that we should have electrodes implanted in our students' brains, and when they sang in tune, we could push the button to stimulate the pleasure center and say, "Oooh, see how good that feels!"
 
But the truth is, it's already built into our brains. If we make our singers aware of the pleasure of an in-tune chord, or a beautifully turned phrase, or singing in perfect ensemble—we should freeze it for them, rewind and sing it again, and help them mark that moment so they can go there again . . . and again.
 
Coyle finishes by quoting Kimberly Meier-Sims of the Sato Center for Suzuki Studies: "Practice begins when you get it right."
 
And that's something we all have to remember.
CHORAL ETHICS (Part 9): PREACHING TO THE CHOIR by Marie Grass Amenta
 
“It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.” Francis of Assisi
 
I receive quite a few emails with people’s thoughts about my Choral Ethics project. Some folks tell me they are not exactly sure what Choral Ethics is, but will know it when they see it. Some tell me what I am calling “Choral Ethics” is an old-fashioned concept. Others tell me they have been practicing what I am preaching almost forever. They say no matter what happens around them, they remain true to their values. I’ve asked five to share their thoughts. These folks “live” their values and choirs see them practice what they preach, but how do they do it? All five have been successful choral professionals upwards of 20 years and have evolved into the core of values they have now by trial and error.
 
The unifying theme of all five has been cultivation of a “non-drama persona” (my term for it) in order to maintain their values. Three tell me it’s was simply a matter of learning how to be a leader, knowing where you want to lead and then leading. The other two confess they were “Drama Queens” in the early days of their careers but have learned to use drama judiciously, using it only when it will do the most good---if someone is always in high dungeon, singers stop listening! All tell me when they began to step back and really think about their own values, their singers and choral programs began to flourish. While we spoke of many other components for achieving a “non-drama persona,” three were most frequently mentioned—consistency, planning and not always saying what they think.
 
All agree some sort of consistency of expectations is important. It is when there is no clear guidelines trouble occurs between singers and directors. If singers know guidelines ahead of time, whether for auditions or absences, things run smoother, and a matter-of-fact approach usually works best. I have learned through my contact with these folks, one size does not fit all and must be custom tailored to work. All five shared their approach to a similar problem, but each solution fits their own situation. Professor L* tells me he expects his university chorus to sing in quartets, no matter their attendance, for their midterm and final exams. He feels it has been a very effective way to grades fairly and his students and the university know what is expected and how the grades are determined. Jazzy* uses number of absences (and weighs the absences with a rubric) as a way of grading at her two year college and has done so for ten years with great success. In the community sector, Alan* allows a certain number of excused absences per concert cycle for his singers.  If they exceed, choristers are required to sing for him in private to prove they are prepared. Otherwise, it is suggested they usher for that concert. He’s had no problems with this approach, since it is stated very clearly in the chorus’ handbook and mentioned several times a concert cycle. Dante* believes everyone in his community chorus should be allowed to sing a concert as long as they’ve attended a minimum of three rehearsals. Tilly* allows singers in her church choir to sing any Sunday they wish without rehearsal if they’ve sung the anthem with her before, no exceptions, even for those who have sung the same anthem with her predecessor. This approach has worked very well with her choir, has reinforced the excellence of her music program and all her singers “buy into it.”
 
A long range plan consisting of short range plans has helped cut down on some of the franticness and stress for these choral professionals. Each has told me, when they are sure where they are going, they are able to maintain their “non-drama persona.” We are all cranky when we are under time constraints! Planning repertoire, rehearsals and fundraising or outreach opportunities can be time consuming, but the stress reduction outweighs their time involvement several times a year.
 
All five have mentioned not always saying what they think at times it would be easier to take a cheap shot. This goes for both in rehearsals and out. Perhaps their snarky comments would be fun while they are speaking them, but damage control is never fun. It is simple enough to keep our mouths shut, isn’t it?
 
* Name withheld by request
 
READ the entire series on choral ethics by Marie Grass Amenta.
       Choral Ethics in Not an Oxymoron   http://choralnet.org/436946
       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
       Choral Ethics (Part 6): Judging Our Colleagues
       Choral Ethics (Part 7): Our Choral Culture
       Choral Ethics (Part 8): Don’t Shoot the Piano Player
If you’ve picked up the 2015 Conference Program, you may have noticed its size.  Being just shy of 200 pages, this monster is almost as thick as some coffee-table books.  Despite its heft, the Choral Journal publication team was hard-pressed to find space for all of the necessary conference information and advertisements.  Their's was a challenging task, and they met it with aplomb.
 
As a result, however, the CEU form on page 191 on the Conference Program was, well, put on a bit of a diet (or as one colleague said, "It's positively Lilliputian!").  For those who need to obtain CEUs from their conference attendance, we recommend utilizing the fullsize form available at the ACDA website.
 
Get the 2015 Conference CEU Form in full size.
COMPOSITION SPOTLIGHT ~ by Jack Senzig
 
(Each week we look at a piece of useful repertoire from the ChoralNet Community Composition Showcase.  A variety of voicings and levels of difficulty will be presented.  Enjoy!)
 
All God's Children by Wallace De Pue SAB or SAT and piano (click for PDF and audio)
Level: Middle School or higher
Uses: General Concert Use
Program Themes: Songs of Travel, Robes, Crowns and Things You Wear, Spirituals, 
This Piece Would Program Well WithThe Rhythm of Life SAB arr. Richard Barnes available from JWPepper and Sheet Music Plus
 
Some works in the Composition Showcase are arrangements of Folk tunes and spirituals.  The text and melody of All God's Children may be known to you as I Got Shoes or Walk All Over Heaven.  Wallace De Pue is an experienced composer and carefully created this arrangement for middle school use.  The easy piano part and cautious men's range of a minor 6th makes this an excellent choice for the choir with limitted musical resources.  The cheerful text and upbeat rhythms make this a winning concert finale.  
 
This work is available from Picardie Court Publications, by messaging the composer or calling (419) 352-4372.
 
(Original publication: December 2, 2012)
Who says choral conductors don't have any fun?  Enjoy this little series of cameos of some of our friends who were in Salt Lake City last week.
 
 
 
Using mobile devices to record audio and video offers some great advantages over using a camera alone: editing can be done on device, the built-in networking makes it easy to move or publish the files, and having a large screen makes it easy to review footage on the scene. The built-in camera and microphone in these devices are usually pretty limited, though, and if you want to use mobile devices for recording in the field, you'll eventually want to add to these capacities. There are many after-market microphone add-ons for mobile devices, but to really extend the capacity for recording, there are truly creative solutions such as the Padcaster for iPad. By adding external lenses, microphone connections and the ability to mount other A/V accessories directly to the iPad, the Padcaster moves the iPad beyond its normal level of A/V production into a viable option for high-quality publishable media. 
 
The Padcaster case contains a mount for your iPad which anchors it within a metal frame. By default, it handles the larger iPads (i.e., 2/3/4), but uses an additional liner for the Air. This frame has a variety of screw mounts which allow a variety of attachments, which can use standard tripod mounts or a variety of adapters. While the frame can be purchased alone, the Padcaster Bundle is a starter package which includes a wide-angle lens, a Rode shotgun mic, and an audio adapter to convert the shotgun mic into either Lightning or 30-pin depending on your device. It also includes the Air adapter, meaning the Bundle works for either 2/3/4 or Air. The audio adapter takes a standard 1/4" input from the shotgun mic, so it could be used with a range of microphones depending on the scenario. Similarly, the lens mount receives a variety of widely available lenses, so the wide-angle lens could easily be replaced by something either wider for panorama work, or a zoom lens.
 
The wide-angle lens provided corrects one of the big limitations of using the iPad for group or area recording: the standard lens works well for portraits or snapshots, but it is often very difficult to get a line or angle which allows you to capture a whole rehearsal or classroom without having to so far away as to compromise the audio recording. The result from using the wide-angle lens is much more flexible and capable of capturing an ensemble or room from a much better distance and angle. In addition, the image actually works very well with the additional lens: I was concerned about distortion or "fisheye" behavior from the combination of a wide-angle lens hanging over the iPad lens, but the image is very crisp and natural. The lens is a great step 
 
The microphone is slightly less appropriate -- as a shotgun mic, it's very directional. The mic is intended to be used when one person is speaking in front of the camera, such as an interview or news report. In an ensemble recording, it will pick up the sound source directly in front of it at a much greater level than sources even a few degrees to either side. This will skew the recorded balance compared with the natural sound one experiences live. Again, the mics are interchangable-- if you have existing area mics or can go out of a board to an 1/8" or 1/4" output, you can connect those systems to the inputs provided in the Padcaster Bundle. The provided input adapter has an adjustable gain control, which allows you to make adjustments depending on the input level and conditions.
 
The combination of a high-quality audio input and superior lens results in a very good video recording using your iPad-native apps. The resulting files can be easily processed, published or distributed directly from the iPad, and once the hardware is connected there's no additional software learning curve. While the shotgun mic is not optimal for most of our cases, it's not unworkable, simply not optimal. From my brief testing thus far, though, there are a couple of additional considerations. First, this is heavy. Some of the promotional materials advertise a handle and show users filming with handheld units. I wouldn't recommend it-- the case has a tripod mount, and I would plan on having a tripod handy for all uses (and a full-sized tripod at that). 
 
Secondly, the website pictures show a lighting attachment along with pieces of the Padcaster Bundle, but it's not part of the bundle, nor are there any lights available from the vendor. I spoke with the vendor about this, and he said that they plan on adding a standard LED lighting option along with the other accessories linked to from the website. Having their recommendation about lighting acccessories will be a nice touch. For recording in a concert hall, where lighting is already taken care of, an external light is unnecessary. For producing recordings in the field, though, having a light mounted on the frame will really help the image quality. The case has many additional mounting points available even with the microphone and lenses, so an additional mounting clamp and light will be easy to attach, and I may experiment with some external light options in lieu of a recommended option.
 
The Padcaster options aren't cheap-- for starting from scratch, the cost of the iPad plus Padcaster would be higher than simply purchasing a camera. If you have the iPad and are used to sharing and distributing mobile media, though, this device provides much higher quality audio and video than the iPad alone. I would likely recommend purchasing without the bundle if you have an existing microphone or sound system that you can use in conjunction with the device, as the included shotgun mic is less than ideal for recording an ensemble or concert setting. 
More from Daniel Coyle:  Tip #27 Close Your Eyes
 
As Coyle explains, "One of the quickest ways to deepen practice is also one of the simplest: Close your eyes. . . It sweeps away distraction and engages your other senses to provide new feedback. It helps you engrave the blueprint of a task on your brain by making even a familar skill seem strange and fresh."
 
I realized while reading this that I've asked my choir to close their eyes and sing in the past, but I haven't done it for quite a while. This does several things: as Coyle mentions, it "sweeps away distraction" and makes "even a familiar skill seem strange and fresh." But it also forces the choir to listen much more intensely. They have to listen and use other skills (maintaining an inner sense of pulse) to stay together as an ensemble without watching you conduct (and perhaps you realize you aren't as necessary as you thought! Or better, you can use your gesture more for shape and direction than keeping time).
 
I do sometimes stop conducting and ask my ensemble to sing without me—I want them to shape phrases independently, to concentrate on subtle details of ensemble, even learning to feel ritards together.
 
But I'll remember to ask them to close their eyes now and then.