Date: December 8, 2013
(Each week we look at one or two of the best choral works posted in the Composition Showcase here on ChoralNet. This is where we store a treasure trove of works that your choirs will love to sing and your audiences will love to hear.)
Level: High School
Program Themes: Love, Marriage
This Piece Would Program Well With: Every Breath You Take arr. Mark Brymer available at Sheet Music Plus and JWPepper
Getting men to join high school ensembles is a constant struggle. The most important thing is to get the kids that will be attending your school in the future to hear your men sing. Take your beginning men's choir on a local school tour each spring. It doesn't matter to a bunch of middle school or elementary boys that the choir is always in tune, on the right part or singing Palestrina. What matters is that they see older boys having fun singing. Many directors make the mistake of only showing off their best and most polished ensemble.
She Moved Through the Fair is a very basic arrangement that will let those young listeners hear what men's voices sound like. It may spark the desire to join your chorus.
This piece is available for FREE on the Composition Showcase. http://choralnet.org/306145#shemovedthroughthefair1970
Date: December 6, 2013
So far in discussing iOS, we've talked about some of the microphone options, as well as some of the apps available. Many people using the iPad, though, get limited in the possibilities of iOS by working only within one app space. We talked about this a bit when we discussed apps in our last post, but the key to truly using the power of the iPad is assembling hardware and software into workflows which combine multiple apps. Some call this process "app smashing." Again, where we're used to working within one comprehensive application on Macs or PCs, iOS apps are designed to perform more limited tasks but make it easier to share data between apps. With that said, let's look at 5 processes to combine resources and power between different apps. The key to all of these processes is the share button, which looks like in iOS 6 and some older apps, and in iOS 7. This is the universal "get me somewhere else!" button in iOS, and is pretty common to most apps.
With all of these examples, please remember that these are only samples of possible workflows-- these apps are not "chosen to work together." Any of these apps and myriad more can be used to combine forces.
I want to... Share Audio with my Choir Today (Right now, no setup involved)
Let's use a basic but common sharing example: you record an example and want to share it with your ensemble. How would we approach this?
This works really well for short examples, but mail has a size limit, which will bite us if we want to send larger examples. Let's step up a level.
I want to... Record Larger Audio Examples and Share them with my Choir (A little more setup)
Larger audio examples require a storage solution. For more information on some of these options, see "Storage and Sharing" from earlier this year.
I want to... Record Audio and Clean it up for Conference or Festival Submission
This is a general guideline-- check with your specific submission criteria
Most submission committees want MP3's, which are pretty standard. They're lightweight and easy to upload, and nearly any device now is capable of playing them back.
I want to... Record a Music Video of My Group
You can import music from GarageBand into iMovie, so our process looks a lot like the last recipe, with only the last step changed.
I want to... Make all of this Faster!
Remember the multi-touch gestures which make navigating between multiple apps easier and faster: four fingers on the screen, then swiped up will expose icons for the most recently used apps. Four fingers swiped left or right navigates directly between the most recent apps, and saves a lot of time when bouncing between two apps in particular.
What About You?
This is just a sample of how to use apps in combination for basic audio tasks-- this doesn't begin to consider options like integrating Keynote or Prezi to create presentations for School Boards, Department Meetings or potential Donors/Sponsors, nor integrating straight into social media apps like Facebook or Twitter. What are your favorite combinations? How do you find yourself "app smashing" with different apps in your toolbox?
Date: December 5, 2013
Early in his career (mostly in place with a few later adjustments by 1932), John Wooden developed his "Pyramid of Success" This was meant to be a guide to how one builds success--a road map, if you will, including not only short-term goals along the way, but character traits important to success. Remember Wooden's definition: "Success is the peace of mind which is a direct result of the self-satisfaction in knowing you have made the effort to become the best of which you are capable."
As Nater says, "With his definition of success at the top, the structure consists of 15 blocks and several additional traits placed on the outside of each side of the triangle. . . . Each block in the Pyramid of Success is a milestone, providing students/players with a succession of achieveable goals."
Again, I'd recommend you read Gallimore and Nater's book, along with some of Wooden's.
As Nater says, "Condition, skill, and team spirit are he heart of the Pyramid of Success." For us as choral conductors, this is true as well.
Nater mentions that there are several aspects of conditioning: moral, mental, and physical.
Moral conditioning is learning to resist those things (staying up late, not getting sleep, drinking too much) that will undermine one's ability. If music students are to achieve success and make true progress they have to be able to practice regularly and effectively. One's voice is directly dependent on physical health. This is something we can work on with our choirs, but might be more important if we notice destructive behaviors in our individual students. Outside of that, we can look for alternatives when temptations are present (on tour, for example--what kinds of rules/enforcements do you use?).
When I first came to PLU I inherited a program on the first orchestra concert in October celebrating the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's birth: Bach's Cantata 80 and a commissioned piece by faculty composer Cindy McTee on the Frau musica text (which Paul Hindemith also set). This was a difficult assignment to come in to a new job and have to immediately do this challenging a program! But it was made more difficult in that the program took place the day after the re-establishment of a football game with the cross-town University of Puget Sound. The two university choirs were to sing the National Anthem and all would attend the game. Clearly, I didn't want them to do any yelling, screaming, or any other abuse of their voices! So I bought a large number of noise-makers of all kinds and passed them out to the singers with the instruction that the could blow their brains out blowing on the noise-makers, but they weren't to yell or scream. This was to give them an alternative which allowed them to use energy to make noise, but not to abuse their voices. It seemed to work and they sang well in the concert the next day.
Mental conditioning is also incredibly important. For us, I think this is building the choir's ability to focus/concentrate and stay on task. As I've said in earlier blog posts, this is part of building much greater rehearsal density. This will depend on the level and age of your choir, but no matter whether they're elementary, high school or college students; a community choir or professional choir, their abilities can be improved. This has to be built gradually, but is important as you build the culture of your choir.
Physical conditioning is a part of it, too. Partly this means that you have to make sure you don't blow out voices in rehearsal. I'm just finishing the fantastic new biography of Robert Shaw by Keith Burris (which is well worth several blog posts itself). Shaw emphsized singing at soft dynamics during the learning process and, in fact, restricting the biggest dynamics until very late in the rehearsal process, or even until the concert itself. This was a part of what Shaw called preserving, "vocal gold." This is important and something I need to be more aware of in my rehearsals. In addition, you have to find ways to gradually build the vocal capacity of your students through teaching proper technique.
There's much more for us to learn from Wooden's Pyramid of Success, but I'll leave that for you to explore.
Date: December 4, 2013
Estes, Lauren. The Choral Hierarchy Examined: The Presence of Women’s Choirs in Monographs on Choral Literature and Choral History. Master of Music thesis. Syracuse University, 2013.
Women’s choirs have been perceived as less prestigious than, and inferior to, mixed choirs. There is a well-documented choral hierarchy in academia that favors mixed choirs above other choir types. Most frequently, the delineation of the choral hierarchy places women’s choirs at the bottom. Books about choral literature and choral history are influential media for those selecting repertoire for choirs. In this study, the monographs recommended as resources on choral literature and choral history by the American Choral Directors Association were surveyed to ascertain the quantity and kind of repertoire included for women’s choirs as compared to the quantity and kind of repertoire included for other types of choirs in order to determine if the monographs reflected the choral hierarchy. Mixed choirs were found to have the highest percentage of works for each of the three monographs surveyed, followed by men’s, treble, women’s and children’s, and “other type” choirs. Arrangements for women’s choirs and compositions for women’s choir and at least one other choir type comprised very little of the women’s choir repertoire included. Commentary in the monographs regarding choir make-up was inconsistent across texts, and all failed to mention institutions significant in the development of the modern women’s choir, such as the Venetian ospedali, German Frauenchor, and school and club choirs in the twentieth century. The research demonstrates a preference for mixed choirs in the monographs surveyed, both with regard to the percentage of repertoire mentioned and the history of choral music relayed. The research parallels the choral hierarchy in terms of the percent of repertoire included. The author, in agreement with previous scholarly suggestion, concludes that the choral hierarchy is detrimental to the choral art, and that a dual model consisting of supplementing with additional resources when studying choral literature and history and assimilating such information into new editions of standard literature would ameliorate the negative effects.
(“Scholarly Abstractions” is a feature highlighting brief abstracts from recent graduate projects in choral music. To share your thesis abstract, contact Scott Dorsey at email@example.com)
Date: December 3, 2013
J.S. BACH IS ALIVE AND WELL by Thomas M. Scott
The other day, I was writing a woodwind arrangement of NUN DANKET for an upcoming Sunday service. As the piece unfolded, while scoring a progression between two chords (a minor 5 in first inversion to a tonic seventh in third inversion), it suddenly struck me how much I had been influenced by the two years my classmates and I spent in undergraduate school studying Bach Chorales and Inventions.
I don’t know if students these days spend much time on this kind of work anymore, but for most of us, it was our first real exposure to Bach. It made a permanent impression on us. We had to use a black Vis-a-Vis marker on a piece of plastic with staves on it, to write four measures of what we hoped would be perfect SATB part-writing. We put it up on the overhead projector (!) in front of the whole class, and if someone found a mistake in our example, they got a point added to their example and we got a point deducted from ours. That, of course, created extra incentive to be especially vigilant both while writing and critiquing.
Oh, and one caveat: If you had been especially “creative” with your example and someone called you out on said creativity, you could skate if you found the exact version of your questionable item somewhere in a Bach Chorale (and they got a point deducted for their false accusation!). This did two things; it encouraged creativity, and it made us dive deeply into the Chorales to dig out the most obscure voice-crossings, weird doublings and strangely-resolved altered chords so we could lure our classmates into a compositional trap.
Since that immersion into Bach’s greatness, two, part writing has absolutely fascinated me. It is one of the reasons why I have worked for the church all my life; I mean, where else can you get that kind of exposure to four part choral music every week? A colleague said to me recently, “Isn’t it amazing that a diminutive church musician now centuries removed can still have such an incredible impact on us?” Amazing, but true.
Date: December 1, 2013
(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: Church Choir
This Piece Would Program Well With: Christ is Born This Day arr. by Benjamin Harlan available from JWPepper or Sing For Christ is Born by Joseph Martin available form Sheet Music Plus
I would like to talk to you about church choir repertoire. Not music for some glorious church choir that is singing SATB divisi repertoire in some obscure dialect of Latin, rather your typical American church choir. Judging by the posts in ChoralNet communities, many active ChoralNet users have experience with this kind of choir. You know what it is like to work with a small group of extremely dedicated, probably senior citizen members who read music by spacing and give you a hard time when you expand their musical experience.
There are many composers for this genre and publishers sell a lot of this type of repertoire. Two composers that are at the absolute top are Benjamin Harlan and Joseph Martin. They have written many pieces that your church choir and congregation will enjoy! They give conductors just enough to challenge their choirs while providing a tonal and melodic experience that enhances the worship service.
There are a few in the Composer’s of Choral Music Community on ChoralNet that write exceedingly well for this genre. Gordon Thornett is one of them. Thornett has a long and impressive resume of published and self-published works for all levels of choirs. His Bright Was the Star is a piece on par with the works of Martin and Harlan. If you direct an advanced ensemble he offers a more advanced version as well and is working on an orchestral accompaniment. Me, I will use the simpler version with my 13 dedicated troupers that love their coffee before the 8 AM service as much as they like to sing.
Show your appreciation for your choir by getting them this piece for Christmas. Bright Was the Star by Gordon Thornett.
The piece is available from it's lyricist Brian Holmes: horncabbage(a)aol.com
Date: November 29, 2013
Hearing loss is one of my greatest fears. My oldest daughter failed the hearing test they give newborns, and I almost had a heart attack (the test is notoriously inaccurate, apparently, which my response then is "so why give it!? Her hearing is fine, btw). I am seriously considering a pair of these. I've seen the analog version, where there is a molded piece of plastic that you insert in your ear, and there is a tiny hole drilled in the center. They always seemed like they would negatively impact the sound in some way, especially in the high and mid range. The Etymotic Music Pro earplugs are essentially hearing aids that are programmed to reduce sound levels, while mainting a natural balance of mid, high and low frequencies. I'm curious to see (hear) how they perform in a choral setting. Does anyone have any experience using these type of earplugs?
Date: November 28, 2013
The next chapter of Gallimore and Nater's book is about success and is titled, "The Motivation to Learn Comes from Focusing on Reaching Your Own Potential." I'll deal with it in two parts, the second on Wooden's "Pyramid of Success."
But this post speaks to how we measure success, something incredibly important to us as choral condutors.
It's typical to measure our success by comparing ourselves to others, or by comparing what our choirs do with other choirs.
Wooden, while enormously successful in competition with other teams, measured success differently. His definition came from his father, who stressed, "he should never try to be better than someone else, but that he should never cease to try and become the best he could be." This led to his own definition of success: "Success is the peace of mind which is a direct result of the self-satisfaction in knowing you have made the effort to become the best of which you are capable."
As Nater says,
This was necessary in Wooden's system, given that he played only 7 or so players regularly, meaning that there were 5 or so who got almost no playing time. He had to find ways to motivate the reserves (one of whom was Nater, of course). Reserves were held in high esteem by Wooden, but without working hard for their success, measured by progress, not by playing time, his system wouldn't work as successfully.
This connects up to my previous blog post, where I asked the question about how I should treat my singers as individuals, and in terms of measuring success, how I can give feedback to them as individuals? How do I evaluate my students' work? Are they able to track their progress in skills, in all those fundamentals I think are important to a singer? In this sense, I don't think I've developed a system that does this--and in this sense, my system is a failure in several big aspects. I work with the choir and evaluate how they're doing on development of ensemble fundamentals and, of course, how they're doing on the individual pieces we're working on, but I'm certainly not giving them enough feedback on their individual progress. So, I'll be thinking over the break about how I can improve that.
I'd be very interested in how you deal with evaluating the work of your choral students. Do you do individual evaluation? Do they evaluate themselves? If so, how? How does this fit in with grading (if it does)?
It's clearly more complicated with many singers in a choir (many more than Wooden dealt with on his teams), but all teachers have to evaluate the work of their students. It can be done.
With the current college football season well underway, Alabama, under coach Nick Saban, is again on top, for a possible four national championships in five years (sound like anyone you know?). There are certainly similarities in approach between Saban and Wooden. In this article in Forbes "What Nick Saban Knows About Success", it states:
Sound familiar? Perhaps we have more to learn from coaches than we think!
Date: November 26, 2013
Many people treat the daily eight hours that they should use for rest as some sort of chronological credit account, withdrawing time to do other things. The problem is, of course, that after about 14 to 16 hours, our little brains start to turn to sludge, our reaction time drops, and our higher reasoning skills fade. The need for proper rest is so important that there are federal regulations mandating that people who drive big rigs on the highways or fly aircraft through our skies have specific and inviolable rest periods every day. It just makes sense. A fatigued driver or pilot has the potential to make a mistake with catastrophic results.
We choral conductors can – and very often do – stagger through our daily regimen of classes, rehearsals, meetings, and other demands in a state of near exhaustion. The difference between us and the transportation professionals mentioned above is that a fuzzy-headed, sleep-deprived choral conductor probably won’t cause a disaster. Still, don’t we owe it to our students and our art (to say nothing of ourselves) to be at our best?
Over the next few days most of us in the U.S. have a four-day holiday. While the Thanksgiving celebration is often filled with family gatherings, time should also be taken for rest. Bear in mind that this weekend may be the last chance to catch your breath before the madness of the holiday performance season, arguably the toughest time of the year in the choral profession.
Take a break, folks.
Date: November 25, 2013
James Feiszli, Director of Music at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, has been named 2013 U.S. Professor of the Year for the state of South Dakota by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.
For those of you who don't know Jim, he and a few others brainstormed this "ChoralNet" idea out of something called "ChoraList."
Jim has always been an innovator, and I'm very pleased that his university supports him in putting his name forward for this prestigious award. I was honored to write something on his behalf and this is what I said:
In 1993, Jim fused his love for choral music with his passion for technology and created ‘ChoraList,’ an email distribution list for choral music that united choral directors around the globe. This innovation was not unlike other developments in technology in the early days of the Internet, but his continued development resulted in ChoralNet, a tool that has profoundly changed our field. It continues to have a significant impact on the interactions of choral musicians today and grows in significance every year. ChoralNet has evolved into the online center of choral music and a forum for conductors and composers as well as a news resource. The remarkable thing about ChoralNet is that Jim created it, for the most part, by sheer force of will. I still find it extraordinary that Feiszli founded and managed an instrument that had an international impact from his home and office in Rapid City, South Dakota. His achievement was probably unnoticed by most of the other professors with whom he worked but it continues to impact people like me on a daily basis. “I call him one of the true historic figures in choral music for the U.S.A. In my opinion, he has done more to impact the world of choral music than anyone else in this century.
Congratulations on this recognition, Jim. You deserve it.
Date: November 22, 2013
Last week, we talked about some microphone options and ways to get audio into an iPad. There are a wide range of setups, from a simple single microphone to a full digital audio workstation, that let you record the audio that you want to work with and share. The next question is what apps to use to record, edit, and produce it. Like with the microphones, the best option will depend on how in-depth your project. You can use a very simple process to record a quick example for playback in rehearsal, but you may want to do more editing and production before you publish to the web. This is a very small sample of some of the tools that you have at your disposal however complex the process.
Now that it's free for devices running iOS 7, GarageBand is the default for recording audio. If your goal is to take a quick recording for immediate playback, GarageBand is an easy way to accomplish this. It's helpful to remember what GarageBand was designed to do, though-- let people write a basic song with minimal music or audio experience. The audio feature is designed to let the living room songwriter put a vocal track or guitar track on top of their synthesized drums or strings to finish their demo-- not be a full-featured audio editor. Like its big brother desktop version, GarageBand's strengths are in synthesis, not audio. Luckily, there are other options that work with GarageBand.
The Workflows-Leaving GarageBand (and Coming Back)
Because iOS works fundamentally differently than do either the Windows or Mac platforms that we're traditionally used to, there are a couple of things to consider before we start using apps in combination. The key is that where we're used to using one program on a desktop or laptop to accomplish our tasks (and occasionally we might add a plug-in here or there to extend the function of that program), apps tend to be more single-task. For that reason, you may use multiple apps what you used to do in one program.
At first, this may seem unnecessarily complicated and annoying. After you get used to the idea, though, the idea of combining forces between multiple apps (some of my peers in the Educational Tech realm have started calling this "app smashing") has some advantages. For example, instead of buying a one-size-fits-all solution which may be a compromise of certain features, you can choose your favorite app for recording, another for editing, and another for the sweet, sweet reverb that you love. Additionally, since they're much less expensive ($3.99 for an audio app is not uncommon, versus several hundred dollars for a piano patch for a desktop DAW), it's easier to experiment and find the tools you like.
Moving audio between apps is not as complicated as you may fear. Unfortunately, iOS doesn't let us save directly to the "Music" section of the iPad, which is controlled by iTunes. Because of this, you may have to occasionally use your e-mail as a bridge between apps-- e-mail a file out of one program, for example, and open it from e-mail in another. This gets messy both in creating unnecessary e-mails and having to worry about how big the audio is. Far simpler is to use apps which are compatible with AudioCopy/AudioPaste. This is a common audio language which apps have started to adopt in order to be able to share audio data amongst themselves. This became a much more integrated ability in iOS 7, but it's still a huge advantage to have apps which know how to shake hands and pass your audio data back and forth. GarageBand, by the way, will allow you to paste audio in from AC/AP apps. You cannot copy audio from in GarageBand to paste to another app, though.
Beyond the simple handshake language, Retronyms also created an app called AudioCopy based on the language. The AudioCopy app is a clipboard to store audio clips from AC/AP-enabled apps. Since iOS doesn't let you move audio from your recording apps into the Music Library, this is a place where you could store recorded sounds that you wanted to use in rehearsal on a regular basis-- warmup tracks or cue pitches if you're warming up away from the piano (or without a piano player), for example. This app is not required to use any of the other AC/AP apps.
(AudioCopy from Retronyms)
I Want My Audacity
If you've had any interest in computer-based recording, chances are that you've used or at least know about Audacity. The ubiquitous open-source audio program has been the basic quick-and-dirty recording and playback tool for both Mac and PC. There is no Audacity for the iPad, nor is there likely to be anytime in the near future. People looking for the equivalent experience on the iPad may want to consider TwistedWave. Audacity users will be at home with the look and function of the audio editing, and while it's not free, it's a very good way to accomplish the same trimming/editing tasks for a simple record and playback job.
TwistedWave - Look famiiar?
The Portable Studio
As we talked about last week, you can use the iPad as a full digital recording studio with the proper hardware. If you have multiple microphones involved and are looking for an ability to do a complete mix, you need a more robust toolkit. Again, GarageBand could do this, but there are more desirable options available. If you have an iPad interface or hardware device that you're using to connect your microphones, that hardware likely came with a multitrack recording app. The heavyweight champion, though, is undoubtedly Auria. A full 48-channel recording and production environment, Auria is the full DAW experience on the iPad. By app standards, it's positively exorbitant, weighing in at $49.99 (plus more in-app purchases). By DAW standards, though, that's not much at all to pay for the software-- compare to Cubase, for example.
Again, as with hardware, consider your goals. If you're looking to record in rehearsal for instant feedback for your ensemble, GarageBand or TwistedWave will accomplish these things easily. If you're recording multitrack/multi-mic audio to produce for a website, conference submission, or audition, Auria may be worth the investment.
A Nod to the King
If you have an interest in taking your iPad audio knowledge to the cutting edge, I highly recommend subscribing to iOS Music and You. Chip's blog is full of reviews, workflows, interviews and suggestions. His iOS Music Weekly updates are required reading for iOS recording enthusiasts. Most of what's there is oriented to the "commercial music" production realm, so it may not map directly to our choral needs, but there is still plenty of gold to be found here for all musicians.
What About You?
What audio apps are you using?
Date: November 21, 2013
We've met Ronald Gallimore in each of the previous posts. As you saw in the past few weeks, he continued his work studying John Wooden and his methods. But he then co-wrote a book (2010) with Swen Nater, a former player for Wooden at UCLA, You Haven't Taught Until They Have Learned, and I can highly recommend it.
Nater played at UCLA for three years (he was a community college All-American before that), recruited by Wooden specifically to be a reserve, backing up Bill Walton, who would go on to be a 3-time NCAA player of the year. Wooden was honest about what Nater's role would likely be, telling him that while he'd rarely play, he felt that when he graduated he'd be able to get a pro contract. He did, in fact, get a pro contract (drafted in the first round), rookie of the year in the ABA in 1974, led the league in rebounding in 1975, the same in the NBA in 1980, and in the Italian League in 1985. He subsequently taught algebra, sports psychology, and coached at Christian Heritage College (in 1990 co-coaching them to their first NCAA championship), and co-wrote a book with Wooden. Since 1997 he has worked for Costco.
Let me start with something that's much easier to accomplish with a basketball team (where Wooden had 12 players on the squad) than a choir, where we typically have more singers (sometimes many more) . . . and many of us conduct more than one choir. That has to do with ability to individualize what we do with our singers and how we treat them. William Copper, in a comment a few posts ago, mentioned how much it seemed Wooden was able to individualize instruction, and that he'd never gotten individual feedback from a conductor. So, while I have some ideas, I'm more interested in what kinds of things you've done to give feedback to your singers.
Chapter One of the book is titled, "They are all Different: Teacher-Student Relationships are the Foundation of Effective Teaching." They quote Wooden from a personal communication in 2002:
Nater describes the development of his own relationship with Wooden, how he dealt with his frustrations at lack of playing time, and how Wooden was honest with him. Coach Wooden explained how he needed him to push Walton to be his best--so that Walton would find that the toughest center he played against all season was in practice every day. Swen accepted this and then found that Wooden, instead of backing off, pushed him even harder to improve his play.
This is not something that most of us can do with every one of our students. I have around 70 different students in my two choirs at UNT (a few sing in both) and I know many of you have more, some many more.
But this does make me think about how I can do more.
I wrote earlier about the change at UNT for me last year from a smaller choir to a larger one. One of the things I did was have individuals sing quite a bit in rehearsals. I've moved away from that this year and think it was a mistake. If I do that more often, I know much more about what the singers are doing, where their skill level is, how they respond, and it does give me the opportunity to give feedback, sometimes in the rehearsal itself, and sometimes outside and individually. It also motivates them in a different way. I know I will do more of this next semester and experiment with other ideas as well (I'll report after I've done it).
If any of you have ways you develop relationships with your students and know them better as individuals, and give them feedback, please comment or write me privately.
Wooden was also concerned with respect and fairness. Once again, however, fairness didn't mean everyone is treated the same. A quote from Wooden explains this (this and the next one are again from private communications with the coach): "I believe, in order to be fair to all students, a teacher must give each individual student the treatment he earns and deserves. The most unfair thing to do is to treat them all the same."
And they also give an example of his pre-season speech to the team about this so the players understood how the system worked:
This is a challenging statement, particularly in implementing it in a choral situation.
Nater then gives examples of how Wooden treated his players differently. I can't summarize this (again, I'd encourage you to get the book), but it makes sense, and I need to sort out how to best make sense of this given my situation and the rules I want to enforce.
The final section of the chapter is titled, "Relationship are the Ends, not the Means." In it, Nater explains how demanding Wooden was, using the example of talking with someone at an airport who asked what it was like to work with the coach. He tells the person how demanding the coach was, not only in terms of playing, but in behavior outside practice and games as well. Shocked, they then say, "I had no idea John Wooden was like that. I always thought you guys liked him."
And Swen responds, "But we do! We love him. We loved him then and we love him now. I don't know how to explain it, but it's true."
Most of us have experiences with extraordinarily demanding teachers and, if you're like me, they're the teachers we remember most and who may have been among our favorites. The question is, will we be that demanding teacher, expecting the best out of every student, or will we simply be forgotten as a so-so teacher who didn't expect very much? Nater also mentions that Wooden never tried to build a personal relationship with him his first year, but that:
I think these last quotes summarize what it is to build relationships between conductor and members of the choir--it isn't something we do directly and initially, but those relationships will come out of our caring for the progress our students make, the standards we set, and the oftimes demanding expectations we enforce.
Please let us know what teachers inspired you and how they did it! Or speak to how you treat your singers in the way they "earn and deserve."
Date: November 20, 2013
What incredible diversity of sounds we can create with different combinations of human voices. Whether the ensemble is mixed or single-gender, there are delightful opportunities for musical exploration.
Sometimes, though, a choral director might be a bit hesitant about leading a single-gender ensemble if they are not from that side of the species. Such concerns, while understandable, should by no means exclude a conductor from leading a choral ensemble. A little help, however, might be in order.
In her article, "Men’s and Women’s Choirs: How Different Are They?” (Georgia Sings Vol. 9, No.2), Amy Hughley, provides detailed information along with a bit of guidance and encouragement:
Aside from gender and vocal range, there are important emotional and developmental differences. It is our duty as directors to overcome the idiosyncratic challenges that single-gender choirs pose and create beautiful choral music.
Directing single gender choirs is a rewarding experience, and knowledge of their similarities and differences can aid choral directors. While both men’s and women’s choirs can and should reflect determination, dedication, pride, and unity, these character traits manifest themselves in different ways. Awareness of these differences and designing rehearsals which acknowledge them can have positive, even profound, effects on our singers, both in single-gender ensembles and mixed choirs.
(For additional articles on a dazzling array of choral topics, visit ChorTeach.)
Date: November 19, 2013
WE SANG IT UP, ACDA! by Sundra Flansburg
What a great experience ACDA’s first membership drive has been! Thanks to leaders and members in every state, ACDA increased membership by 10 percent in just two months.
Kudos go to Idaho (30%), Connecticut (23%), North Dakota (22%), South Carolina (18%), New Mexico (16%), and Maine (15%) for achieving at least 15 percent growth in Active membership for their states. Four states – Idaho (110%!), North Dakota (54%), Connecticut (30%) and Pennsylvania (28%) – achieved a very impressive 25+ percent growth in membership overall (including students, associates, and other individual membership categories). Across the country, we added almost 2,000 new members, over 1,000 of which are students.
I have been bowled over by the passion and drive ACDA members have for our professional association, and the role it plays in inspiring excellence in choral music. Even though many of us work on membership development all year-round – and will continue to do so – I found this two-month focus on adding members was helpful and exciting. What are your thoughts? Do you have any suggestions for us for next year?
Remember, the Refer a Friend Program - with thank you gifts to members who refer colleagues and to the new members themselves - runs through December 31. In addition, the Student Membership Initiative (for participating states) runs through the school year, offering a $5 dues option for new student members. For more information, see www.acda.org/singup.
Again, congratulations to each and every person who contributed to ACDA’s resounding success on this membership drive!
Date: November 15, 2013
The iPad or iPhone are, out of the box, perfectly capable "home movie" devices, and can create decent video or audio recordings of your ensemble with the built-in camera app. Using a combination of some basic retail accessories and a couple of workarounds, though, you can make the iPad a fairly powerful portable recording and editing station. Over the next three weeks, we'll explore some of the ways to expand the capabilites of an iPad for recording the kind of high-quality audio that you'd like to use with your ensemble. This week, we'll start with the hardware.
Rules of Thumb (or No-Thumb)
If you have no money to invest in this project, but want to be a little more reliable in your recording, consider this quick tip: remember the first time you ever got a small film camera? How long did it take before you got your first pictures back with your thumb or a finger covering part of the lens? With digital cameras, it's easy to see when your finger is in the way, but since we don't listen to digital audio as we're recording it, it can be hard to know when background noise is creeping into your recording. An additional challenge is that most people aren't entirely sure where the microphone on your iPad is.
(There it is!)
Hard cases for the iPad tend not to move around much, but soft cases do, and they can cause handling noise to appear in your recording. To ensure that your recording is as background-noise-free as possible, consider removing it from a soft case, or finding a way to prop it up out of your hands (resting it on a table, for example).
Violating the $0 clause from above, there are now attachments which allow you to mount your iPad on a music stand or microphone boom, which would allow you to position the device ideally for recording. As with any sound system, though, if you have $1 to spend, $2 of it should go to...
When the iPad first came out, one of the loudest initial criticisms of it was that it didn't have a USB port. Critics went so far as to way that without a way to expand the capabilities of the device via USB, the iPad was doomed from launch. Apple did make it possible to expand the device, though-- they just wanted you to have to buy their hardware to do it. The music industry has caught up in a major way to the designs of Apple's proprietary port, and there are dozens of iPad-specific microphones on the market now which use either the 30-pin or Lightning connectors (see below). Many of them are designed for podcasting and may not be sonically ideal for music, but there are also some which closely emulate our more traditional vocal mics.
One additional layer of complexity-- iPads now have two types of ports on the market (as do iPhones): the 30-pin or the Lightning. 30-pin has been the staple of iOS devices since their invention. The iPad 2, still available to buy new, uses the 30-pin port. All of the newest generations of iPad use the Lightning port. When I refer to ports henceforth, I'll assume that the two are interchangable, but if you are purchasing a microphone or accessory, make sure that you are purchasing the correct version for your device. I'll point out any significant differences between 30-pin and Lightning when necessary.
(30-Pin on the left, Lightning on the right. h/t to gottabemobile.com)
Your choices for microphones fall into two broad categories: USB mics which will work with iPads, and dedicated iPad mics. Dedicated mics like the Apogee (Lightning-only) or the Rode iXY (30-pin) are designed to work natively with the iPad or iPhone, and provide significantly higher-quality area recording sound than the built-in microphone.
USB mics work by taking advantage of a quirk in Apple's design: they began manufacturing a device called the Camera Connection Kit which allowed users to plug in USB cameras through Apple's adapter. These kits are available in the 30-pin or Lightning versions, and were immediately jumped upon by all manners of iOS aficionados as a way to connect every type of USB device on the planet, including USB mics. The catch is that this is, in its heart, a workaround relying on a piece of hardware is was neither built for nor marketed to handle the kind of data that live audio recording takes, sometimes there are errors. Your mileage may vary, but there are enough cautionary tales of crashed apps or laggy audio to be wary of this solution and steer towards one of the mics designed to work directly with the device.
Beyond the Microphone
Mention must be paid to the next level up in your iPad recording options, which is a full Digital Audio interface. Most of the consumer-grade audio manufacturers have entered this field with an interface designed to connect to either the Lightning or 30-pin ports which allows for audio and MIDI in/out, may have preamps on board, and likely has both XLR and 1/4" ports available (including 1/4" headphone jack). These range in price anywhere from $100-$1500+. For recording a choral ensemble, some of these features like MIDI may not be relevant, but having dual 1/4" jacks to record a proper stereo field, being able to use your existing microphones, and having a preamp built-in dramatically expand the potential of the iPad for recording live audio.
In the next two weeks, we'll take a look at what to do once it's in the iPad-- apps and workflows which allow to you edit and publish the audio directly from the device so that you can record and share your audio with your ensemble or a wider audience.
Do you have experience working with any of these devices? What do you use to record with your iPad? Join the conversation in the comments below!
Date: November 14, 2013
Last week I addressed a number of John Wooden's ideas about pedagogy, taken from Gallimore and Tharp's 2004 article.
So now it's time to see what his pedagogical ideas can offer us as conductors. Part of the last post deals with our responsibility as teachers--is it our responsibility just to present material, or is it to find a way for our students learn the material, learn the skills involved, and learn those materials in a broader context that lead to their mastery of both skills and ideas so that they can apply them on their own? I'll begin to explore that next week as we look at Gallimore and Swen Nater's book, You Haven't Taught Them Until They Have Learned.
This week I'll focus on drill, which was a part of the first post in this series. Here's the relevant section from Gallimore and Tharp's 2004 article:
Let's unpack this and apply to conductors.
His initial four laws are explanation, demonstration, imitation, and repetition. These are somewhat self-explanatory, but we can expand upon them.
We often need to explain concepts. Concepts can be grasped fairly quickly and understood intellectually--in a sense this is like the cliche of the lightbulb going on--if it's explained well enough the individual can immediately understand what is meant. For example, in working with my Collegium Singers on the Monteverdi 1610 Vespers, we were tuning to quarter-comma meantone where the major thirds are "pure" (come directly from the natural harmonic series) and are lower than the tempered thirds most of us are used to hearing. My singers could understand the concept quite quickly. However, understanding the concept and being able to apply it consistently and accurately are different things. We're talking about a skill that needs to be developed.
So we come to demonstration, imitation, and repetition. I chose the hymn Ave maris stella as one of the first movements in the Vespers to work on, since it has fairly regular phrases, is mostly homophonic, and has regular major cadences. This allowed me to work on the sound I wanted them to make, sense of phrase, what parts to bring out, and most importantly, tuning. Demonstration was sometimes done by me (having them sing the chord minus the third--I'd sing the third, then whatever part sang the third would imitate my tuning). This is what I most often do in rehearsal because normally I have a piano tuned in equal temperament. But in this case, we had our portative organ tuned to quarter-comma meantone (you can get an app now, by the way, with lots of historic tunings!), so most of the time our accompanist would play the chord and they would then sing, matching (imitating) the tuning.
But the skill to do this regularly, accurately, and immediately is something that takes time . . . and drill . . . to develop. I had a fairly large number of new students in the choir this year who were not accustumed to singing pure thirds. So it took a considerable number of repetitions in every rehearsal at the beginning--stopping after a cadence, letting them know the 3rd was too high, having the organ play the chord, then the choir singing again. After a while we began to get close each time--in this case I still had to stop, but now could ask them to sing better in tune without hearing the organ first, which they could do, but often took a second or two to get it really well in tune. The task was then to get to the point where they could sing the thirds in tune first time, every time. (You can find it on YouTube here. There are chapter headings so you can go to any movement.)
This repetition--drill--is why Wooden created his eight laws of learning: explanation, demonstration, imitation, repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition, and repetition. Drill can be tedious, of course, but it's also the way to mastery of the music we perform and the skills our singers need to learn. I feel it's important that my singers learn how to hear and do these kinds of things themselves so they can carry these skills onward without me. But drills can't be all we do, and drills (which of necessity focus on a relatively narrow set of things) have to be combined with "scrimmage," running through larger sections or the entire piece. It's the same thing as Wooden's players doing many drills, but also needing to scrimmage regularly--because it's only there, where the various skills are combined in the way they will be in a real game (or for us, a real concert).
I also think Wooden's emphasis on the whole-part method is important. This can be seen in two ways: first, when learning a very specific skill that's made up of several parts, we can demostrate the full skill, break down into the component parts for drill, then combine the separate elements into the full skill. This why demonstration can be so important--it gives a larger picture and context of the particular skill being drilled before it's broken down into its component parts.
Second, when possible, it's important to give our singers a sense of the whole piece they're going to sing, before working on the individual sections, phrases, and challenges they have to master (through drill), then gradually bring it back to an ability to perform whole sections and ultimately, the whole piece.
When my group's capable of it, I want them to sightread as much of the piece as possible at first. That gives them an overview. Of course, sometimes that isn't possible--the music's too difficult, perhaps. I can play a recording of it for them, for example. But I may also explain the context/meaning of the music as well early on.
With a large work, I often need to find a way to introduce it that gives a sense of the whole before they begin to work on it. As an example, I did the Britten War Requiem with my PLU Choirs (three choirs combined, including our community-based Choral Union). The Britten is an extraordinarily difficult piece for them to imagine at first and, of course, the choir only plays a part in the whole since the tenor and baritone sing the moving poetry of Wilfrid Owen. I opened with all three choirs together, showing them pictures of Coventry Cathedral where it was premiered (the ruins of the old cathedral visible from the new one), explaining the symbolism of the English, Russian, and German soloists of the premiere (actually Galina Vishnevskaya wasn't allowed to leave Russia for the premiere, so an English soprano had to substitute), reading the poetry of Wilfed Owen and showing the connections Britten makes between the Latin text (from the Requiem) and Owen's poetry (using Owen's chilling re-telling of the Abraham and Isaac story, for example), etc. We then worked on the end of the first movement, with the choir and bells (which toll the C-F# tritone), the choir itself finally slipping into a magical F major. All this was to help them understand the whole and, frankly, give them the motivation, the why, to do the drill and rehearsal necessary to master such a complex work.
I certainly feel Wooden's concepts and understanding of pedagogy can help us understand how we can achieve more with our choirs.
Next, on to Swen Nater!
Date: November 13, 2013
Mention “vocal study” and many of us recall long hours in college practice rooms trying to crate consistent, semi-attractive sounds with a physical mechanism that just didn’t want to behave some days.
Would the process have been less daunting had it begun a little earlier? Sara Gaines suggests that just might be the case. In her article, “The Changing Voice: A Project for General Music in the Middle School,” she proposes ways to introduce some of the concepts of vocal study:
One might think this area of study is beyond the reach of middle school students, but that is not true. I have found that possessing a working knowledge of the structure and function of the vocal mechanism is useful for the maturing singer, middle school kids. This is particularly important for boys, some of whose voices seem to change during the course of one rehearsal! Knowledge of how the voice works and what change means is equally important for the girls, not only with respect to what’s happening to their voices but so that they better understand what is taking place with their male friends and acquaintances.
I include a unit on the vocal mechanism in my general music classes so that all middle schoolers in my building benefit from exposure to vital information. In the process of teaching this topic, I encourage non-singers to give singing another try as they begin to better understand the physiological changes they are undergoing.
Imagine how a high school or college choir might sound had they been introduced to vocal pedagogy in the middle level.
(For additional articles on a dazzling array of choral topics, visit ChorTeach.)
Date: November 12, 2013
TODAY'S PRELUDE: CHURCH CHIT-CHAT by Thomas R. Vozzella
Just prior to the start of most worship celebrations, there is always some kind of music. This music has historically been used to center our hearts and minds on worship, and to introduce music being used in the service. Often times this music is viewed as a form of elevator/background music for chit-chat, a time to catch up with each other since the last time we gathered for worship, talk about last night’s hockey game, etc. However, this music is truly an offering to God just as the spoken word, praise and worship music, hymns and other parts of the service, for which we give our full attention.
One of the first “Worship Wars,” The Reformation (1500-1599), kicked off the regular use of instruments in worship. Around the 15th century, the regular usage of the organ in worship was introduced to the Western Roman Church. Prior to the 15th century, the organ was used sparingly in worship. Between the 10th and 12th centuries the organ was used in processions and calls to worship (earliest example is the hydraulis used in Roman coliseums). The organ never seemed to gain ground in the Eastern Orthodox Church, and, to this day, has not. On the flipside, the Ethiopian and Coptic churches were using percussion instruments. Lutherans used a mixture of accompanied and un-accompanied music, while the Calvinists preferred un-accompanied music.
However, it was the Lutherans and their master organist, Johanna Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), which changed the landscape forever. Through the choral prelude, based on newly composed chorales or hymns (as they are now known), Bach transformed music in worship. There were earlier composers of chorale preludes, yet, Bach alone composed 371 chorales and over 150 chorale preludes based on popular chorales of the time.
Chorale Preludes introduce the congregation to music being sung that day. This is when worshipers heard the melodies being used in the service (song books/hymnals were sparse as they were written by hand), as only printed texts were available. In Bach’s case, he had to compose the music and then learn it. Today we have prominent composers such as Paul Manz, Michael Burkhardt, Joseph Martin, Mark Hayes and numerous others that compose hymn preludes (chorale preludes), based on popular hymn tunes and songs used in church. Most organists/pianists plan preludes/voluntaries based on the hymns or themes for each worship service, as did Bach. Additionally, this music has taken many hours of preparation.
With this in mind, can we consider ways in which we can assist those that do not want to listen to the prelude find more productive ways to prepare for worship other than idle chit-chat? Here are a few examples, shared recently by my pastor, Rev. Jeff Kintner - using the time to pray, read the bible lesson(s)/reading(s) for the day, meditate on hymn texts of the music being played, sit silently with eyes closed, and many others. Are there ways in which your congregation appreciates the prelude?
Date: November 10, 2013
(Each week we look at one or two of the best choral works posted in the Composition Showcase here on ChoralNet. This is where we store a treasure trove of works that your choirs will love to sing and your audiences will love to hear.)
Level: High School or Higher
Uses: Spring Concert
Program Themes: Born to New Life, Requiem Now and Then
This Piece Would Program Well With: Requiem Aeternam from Requiem in C minor by Cherubini available at JWPepper and Sheet Music Plus
Attention to tuning is often forgotten by musicians that are overworked and over burdened with having to prepare for the next performance. Sometimes we rush our singers to learn a piece without taking the time to help them learn to be better listeners. Joseph Stephen's Requiem will let directors and choirs take the time to hear and tune each chord.
The extremely slow harmonic change and long held out syllables are a welcome reprieve from the fast-paced text rich pieces we often cram through the grinder. With just 21 measures to focus on, this piece is an excellent choral etude that stands on its own in performance. Requiem Aeternam is a must-do for developing high school and college choirs that want to move their singers up a notch!
The composer is offering this work for free so there is no excuse not to tune up your ensemble.
Requiem Aeternam is available from the composer: http://www.stephensmusic.com
Date: November 9, 2013
I wrote this sitting in the airport in Charleston, SC, waiting for the first flight on my longish trip home. I was coming home from the National Collegiate Chorus Organization's biennial conference (NCCO, not to be confused with the NCCCO - National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators).
I love this conference. It's only my second time going, but both times I've attended the conference, I've had an incredible time. If you are a college director, I strongly encourage you to attend in Portland, Oregon in 2015.
There are two things that make this conference great, for me. The first is that almost everyone there is a college director. And as a result, we all speak exactly the same language. We have a lot of the same issues, difficulties, and experiences. This is true at ACDA conventions, of course. But, just as it's easy to talk to other music teachers, including band, orchestra, and general music teachers, it's even easier to talk to choir folks. And at NCCO it's even more of a connection for college choir folks. It's just another tribe within a large tribe, I guess, just like Chorus America or Barbershop Harmony Society, or a number of other groups.
The second reason is openness. Interest sessions can be great, reading sessions are fine, but I go to conferences mostly to see other choirs and to talk to other choir directors. I love meeting new folks, seeing old friends and colleagues, and talking about our trials and tribulations. Because NCCO is smaller, much more intimate, and everyone has roughly the same experiences, everyone seems just a little bit more open. Someone suggested that because there are just fewer people, the directors who go to NCCO don't feel pulled in a million different directions. I know at national ACDA it can all be a little overwhelming trying to do everything and connect with everyone. So I've had great talks with all kinds of different folks around the country, and I've grown professionally because of it.
Don't get me wrong...I love the ACDA conferences, too. But they have a different feel to them. I would never stop going to ACDA. They are the heart and soul of what I do. But I am just glad that there is this other experience for the college directors.