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 If you work at a K-12 or Higher Ed school with Google Apps for Education, you are quietly getting a fall gift from Google: Drive storage will be unlimited for education users within the next few days. Over the last few months, Google and Microsoft have been waging war over cloud apps for the education market, and for the last year Microsoft's OneDrive for Business (also used to support education clients) had the upper hand with 1 TB of storage per user. Google's far more popular Apps for Education service has now fired back with unlimited storage per user (still at no cost). Even more appealing to those of us who work with digital audio or multimedia is the per-file cap of 5 TB. 
 
For most users, even Google's prior limit of 30 GB seemed to be ample. Google Apps users who only use the core Google products (Docs, Sheets, etc.) would be hard-pressed to use even half of that. What many users still don't realize, though, is that all types of files can be stored in Google Drive, and using Drive to store large files (multimedia, for example) allows cloud backup and web-based access without relying on e-mail or external devices like a flash drive. Furthermore, I believe one of the most under-utilized features of Google Drive is the local client, which installs a folder on your Mac or PC desktop allowing you to access, edit and upload files without having to use the web interface. With unlimited storage and the local client, you could now put your entire hard drive within a Google Drive folder and have complete backup (and web-access), or sync individual project folders to share with your singers, students or department-mates. The large per-file limit will easily accomodate even a full concert recording in HD, meaning that a shared Google Drive folder now becomes an incredibly flexible means of sharing recordings with your ensembles.
 
A standard note of caution for teachers: The TEACH Act and Fair Use Doctrines give you the authority to share copyrighted material with students online as well as in person. That sharing does not extend to sharing the file itself though-- you cannot, for example, share a copyrighted file within Google Drive. Anyone you shared it with would be able to download the file itself, which is not covered by the TEACH Act. Uploading your listening library into your new unlimited storage account would be beyond Fair Use.
 
Google announced at the beginning of October that these benefits would roll "over the next few weeks," and as with many Google updates, they have begun to appear slowly and somewhat at random. If you belong to a school that uses Google Apps for Education, you will soon have unlimited storage in your Google Drive if you don't already!
From Daniel Coyle’s The Little Book of Talent: Tip #5 - Be willing to be stupid.
 
The point, of course, isn’t to be stupid, but to be willing to fail, to take risks. Coyle uses the example of Wayne Gretzky falling in practice and says, “As skilled as he was, Gretzky was determined to improve, to push the boundaries of the possible. The only way that happens is to build new connections in the brain—which means reaching, failing, and yes, looking stupid.”
 
There is a great Nike ad with Michael Jordan, which you probably already know, but it makes the same point: without taking risks (and failing) you won’t fail . . . but you’re unlikely to grow either.
But what does this mean for the conductor?
 
It certainly means challenging yourself. How can you push yourself beyond your current boundaries, your current skill level?
 
Repertoire is one logical area—it’s the basis for all we do, after all. Eric Ericson always maintained that his choirs (and he) grew through the challenges of particular repertoire:
You asked how technique and proficiency developed, and I can almost mention certain pieces which were "rungs on the ladder" . . . because that's how I feel so strongly when we've learned a difficult and very good piece. I'm thinking naturally from the viewpoint of the Chamber Choir with [Lidholm's] Laudi from 1947, Fyra körer from 1953, then the big pieces of Stravinsky, Nono . . . Dallapiccola perhaps most of all, which is where we learned to read notes and rhythms. And then of course we have a Swedish piece, again by Lidholm [1956--Canto], that we struggled with for half a year. I have a certain sense that, when you "come out on the other side" after having done a piece like Lidholm's Canto, you are a better musician, a better conductor, a better chorister. Canto feels like a final exam for the '50s choral life . . . early pieces that were difficult tonally and rhythmically became less so. Canto combined all the difficulties one was thrown between.
What repertoire will push your musicianship, your conducting technique, your ability to teach a particular style? The risk of failure or looking stupid is there, but believe me, it’s worth it.
 
Coyle says, “Feeling stupid is no fun. But being willing to be stupid—in other words, being willing to risk the emotional pain of making mistakes—is absolutely essential, because reaching, failing, and reaching again is the way your brain grows and makes new connections. When it comes to developing talent, remember, mistakes are not really mistakes—they are the guideposts you use to get better."
 
Another worthwhile book I’ve written about is Mindset by Carol Dweck—the full post is here.
 
It deals with two different mindsets regarding learning. From that blog post:
Dweck says, "Everyone is born with an intense drive to learn. Infants stretch their skills daily. Not just walk and talk. They never decide it's too hard or not worth the effort. They walk, they fall, they get up. They just barge forward."
 
Somewhere along the line, though, some children learn that they are being evaluated and become afraid of challenges (and paradoxically, continual praising children as being smart or supremely talented can lead to the fixed mindset).
 
She tells of a study where they offered four-year-olds the choice between redoing an easy jigsaw puzzle or trying a harder one. Even at this age, kids who had a fixed mindset--that is, they believed in fixed traits--chose the safe one. They told the researchers, kids who are born smart "don't do mistakes." The other children with a growth mindset--who believed you could get smarter--couldn't imagine doing a puzzle they'd done before. One girl said, "I'm dying to figure them out!"
 
Again from Dweck, "So children with the fixed mindset want to make sure they succeed. Smart people should always succeed. But for children with the growth mindset, success is about stretching themselves. It's about becoming smarter.”
All of us have things we’re comfortable with: our conducting technique, rehearsal technique, our usual way of doing things. Sometimes in order to grow, we have to give up our comfortable ways and change our technique—in a very real sense, change who we are. This almost certainly will mean that for a period of time you’ll be uncomfortable and, in fact, probably won’t do as well. But you need the time to grow those new connections in your brain—and perhaps, feel “stupid” for awhile. But if you’re not willing to go through that process you won’t grow.
 
So, if you want to grow and improve, don’t be afraid of mistakes and failure: "be willing to be stupid.” Challenge yourself, put yourself in situations where you’re certain to struggle. And give yourself the opportunity to change and grow.
CHORAL ETHICS (Part 5): “MAESTRA MANNERS” EXPLAINS ALL by Marie Grass Amenta
 
(This is the fifth and final installment of a five-part series on choral ethics, exploring what it means to be ethical in this often unethical business.)
 
“Fine manners are the mantle of fair minds.” Louisa May Alcott
 
Do you ever say “please” to your singers?  Or is it always a command to “turn to page 3, top score, measure 2?”  If you occasionally said, “please turn to page 3…..” would the sky fall? When was the last time you said “thank-you” to your accompanist?  After they sight read an open score, eight-part, bi-tonal, mixed meter, multi-clef monstrosity you decided to include in rehearsal on a whim? Or do you thank them on a regular basis?  If you have a good relationship with your accompanist, you probably don’t thank them enough. But if you have a tenuous one or a new relationship, it is very important to say thanks. People perform better and are willing to go the extra mile for you if they feel appreciated. Saying please and thank you—and meaning it—are simple ways of showing appreciation. Simple courtesies are simple and not always common among our brethren.
 
Mom used to tell us having good manners is not knowing which fork to use and when but a way of showing people, by your behavior, you respect them.  You said, “excuse me” if you bumped into someone or wanted to leave the room.  You said, “please” and “thank you” if you wanted something and then received it.  You stood for your elders or the President of the United States and gave your seat to someone who needed it more.   In our business “manners,” or whatever you call it, can make a world of difference in our relationships with those we work with us. 
 
We expect our singers to let us know if they are not able to be at a rehearsal or are running late.  Many choirs have an absence sign-up sheet or a way of letting someone know if they are ill or stuck in traffic. It seems only fair we expect the same of ourselves. I know a community chorus director who was notoriously late.  He was the only person allowed by the venue to have the keys to their rehearsal space and as a result, half the time his chorus sat in their cars in the parking lot waiting for him, often of upwards of 30 minutes.  Two rehearsals before one December holiday concert, in a sleet storm, members of the chorus’ board of directors sat in a mini-van and decided they had had enough.  If you’ve ever sat in a car, in the Midwest, in a sleet storm, you can understand why that would be enough. His contract was up that spring and not renewed.  The reason he was given for not renewing his contract? Chronic tardiness. Their new director is not as good a musician but they like him more than the other guy simply because he respects their time….and is never late.
 
Do you clean up after yourself? In your office or rehearsal space, are there unfiled octavos strewn about or empty (and dirty) coffee cups or two year-old music schedules or concert programs or Choral Journals from 1998/99?  Are you supposed to do the cleaning up or is someone else, such as a music librarian or sexton or custodian? If you are supposed to do the cleaning up, it is your mess and if you can live with it, great.  But if someone else is to do the straightening up, it is not fair to them to have to pick up your garbage. My graduate school department chair used to say the custodians ran the school, so cooperate and be nice. Throw away (or wash) your coffee cups, recycle those old schedules and programs and put away the Choral Journals. Let the music librarian file the music.  The sexton or custodian can wash or vacuum the floor without worrying they will disturb something important, your space will more pleasant to work in and all will think you are thoughtful.  And that’s good.
 
Often the simplest things to do are ones we don’t do.  We have to deal with the fall out of not saying “thank you” because we couldn’t be bothered. And it’s not necessary when a kind word or a “please” could make our lives much more pleasant.
 
     READ the entire series on choral ethics by Marie Grass Amenta.
          Choral Ethics (Part 1): Songs My Mother Taught Me
          Choral Ethics (Part 2): Amateur Versus Professional
          Choral Ethics (Part 3): Kindness is NOT for Wimps
          Choral Ethics (Part 4): Reaping What We Sow
          Choral Ethics (Part 5): “Maestra Manners” Explains All
COMPOSITION SPOTLIGHT ~ by Jack Senzig
 
(Each week we look at one or two of the best choral works posted in the Composition Showcase here on ChoralNet.  This is where we store a treasure trove of works that your choirs will love to sing and your audiences will love to hear.)
 
Micronczarnia by Jakub Neske for SATB a cappella, also SSAA and TTBB (Click here for PDF and here for AUDIO)
 
Level: High School or Higher
Uses: General Concert Use
Program Themes: Torment, Speech pieces, Uncertainty
This Piece Would Program Well With: Full Fathom Five by Brad Burrill available through the Composition Showcase
 
As Halloween approaches this is a sure case of Click-For-Treat!!  Your singers are going to LOVE LOVE LOVE this piece.   Who has the coolest choir in town? You do, after singing Jakub Neske’s Mironczarnia! 
 
A series of syllabic utterances followed by powerful ostinati and a lofty soprano solo are what make this piece take off.  That it is in a Slavic language is not a hindrance, rather it enhances the epic flavor.  Take this to your state, divisional or national ACDA convention.  They will remember your performance forever.
 
Micronczarnia is available from the composer’s website: http://j.neske.eu/
 
 
TRAVEL AND CONCERT PRODUCTION INDUCTRY MEMBER COLLABORATION by Tim Sharp
 
       Each year throughout the world, thousands of choral music concerts and concert productions take place that are made possible to hundreds of thousands of audience members through the hard work and creative efforts of a very important segment of ACDA’s membership. This constituency of ACDA is the companies and individuals who make up our travel and concert production industry membership. While thousands of performances and concerts take place in our schools, communities, and faith environments, similarly, thousands of concerts take place through the creative work of our conductors working in collaboration with travel and concert production companies. Through both industry and individual efforts, all of our members overlap in ACDA’s mission to inspire excellence in choral music education, performance, composition, and advocacy.
       In September of this year, I met in Chicago with a large number of ACDA members from the travel and concert production industry to discuss meaningful ways we could work together to advance our mission. The threads of overlap are easy to identify, and throughout the day, opportunities to enhance our work together became more and more apparent. The leadership of our current industry representative and national board member, Brad Matheson, aided our discussion, as well as our immediate past industry representative, Alec Harris. Alec had successfully led the effort to align our print music publishing industry members in a similar pursuit during his term as industry representative, and Brad has been eager to help us pursue similar advancement with this membership category. Leading up to this event, travel industry member Oliver Scofield helped to get the ball rolling on this summit meeting at our 2011 National Conference in Chicago.
       Throughout the day of our meeting, it became apparent that our association and our travel and concert production industry members had several areas we could embrace that would advance our collective mission. These included maximum coordination when planning division and national conferences, collaboration on international initiatives that ACDA is now embracing, strategic scheduling of time at division and national conferences, and joint participation for future festivals and cultural exchange programs. It was vividly clear to all participants in the meeting that we value each other and that we pursue parts of the same mission.
The good news for all of us who tour and participate in concert productions away from home that are created by our industry partners is that ACDA and the travel and concert production industry members of ACDA want to work even closer together for the promotion of choral excellence in the United States and around the world. Even more exciting is the fact that we have identified specific areas where we can work even more closely together at connection points in our overlapping mission. These specifics include the 2016 America Cantat Festival, our International Conductor Exchange Program, our hosting of international choirs at division and national conferences, and the future possibilities of choral festivals in the United States.
       The American Choral Directors Association is proud of and grateful to our strategic industry partners who collaborate with and support us in our performance work. While we may come to our performances from educational, aesthetic, faith, or profit motives, as members of ACDA, we are all united in our motive of the pursuit of excellence in our performances.
Daniel Coyle's The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills Tip #3 is, "Steal without apology." This is something I've long believed—it's one of the best ways to acquire new skills. When you see a fine conductor do something—gesture, rehearsal technique, etc.—that works, follow the advice given in the first post, quoting Coyle, "Many hotbeds use an approach I call the engraving method. Basically, they watch the skill being performed, closely and with great intensity, over and over, until they build a high-intensity mental blueprint." Then . . . add it to your repertoire. As Picasso says, "Good artists borrow. Great artists steal."
 
An interesting example is given:
Linda Septien, founder of the Linda Septien School of Contemporary Music, a hotbed near Dallas that has produced millions of dollars in pop music talent (including Demi Lovato, Ryan Cabrera, and Jessica Simpson), tells her students, "Sweetheart, you gotta steal like crazy. Look at every single performer better than you and see what they've got that you can use. Then make it your own. Septien follows her own advice, having accumulated fourteen three-ring notebooks worth of ideas stolen from top performers. In plastic sleeves inside the binders, in some cases scribbled on cocktail napkins, reside tips on everything from how to hit a high note to how to deal with a rowdy crowd (a joke works best).
I know I can trace some specific gestures or rehearsal techniques I use to particular teachers, mentors, or conductors I've observed. But you have to find a way to make these skills yours. That comes with practice. You have to absorb it so thoroughly that it now belongs to you. And, of course, to quote Ecclesiastes, "There is nothing new under the sun." Those you "steal" from have no doubt "stolen" it from someone else.
 
You can also absorb certain things unconsciously . . . and that can be good or bad. I know some things I learned as a singer in Rod Eichenberger's University of Washington Chorale as an undergraduate—notably a sense of rhythm and phrasing—gradually became a part of me and my approach to music, and for that I'll be eternally grateful.
 
But at the same time sometimes we copy things that aren't an essential part of a conductor's success. If you copy Robert Shaw's rehearsing with a towel around his neck instead of his amazing score study habits, it's unlikely your conducting will improve.
 
So, steal freely. But make sure you practice until the new skill belongs to you . . . and then someone else can steal it from you.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Cal Newport, who writes one of my favorite blogs, posted this summary of a talk given in 1986 by Nobel Prize winner Richard Hamming. The talk he gave, and Cal's post, speak to the value of hard work, time use, and creating conditions to foster creativity. I found it a fascinating read, and super valuable to my work as a conductor, teacher, and creator. Cal's summarized points are as follows:
  1. "Luck is not as important as people think" - The luck goes to the prepared. The harder you work, the more "luck" you will have. Amen.
  2. "Knowledge and productivity are like compound interest" - I wish I could convince many of my undergrad music majors of this when they are thinking of skipping out on practicing.
  3. "Become comfortable with ambiguity" - I have hammer this idea in my choral lit class when they want to know exactly whether this or that piece is a motet. Well, the answer is, a lot of the time, it depends on who you ask. Same with diction. Anyone here study English diction? If you have, you know what I mean.
  4. "Creativity requires focus" - Finding time to clear things away and focus on one thing can be hard. This is especially doing that over long periods of time. 
  5. "Important work comes from important problems" - Hamming says, “If you do not work on an important problem, it’s unlikely you’ll do important work.” Yes. Absolutely.
  6. "Keep your door open" - This is hard, and counter to #4. But Steve Jobs thought the bathrooms were important.
  7. "Transform isolated problems into general problems" - I love this. Having problems with this student or this problem or finding this music. Find the answer, and allow the topic to open up into something new and broader.
  8. "Sell your results" - This is the thing we music folks do well. We pitch the why of what we do pretty well. Still, new ideas need to be sold.
Have a look at Cal's discussion, as well as the orginal talk. And while you are at it, read about Steve Jobs' obsession with the bathrooms at Pixar. It will give you somethign to think about for sure.
 
 
CHORAL ETHICS (Part 4): REAPING WHAT WE SOW by Marie Grass Amenta
 
(This is the fourth installment of a five-part series on choral ethics, exploring what it means to be ethical in this often unethical business.)
 
Always do right.  This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” Mark Twain
 
Almost fifteen years ago, I had a wonderful church job and directed a community children’s chorus….but I wanted more musically. I began auditioning for some “plum” jobs. I had the education and experience but before this, the opportunity to audition for those types of jobs had not presented itself in my own community.  I began the rounds of interviews and auditions, some for long established programs, and always made it to the last round.  I got one of the three jobs I auditioned for—a newly established community children’s choir—but didn’t get the others. 
 
Of the two positions I did not get, one was probably over reaching for me but they let me down so kindly, I did not mind. The other position would have been a very good fit for me, for the community and for their organization as well. This was an established choral organization and was considered to be a premier group. I did not get the job for reasons having nothing to do with me or my ability. Knowing what I know now, my not getting the job the first time--and my two subsequent auditions after--had more to do with the “in fighting” within the structure of their Board of Directors, I just happened to be an innocent bystander.  I have never been treated so poorly in an audition. There were nasty comments, inappropriate questions and snide remarks.  The fall after my first audition, the position was again available and I was asked to reapply.  I had hoped the administration or situation had changed but if anything, they treated me slightly worse than the year before. The following year, the position was open again and I was called by the organization’s accompanist to apply.  Since the accompanist called me and others in the organization seemed to want me, I couldn’t imagine being treated any worse, but I was.  My instincts finally kicked in and told me the people running those awful auditions thought it was “professional” to be as nasty, demeaning and dismissive as possible. 
 
I am sharing this story not to complain about my treatment by that organization or to tell you I should have gotten that job; I am confessing.  My behavior after those three awful auditions was not stellar. I found myself bad mouthing the organization in public or to anyone who would listen.  I looked small and petty to those I complained to and instead of being sympathetic; I am sure they were uncomfortable and lost respect for me. I was horrified at myself.  One of the reasons I was horrified was it was exactly opposite to how I was raised and of me, as a person.  And I didn’t like it.  It was then I decided I needed to do an overhaul of my own behavior.
 
I began to think about my behavior in a new way and imagined myself in the very position of that choral organization.  My reaction to their treatment was an honest one. If they had treated me differently-- the way the other organization had--I would not have gossiped about them in public. I would have graciously accepted NOT getting the position and moved on. In a way, I was primed to behave the way I did.
 
In short, I believe we reap what we sow. As a result, I am never nasty to someone I audition and reject, or even to a singer whom I have to ask to leave my ensemble.  If you audition for me, I will calmly tell you if you did or did not make it when I told you I would and explain our audition protocol so there is no misunderstanding.  I have to believe my treatment of those who audition for me, if unkind or petulant, will come back to bite me. I try to do right and by doing so, am preventing a world of future bad feelings. And those bad feelings can linger for years.
COMPOSITION SPOTLIGHT ~ by Jack Senzig
 
(Each week we look at one or two of the best choral works posted in the Composition Showcase here on ChoralNet.  This is where we store a treasure trove of works that your choirs will love to sing and your audiences will love to hear.)
 
We Three Kings by Rick Bartlett for TTBB and piano (Click here for PDF and here for AUDIO)
 
Level: Advanced High School or Higher
Uses: Holiday Concert
Program Themes: Footsteps in the Snow, Winter in Sound
This Piece Would Program Well With: A Country Boy in Winter by Greg Bartholomew available through the Composition Showcase
 
I have rarely had the privilege to find a piece as perfect for a particular image as this week’s Silver Platter Award recipient.   Rick Bartlett has created the perfect living acoustic Christmas Card. 
 
The frosty piano part projects every beautiful snow covered lane, red barn, horse drawn sleigh and white-covered green pine tree I have ever seen onto my minds eye.  Maybe it’s just because I live in Wisconsin, or maybe it’s because Rick Bartlett is a choral illusionist, take your pick, but I love this setting of We Three Kings!  Your audience will too.
 
We Three Kings is available from the composer by emailing him at: crickb88(a)cox.net or through ChoralNet http://www.choralnet.org/view/user/6077
Previously we've talked about Scorch as a way to embed notation into webpages and publish music to your ensemble. A new release from Trinket has brought a new level of interactivity to web-based music notation, and while it will likely not replace Scorch from a publishing perspective, it's incredibly exciting from a teaching perspective. The release of Trinket's music notation features comes in support of Open Music Theory, an "open-source, interactive, online 'text'book for college-level music theory courses" published online by Hybrid Pedagogy Press. As part of Open Music Theory's work examples, Trinket gives the authors the ability to write examples and have listeners modify them freely and hear their results. Consider the following standard exercise in counterpoint:
 
(not a live embed - please click through to the interactive version from Open Music Theory)
 
Users edit the music by typing in the textbox at the bottom of the widget. Notation is edited in real-time, and the users can immediately playback their work to listen to it. The commands at the top of the widget allow users to save their results as a new Trinket widget, or e-mail, copy a link, or embed the widget directly in their own blogs or websites. While I have not tested this to confirm, it stands to reason that since these widgets use standard HTML to embed in a webpage, users could embed their answers into submissions through common LMS' used by universities and K-12 institutions to bring into a formal class setting as well. I have successfully tested Trinket on an iPad within Safari for those of you with iPad sets or student devicesl.
 
Trinket requires a free account to sign-up, and once you are registered, choose "New Trinket" and "Music" and the music editing box appears:
(not a live embed - Trinket.io)
 
By going to the setup menu, you can edit the parameters of the excerpt in text:
 
Note that here you can add additional staves, change clefs and edit the key, tempo and time-signature.
 
Both Trinket and Open Music Theory represent a major step forward in our ability to communicate musical concepts on the Web. Trinket is not going to replace Scorch as a publishing tool (there is no import ability and sounds are limited), but as a teaching tool it gives us the ability to present notation-based challenges to our students, and have them edit and submit them without having to have a separate notation program-- all within an existing webpage and software. Furthermore-- it's just fun to edit the textline and have the music respond (and for beginning students, requires constant practice of note names and identification).
 
Can you envision a use for Trinket in any of your instructional materials? If you give Trinket a try, post the link to any of your experiments below!
This next blog series revolves around several books and their perspectives on increasing our skills. Those skills can range from conducting technique to rehearsal technique to score study, if we think of our own skills as conductors. It can also mean the skills we teach our singers, which are equally important.
 
As you've seen in the previous series on Books Worth Reading, I often draw inspiration from books that aren't directly about music—they can range from psychology to sports to . . . well, almost anything.
 
I'll start with Daniel Coyle's The Little Book of Talent, which I referenced here. It developed out of Coyle's research (as a magazine writer develping an article) looking at "talent hotbeds" and how some people or schools or organizations developed an inordinate (and statistically significantly larger) number of exceptionally talented individuals. In essence, how these particular individuals showed such remarkable skill growth. The "Little Book" is his series of tips for improving skills.
 
So, let's get to work!
 
Tip #2 is "Spend 15 Minutes a Day Engraving the Skill on Your Brain" (I wrote about Tip #1, "Stare About Who You Want to Become," in the post linked above).
 
Coyle says that in learning a new skill, "Many hotbeds use an approach I call the engraving method. Basically, they watch the skill being performed, closely and with great intensity, over and over, until they build a high-intensity mental blueprint." He uses an example of Timothy Gallwey teaching a woman who'd never played tennis how to hit a forehand, without ever saying a word, in about 20 minutes. He also uses the example of Suzuki teaching, where a particular song is engraved by listening intently (and over and over) in the students' brains.
 
There are many ways to use this idea (which isn't new, of course).
 
I remember learning to do a "kip" on the high bar as a junior high school student (this video shows a kip as a way to get onto the bar—it's only a little humiliating that the person doing the kip—and something much more difficult afterward—is a 6 year old girl!). It wasn't until I'd watched it done by my fellow classmates many times that I could imagine how it felt in my brain, that I could do it myself. I had to internalize and imagine doing the move before I could do it. But it was visualizing the move intensely that made that happen.
 
How can this apply to skill development? Lots of ways, of course!
  • Learning a new conducting technique, watch someone intently on the particular technique/move (someone who does it well, of course!). Given today's video capability with our phones, get video of someone (a colleague, your teacher, fellow student) doing it. Spend 15 minutes a day watching intently and absorbing the move until you can feel it in your brain. Then see if you can do it, having absorbed it into your own physical repertoire.
  • For singers to recreate certain kinds of sounds we can teach in a variety of ways, but models—sound models—can be the most effective. If a picture is worth a thousand words, can't we say the same thing about sound? Demonstrations (by yourself if you're skilled, by another member of the choir, or by a guest—perhaps a voice teacher) can help create the sound you desire from your choir, often more quickly than other methods. Of course, you have to be careful about this. In any demonstration you may inadvertently create some things you don't want. Intonation is a particular one—a good example of quality of sound may be sabotaged by your not paying attention to your intonation. Recordings can also be used, but care needs to be taken to give examples that are possible for your singers. I wouldn't use the Swedish Radio Choir for a middle school choir! (But I might use a recording of a great middle school choir—for example, a recording of boys singing with the best possible sound for male singers that age)
  • Style can also be taught/absorbed through excellent recordings. Long ago, when I was preparing the Brahms Liebeslieder Walzer with my choir at PLU, I began every rehearsal playing recordings of Strauss waltzes by the Vienna Philharmonic. It was to absorb the style (very natural to those musicians) of playing a waltz: the right kind of lilt, where the 2nd beat gets placed rhythmically, the difference between a waltz and a Ländler). How much did it help? I can't separate it out, but I believe much is absorbed unconsciously in doing this kind of listening. I should also say that I had a waltz party with our dance teacher coming in to teach the singers to dance the waltz!
Think of your own examples! Please reply and share your ideas with everyone!
 
CHORAL ETHICS (Part 3): KINDNESS IS NOT FOR WIMPS by Marie Grass Amenta
 
(This is the third installment of a five-part series on choral ethics, exploring what it means to be ethical in this often unethical business.)

“What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness?” Jean-Jacques Rousseau
 
It is easy to forget we need to work regularly with others.  Unless you are a soloist all the time, you must work with other musicians. Unless you conduct exactly the sort of ensemble you wish, with the musicians you wish, you must work with whom you are given. I like clever comments and witty repartee as much as the next person, but when it is mean spirted or at the expense of others feelings, it is unkind. And it’s easier, and much more productive, to work with others when they respect us because we are kind.
 
In order to be kind, we must have been shown kindness. We should learn kindness in music lessons with our first teachers because the best teachers are kind.  They critique your technique or interpretation but never you as a person. They take the personal criticisms out of their teaching.  Whether they see talent or nothing but interest, they are kind. They may believe you have no talent or business hoping for a career in music but will be the first to praise other aspects of your personality.
 
It is the lack of kindness, the obvious disparaging comment and the mean spirited criticism that makes a world of difference in our students’ and ensembles’ perception of us as directors and as people.  My Mom would call it “being ugly.”  Your own Mom may have called it “snotty” or just plain “nasty.”  Must we refer to our soprano section as “cackling hens” or say the basses sound like “bottom feeders” or tell the tenors to “loosen their neckties because they sound like they are strangling” or ignore the altos, occasionally call them “Joanie-One-Notes?” Do we need to call our accompanist “Fumble Fingers?” As soon as those “cheap shots” come out of our mouths, our singers and accompanists begin to lose respect for us. We should be honest but not nasty!
 
I admit I had my own misguided notion of what it means to be “kind” in rehearsal.  For many years, I thought it unkind to be brutally honest in my criticism because I wanted to be kind. I would say something was “mediocre”--not dreadful or wrong or terrible--as I pointed out what needed to be done to correct a mistake.  I used the term with my adult choirs and childrens choirs as well and noticed something interesting…..the children would laugh at the word, and then fix the problem very quickly but it would take the adults a bit longer to grasp what needed to be done. I couldn’t figure out why. 
 
A few years ago, a singer in my auditioned chamber choir shared she HATED when I used “mediocre” as a criticism because I never praised them after the correction was made.  I had to think about it but had to agree with her.  I didn’t want to be unkind but I suppose I didn’t want to be perceived as “weak” by being too pleased. Now I use a rule of 2:1---for every two critiques, I praise one thing or for every two things I praise, I critique one. And when I make a correction, it is done very succinctly, no extra words to confuse, just the facts. It’s amazing how this strategy has improved the rapidity of my chamber choir grasping a correction.
 
Those who cry “he or she isn’t tough enough to survive in this business” never show a smidge of kindness so as to not appear “weak,” however, the strongest among us are the most kind.  You can be tough, uncompromising and not be willing to “settle” and still be kind. It takes intelligence to be kind, it’s tougher than being nasty but the reward of respect is great.  When there is true respect from your singers and the others you work with, there is a sense you are able to accomplish anything and a certain freedom…and peace.  Think how much easier it will be for our singers to not always be waiting for the barb, the castrating comment, the “other shoe” and we can just concentrate on being the best teacher/director/conductor/performer we can be!
COMPOSITION SPOTLIGHT ~ by Jack Senzig
 
(Each week we look at one or two of the best choral works posted in the Composition Showcase here on ChoralNet.  This is where we store a treasure trove of works that your choirs will love to sing and your audiences will love to hear.)
 
The Birds by David Basden for SSATBB a cappella (Click here for PDF and here for AUDIO)
 
Level: Advanced Church Choir, or College
Uses: Baptism of the Lord, Holy Family or Concert
Program Themes: The Christ Child, Creation, Clay, Angels
This Piece Would Program Well With: O Magnum Mysterium by Morten Lauridsen available from JWPepper and Sheet Music Plus.
 
 
David Basden has set a beautiful poem by Hilaire Belloc that reads like a lost verse of scripture.  The four year old Jesus forgoes playing with golden toys delivered by angels to make birds out of clay.  He blesses them until they fly away.  
 
Unexpected turns of harmony within a homophonic structure make this piece very much worth a deeper look.  Notice how the beautifully simple rhythm of two shorts and a long at “four years old”, “toys of gold” and similar places is used to propel the piece along. 
 
The Birds is available from the composer by email: deebee(at)pacific.net.au
Do working mothers face specific vocal challenges?  Are those women/mothers working in specific vocally-intensive professions more susceptible to issues related to vocal health?
 
A new study currently underway at the Northern Illinois University seeks to understand such issues.  One of the co-researchers, Mary Lynn Doherty, has commented frequently about vocal matters both on this site and in the pages of the Choral Journal.
 
If you are a working mother (full- or part-time) for whom for whom significant occupational voice use is required, you are invited to participate in a survey that evaluates your vocal health.
 
 
One more book before I go in a new direction: Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life.
 
I'm fascinated by creative people in other arts than music. Since I'm married to a visual artist (who loves music, luckily), I often get cross-pollination of ideas from another viewpoint (and she has good ears, too!).
 
Twyla Tharp is a choreographer who's done work that ranges from her own company, choreography for other companies (premieres of 16 of her works at the American Ballet Theatre), Broadway (particularly her successful show based on Billy Joel songs), and film (she worked with Milos Forman on Hair, Ragtime, and Amadeus).
 
Her underlying point is that creativity is a habit, a product of preparation and effort, and she then explores the exercises she does to create ideas.
 
She begins each day going to the gym. As she tells us, rituals of preparation are important to the creative artist—the habits we build. She says the ritual is not the exercises she does, the ritual is the cab. "The moment I tell the driver where to go I have completed the ritual. . . . It's vital to establish some rituals—automatic but decisive patterns of behavior—at the beginning of the creative process, when you are most at peril of turning back, chickening out, giving up, or going the wrong way." She gives examples of different artists' rituals, including Igor Stravinsky, who played a Bach fugue at the piano every day when he entered his studio.
 
A list of chapter headings is vague, but will give you a few ideas:
  • Your Creative DNA
  • Harness Your Memory
  • Before You Can Think out of the Box, You Have to Start with a Box
  • Scratching
  • Accidents Will Happen
  • Spine
  • Skill
  • Ruts and Grooves
  • An "A" in Failure
  • The Long Run
As "recreative" artists we may think that the kind of creativity needed by a choreographer, visual artist, playwright, author, composer, or architect has little to do with what we do. But we have to "re-engineer" the compositions we perform, imagine them through the composer's mind and spirit. Programming is a mightily creative act (or should be)! And, although I've spoken of rehearsal technique as craft, it is also art when we're at our best. With one of my choirs right now I've needed to re-think aspects of how I normally rehearse—and the creative energy I put into planning those rehearsals will ultimately affect what I do in other ones. There are so many ways in which creativity is at the heart of what we do. Following a great creative artist such as Twyla Tharp through her process, seeing her "toolbox," and getting inside her mind is enormously helpful.
 
I hope you get a chance to enjoy and learn from it!
CHORAL ETHICS (Part 2): AMATEUR VERSUS PROFESSIONAL by Marie Grass Amenta
 
(This is the second installment of a five-part series on choral ethics, exploring what it means to be ethical in this often unethical business.)
 
“Every artist was first an amateur.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
 
The word amateur is taken from Old French and means ‘lover’.  Many definitions of the word speak of doing something for pleasure and most of us, I am sure, became choral conductors because we found pleasure in singing or leading singing. Is it the other definition of amateur we are really afraid of? How many of us have ceased finding pleasure in music and are just plain cranky? Is that what being a professional means?  And why is it so important to be referred to as “professional?”  We all have worked with people who feel they are the professional but who behave any way but professionally.
 
A friend of mine recently brought up an experience she had in grad school.  She attended a Roman Catholic university and had a church job to supplement her tuition loans.  One year, Easter was quite early and her elite choral group had a concert the next week.  Their conductor arranged to have the first orchestral rehearsal on Holy Thursday, from 5 to 7 pm and arranged it only a few weeks before.  He didn't ask any of his singers if they were available. He just did it, declaring it a mandatory rehearsal. Several singers in addition to my friend also had church jobs and could not attend that rehearsal and told him so as soon as they realized the conflict.  The conductor was livid, went to the Dean who threatened to throw them all out of school if they didn't attend that rehearsal.  The conductor also called them--which is why my friend brought this up--"unprofessional". Now this was a Roman Catholic university and Holy Thursday is quite a big deal in the Roman Catholic Church if memory serves, and the singers let him know they would be unable to attend in a timely fashion.  But this conductor, who should have known church musicians earning money to go to school would be busy on a Big Deal for the Roman Catholic Church, called them unprofessional.  All of them arranged for substitutes at their churches, but how silly is that? Another friend, a retired Music Ed professor, wondered what kind of an example the conductor set for his students.  It's okay to schedule--at the last minute mind you--a rehearsal when many in his ensemble might have a very predictable conflict? And then throw a temper tantrum? Is this a version of professional I don’t know about?
 
I have an acquaintance who brags every chance she gets she is more of a professional than I. She’s a fine accompanist and quite a good musician but she is a soprano, and every once in a while, she lets her “inner diva” fly. She’s the type to play that “diva card” quite often and will scold me—in public—when she thinks I am not treating her with enough deference. I might not even be aware of whatever slight she thinks I made.   I recommend her for jobs, talk her up and have even used her as a coach but something or somebody gets her in a kerfuffle and I am facing the firing squad. She complains to me often she doesn’t always get the jobs she wants and it’s “not fair.” But perhaps her supposed professional behavior is the reason.
 
Many people, even those who are the supposed “professionals,” think it is the drama, making a scene and the last minute changes and the lack of schedules because their ensemble should be the only important thing in your life that makes you a “professional.” I believe it to be the opposite.
 
The true professionals in my life have been those who respect my time and theirs as well.  It is not just letting musicians know a rehearsal schedule ahead of time which makes them professional, it shows they are organized and thinking ahead.  We all have occasion to do things at the last minute or to be upset over something. But when it is always that way or appears to be that way, it is rather unsettling. And makes me wonder if they are as “professional” as they claim to be.
C.S. LEWIS & CHURCH MUSIC by Thomas Vozzella
 
I recently came across this essay by C. S. Lewis entitled On Church Music from the book * Christian Reflections. It does not need much introduction as C. S. Lewis has been a voice in the Christian community for decades. Yet, I have never read his views on music in the church. I found it insightful and apropos, especially being several decades old and remains relevant today…you decide.
 
Musical Taste "There are two musical situations on which I think we can be confident that a blessing rests. One is where a priest or an organist, himself a man of trained and delicate taste, humbly and charitably sacrifices his own (aesthetically right) desires and gives the people humbler and coarser fare than he would wish, in a belief (even, as it may be, the erroneous belief) that he can thus bring them to God. The other is where the stupid and unmusical layman humbly and patiently, and above all silently, listens to music which he cannot, or cannot fully, appreciate, in the belief that it somehow glorifies God, and that if it does not edify him this must be his own defect. Neither such a High Brow nor such a Low Brow can be far out of the way. To both, Church Music will have been a means of grace; not the music they have liked, but the music they have disliked. They have both offered, sacrificed, their taste in the fullest sense. But where the opposite situation arises, where the musician is filled with the pride of skill or the virus of emulation and looks with contempt on the unappreciative congregation, or where the unmusical, complacently entrenched in their own ignorance and conservatism, look with the restless and resentful hostility of an inferiority complex on all who would try to improve their taste – there, we may be sure, all that both offer is unblessed and the spirit that moves them is not the Holy Ghost."
 
Musical Intention - "It seems to me that we must define rather carefully the way, or ways, in which music can glorify God. There is … a sense in which all natural agents, even inanimate ones, glorify God continually by revealing the powers He has given them. And in that sense we, as natural agents, do the same. On that level our wicked actions, in so far as they exhibit our skill and strength, may be said to glorify Good, as well as our good actions. An excellently performed piece of music, as natural operation which reveals in a very high degree the peculiar powers given to man, will thus always glorify God whatever the intention of the performers may be. But that is a kind of glorifying which we share with the ‘dragons and great deeps’, with the ‘frost and snows’. What is looked for in us, as men, is another kind of glorifying, which depends on intention. How easy or how hard it may be for a whole choir to preserve that intention through all the discussions and decisions, all the corrections and the disappointments, all the temptations to pride, rivalry and ambition, which precede the performance of a great work, I (naturally) do not know. But it is on the intention that all depends. When it succeeds, I think the performers are the most enviable of men; privileged while mortals to honor God like angels and, for a few golden moments, to see spirit and flesh, delight and labour, skill and worship, the natural and the supernatural, all fused into that unity they would have had before the Fall."
 
(N.B. * This was taken from an essay entitled "On Church Music" by C. S. Lewis. It can be found in a current publication called Christian Reflections published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.; ISBN: 0802808697)
Last week's discussion of software to convert PDF examples from public domain sites into editable documents elicited a reaction from one software group eager to be recognized:
 
 
MuseScore is a free and open-source notation program for Windows, Mac and Linux. The software is an alternative to the big two of Sibelius and Finale, and users of those programs will find MuseScore to be familiar. As with other open-source programs, it's not a straight transition from the programs you know and love to a "work in progress" that's constantly under development, and open-source software usually operates with less of a safety net in terms of documentation and support than commercial products. That said, there are certainly advantages to open-source software, none more obvious than that "free" word. 
 
I left MuseScore out of our initial conversations because I wasn't aware that they had a feature to import PDFs into editable files... they call it an "experimental" feature (link behind login- free MuseScore account required). It is, however, a valid option for processing files into MuseScore from public domain sources as .PDF. So how does it work? In their demo, MuseScore sent two files: the original PDF downloaded from CPDL (Per Avem, ed. Marco Croci), and the processed MuseScore output file (they present it as "the result with zero clean up").
 
(original)
 
(processed into MuseScore)
 
After comparing them side-by-side, a few things become apparent. First, there is a very high degree of accuracy with regards to the notes. The SAT lines are accurate, and two notes are missing from the Bass, easily re-added in editing. Certainly had the original been a handwritten manuscript, there would be more issues with pitch accuracy, but analyzing a printed score is fairly reliable at this point. Second, the text is a mess in the output. This is pretty standard for many OMR programs, and it's just hard to accurately detect which notes the text should be attached to. I often find that this is less of a burden than you might think: if I'm importing a file back into a notation program, I'm usually doing it to produce a recording (which will not require the text) or to re-arrange or re-structure the piece, in which case I'll have to revise the text setting anyways. 
 
The more suspect areas of OMR processing usually involve rhythm, and here we do see some issues that will require cleanup: 
(edited MS file, ex. 1)
 
Do you see the issue? Hint: it's not the pp high F. The scan has inserted eighth-rests behind some of the printed notes. Easy to delete, but they should be removed in editing.
 
(edited MS file, ex. 2)
 
This is a little more obtuse.
 
Aside from rhythms, the dynamics and articulations are the next categories of markings most likely to have issues, and here there are some errors as well. As with text, asking a piece of software to make an accurate determination of where dynamics are supposed to be attached, as well as assigning floating markings such as articulations, steps far outside the comfort level of computer processing. Again, how much editing this requires will largely be determined by what you want to do with the finished file (and how erroneous the markings are).
 
The examples that MuseScore provided are great demonstrations of both the capacity and limits of OMR software designed to convert scanned or downloaded .PDF files into editable notation. Where even until recently, reasonable minds differed on whether OMR software saved time over re-inputting a score from scratch, I believe that these two scores side-by-side show that processing and editing a digital file downloaded from a public domain source is a relatively easy process. In addition, now the MuseScore has this capacity, this may be a viable option for you if you did not previously own one of the commercial programs we discussed last week.
I think the best of the books about John Wooden's teaching (which really was the bulk of his approach to coaching) is You Haven't Taught Until They Have Learned, by Swen Nater (one of Wooden's players at UCLA) and Ronald Gallimore (a psychologist whose research was in teaching, and who with his colleague Roland Tharp did research with Wooden back in the mid-70s when he was still coaching). I talked about this in a previous series about Wooden, all of which can be found here and the particular posts that involve Nater & Gallimore's book here, here, here, here, here, and here.
 
While those posts will tell you a lot about the book . . . there's no substitute for reading it yourself. I believe there's a huge amount to think about (and learn from) in it.
 
By the way, I've been giving links to Amazon, just for convenience. When I'm buying a used book I also check Thriftbooks, since they often have great prices and free shipping (they work with independent bookstores from all over the country). My copy of this book came from them, although I see right now that it's out of stock (they have an earlier edition, but I'm not sure that's the same). You may have other places to look as well–let us know if you do!
 
A new series coming soon!