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(An excerpt from the Choral Journal article, “Scheduling Choral Programs and Community Relations” by Robert L. Garretson)
       What choral conductor has not received numerous requests for programs from various groups in the community? Each conductor must determine how many and on what basis these programs should be accepted. Throughout the country a wide range of practices exists. Some directors accept relatively few programs because they wish to focus their efforts in rehearsals upon the development of musicianship, while other directors strive for the highest possible performance standards which they believe is most readily achieved through extensive performance. These two goals are not incompatible; however, a balance must be maintained.
       Many school music directors express the philosophy that one of the objectives of the school music program is to serve as a bridge of understanding between the school and the community. In striving toward this goal, as well as maintaining a balance between the development of musicianship and performance standards, the director needs specific information about all the program requests received.
       The following is a suggested procedure: 1) Prepare a standard form including such pertinent information as date, time, place, sponsoring group, contact person and phone number, length and type of program desired, the size and nature of the performance hall, estimated audience, the condition of the piano (how recently was it tuned?), and the admission charge, if any. 2) Relate to the inquiring party that you will send them a performance request form to be completed, and that when returned it will receive the prompt attention of both yourself and the choir council (usually consisting of the officers).
       In the initial conversation make clear that all engagements are dependent upon the students' schedules, including examinations and other commitments that might not be readily known to   you. The use of such a form enables the director to secure all necessary information at one time and eliminates, or at least minimizes.
READ the entire article.
Giving a student the stick is one of those “Pay it Forward” things we are supposed to do as choral educators.  When we identify a student with both musical aptitude and the interest in becoming a conductor, it is incumbent upon us to then provide that fledgling conductor an opportunity to lead the ensemble in a selection during a concert.  It is a lovely right-of-passage that has started many a career.
Typically, a conductor hands over the stick during a local concert in one’s home auditorium.  While those concerts are important, a home performance carries a certain element of artistic safety.  Should a student conductor flail about, the partisan crowd isn’t too likely to revolt.
Stepping down to allow a student to conduct during a concert at an ACDA conference is something completely different, and is decidedly rare.  Let’s face it, those performance slots are highly prized, with many of us working our entire careers to catch that brass ring.  Yet, there are a few conductors who are so secure in themselves and so dedicated to their students’ development that they graciously surrender time on that coveted podium.
Here is one such performance from a recent ACDA divisional conference, with a colleague demonstrating tremendous magnanimousness.  Have you gone above and beyond the call for your students?
MY GO-TO WARM UP, by Deidra Douglas (Cypress Falls high School)
Daily reinforcement of the basic vocal development skills—breath control and support, vocal tone, vowel formation-- and consistent teaching of vocal placement within the choral rehearsal and individually, contributed to my students' success.
One exercise that I use consistently with my women is designed to reinforce placement within the “vocal mask”.
The students sing a “ning” and bring the back of the tongue up to the soft palate, then release the tongue but keep the space with an ee, and eh, on a 5-tone descending scale:
                  Ning - ee,  Ning - eh,  Ning - ee, Ning - eh, Ning - ee
                     G               F               E              D              C            or
                     Sol             Fa             Mi            Re             Do
I like to start in the key of E-flat(starting on B-flat), and then descend in keys down by a half-step.
(My Go-To Warm-Up” features a favorite warm-up used by those choirs who have been selected to perform during the 2015 ACDA National Conference.)
With Halloween coming up, here’s a little taste of Disney’s take on trick-or-treat, circa 1952.
1.  “Komm, Jesu Komm.” J.S. Bach. BWV 229 cpdl #04012
Funeral Motet for double SATB choir. Can be performed a cappella, with colla parte instruments, or just continuo.  Concludes with a four part chorale.
2.  “Il Carnevale di Venezia.” Giacochino Rossini. cpdl #24368
Lively accompanied chamber quartet in Italian.  Singing beggars in the street asking for charity during the busy time of Carnival.
3.  “Magnificat.” J.S. Bach. BWV 243. C. F. Peters Corp.
Thirty-minute work for choir and orchestra.  SATB soli and SSATB choir. The work is a great center piece for a Christmas or holiday program.
4.  “Lay a Garland.” Robert Pearsall. Oxford University Press.  ed. Bartlett
A cappella, SSAATTBB.  Composed in 1840, this Romantic madrigal uses Renaissance style imitation.  This edition includes a piano reduction.
5.  “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Ken Darby & Harry Simeone. Shawnee Press
SATB setting of the Clement C. Moore Christmas poem, as recorded by Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians. SATB soloists and a great piano accompaniment.
(“Five from the Folder” provides brief, text-length reviews of vocal works currently in the folders of choral directors throughout the United States.  To share five from your folder, contact Scott Dorsey at
(An excerpt from the Choral Journal article, “Deterministic Techniques in Arvo Pärt's Magnificat” by Allen H Simon)
       Estonian composer Arvo Pärt (b. 1935) has gained notoriety in the 1990s for his minimalist works such as Berliner Messe and Passio. Vestiges of the composer's early experiments with serialism and deterministic techniques, however, still linger in his recent work. His frequently performed Magnificat (1989) is based on a deterministic structuring of rhythm, melody, harmony, dynamics, voicing, and texture, organized around the pattern of word divisions and syllabic stresses in the text. The term "deterministic," as used in this article, refers to a process by which the manipulation of musical elements (pitches, rhythms, harmonies, textures, dynamics, etc.) is determined by formulas or predictable sequences. Serialism is one type of determinism, but composers have used any number of formulas, often extramusical, to determine and manipulate the musical elements of their pieces. In Pärt's Magnificat, these structures and their combinations operate below the surface, creating a riveting diversity within a seemingly static harmony. Part takes a few liberties with the formulas, but the piece remains tightly constructed from a limited palette of musical gestures.
       The rhythms in Magnificat are determined entirely by the syllabification of the text. Dotted bar lines in the score are not metric but are used as word separators with measures ranging from one quarter note to more than a breve in length. For words of two or more syllables, each unaccented syllable is set to one quarter note; the accented syllable receives a longer note. A one-syllable word receives only a quarter note unless it is the first word in a phrase, in which case, it may be a longer note. The longer notes alternate between dotted-half notes and whole notes, an alternation that continues strictly throughout the piece without regard for phrase endings.
       In most cases the last syllable of the final word in each phrase receives a long note, giving the last word two long notes. Any dotted-half note generated by the formula is replaced by a dotted-whole note in this final word. In odd-numbered phrases, a quarter note is slurred to a long note on the stressed syllable. The long note on that syllable, whether a whole note or a dotted-whole note, is reduced by half – a whole note becomes a half note and a dotted-whole note becomes a dotted-half note.
       Pärt introduces two rhythmic variants of this structure. In two phrases the upper voices enter a quarter note later than the lower voice on stressed syllables. One instance occurs at "dispersit superbos," and the second is at "et divites dimisit inanes." In addition, the last phrase of the piece-not the expected doxology but a repeat of the text "Magnificat anima mea Dominum" is
Set in augmentation of the established rhythmic pattern.
READ the entire article.
The digital demands of life in the 21st century make it difficult (if not impossible) to be a serious artist.  iGadgets and other such intrusive devices demand undivided attention from their captive users, with far too many weak-minded lemmings utterly unable to disconnect themselves from their electronic leash.
The serious artist (or serious thinker in any field of endeavor) needs TIME to ruminate, to dream about the possibilities for improving the creation at hand, whether it be a piece of choral music, a poem, or a column such as this.  You, dear choral conductor, are just such an artist.  Moreover, you are an educator who must find a way to communicate your vision, your inspiration, and your passion to the singers in your care.  The muse does not function on an assembly line.
We in the arts must discipline ourselves to slow down.  Boundaries of time, space, and energy need to be established and carefully nurtured.  Otherwise, we run the risk of sacrificing beauty for expediency.
That said, listen to the following performance from a recent ACDA conference.  Do you believe our conducting colleague just “slungin' it out” or is this performance the result of a slow, devoted process that shaped the unmolded clay of a young choir into a thing of beauty?
MY GO-TO WARM UP, by Art Lapierre (American River College Vocal Jazz Ensemble)
I use a basic ascending/descending major 9th arpeggio with various combinations of neutral vowels, vowels with voiced and unvoiced consonants, as well as text. I usually (although not always) harmonize this with a rolling I major 7th chord which moves to a IV major 7th chord on the 9th and remain there until the vocalists descend to 5 (sol). Remain there until the ‘resolution’ to 5 (sol) and then move back to the I major 7th chord. Harmonizing the 9 (re) and descending 7 (ti) with a IV∆7 chord creates a momentary 6th (la) and #4 (aka #11) (fi) over that chord. In this most basic exercise I can train, mostly diatonic (non-extended note), singers to learn to hear, maintain, and, maybe, accept extended harmony of the 7th, 6th, 9th, #11. Rhythm: all notes are additional root position exercises involve altering notes as needed:
Lydian/Dominant = b7 (tey)
Minor 7th = b3 (mey), b7 (tey), natural 11 (fa)
After these basic warmups I include various other types of ‘extended jazz harmony’ arpeggios.
Because most choral singers linger on open vowels much too long for what I refer to as “modified street English” I am constantly adjusting the words of any added text. I remember somewhere (Frank Pooler, I believe) giving me a warm-up exercise (I think it was Don Craig (?)) that included many short sentences of voiced/unvoiced consonants. I am sure there are many such exercises.
I usually alternate between eight of them and simply impose them upon my vocal warm-up. Ex: “Name the tune and I will sing.” I find this a great combination of initial, media, and final voiced consonants.
Additional exercises:
1 - Use various inversions starting on the 7th below 1 (do) up thru the chord members
2 - Add “feel” and “rhythmic” interpretation: ballad-rubato; swinging eighth notes; straight “Latin” eighth notes.
3 - Expand the exercise into a 4 and/or 8-mm phrases
4 - Harmonize to taste: Most likely beyond this short write up.
(My Go-To Warm-Up” features a favorite warm-up used by those choirs who have been selected to perform during the 2015 ACDA National Conference.)
October weekends are great for viewing fall foliage.  The stunning colors, crisp air, comfy sweaters, and steaming cups of hot apple cider combine to make it one of the wonderful experience of the year.  For those of us in southern climes, autumn is considerably less vibrant.  As a consolation, enjoy the guitar of the great Joe Pass . . .
1.  “Buccinate in Neomenia Tuba.” Giovanni Croce. Mark Foster Music Co. No. 423
A double choir motet inspired by the architecture of St. Mark’s Cathedral.  The cori spezzati style of this work is filled with musical metaphors!  An exciting opener!

2.  “Sehnsucht.”  Johannes Brahms. CPDL
Literally meaning “Longing” pays homage to the Hungarian life, lost youth, and memories.  Beautiful duets and lyrical choral writing against a colorful piano accompaniment. 

3.  “Balleilakka.” arr. Ethan Sperry. earthsongs S339
An example from Indian cinematic pop music.  A tongue-twister of syllabic patterns and full choral sonorities, it is a multicultural work to bring down the house. 

4.  “Without a Song”  arr. Kirby Shaw. Alfred Publishing CH9537
From the 1929 musical “Great Day”, recorded by greats like Perry Como, Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennet, this text is heartwarming for any age and is done with beautiful voice leading and harmonic interest. 

5.  “Make Our Garden Grow” from Candide.  Leonard Bernstein. Boosey & Hawkes M051462223
Epic closing number from this operetta is a choral powerhouse, accompanied by 4-hand piano orchestral reduction.  Message suitable for a concert closer, end of year or graduation.  
(“Five from the Folder” provides brief, text-length reviews of vocal works currently in the folders of choral directors throughout the United States.  To share five from your folder, contact Scott Dorsey at
(An excerpt from the Choral Journal article, “Chaos Theory and the Choral Conductor: Learning to Trust Musical Intuition” by Ray Wheeler)
How can conductors be more intuitive in rehearsals?
1) Be sensitive to intuitive impulses. Being aware of intuition as a valuable tool in conducting is a good beginning.
2) Try to heighten your awareness of the individuals in the choir. Notice how choir members enter the rehearsal hall. What is the general mood and emotional tone of the group? This will help you make decisions about the rehearsal that will save time. Also be sensitive to changes in the choir's attitude during the rehearsal.
3) Avoid being a slave to a rehearsal plan. Within the rehearsal plan, be flexible enough to respond to your musical and interpersonal intuition. Never blindly follow a rehearsal plan if you sense a need to take a new direction.
4) Be willing to take a chance in rehearsal. If you have an inspiration, go with it immediately.  It may be a subconscious response to the choir's needs at that particular moment. Often a conductor may not be aware on a conscious level of the choir's needs. After the fact, the problem may be traced to its source, but in an ongoing rehearsal, there may not be time for such leisurely reflection.  The intuitive idea will probably work best at the time it occurs, while later in the rehearsal the concept may not be as successful.
5) Reflect on rehearsal and musical problems in an unstructured way outside rehearsal. Many problems can be solved in moments of relaxed contemplation. Keeping the problem on the "back burner" can allow conductors to make connections they might otherwise miss, seeing out of the corner of their mind's eye.
6) Keep a journal. Many conductors keep a rehearsal journal that they find useful in planning future rehearsals. Add a written note about rehearsal experiences when intuitive impulses occur. Note both successful and unsuccessful impulses, since both help clarify and sharpen musical intuition.
READ the entire article.