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Today is the last day of autumn, which means that tomorrow is the first "official" day of winter.  Of course, for most of the U.S., brutal winter weather arrived several weeks ago.  Nevertheless, here is a light-hearted look at some of the thrills and spills that will probably continue to plague most of us over the next three months.  Is it March yet?
1. “Salmo 150.” Ernst Widmer. Colla Voce 30-96620
Rousing, joyful setting by Swiss-Brazilian 20th century composer. SSATBB. Great combination of western classical tradition with Brazilian syncopation and cross rhythms. May be done in Portuguese or Latin.
2. “Sechs Chanson.” Paul Hindemith. Schott C 43 782
Core 20th century repertoire for chamber choir. SATB. Expressive settings of wonderful French Rilke poems on subjects of nature.
3. “Die Warnung.” Joseph Haydn. Peters 1183
From Haydn’s late 4-Voice Partsongs. SATB and piano. The 3 and 4-voice partsongs of Haydn are fun, light, very accessible, and filled with mock seriousness.
4. “O Magnum Mysterium.” Francis Poulenc. Salabert 16759
One of my favorite settings. SATB. Utterly homophonic, with Poulenc’s usual short, repetitive phrases and sudden dynamic contrasts.
5. “S’vivon” (from Arise and Be Free). arr. Barnett. Transcontinental 991293
Familiar draydle song. A light rock feel with jazz harmonies.
(“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, “Singing Out of the Silence: A Survey of Quaker Choral Music” by Dan Graves)
       The practice of singing among members of the Society of Friends is inextricably tied to the history of Quakerism itself. In the mid-seventeenth century, the first generation of Quakers rejected music, although not outright. If Friends sang "with the spirit and with understanding also" (1 Corinthians 14:15), their singing was acceptable. If, however, the singer was not in the same "condition" or frame of mind as the composer of the music, the singing was viewed as lying. The Truth Testimony was broken under such circumstances; therefore most singing violated Quaker principles?
       Secular music led people away from God and was avoided as frivolous. Modeling his behavior after a seventeenth-century Friend who burned his musical instruments to avoid being led into sin, an eighteenth-century Friend, upon converting to Quakerism, felt obligated to stop playing his cello. Saddened by the loss, but unable to bring himself to burn the instrument, he dug a grave and buried it.
     With minor exceptions, these attitudes were strictly enforced during the Quietistic period of the eighteenth century. That period was followed by extreme turmoil during the nineteenth century, leading first to several splits among Friends and, ultimately, to the breakdown of eighteenth-century stereotypes. The major split among Quakers in America occurred between 1827 and 1828 in Philadelphia. This so-called Orthodox Hicksite division split Friends into two branches with vastly divergent practices in many areas, including singing. The Orthodox Quakers were strongly influenced by the American religious mainstream and the evangelical revivalist movement. They settled in the Midwest and turned to common religious practices, such as paid pastors, programmed worship services, and singing. The Hicksites, on the other hand, continued the silent worship of unprogrammed meetings, with no singing during worship.
       Today singing practices among Friends remain divided along much the same lines. In the United States, however, about two-thirds of all Qualms belong to branches descended from the Evangelical Friends, who have both congregational and choral singing as part of their worship meetings. Among American Hicksite descendants and British Friends, virtually all still hold silent, unprogrammed meetings for worship.
READ the entire article.
It’s halftime!
From the comfort of a living room halftime means a trip to the bathroom then a stop in the kitchen to make more nachos and open another beverage before the on-field action resumes.
Where the choral program is concerned, however, you, dear conducting colleague, are not a casual spectator watching from the comfort of your family room.  You are the head coach. While you may step off the field for a short time, your head absolutely must stay in the game.  It is vital that you assess what worked during the first half of the semester, and more importantly what didn’t.
What were your goals for this academic year (please, oh please tell me you had a plan written down somewhere)?  How far along is the choir toward meeting those expectations? What did YOU do to help the team along? Did you spend your energy complaining about a lack of tenors, or did you teach some baritones how to sing falsetto?  Did you gripe about the clashing vibrati in the soprano section, or did you hold sectionals to smooth out that wobble?
At this time of year, you have a couple weeks to ponder how your choir – your team – is doing so far this year.  Then you must devise a strategy to help them win in the second half.
As we pointed out in yesterday’s installment of Monday Motivation, “Players win games. Coaches lose them.”
Slam down some Gatorade® then Go Get ‘Em!
(This vocal pedagogy commentary is excerpted from the Choral Journal article, “Voice Care for Vocal Athletes in Training” by Leon Thurman and Van Lawrence. Share YOUR vocal expertise by writing a future installment of “Speaking of Voice.”  Contact Scott Dorsey,
       The "coach" of singing vocal athletes, whether the singers are soloists or members of an ensemble, has just as important a responsibility as the sports coach for conditioning and training. Yes, singing was developed by human beings because it enabled the sharing of human experiences that language could not. But it is muscles, membranes, nerves, cartilages and bones that do the actual work of singing, and all of the voice's parts respond to use just like other muscles, etc., in the body. There is one major difference: the intrinsic muscles of the larynx have few of the kind of nerve receptors that allow the user to sense their spatial location. That accounts for the difference in the degree of sensitivity between, for example, one's larynx and one's fingers.
       The development of good singing technique is a very involved process which takes time and persistence. Even with the most expert "coach" and in a one-to-one relationship it is problematic, but the sensitive and informed choral conductor can help singers develop a remarkable degree of mastery. Learning to sing well is roughly analogous to learning to play piano without being able to see or sense what the important small muscles of your left hand are doing.
       In singing, more than in sports, conditioning and training are more intimately mixed. Conditioning voices and using them with efficient skill should be inextricably intertwined. Among other things, proper conditioning means that if singers are expected to sing high pitch and/or loud volume (the two most strenuous uses of voice (for one to three hours after a three-month or even one-week layoff, they should be gradually conditioned for that degree of strenuous use. If they are expected to sing for five to seven hours in one day (choir, ensemble and musical rehearsal in one day; or a choral festival; plus normal conversation), they should be gradually conditioned for that amount of use. Individual differences in the capacity to endure strenuous vocal use do exist, but rehearsal techniques and procedures should consider those with lesser capacity.
READ the entire article.
You may not rush out for processed meats, but you'll be singing this all day long . . .
1. “Selig Sind die Toten.” Heinrich Schütz. Bärenreiter-Verlag. BA 523
A great example of mid-seventeenth century German motet writing from Schütz’s 1648 Geistliches Chormusik. The six-part contrapuntal writing is both an exciting and comforting reflection on death.
2. “Ecco mormorar l’onde.” Claudio Monteverdi. Alliance Music AMP 0368
This is an early madrigal from Monteverdi’s second book. Five-part gentle counterpoint illuminates Tasso’s lovely text about a sunrise.
3. “Hail Gladdening Light.” Charles Wood. Collegium Music Publications CCS235
This is a wonderful double-choir English masterpiece by the teacher of Vaughan Williams and Howells. Set in ternary form, Wood’s writing is both expressive and dramatic.
4. “Evening Primrose.” Benjamin Britten. Boosey & Hawkes 48008905
The fourth song in Britten’s Five Flower Songs, Britten’s “Evening Primrose” delivers lyrical melodies amid a gentle and accessible harmonic scheme with a few delightful surprises.
5. “Abendlied.” Josef Rheinberger. Carus Verlag CV 50.069/20
The third song of Rheinberger’s 1873 Drei Geistliches Gesänge, this is a good example of late nineteenth German motet writing. Features a six-part contrapuntal setting of Luke’s prayer from Luke 24:29.
(“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
(A plaintive phone call from a dear friend who is under attack by a chorister prompted this commentary.  We said the following to her, and hope it might be of use to someone else.)
It’s that special time of the year!
No, we are not referring to Christmas, Hanukah, Chalica, Kwanza, or the Winter Solstice.  For choral directors, this is the time of year when the drama-queens in our choirs seem to shift into full-auto, take-no-prisoners crazy mode.
Whether it’s caused by end-of-the-semester pressure, the gloom of early darkness, or holiday stress, the results are much the same.  Someone in the choir starts spewing vitriol at you, the conductor.  They may insult you face-to-face, melt-down in rehearsal, scream at you via e-mail, or slip a nasty anonymous note under your office door.  Whatever the method, their intent appears nothing more than to dump their issues (and deep-rooted those issues are) on your shoulders.
For most choral conductors psychoanalysis is not part of our training, so don’t even try.  What you must do, however, is to protect yourself and the educational progress of the choir.  Here, then are a couple brief thoughts:
[1] LISTEN. Sometimes people just want to vent, they want to be heard. Your ears might be the key to diffusing the situation.
[2] REPORT. Document the situation and share that information with your supervisor. Administrators are supposed to have our backs.
[3] BE OBJECTIVE. Do not take the matter personally.  Why should your day (and night, and the next day) be poisoned?
[4] MAINTAIN CONTROL. Fight the urge to be defensive, or to take their complaints line by line.
[5] SET BOUNDARIES.  We are dedicated professionals, but that does not mean you are on-call 24 hours a day.  Do not read student e-mails or texts after hours, and never read anonymous notes.
[6] PROTECT THE CHOIR.  Never – no, never – allow a student’s meltdown or prima-donna personal problem to hijack the rehearsal.  The other students in the choir deserve a solid educational experience.
[7] KEEP IT IN PERSPECTIVE.  While one student may be having a little fit, telling you that you are the worst choir director who ever lifted a baton, there are scores of other singers in the ensemble who are eager for your musical tutelage.  Focus on them.
If nothing else, remember, this too shall pass.
It’s a fair bet that at some point this month, you’ll catch a glimpse of the old holiday movie White Christmas flashing across your TV screen (for some of us, it’s a must-see in December).  Staring with crooner Bing Crosby in that classic film is the always-zany Danny Kaye.
In addition to being a brilliant comedic actor, Mr. Kaye was also something of a conductor.  Now typically, this writer cringes when celebrity wannabes ape our treasured craft, but in this case, Danny Kaye actually possessed more than a little facility on the podium.
Of Danny Kaye’s conducting, famed New York Philharmonic Orchestra conductor Dimitri Mitropolus said, “Here is a man who is not musically trained, who cannot even read music, and he gets more out of my orchestra than I have.”
Ponder the accompanying video fragment of Danny Kay conducting the New York Phil.  What can we discern from Mr. Kaye’s approach to music making? Certainly, it is brimming with energy and his conducting technique is quite admirable.  Without question, his physical gestures are communicating clearly and concisely.  Is it the freedom of not worrying about what some persnickety so-and-so thinks that makes it work? Maybe it is the unrestrained joy he is experiencing as he conducts.
Whatever it may be, we could take a lesson here.
(This vocal pedagogy commentary is excerpted from the Choral Journal article, “The Application of Emile Jaques-DaIcroze’s Solfège-Rhythmique to the Choral Rehearsal" by Herbert H. Henke. Share YOUR vocal expertise by writing a future installment of “Speaking of Voice.”  Contact Scott Dorsey,
       For most persons the term "eurhythmics" conjures up a mental image of individuals moving to music. This is an accurate but incomplete image. While "eurhythmics" is the general name given the approach to music learning developed by the Swiss composer, Emile Jaques-Dalcroze (1865-1950), the movement exercises actually represent only one part of his methodology. Jaques-Dalcroze also espoused a unique approach to ear training entitled Solfege-rhythmique which serves as a fine complement to the movement experiences in developing one's musicianship. A third area of emphasis is that of improvisation, although this seems to have been viewed more as a synthesis of the other two areas than as an equal partner.
       The choral director who gives serious consideration to the expressed purpose of training in eurhythmics and solfege-rhythmique will immediately recognize goals common to those which are appropriate for the musically literate chorister. In 1909 Jaques-Dalcroze wrote, "The object of the method is, in the first instance, to create by the help of rhythm a rapid and regular communication between brain and body.”  He also stated, " ... as an artist, I wish to add, that the second result of this education ought to be to put the completely developed faculties of the individual at the service of art and to give the latter the most subtle and complete of interpreters - the human body.” Those who have had eurhythmics training know that the exercises in quick reaction, following, dissociation, phrasing, polyrhythms. Improvisatory movement, and other areas increase one's powers of concentration and analysis. They develop a real sensitivity toward rhythm, they teach people to listen to music and to feel it within themselves, and they involve simultaneously a whole range of faculties – concentration, intelligence, mental alertness, sensibility, and physical movement - all of which lead to greater insight into one's performance.
READ the entire article.
Disney animators (c.1953) explains the function of memody . . .
1.  “O Beatum et Sacrosanctum Diem.” Peter Philips. CPDL.
A beautiful Latin motet that rarely gets performed.  It would be a great addition to any holiday concert.  The SSATB setting makes it an accessible piece to choirs of varying ability levels.
2.  "Frohlocket, Ihr Volker Auf Erden" (Weihnachten). Felix Mendelssohn. CPDL.
This is a joyous, 8-part fanfare that would be a wonderful opening selection due to its relative brevity, exuberance, lyricism and rich harmonic style.
3.  "Slava V Vyshnikh Bogu" (Glory to God in the Highest; #7 All Night Vigil). Sergei Rachmaninoff
This movement is often overlooked because its predecessor (#6 - “Bogoroditse Devo”) is more often performed.  However, this movement equals in beauty and is very accessible to a choirs of varying ability levels.  
4.  "Crucifixus." Antonio Lotti. CPDL.
A wonderful late renaissance/early baroque motet that every singer should have the opportunity to perform.  It is a piece that sounds, in many ways, quite modern due to the chain suspensions and lush, thick texture.
5.  "I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes.” Adophus Hailstork. Theodore Presser Company.
This multi-movement work requires a strong tenor soloist and pianist (unless performing with orchestra.)  Chorus parts quite accessible. Mvts 1 & 3 can be easily excerpted.  Combines gospel, jazz and classical music to great effect. Good substitute to typical “spiritual” ending to a concert.
(“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