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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.
It’s a common scene in summertime blockbuster movies.  The hero has just overcome some tremendous obstacle and just as he (and we in the audience) breathes a sigh of relief, all you-know-what breaks loose.  The walls cave in, imminent danger rears its ugly head, and our hero finds himself scrambling for his life.
That scene plays out from an artistic perspective for those of us in the choral profession in the ongoing battle over music with sacred text.  No sooner have we vanquished the gruesome Gargoyle of Narrow-Mindedness when suddenly another equally loathsome creature rears up from the shadows charging to the attack in an effort to rid us of the bulk of our art form.
It may not be as effective as Indy’s whip, but this landmark statement from the American Choral Directors Association might be of use to you when the snarling forces of myopia rush to the assault. [cue: Indiana Jones Theme]
Music with Sacred Text: Vital to Choral Music and to the Choral Art
      Choral music educators recognize that choral music may fulfill diverse objectives. At one end of the spectrum is aesthetic education and artistic performance which can insure development of musicality and sensitivity. At the opposite end of the spectrum is pure entertainment. Between these two poles may be found opportunities to enhance knowledge and understanding through a growing awareness and perspective of history and art as reflected in great music. To achieve any selected educational objective, the quality of repertoire is of paramount importance.
      An assessment of the quality of repertoire which can fulfill the highest objectives of aesthetic education necessitates careful examination of the relationship of text and musical setting. The wealth of choral literature which represents and reflects peoples, cultures and traditions of all lands and compositional styles of all eras includes much music in which the composer has utilized a sacred text. The term "sacred" refers to all manner of religious belief and not only to the practices of Judeo-Christian teachings. It is important to recognize the fact that almost all of the significant choral music composed before the 17th century was associated with a sacred text.
      To study and perform music in which the musical setting of a text is artistically accomplished is a highly commendable objective. While public school teaching objectives and criteria for repertoire selection should not include religious indoctrination, the selection of quality repertoire will invariably include within its broad scope music with a sacred text. To exclude from a public school curriculum all choral music which has religious meaning associated with the text is to severely limit the possibilities of teaching for artistic understanding and responsiveness. Such an exclusion has as its parallel the study of art without any paintings related to the various religions of the world, the study of literature without mention of the Bible, or the study of architecture without reference to the great temples and cathedrals of the world.
      Since choral music with a sacred text comprises such a substantial portion of the artistic repertoire representative of the choral medium and the history of music, it should have an important place in music education. Its study and artistic performance have nothing to do with the First Amendment to the Constitution and the doctrine which advocates separation of Church and State.
(This statement, first published in the Choral Journal in November, 1983, has been endorsed by the National Board of the American Choral Directors Association.)
MY GO-TO WARM UP, by Kim Davidson, (Roanoke Valley Children’s Choir)
In 28 years I’ve tried so many warm-ups! At conferences and festivals I write down everyone’s warm-ups and try many of them with my choirs as I work to cover all of the important aspects necessary for building our best choral sound and keep it interesting and fun for the singers.   We spend about 20 minutes warming up in each rehearsal but here is the tried and true one we begin our warm-up time with.   It teaches tone for our youngest singers and helps to center the tone for our more experienced singers.  Singing with a very hooty “ooh”  (like an owl) we sing half notes, Hoo 5-3, Hoo 5-3, and then quarter notes Hoo 5-4-3-2-1.  Everyone is instructed to sound like a hooty owl and breathe before each “Hoo”.  Leading with the back of the hand and bending at the elbow, everyone tosses the sound forward at each ”Hoo”.  We repeat in an ascending pattern.   With this exercise, we’re getting the breath moving to float a beautiful “ooh” vowel.  The descending interval is great for keeping the voice relaxed and open.  All of our choristers start with this warm-up when they begin in the choir at age 8 and continue singing this through their senior year. 
(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.)
Regardless of the subject matter, those of us in the education profession are constantly seeking creative ways to distill complex structures down to a point where our students can grasp the concept at hand.

Look at the clever way students in a public school broke down the multifaceted historical events surrounding the Reformation into a form that - while admittedly a little (okay, a LOT) out of tune -  helps young 21st century minds begin to understand a critically important 16th century event.
1. “Benedicamustrope: Congaudeant catholici” SSA. Anonymous 4, earthsongs
Fun tosing but a challenge to learn. A very good work to introduce early polyphony.A4’s recording varies rhythmically from this edition.
2. “Geantrai” by Michael McGlynn.  SSAA
Gaelic title translates as “happy song”. Challenging harmonic language but the singers love it. The translation of the text is a hoot.
3. “Ergen Deda” P. Lyondev. SSA Henry Leck Choral Series. Colla Voce
Tough rhythmically but such fun to sing. Listen to the Bulgarian State Television’s Female Vocal Choir version on YouTube.
4. “Ani ma’amin” by Paul Caldwell and Sean Ivory. Earthsongs
Easy to sing and a great way to build a unison sound. The text and accompanying readings make for a powerful historical and social statement.
5. “Michael, Seraphim”. SSAA By Patricia Van Ness.
Challenging on many levels, it is satisfying to sing and worth the effort. The melodic writing is reminiscent of Hildegard von Bingen.
(“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, “An Examination of Stravinsky's Fugal Writing in the Second Movement of Symphony of Psalms ” by Robert Taylor)
       Concerning the origin of his 1930 Symphony a/Psalms, Igor Stravinsky wrote: "My idea was that my symphony should be of great contrapuntal development." A setting of verses from Psalms 39, 40, and 150, Stravinsky's work is cast in three movements, each involving some degree of contrapuntal writing. The most highly contrapuntal of the three movements is the second, normally referred to as the "Double Fugue."
       There is some debate concerning the precise form of movement two. While some scholars, such as Eric Walter White and Stephen Walsh, view it as being fugal in at least a referential way, one prominent Stravinsky scholar, Andre Boucourechliev, believes this movement falls outside of any conventional form. In his book Stravinsky, Boucourechliev makes the following statement:
The development of [the opening four-note] cell ... introduces a pseudo-subject marked by a descending fourth, the whole passage being built up into one of those polyphonic constructions of Stravinsky's that falls into no existing category .... The horizontal writing becomes so rich, its layering so dense, that it virtually dynamites the vertical control; so that the work ceases to belong to what was originally taken to be a formal category and creates its own stylistic "landscape"-a "no man's land."
       The work is a highly organized, three-section movement that fits the conventional definition of double fugue-a fugue involving two subjects, usually set forth separately, then usually combined in the final section.
       Stravinsky describes movement two as an upside-down pyramid in three levels. The first two of these levels are fugue expositions, complete with entries of the subject in four voices, episodic material, and, in the case of level two, the use of stretto. The third and final level is described by Stravinsky as a "combining" of the two fugues, an effect used masterfully to bring the movement to a convincing conclusion.
READ the entire article.