Happy Thanksgiving, ACDA! I am thankful to be in conversation with you and for you through this platform. I continue to learn so much every week. What a blessing to be able to bounce ideas off of so many brilliant colleagues, philosophers, writers, Doctors, Tango dancers, researchers and more. The podcast began in 2019, but many years before that I began to notice how interconnected choral music is with the rest of society. We really touch EVERY part of humanity in our jobs. The true jacks of all trades. Thank you for helping me dig deeper, and explore the full spectrum of what it means to be a choral music educator! See the podcast players below for this week’s SHORT Thanksgiving message, as well as episodes from the past two Thanksgivings!
American Choral Directors Association
In March 2020, Dr. Derrick Fox was leading students toward a performance of “Seven Last Words of the Unarmed” by Joel Thompson. This performance was a culmination of choral experiences over multiple years, where Dr. Fox and students had worked to build an awareness of the human experience. They sang octavos covering different topics, such as mental health, and discussed how the topics were experienced by different people. Students engaged in leadership activities and the choirs met with local school choirs. In Thompson’s work, students had to be able to sing the pieces and have open conversations about the lived experience of Black folks in America. It had taken three years of work to lay the groundwork for this particular concert project. The performance was on Tuesday. School shut down the following Friday.
With the performance behind them, Dr. Fox faced another problem: Students didn’t get community recovery time after this emotional performance experience due to the shut down. He was determined to find space to uplift, challenge, and affirm their experience. He knew hybrid learning, masks, and shields would be barriers to connection in Fall 2020, so he created “choir families” for students to build community and process their previous spring. He would sometimes observe these interactions to listen, learn, and find a way to recognize and see these singers in rehearsal and their community.
It’s Fall 2021 and they’ve been singing together– masked and 3 feet apart. His choirs are strong. He was surprised, because he thought there would be a long journey rebuilding. But they spent so much time taking care of each other, creating community and building trust, students returned in the fall and were all in. “I don’t wait for something wrong before I look up to see how something is going,” he says of his philosophy with students, in and out of rehearsal. He says to his students, “All I want you to be is the best version of you today. I’m not one of those teachers who says leave it all at the door because music will make it all better, because that’s a lie. It can, but it’s a lie to say that’s a [capital T] Truth.”
Dr. Fox’s Cultivating Choral Communities workshop series were created specifically for the choral world. Every workshop is different, but begins the same: defining terms. It’s hard to move forward without a shared language. He facilitates conversations about diversity, including but not limited to racial equity. For example, he led sessions with a high school choir about power and proximity to power in the form of friendships. It was transformative and empowering. With organizations, he can empower them to do the work internally– fix processes or challenge curriculum that disenfranchise those that don’t have power. Communication within groups is imperative to this work. People who attend the workshops have varying degrees of knowledge and understanding. The real difficulty is when people are so locked into their own experiences that they aren’t aware of other people’s needs in the space. The dominant narrative in our country is the white perspective. Until we can all come together to have conversations that lead to action, we’re going to be stagnant. His ability lies in consensus building and bridge building.
Evaluating the last 18+ months of equity work, it’s evident the choral profession has aligned with the trend to appear as if they are doing something. Part of the work is vetting professionals invited to facilitate ADEIB (Access, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging) work. One has to do the work to bear the culture, and being from a culture does not make one a bearer of it. If we aren’t intentional, we can actually exclude people from our organizations; someone observing could say “Oh, that’s who they see as representative of my community” or “It doesn’t seem that the organization has done the work.” Going viral doesn’t mean it’s viable. On the other hand, our profession doesn’t give much leeway for mistakes. As soon as someone does something problematic, they are dropped, without being given any support to grow and change. Some organizations within the choral profession are more thoughtful about this work than others.
“How do we support long-term work?” It requires investment of time and thoughtfulness. While a one-off workshop can be important, it’s not just about the music sung; it’s about the words said. There needs to be space/time to talk; only then can we bring in what is needed. We can’t be enticed by expediency. This work doesn’t have an end time. With that commitment, we will begin to prepare people coming into the choral profession. Then maybe in the future, we won’t have to convince people this is a pillar of our organization. We are very concerned with changing the NOW, but there is a generation who have grown up with equity in a way many of us haven’t. Our profession can capitalize on this, and bring major change to the future.
“Equity is the action we put in place to achieve equality.”
The September issue of Choral Journal is online and features an article titled “Michael Praetorius’ Nigra sum à 6: A Pedagogical Experiment” by Kristina Boerger. You can read it in its entirety at acda.org/choraljournal. Following is a portion from the introduction.
When the Augsburg Choir at Augsburg University in Minneapolis was first shut down in spring 2020, I began to explore the powers of the iDevice application called Acapella (sic) to keep students in touch with one another—vocally and otherwise—and with their own musical creativity. A newcomer to the technology (and, in fact, an inveterate Luddite), I had limited imagination for its pedagogical potential.
I designed a series of thirty-second duetting assignments in which students—working in pairs I reshuffled weekly—alternated between recording original melodies into the app and recording original countermelodies in video synchrony with their partners’ starter tracks. I began to consider the extent to which the app could support development of all the skills involved in excellent ensemble singing.
I offer here an account of the experiment I designed for our fall 2020 semester and the lessons I learned once we had wrapped the project. I have concluded that even when we can rehearse in person, I will continue to use Acapella as a practice and collaboration tool for students and an evaluation tool for myself. The silver lining of our shutdown has been the necessity of discovering new pedagogical methods and the unanticipated benefits they alone may bring under any conditions.
Kristina Boerger is the John N. Schwartz Professor of Choral Leadership at Augsburg University, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
The newest issue of Choral Journal is available online. Following is a list of the articles you will find in this issue.
ACDA members can log in with their username and password to view and download the newest edition. You can also read our electronic version. Below is a preview of the articles you will find in this issue. If you are not already a member of ACDA, join today to start receiving your monthly Choral Journal!
Utilizing The Principles of Storytelling To Design Engaging Concert Programs by Emilie Bertram
Who’s a Good Director? Dog-Training Strategies for Better Rehearsing by Eliza Rubenstein
How Will Your Choir be Judged? What Adjudicators are Listening and Looking for at Festivals
by David Hensley
Lift Every Voice and Sing: Why African Americans Stand by Marvin V. Curtis
Technology and the Choral Art
Michael Praetorius’ Nigra sum à 6: A Pedagogical Experiment by Kristina Boerger
On Resilience: A Conversation with Darla Bair by Nicholas Sienkiewicz
The August issue of Choral Journal is online and features an article titled “Samuel Barber’s Interpretation of Choral Portamento as an Expressive Resource” by Desiree Balfour. You can read it in its entirety at acda.org/choraljournal. Following is a portion from the introduction.
For more than a half-century, portamento use has been in serious decline, and its absence in choral performance is arguably an impoverishment.
The issue is encapsulated by John Potter, who writes, “A significant part of the early music agenda was to strip away the vulgarity, excess, and perceived incompetence associated with bizarre vocal quirks such as portamento and vibrato. It did not occur to anyone that this might involve the rejection of a living tradition and that singers might be in denial about their own vocal past.”(1) This article aims to show that portamento—despite its fall from fashion—is much more than a “bizarre vocal quirk.”
When blended with aspects of the modern aesthetic, choral portamento is a valuable technique that can enhance the expressive qualities of a work. Potter’s claim asserts that even within the context of the historically informed performance (HIP) movement, portamento has been a neglected aspect of choral performance practice, overlooking what would have been in the imagination of Romantic-era composers. Indeed, historical recordings demonstrate its presence in the archived performances of Samuel Barber’s choral ensemble recorded in 1939 and 1940. Barber used portamento with intention to highlight musical events and as an expressive resource that added vitality and expression to the music’s poetry. Portamento, if reasonably understood and well practiced, remains a valuable resource in choral performance up to the present day.
1 John Potter, “Beggar at the Door: The Rise and Fall of Portamento in Singing,” Music and Letters 87 (2006): 538.
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ACDA members can log in with their username and password to view and download the newest edition. You can also read our electronic version. If you are not already a member of ACDA, join today to start receiving your monthly Choral Journal!
No, I’m not talking about technology or the Cosa Nostra. I’m asking about your connection to a community of human beings you feel a relationship with, a community that allows you to both give and receive over time, that you learn from and also give back to. I know I’m not the only one reflecting on this after the year and a half we have just lived through, where our most basic sense of community was disrupted. Even yesterday, in her blog post here, long-time membership chair Kathleen Bhat wrote that staying connected to her ACDA family is what kept her going (Where My Heart Lives).
I know that I feel lucky to have experienced a number of valuable communities during my lifetime. As much as we claim to have earned our own way and created our own world, to me it’s clear that not one of us really lives, much less thrives, without the presence and help of many people over time. Some of our connections are givens (like our families); others we fall into or create with intentionality. Some of mine are my family, my loose network of friends here and abroad who I’ve lived parts of my life with, my Unitarian Universalist congregation that is a base for much of my volunteer work, and dear friends and colleagues from churches and nonprofits across Oklahoma City from my organizing work.
The professional communities I’ve been a part of, give me more than just a sense of belonging. They challenge and inspire me to be better at my craft. When I was beginning my professional career in nonprofit work in Boston, eons ago, I found a critical network of professionals who – from their different life experiences and perspectives – helped me understand that some of the assumptions I held as I walked through life were based on a culture that was not a shared by all of us. Their challenges allowed me to reflect on parts of my understanding that were invisible to me before, but eventually started me down a path that has made me a stronger professional, and maybe even a better human being. I’ve continued to treasure communities that allow that growth in me.
Communities, ones in which we all grow, are also places where people have different opinions and experiences, and where there’s space for them to be shared and heard. It’s normal, and even desirable, to have a little tension from time to time. That can produce growth. Fundamental to those healthy spaces is a mutual respect. That is going to look different for different people, but central to that is seeing the humanity in each other and giving others the space to be heard and to be considered.
Each of us, of course, has our own set of experiences and our own path. Professionally, some of us seek refuge in a community of shared experiences and beliefs. Some want a group that provides practical tools and tips, and helps them in their daily work. Some want an organization that can give them the credentials they need for recognition and advancement. Some seek a professional community that keeps them informed of emerging trends and changes that impact their profession. Some want a group that keeps them motivated and inspired to be their best professional selves. Those are just a few examples of what members can search for in their professional associations. Most of us want all, or some combination, of those benefits of community. Because of that, strong professional associations strive to provide resources and to support members in a wide variety of ways. That can include education, mentoring, career resources, and the sharing of best practices and new ideas – inspiration. The foundation of all of that is connection.
For choral conductors in American Choral Directors Association (ACDA), the association works on several levels to provide that professional connection. Most members find some level of community in their ACDA state chapters. It’s much easier to meet in person (when we are not in pandemic times), and there are more shared experiences and realities. It’s often the level when you can experience a more personal touch – the long-time membership chair will remember your name, or another state leader or colleague will know you enough to ask your opinion or for your help in some way. Chapters are also a place where it is easier to volunteer your service, as a Repertoire and Resources chair, or in a state conference capacity. But ACDA regions have also been important in creating outstanding and inspiring events for their members, and they can be important players in creating communities in which members come together and dialogue to grow networks that challenge and support.
Of course, at the national level, where I focus my professional efforts, we work hard every day to understand the challenges our members are facing, the resources and other offerings that can support them professionally, and the priorities our current and future association should have. We are led by a strong and dedicated Executive Committee and National Board, made up entirely of member leaders (take a look at current leadership here). One way the Executive Committee is working right now to listen and lead is via a Membership Survey (live through July 23 – current members received the link via a dedicated email on July 2 and in weekly member emails beginning June 30). That vision and choral knowledge is complemented by a small but mighty team of national office staff with professional expertise in areas like finance, membership, publications, events, communications, and technology (your national office staff are here).
We all – our chapter, region, and national leadership, and the national office staff – work to hear what members want and need, to be strategically smart about responding to those concerns, and when possible, to be proactive about building resources and services that are relevant and inspire. Like almost every organization, the pandemic impacted ACDA in the form of lost event and membership revenue. I am proud of the way, even so, that we were able to respond to that crisis, with lowered student dues; flexibility for chapters to provide limited numbers of free memberships to those in need; dramatically increased communications; free national webinars; an incredible virtual national conference; chapter event listings, targeted activities for composers, church musicians, and K-12 educators; and in general, development of a wealth of resources to help members face new demands and needs. All the while we have continued to shape an association that better allows every member to feel a sense of connection and belonging, where each member can both contribute and benefit. We have work ahead, but I’m convinced that it will be a rewarding and enriching path.
The connection to colleagues is an important part of most professions, including choral conductors. I was struck, when I joined the staff of ACDA almost nine years ago, how many members spoke strongly about way that membership helped them feel connected to colleagues and their art. They shared stories about being a lone choral professional in their school or even their district, and how much they valued being in a community where other members “get” them.
How do you connect? Here are some options for engagement with ACDA:
- If you are not a member of ACDA, join now. With greater membership, we all thrive. Paid choral conductors can join as full Active members. Are you a singer, or a choral enthusiast? Associate membership is a membership that will give you access to our online resources and benefits. Students and retired members can avail themselves of lower dues. (Visit here for more.)
- Are you a member, but don’t feel the connection yet? While your chapter and the national office try to reach every member, I encourage you to reach out and engage in the association in a way you feel comfortable. Many chapters are looking for volunteers: talk to your president or membership chair, or your district/regional representative. There are many ways to be of service, and that service will make your connection to colleagues stronger. (Find your state chapter website here.)
- Would you like to be more challenged than you currently are? Attend a state conference or workshop, or commit yourself to attending your 2022 region conference and identify an area you’d like to learn more about. Register in the ACDA Mentoring Program and look for a “mentor” who can introduce you to a new repertoire. Write a post for ChoralNet or for your chapter publication.
- Do you love ACDA? Identify a colleague who isn’t yet an ACDA member and invite them in. Are you interested in leadership? Let your chapter board know that you are – the pathway is often often via serving as an R&R position or region/district representative. Is there a possibility that you know a younger or newer member and can mentor that person into greater engagement?
ACDA needs you, and it is an amazing community to connect with. I invite you to take the next step!
Sundra Flansburg is Director of Membership & Communications at ACDA’s national office. She’ll mark her tenth year with ACDA in 2022, prior to that served in publishing, education settings, and nonprofits in Ann Arbor, Boston, Costa Rica, and Oklahoma City. She always enjoys hearing from members.