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!
The November/December issue of Choral Journal is online and features an article titled “Examining Choral Music with a Rhetorical Perspective: A Practical Guide” by Gary Seighman. You can read it in its entirety at acda.org/choraljournal. Following is the article’s introduction:
The pandemic has challenged all of us in our pursuit of personal connection. Rehearsing via Zoom or in large spaces while masked and socially distanced has created many impediments between our singers. These can decrease the expressive potential of the music that we perform and even affect our ability to empathize with one another. This article will look at another form of social distancing that we have been encountering long before 2020: the performance of music written centuries ago in different cultural contexts than today.
A Renaissance motet written 500 years ago in what is now Northern Germany, for example, challenges us to translate the intended effect for twenty-first-century minds and ears. Instead of just a mask on our face, our entire perception of this “distanced” music is filtered through a modern lens often divorced from the practices of the time. The Greco-Roman tradition of rhetoric (from the Greek rhētorikós) or “the art of persuasion” was one of these fundamental components embedded in the overall consciousness of sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In fact, between 1400 and 1700 there were approximately 2,000 books published on the topic of rhetoric, which sought to create convincing narratives through carefully crafted speech techniques. Rhetoric and oratorical delivery permeated Renaissance and Baroque era thought, and music compositional practices would have equally been attuned to these ideals that were “in the air.”
This article will provide examples of how to decode compositional elements in this repertoire through a rhetorical perspective and offer another tool for its interpretation.
Read the full article in the November/December 2021 issue of Choral Journal at acda.org/choraljournal
The newest issue of Choral Journal is available online. This is A Focus on Mental Health. 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!
Remember You: Mental Health in a Life Dedicated to Choral Music by Stephanie and Troy Robertson
Burnout Prevention for Conductors and Their Choirs by Amelia Nagoski
Breath, Body, and Being: A Yoga-Inspired Choral “Practice” by Ramona M. Wis
Sound Teaching: Trauma-Informed Pedagogy in Choir by William Sauerland
African American Spirituals in the Public-School Choral Ensemble: Our Most Powerful Weapon Against Racism by Dara A. Gillis
Singing in Hebrew by Joshua R. Jacobson
Representation, Mentorship, and Empowerment: Insights from Contemporary Female Choral Conductors by Gracie Palmore
Jazzmone Sutton, now the State Advocacy Engagement Manager for National Association for Music Education, was teaching elementary music when her school shifted to virtual teaching. Due to concerns about screen time, there weren’t formal music classes, so she provided music resources for students. Pre-COVID, she implemented “Technology Fridays,” which proved to be helpful for online learning. In August 2020, classes were virtual and lasted 20 or 30 minutes. They weren’t able to have an elementary chorus, although many students asked her about singing. At least, Jazzmone thought, parents were able to see the excitement and energy music had, and this was a big advocacy tool.
Like all teachers, there were struggles. She wasn’t able to teach the lessons she wanted to teach. Her classes were often only 20 minutes, and that was too short. While she became incredibly precise and got right to music making, she also struggled with playing and singing in her class due to COVID regulations. She refined her teaching, but shortened class time and cleaning instruments left her with even less time to address music creation.
If you have ever met Jazzmone, however, you would know that she doesn’t dwell in the frustrations. Virtual teaching allowed her to connect with students in a different way. She gave voice and piano lessons, and taught whatever students were interested in. A number of students purchased their own instruments, and she provided learning resources. To see students so engaged during this time was inspiring. In fact, there was so much interest in these endeavors, she had a vision of having a second music teacher in her school. There simply wasn’t enough of her to spread around. In addition, parents and caretakers participated in music. For example, a student had his mom learn Latin dancing with the class. Afterwards, the mom would jump into a lesson simply to say hello. In another instance, a grandmother reached out to ask for help to sing and play in church. Jazzmone was able to connect her to self-guided resources. Virtual learning removed barriers of participation that we, as instructors, don’t always realize are there. What could this mean for the future?
Jazzmone values giving her students the skills to be independent music makers, and COVID forced her to do this to another level. She asked herself: “Will they make music after I’m gone? If I get out of the way, can they make music?” She couldn’t see much music making, but that was the point. Students were creating music with classes, family, and friends. The students were making music without her there. During COVID, “it wasn’t that people stopped singing. It’s that people stopped singing in a group that someone was in control of.” But people sang. She points out that people fought to keep singing, though it may have been a different type of music, and this demonstrates that music is a vital part of the human experience.
In the last year, Jazzmone accepted a job with the National Association for Music Education. Similar to teaching, her new job in music education advocacy requires relationship building. “What we do is community,” Jazzmone said, “We should strive to build relationships within our space.” She did that in her teaching, and it’s how she approaches advocacy.
As an advocate for choral educators, Jazzmone would share some words of wisdom: Allow yourself grace, allow students grace, and do not expect normal. What does grace look like? Grace is acknowledging the growth and possibilities in the current situation, even though it may be different than pre-COVID. For example, you may want to do certain music, but your students may not be ready for it. With grace, a choral teacher can release the expectations and see the possibilities for what the situation could be. One way Jazzmone reframed this for her students was to ask them what they hoped for out of their time together, and they had great ideas. And if you run into barriers, look at it with patience and kindness. She believes we have to leave room for surprises, because surprises are opportunities for change. In a year when those surprises were consistent, choral educators were innovative and impactful. Allow your singers, your community, yourself to surprise you.
I asked Jazzmone specifically about equity. We agreed that advocacy involves understanding equity. Here it also needs relationship building. Conversations are a two-way street between teachers and students (or communities), and teachers will know the needs of the community because they’ve spent time with the community. In essence, relationships help teachers meet the needs of their students because they will know what they need to advocate for. Who are your students beyond musicians? How do you advocate for the whole student? And this, Jazzmone says, is how she can help in her new position.
If you are looking to increase advocacy, Jazzmone Sutton is the State Advocacy Engagement Manager for the National Association for Music Education, and would be a great resource. Additionally, ACDA has an Advocacy and Collaboration Committee that is very active. You can view the website here.
Mari Ésabel Valverde, composer, educator, and overall incredible human being, said that after COVID halted her projects, 2020 became a year in which she was scrambling to find her way. Mari had always kept a small teaching load as a source of income, but they weren’t able to adapt. The commission she was working on had to be refunded. She suddenly found herself unemployed.
The shift in Mari’s fortunes during COVID happened when she was asked to be on a Diversity Initiative panel for NATS. Through her brother, also on the panel, she met Anna Lantry, who had started an online music school designed to offer the trans community music and speech lessons. Anna hired (and trained) Mari to teach remote lessons. Through this, Mari has had the ability to teach people both around the country and globe. She also noticed there has been an increase in her online platform. COVID forced many choral professionals online, and because of that, anyone looking into equity and justice, or women composers in choral musics, are only a few clicks from discovering her music (click here to discover her music).
While she’s missed singing with people, she hasn’t been as frustrated with COVID as she could have been. She’s done a series of virtual choirs. A piece she wrote 10 years ago as a college student has picked up steam recently after Cantus performed it. In addition, cultural shifts such as singing with masks and social distancing have benefited community health. 30 minute rehearsals force people to focus. Mari points out that, up until COVID, people in a rehearsal have been told to simply show up. Changes in COVID that have positively addressed ableism and access can stay post-COVID. Conversations surrounding new practices and implementing new practices have been good steps toward community health.
After the NATS panel, she was invited to speak to different choirs, something that continued into 2021. University of Memphis was the first program to contact her for a call. This was particularly striking to Mari because they were in Tennessee— and she wasn’t sure how they might respond to her— but it went well. In fact, she realized she had been avoiding certain areas of the United States because she didn’t expect people in those regions wanted to perform her music. 2020-21 has shown her that people everywhere want to perform her music. Her music is relevant to the South and and Southwest regions (I might add: more than relevant. She and her music are even needed). “The South is capable of producing incredible food and incredible music. Resources are there to be the premiere everything, but they aren’t [premiering everything]” Mari notes, and then continues, “Because there are issues with intersectionality– racism in queer spaces. Homophobia in Black spaces. It’s hard to come together to make something good for everyone.” But, of course, it is possible to come together in community.
Also, Mari points out, people, structures, and institutions often still operate from the belief that women are actually property. This doesn’t work when you are a trans woman. She’s had to understand her own worth, and in response, she has committed to taking better care of herself. Part of taking care of herself will be asking for what she needs. Being trans and surviving her 20s has helped her to learn some of this, although this is still a work-in-progress. While there seems to be a certain standard of measurement one has to surpass to ask for more, she encourages composers, especially younger composers who have been historically excluded, to ask for and demand what they are worth. She encourages all composers to see they are worth as much as the cis white male composer.
The COVID lock down and George Floyd murder have caused people to ask important and hard questions. “There are truths about who we are as human beings that are constantly being exposed,” Mari commented. Anybody who has been marginalized is already in damage control mode when they walk in the door, with themselves and the world. Others have refused to protect them. But protecting the unprotected matters. So, she’s only willing to engage herself and her music with things that matter. And frankly, she said, there is music that has not mattered. For example, some people talk about “classics” in the choral world. What does this mean? These pieces have teachable and valuable concepts, but “you can’t say it’s as meaningful as something like Seven Last Words of the Unarmed Black Man. Experiencing that piece shakes people to their core.” Mari goes on to explain that yes, Bach can also shake people to their core, but music by Black women can too, yet their music hasn’t been adequately performed.
When thinking about future risks, Mari commented that risk has a different meaning for her than some others. She can’t hold shame. She’s failed, and she’s been excluded so many times that some people would say her showing up is a risk. And, she concurs, sometimes showing up and not being silent truly is a risk— a risk she’ll continue to take.
By Elizabeth Alexander, guest blogger
When I was growing up, my house was filled with sheet music, with everything from Mozart piano sonatas to Broadway songbooks. My family bought most of it from Childers Music Center, a small storefront run by Dan Childers, also known as “Dandy Dan the Music Man.” In addition to running the music store, he supported the county 4-H program and the Civic Forum Spelling Bee.
Every so often we would make a special trip to Stanton’s Music in Columbus, which was a two hour drive each way. This much larger store was run by former band director John Stanton, who specialized in running choral reading sessions and helping teachers find educational materials.
Those were our only choices. It was either Childers or Stanton’s.
These days there are innumerable sources for sheet music, and deciding where to buy it can be a head-scratcher.
As someone who loves not only music but the people who compose, sell, and perform it, I thought it might be useful to take a look at the big picture, pulling together a list of various sources. I’ve been a composer-publisher for 23 years, so I’ve built many relationships and witnessed a lot of change:
• As the face of retail has evolved over the years, many family-owned brick and mortar music stores (including Childers) have closed their doors. Those that remain (like Stanton’s) have added online stores that supplement traditional sales. They still typically hire well-trained musicians, and they still support local and regional reading sessions, clinics, and other musical activities.
• The family-owned music dealer with the largest national presence is J. W. Pepper & Son, founded in 1893 by James Welsh Pepper, who among other things built John Phillip Sousa’s first sousaphone. Because of its strong online offerings and knowledgeable employees, J. W. Pepper is in a position to support the music community in more robust ways, including promoting new titles selected through their editorial review process, as well as sponsoring reading sessions at the largest music conferences.
• And then there are independent composer-publishers (like me), who compose, edit, produce, market, and sell under our own publishing labels. Customers who buy music directly from us get to share information with us about their programming choices and events, and ask questions about the music. Kind of like shopping at the farmer’s market!
• Several collaborative initiatives have grown out of the composer-publisher model. One outstanding example is Graphite Publishing/Graphite Marketplace, the brainchild of two award-winning composers, Jocelyn Hagen and Tim Takach. With an intimate knowledge of all the composers represented in their catalog, they have spent the past decade putting together a meticulously curated, high-quality online collection of digital editions (PDFs).
• Some other online marketplaces offer a wider array of composer-publishers a platform for promoting and selling their music, including MusicSpoke (a for-profit business funded significantly by grants) and MyScore(a platform operated by J. W. Pepper).
Of the five sources listed above, what’s the BEST place to buy music? The answer is ALL OF THEM. Each source has its place in a vibrant ecosystem of composers, publishers, dealers, and musicians, providing a valuable and unique service.
But does this mean that all sources of sheet music are equally terrific?
Other than websites that sell or give away pirated sheet music – and they certainly exist – there’s no truly bad place to buy sheet music. But I do have mixed feelings about a couple of things:
• Some ginormous online sheet music clearinghouses offer discounted prices but do little else for the music community. You won’t find them sponsoring music conferences, clinics, or reading sessions. Their sales staff may not even be knowledgeable about music. It’s fine to get a bargain on music sometimes but if we only buy from these discount houses we may eventually lose some of our more responsive and engaged music dealers.
• I’m a strong supporter of composers finding ways to connect with buyers of their music, but I’m distressed by any defamation of traditional music publishers and dealers. In a field with this many players, it’s easy for composers to start feeling like we’re at the bottom of the food chain. We start asking ourselves why a music dealer or traditional publisher should make any significant amount of money by reselling music that we worked hard to compose. This kind of us-versus-them thinking leads some composer-focused initiatives to characterize dealers and traditional publishers as lazy or greedy. Not only is this rhetoric a poor business strategy, it simply isn’t true. Everyone who works to get music into the hands of musicians works hard, and few (if any) are getting rich doing it. Personally, I have no full-time employees depending on me for their livelihoods, so I have no business second-guessing the financial realities of those who do.
Whenever a music dealer makes a commission from selling some of my music, I try to remember that my music is helping someone else have job security.
Personally, I love being part of this ecosystem, and I believe there’s room for many business models to be vital and healthy. I’ve chosen to make my own music available through many sources, including brick-and-mortar stores, J. W. Pepper, Graphite Marketplace, my own website, and yes, a few ginormous online clearing houses.
Whenever I get the opportunity, I ask other composers, publishers, and dealers what new possibilities most excite them, what challenges they are facing, and what concerns keep them up at night. I see many of these people at music conferences, and when I travel I often visit the stores and warehouses of music dealers or publishers! Getting to know these people’s stories helps me be more knowledgeable, as well as more compassionate.
What changes and challenges do you see, or face yourself? What creativity and innovation are you most excited about right now? Feel free to post your thoughts in the comments – and if I overlooked a source of music that you think highly of, feel free to mention that as well.