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September 2, 2010

Gary Weidenaar analyzes ChoralNet; tells us what it is, its history, and how it can help us do our job better. (Three part series)


A Series of three articles on the topic:
Choralnet.org and Choral Communities:
What are they? How will they help me?

Coming soon:
Part two:
Choral Communities – what are they and how do they work?
(subtitle- Are they really the best thing since sliced bread?)

Part three :
Choralnet can help you do your job better – here are some ways:

Part One:
Choralnet’s Background and a tour of Choralnet 2.0


I have a love-hate relationship with computers.  I am in awe of their ability to perform tasks for me and I love that I can use them to stay in touch with people, get news, order stuff, find out the weather, write lesson plans, find my way to places, communicate with students and more!

On the downside, I grow more weary by the month of trying to constantly learn new software (which includes updates to software I finally know and was, frankly, happy with!).  And I wonder if there’s a name for the phenomenon of everyone around me already using something – while I defend why I’m not (are you listening, Twitter – whatever the heck you are . . .)

Ironically, I have been called by some a power user (though not by ME).  I’ve messed with macros, database development (relational, no less), know a bit about html code, and have dabbled in CSS, for starters. A power user?  I know only enough to be dangerous!

I should disclose the fact that I joined Choralnet in the mid 90’s, a couple years into its infancy (it was founded in1993).  Maybe you did, too.  It became my lifeline to the Choral world – since I was teaching in Norway at the time, and American choral folks were not ubiquitous.  It was useful to me, and worked this way - I could post a question, receive answers, create a compilation email, then repost the results which allowed the information I had collected to be shared with others as well.  That meant that I could ask for information about O Sifuni Mungu, editions of Vivaldi’s Gloria, or help with the translation of (fill in the blank). Utilizing the experience of choral colleagues populating Choralnet, answers were just an email away. 

The reqirement of fielding correspondence from people, and taking the 10 or 15 responses and resposting them in a single compilation reduced the number of emails by – well – 10 or 15 times. I appreciated that -  even moreso after experiencing the 200 emails a day generated when I joined a Microsoft Windows user group (I lasted 2 weeks before electronically fleeing – also called unsubscribing!)

But after 5 or 6 years of Choralnet use, I drifted away.  The constant barrage of emails from Choralist got old, although in fairness to the Choralnet administrative team – they did yeoman’s duty in keeping things as focused and concise as possible.  For example to not waste the reader’s time, postings announcing concerts needed to include a location.  (the volunteer moderators sometimes did their job to a fault! I once had a post returned to me because I had left off which state a concert in Kansas City would be in.  It was actually in Kansas – a mile from the border which almost invisibly separates the city’s “Missouri half” from its “Kansas half”.)  There was also Choraltalk and Choralacadamy – for more lengthy discussions.  I tried those for a couple months each and drifted away as well.

We are witnessing (also living through, or maybe surviving) a revolution. There is no doubt that computers and the internet have changed work habits and communication channels at a fundamental level! But change at a bewildering pace seems to be one of the byproducts. 

So it is all the more amazing that a small group of dedicated volunteers had the vision, combined with the conviction to see that vision implented -  the belief that the Choral Community needed and deserved a way to keep in touch with each other, let each other know about opportunities and discuss issues.  I’m guessing at times they must have felt like an extreme bull rider trying to stay on their technological “bull” (many puns on bull intended and possible). 

Choralnet 2.0 is, to my mind, proving worth the 16 years of sacrifice.  (To read the complete history of the Choralnet “bull ride” go to: http://www.choralnet.org/view/257863 )

Choralnet 2.0 – what is it – a guided tour
Choralnet, having merged with ACDA in 2009 and now officially called ACDA Choralnet was infinitely more user friendly when I returned to it some months ago from a years-long hiatus.

I used to describe the Choralnet website to my University methods classes as a site you could spend the rest of your career exploring and still not scratch the surface. The sub-text, muttered to myself under my breath – was, much of the content is seemingly scattered over hundreds of places around the site and, at least for me, difficult bordering on impossible to locate. (this is NOT a knock on the saintly volunteers who rode the tech bull by processing hundreds of emails daily)

That’s changed!  Choralnet’s administrative team has made it a priority to categorize, organize, and catalogue information. Simply put, you can find stuff now! The mountain of information has been largely put into predictable electronic bins and combined with the more powerful search function, makes it much easier to uncover the information you need or want.

If you’ve never been on Choralnet.org before, be prepared to be impressed!  If you haven’t been there in a while, you’ll find it much more organized and user-friendly.  No small feat, since it basically includes EVERYTHING choral!

Choralnet.org’s main menu bar looks like this:

graphic1

To help you get acquainted (or re-acquainted) with the site’s offerings, what here is a description of the individual menu items from left to right–

1. ANNOUNCEMENTS
the Announcements menu item includes the following categories:

graphic2

To see an example of an announcement I recently posted:, go to: http://www.choralnet.org/view/263799

NOTE: With no user profile, you can read – but not post announcements.  (Creating a profile is free.)

2. FORUMS
Forums are organized into the topics below:  each area is searchable and includes a PLETHORA of information.  (In the third article of this series, I’ll show you how to follow any one discussion thread, and even have new replies to that single thread sent to your e-mailbox)

graphic3

3. CLASSIFIEDS

Need a job?  Need someone to fill a job?  Want to get the word out about auditions?  Would you rather give your old music away than throw it away? And more . . .

graphic4

4. RESOURCES

The resources menu item organizes a HUGE amount of information (thanks again – Choralnet administrative team and volunteers!)   Clicking it will bring up the screen below:  Some of the categories are similar to the ones in the Forums.  The difference is that in Forums there is discussion – the Resource area is not interactive – it is a compendium of – well – resources.

graphic5

Clicking on the “plus” sign next to an item on the list opens a sub-list.  For example, clicking on the second list item – Repertoire – displays the sub-categories below:

graphic6

The last five links on the menu are:

graphic7

Choirs - a list of hundreds or thousands of choir website and includes international links. 

Want to know about Jazz Choirs in France?  How about New Zealand or Latvian choirs?  Look under the National category.

How about the Hong Kong Treble Choirs’ Association?  Or the Association of Tuscany choirs?  Look under “Regional Choral Organizations” (http://new.choralnet.org/list/resource/1892)

About – is the Choralnet history and staff, but also a list of the over 6700 people who have user profiles (although you can read anything on Choralnet without one – a user profile allows you to post questions, respond to things, and more).

Help – self-explanatory

My Choralnet – will be described in the second part of this article – on Choral Communities.

The second part of this 3 –part series on Choralnet will be describing what was optimistically called “the best thing since sliced bread” by one of the people showing us this tool at the national leadership conference in Chicago this summer – “Choral Communities.  In it, I’ll describe what they are and how they work.

Till then, I’m off to the Ellensburg Rodeo (obviously, where the extreme bull riding metaphor leaped from my brain’s gate – UGH!)

Gary

 

Cultivate a priceless treasure!
Go out of your way to encourage students studying to become choral directors

By Gary Weidenaar, NW ACDA Youth and Student Activities R&S Chair

weidenaarI teach a Choral Methods class each fall at Central Washington University.  Last fall, the fourteen students in the class were comprised of instrumental education majors, choral education majors, and what we in Washington call broad area majors - or those who will be certified to teach either band or choir.  This year, that same class is twenty-one students. 

One of the joys of teaching at the university level is that the students who populate this class are all passionate about teaching.  They question, opine, debate, and try out ideas.  They are also all sure that they can come up with better ways of teaching than anyone has before.  In fact, it's an honor to stand in front of a class made up of students who are the future of our profession. 

That they are intellectually curious as well as competent is clear when they submit the required three comments and/or questions about each chapter in our textbook.  In fact the queries are so good, I've thought about submitting these to the textbook company for inclusion in a possible future supplement.  Students come up with insightful and probing questions, most of which those of us who teach have had to learn about and/or answer during our careers.

I encourage you as elementary, middle school, and/or high school teachers to make a concerted effort to welcome these budding music educators into the profession.  We talk in my classroom about the importance of them attending conventions (now called conferences in ACDA), making contacts early and often, and getting out and observing master teachers at work.  It seems to me that this conduit can go both ways.  You, as potential mentors and professionals they look up to, can help grease the path.  At conven… – er conferences - when you see someone who is obviously a student, strike up a conversation with them. 

Call your nearest university or community college and offer to be a guest speaker or presenter.  We’re all too busy to do this, but – if it helps – students know and fully appreciate this fact, and are very grateful for those practicing teachers who make this sacrifice for them!

Each year in my methods class, we have as guests the superintendent of schools in our city and the principal of the high school.  The superintendent and I serve as the “school board” where two teams of five students spend ten minutes each trying to make a case against a fictitious music budget/staff cut in a fictitious district. 

After each session we debrief the students on the arguments they’ve made, the strengths and weaknesses of their presentation, and anything else that might have consequences both positive and negative.  Later in the quarter, the principal conducts mock interviews of two or three students while everyone else watches and observes what it's like to be in a “real” interview situation. 

Students appreciate real--world experiences such as the two just mentioned above.  They also are eager to learn from people in the trenches every day – you!  Sometimes they're not very polished at how they contact you and they can seem unsure about just what their role with you might be.  I remember finding my way as a student teacher in Michigan in 1980.  I remember very well my first ACDA convention in New Orleans in 1979.  Seeing icons of the profession in the elevator or in the hotel lobby is something that still is vivid in my memory. 

Although times have changed, the students with whom I interact daily are no different in one regard - meaning meeting a King’s Singer, or participating in a clinic with Chanticleer, or attending a question and answer with Eric Whitacre, or spending a day at one of your schools still create memories which they both long for and will stick with them for a long time to come.

The students who I come in contact with as the Northwest Division’s Chair of Youth and Student Activities provide me with a sense of satisfaction, because I know that with people of that caliber the future of our organization is bright indeed.  See if you can't help cultivate this priceless resource!

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