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Northwestern Division - ACDA News/Articles
10-2006
An Invitation to the Future Leaders of our Division

 

Dr. Scott Anderson

One of the grandest callings of our profession is the mentoring
of choral music educators after they have left the "hallowed halls' of academia and
have joined the ranks of choral professionals throughout the country.  In this, my first
offering as College/University R&S Chair, I respectfully submit a proposal by our
Northwest Division President-elect Richard Nance entitled:



Investing In Our Future
A Proposal For The American Choral Directors Association


Introduction

Investing In Our Future is a program designed to draw new college graduates to ACDA.  This program would provide a first-year complimentary membership to all college graduates in choral music education (elementary or secondary) each academic year. 

The goal of this program is to reach new choral professionals, especially those that might not otherwise join ACDA.  By giving them a complimentary taste of the organization and what it can do to support them, it is hoped they will become long-term members.  If even half of these new college graduates eventually become paying members of ACDA, it would seem to be worth the investment in time and money.

Implementation

The state Repertoire and Standards Chairs for College and University and Student Activities will solicit names of graduating choral music education students from the colleges and universities each September.  These names will be forwarded to the division chairs in these areas and the national office.  Packets will be prepared through the national office, which will include:  a complimentary membership card for their first year of teaching, a professionally designed color brochure about ACDA (including detailed information about the organization website), letters from Gene Brooks, the current Division President in the student’s division, and the current State President, and a current issue of Choral Journal.  For December graduates, the packet will be mailed no later than the last week of November.  For spring graduates, the packet will be mailed by the last week of April.  By doing this, we can give the memberships at the student rate, since technically the students will still be enrolled in colleges and universities.

Further support for new teachers

Choral Journal is a tremendous publication, containing numerous articles and reviews each month that are of interest to choral professionals.  However, in my opinion it does tend to be rather academic in nature.  Not enough articles are designed to help the new teacher at the elementary, junior high school and high school level.  I believe this is one reason many public school teachers choose to join MENC instead of ACDA—they believe the support offered by MENC is more relevant to their teaching situation. 

I would like to see ACDA produce more materials designed to help new teachers.  All of this could be done on the organization website, eliminating printing cost and allowing the materials to be consistently updated.  The R&S areas for elementary, junior high/middle school and high school could get involved in this effort.  Some ideas might include: 

•    Each R&S area of the website would include a space for tips from teachers who have been out in the field no more than three years.  These professionals have just gone through what new teachers are experiencing, and they would perhaps be able to better relate to new teachers than people who have been in the classroom for a number of years. 

Successful new teachers can be identified by state chairs and asked to contribute short articles about their experiences.  What worked well?  What did they struggle with?  How did they implement their curriculum?  Tips for classroom management.  There could even be a place where new teachers could write in with questions, and a panel of designated successful new teachers could serve as internet mentors.  Although there is currently a message board for the entire ACDA website, it is not area specific, and it is open to answers from anyone.  It seems better to me to have individual boards designed for elementary, jh/middle school and high school use, so the information would be more easily sorted through.  Answers from people dedicated to being a mentor also would be perhaps more valuable. 

I always have recent graduates come back and speak about their experience as a new teacher to my choral methods class.  It’s always enlightening, and the students really relate to someone close to their own age.  It makes the situation more “real” to them.  By the same token, I always also have veteran teachers speak to the class.

•    New teachers are going to select music for their choirs.  We might as well help influence them with works we know are of the highest quality.  Repertoire lists are valuable, especially those that include some sort of annotation about each piece, both describing it and giving suggestions for its use.  However, with the advent of technology we have an opportunity to bring repertoire to life for new teachers (as well as veterans). 

Of the current R & S websites that would pertain to public school teachers, only the Ethnic/Multicultural, Jazz and Women’s Choir areas have lists of suggested literature, and these are not annotated.  In my experience with choral literature classes, observing student teachers and mentoring new teachers, inexperienced teachers tend to find this type of list not very useful—in fact the larger the list, the more overwhelming.  They much prefer an actual score to look at, and even better, a recording of the piece to go with the score. 

I understand the R & S areas are in the process of working on their web pages.  As part of this effort, I propose that an annotated list of a top 100 pieces for varied uses—including things like “a great piece for developing the sound of seventh-grade boys,” be put together for elementary choirs, junior high/middle school choirs and high school choirs.  In addition, I would like to see images of each piece scanned and then put on the website, along with a streaming-audio (cannot be copied) recording of the full piece.  Many publishers are now displaying their new repertoire in this way—E.C. Schirmer and Santa Barbara are good examples.  I use these sites with my choral literature classes, and the students find them very helpful.  However, they do not usually include the great historical literature, and our new conductors need to know about that literature. 

Many undergraduate programs do not offer a choral literature class, and music history classes cover so much material they often give little time to choral music after the Renaissance period.  The students are often lacking in knowledge of the great literature when they first start to teach.  High school teachers in particular need to have a working knowledge of great historical works that can be effective with students this age.  The recordings used on the site would ideally be by high school, junior high and elementary choirs, and if some of the pieces represented lacked recordings, perhaps the R & S chairs could ask successful teachers to program and record them. 

The list of 100 would only be a beginning.  After this initial effort, perhaps 50 pieces could be added each year.  The Music Industry Representative to the national board would need to be involved in this effort to secure permission from the publishers for using their publications on the site.  There would need to be technological support from the national office to scan the score images and put recordings on the sites.


Richard's fine proposal is actually a call for action on the national level, but offers us the opportunity to lead by example here in the Northwest Division.  Over the next days and weeks, I will ask the NW-ACDA State College/University R&S Chairs to begin the communications and organization described in the above proposal.  Though there is little time remaining until December 1, I hope that we can offer the benefits of ACDA membership to our new NW-Division College/University graduates by the end of the semester.

Scott E. Anderson
R&S Chair for College/University

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11-2006
Thoughts on Motivating Your Choir


by Dr. Paul W. Schultz
R&S Chair for Community Choirs

One of my firm beliefs is that the primary motivator for any choir is (or should be) the music.  Selecting music that will show the strengths of a choir and will be equally appealing to both choir and audience is often one of the most challenging tasks for the conductor.  We spend so much time preparing the music, in sectional rehearsals, preparing rehearsal CDs, bringing in instrumentalists, etc., that we forget about the “esprit de corps” of our ensemble. 

My Tacoma colleague Greg Vancil recalls volunteering to be in the warm-up room for a national ACDA convention in San Antonio just to see how conductors spend 30 minutes preparing their choir to perform for more than 2000 choral conductors.  He noticed that the vast majority of the conductors spent their time running through entire pieces and “fixing” little things before hastily lining up to go on stage.  Anxiety levels were high and performances were not always satisfying.  He also observed that those who took the time to address the mental and emotional aspects of their performance, in addition to a solid vocal warm-up, seemed to be the best prepared leaving the room.  This approach to warm-up usually resulted in some of the top performances.

Many high school choirs start their year with a retreat.  This retreat can be held at a conference center a long bus ride away, or simply at a local church or similar facility.  I am curious how many community chorus directors include this as a way to kick off their season.  Many do not include retreats in their planning because of busy schedules, finding a time when most could attend, and a variety of other reasons.

I recently was privileged to serve as clinician for a community chorus in Oregon holding their first retreat.  The director and board members were anxious and some even skeptical that this was the right thing to do for their choir.  During the day we worked on rehearsing the music but also on things like voice placement within each section, different options for formation, and team building/esprit de corps activities. 

One example of team building that was lots of fun was an activity called:  Do You Know Your Choir Members?  Members simply respond to a series of questions and discover things in common with people they didn’t know very well.  The results seemed to completely break down any barriers previously existing and set the tone for a very positive conclusion to the retreat.  Some of the most enjoyable questions resulting in interesting answers were:

  1. Do you believe in ghosts?
  2. Are you a good dancer?
  3. Are you afraid of the dark?
  4. Did you play varsity sports in college?

Northwest Repertory Singers begins each year with a four-hour retreat on the Saturday before our first rehearsal.  We distribute music, collect dues, read through the music, sectional voice placement, and several motivational activities.  During our concert season we take 10 minutes out of each rehearsal for similar activities.  Early in the year each member of the choir completes their answer to this incomplete statement:  You may not know this from looking at me, but I have………   Each week four singers (a person from each section) are selected and a facilitator will read their completed statements.  Choir members then guess who wrote the statement.  Interesting responses this season included:  (1) touring Europe for three months on a motorcycle (quiet alto); (2) has a compulsive passion to ride roller coasters (conservative tenor);  (3) dreamed of being a head NBA coach (out-going alto).  They are also asked to share their most moving musical moment in their lives and this is often very touching.

All of these techniques, along with countless others, help to make the motivation of our choirs more complete resulting in more moving performances.  The individual choir member becomes more in contact with the text and is able to communicate with the audience when they truly feel part of their choir “team” or “family.”  Some would even call it a “safe place” to sing or perform which then releases the expressiveness we so often seek to achieve.

Finally, I love to share quotes or motivational verse with the choir.  Sometimes short stories such as one finds in the “Chicken Soup” books can do the trick.  When you come across something that you think will motivate or be meaningful to your choir, cut it out or copy it, and save it in a file.  You will soon have an endless resource folder the will touch those with whom you share it.

Here are a couple of my favorites:

Music does not express passions, love or longing of this or that individual in this or that situation.  It IS passion, love and longing.      …Richard Wagner

Without music, life would be a mistake.    …Nietzsche

And finally, from a Northwest Girlchoir program, Rebecca J. Rottsolk, Music Director:

“Music circles through the air rejoicing at the new world that soon will come to be.  It rings through the ears of all the people in the world.  It goes underground and in outer space.  Music speaks of the joys in the days when children are born.  It speaks of the sad times when people die, except it’s in a secret language which only fairies can understand.  It whistles in and out of people’s ears, like sweet little birds that can fly all around the world.  Music rustles through the trees and plants.  It’s the only thing in the world that can fully break the silence.  Music’s sweet melody circling through the air like the tiniest airplane is sometimes beautiful, sometimes not.  It can break through walls and there’s no way to get rid of it.  Music can do anything it wants!”

                        Katie Thorpe, age 9
                        Northwest Girlchoir

Here’s wishing all of you a very happy holiday season and a New Year filled with peace, joy, and prosperity.

 
     

flummerfelt
Joseph Flummerfelt

11-2006
Thoughts on the Conductor’s Role

Dr. Joseph Flummerfelt
(reprinted from Fall, 2006 issue of Melisma, newsletter of the North Central Division of the ACDA, Trent Brown, Editor)

As an emerging young conductor, I constantly found myself frustrated because, without knowing it, I was caught in the gap between my sense of how the music should sound and my own ability to evoke it with my gesture.  As the years have gone on this gap lessened and mostly dissolved.  I have become able to verbalize what I believe to be at the core of the conductor’s capacity to communicate the composer’s intent more fully.

I believe conducting is much more about connection and far less about controlling.  To be sure we strongly influence and, in a certain sense, control the dynamic and energetic properties of the musical line.  We clearly set the tempo and determine the timing between sections and movements, etc.  The negative kind of control is a manipulative one – a relationship to the score in which we impose our demands in a manner that often tends to be ego-centered, not composer-centered.  An over-controlled performance will tend to be driven, and the musical line and the structure will not be allowed to breathe.  The conducting gesture will be full of tension and we may, without knowing it, be seeking to be the center of attention, either for our singers or for the audience or for both. Implicit in an ego-drive performance is, I believe, a lack of humility towards the composer’s intention.

Surely, each of us in our journey to become more alive, more fully human, has had to do significant business with the ego’s ever-present urge to say, “look at me, look how important I am.”  My own life experience tells me that the root of this is frequently the fear of letting others in – letting others know who we really are – being open, being vulnerable, being able to fully receive the sound, and therefore being able to listen without filtering what we hear through the veil of our own insecurity.  Being, if you will, at one with ourselves, embracing ourselves, trusting ourselves, and thus being able to trust our singers.

I believe that choral artistry can only emerge when an intimate depth of communication exists between conductor and singer.  At the core of any human interconnection is, I believe, a constant balancing of the conductor as actor and reactor.  The actor speaks his or her truth without fear of the other’s reaction – the reactor openly receives what is coming back from other without the fear of being hurt.

The conductor as actor will project a quality of command coming from a deep well of healthy self-assurance.  By being fully grounded, as well as having fully internalized the score, we become able to get beyond the fearful manipulative constraints of the ego, and thus project to our singers a quality of assurance, couched in humility which enables them to trust our musical decisions.

This grounding thus allows us to be vulnerable, to be open, to listen deeply, and in a very real sense, to be informed by what is coming back from the singer.  This capacity to be open, to trust what comes back from the singers is, I believe, what allows them to go more deeply into themselves, and to become more connected with their innermost being.  Our singers, sensing that we are able to really listen to them to risk being vulnerable, will become more vulnerable or more open to a deeper humanity within themselves.

If this intimacy of connection exists, then the relationship between conductor and singer becomes circular rather than over/under.  Our gestures will then be free of the tension which blocks any natural organic flow, and thus will be able to influence the sound in a profound and intimate way.

As conductors, we can generate and energize flow; we cannot control ebb.  Implicit in any work of art – from the Western canon, to the simple beauty of a folk song, or to the complexity of a Bach fugue – is a kind of organic balancing of action/reaction, tension/release, ebb and flow, which mirrors those qualities that exist in everything that is alive: the cycle of birth/death, spring/winter, day/night.  Tides rise, tides fall.  We inhale, we exhale.  Certainly one must also not forget a balancing of cognition and intuition.  Our intuition can only function if we let go and just listen.

I have often found that one of the most liberating things I have said to a conducting student is simply to stop thinking and just listen.  If the conductor is able to really listen, to be in the moment, then magic can happen – a magic which can only flow from our intuition.

It thus seems to me that, as each of us becomes more balanced as actors and reactors, we can as conductors become more connectors rather than controllers. 

We can get past the fear that causes us to manipulate, and inevitably create a quality of unremitting tension in our music which will strangle the composer’s voice because the music doesn’t breathe, because the natural organic balancing of tension/release, which is intrinsic to any beautiful musical line, has been stifled.

To grow as human beings to the place where our approach to both the score and to the singers is composer-centered and not conductor-centered, is, I believe, the whole point. Then our singers’ lives can be changed because we have been able, though our own example, and through our own balancing of assurance and vulnerability, to lead them to a deeper place within themselves. We will have helped them open to the deep human, and, if you will, spiritual source, which the fear-dominated ego will always block. We will have helped them connect to that creative impulse which is the generating force of all great art, just as it is the generating force of all that is alive.

Joseph Flummerfelt's musical artistry has been acclaimed in many of the world's finest conert halls for over 25 years. Since 1971, Flummerfelt has served as artistic director and principle conductor of Westminster Choir College of Rider University. In addition to his work with the choir and teaching duties, Maestro Flummerfelt is the director of choral activities for the Spoleto Festival, U. S. A., in Charleston, S. C., chorus master for the New York Philharmonic and founder and conductor of the New York Choral Artists. A gifted orchestral conductor, he has appeared as guest conductor with the Julliard Symphony Orchestra, Orechestra of St. Luke's and New York Philharmonic, among others.

 
     
 

12-2006
Against Loneliness in the Sacred Music World

by Chuck King, R&S Chair for Music in Worship for Central Division, ACDA
reprinted from Resound, Fall 2006 (Central Division Newsletter, edited by Bill Niederer)

Many choirs for sacred settings are directed by choral professionals as a second job, sideline, or devoted passion. Some few of us have the rare privilege of giving our entire choral attention to the parish, synagogue, or cathedral choir. Regardless of why we are in these positions, or to what degree we are immersed in them, I think we all (at least sometimes) experience some degree of loneliness in the work. Perhaps we are caught between clergy, congregational, and chorister expectations. Maybe we are stuck preparing and using music that is not our first choice or highest aesthetic taste. We may feel that we are in a remote corner of choral music, and wonder how to break into the mainstream. I know all choral professionals have similar challenges, but this is my world and I’d like to reflect on it briefly.

One hedge against this kind of loneliness is seeing “the church choir” (if you’ll allow that generic phrase) as ministry. Do we consider this work transcendent? That is, are we simply making music, or are we taking part in the spiritual development of generations of worshipers? Ideally our work will do more than make people feel good: it will help make them wise, committed, engaged, Spirit-filled believers. Even if our clergy sometimes expect less, music is capable of all this. And though others may not understand what is going on, when the choir is led under your commitment to ministry they will follow wholeheartedly. That’s one partner and defense against professional loneliness.

 The congregation will become your partner when they recognize that the choir’s work is relational. One of my pastoral colleagues recently paid my adult choir a very high compliment. He said: “when I come into the choir room Sunday morning, I see a happy choir.” The congregation, too, can sense these things. We are all glad that the congregation cannot see through the choir loft doors on a Sunday morning. Like laws and sausages, sometimes it’s better not to know how music is made! But a congregation knows when those who sing for them do so in relational unison and harmony. It is mystical, to a degree. It is one of those intangibles that somehow show up in public – faces, posture, and a buoyant tone. We all are careful to maximize the use of every limited minute of rehearsal. But we also need to find ways to create, foster, and equip time for the choir to truly know and care for one another.

A collegial approach to music ministry will help with our clergy. I speak from the vantage – the  privilege – of serving in two churches, with three senior ministers, who were supportive and available. Many have not had this experience, and have tried to no avail to initiate it themselves. Collegiality is a two-way street, and sadly clergy sometimes barricade the cul-de-sac. But if we can do anything in this vein, the payoff is satisfying. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” is a biblical word to apply here. Take the initiative to get to know the clergy to whom you are responsible. Learn from them and let them know what they can learn from you. Be willing sometimes to lose a battle in order to win a war. (And try to learn which is which! We are often surprised to learn that we don’t even agree at that level.) Bach’s arguments with clergy seemed to center on the position of Kantor rather than the person of Bach.

Finally, let your colleagues in ACDA be your external support system. Get out to local, state, and district events. Create some opportunities for “church choir” directors to get together. Consider hosting or joining up with a festival of church choirs. Borrow one another’s music. As we foster those professional connections we also battle the loneliness that sometimes can come with our territory.