R & S Chair Articles

Coping With the Stress of Music Ministry
Paul A. Aitken, NWACDA Music in Worship Chair

     


It is not easy to manage the amounts of stress and strain placed upon the average church musician.  Many of us keep extremely unrealistic schedules filled with everything from rehearsals to other employment to soccer practice to continuing education. 

Recently, I was speaking to a friend who indicated that her Dad, a professional musician, came very close to a nervous breakdown several years ago.  He had filled his life with so much stuff that he could barely handle the stress of it any longer.  I completely understand this predicament.  In my own life, juggling professional duties alongside of my family responsibilities (and the completion of my doctoral degree) sometimes stretches me very thin.  I know that many, if not most of you, can relate to this predicament.

In this day and age, unless you move to an island cabin off of northern British Columbia, you are going to have stress in your life.  As a means of helping other, I have put together a few non-scientific ideas of how I cope with stress in my own life:

  1. Put limitations on your professional schedule.  Each and every week I am asked to do more and more work outside of my job.  There are many enticing offers, but the reality is that there are only so many hours in the week.  Please know that it is OK to say “no.”  People will respect you more if you decline the opportunity rather than performing a less than adequate job.  For most, doing lack-luster professional work is itself stressful.  And we don’t like stress!
  2. Spend time with family and friends.  The reality is that a spending quality time with your family and friends is a great way of relieving stress.  Take your children to a movie.  Go on a date with, and communicate with, your spouse or significant other.  Help a friend with a few odd jobs.  Find ways to laugh with them.  Improving the relationships with the people around us has an amazing effect upon reducing stress in life.  Good relationships with others reduces a lot of stress in our lives.
  3. Focus on the positive: I am constantly amazed at how negative people some people can be.  Last February, I had the privilege of being a site coordinator at the ACDA national convention.  I watched with amazement as directors filled with stress and negative energy instilled a negative aura upon their choirs.  Other directors, although anxious, were extremely positive about every situation that arose.  Again, their choirs reflected this same positive energy; they were happy and calm.  They were experiencing much less stress!  I learned a lot that week about positive energy.  I learned that if we keep accentuating the positive, our stress level will be much lower.  In turn, choirs will also experience less stress as they begin emulating the emotions of their director.  Teach people how to treat you by accentuating the positive.  You will experience less stress.
  4. Forgive someone:  This ties in closely to the previous point, but bears mentioning.  It is mind-boggling how many of us carry grudges to the grave for things that have happened in the past.  On tour two years ago, I took a choir through Oxford, Mississippi where we took a bus tour of their town.  During the tour, it became apparent that docent was still bearing a grudge against the northern states in regard to the Civil War.  She spoke of it as though it was something that happened last month.  Is there someone in your life who you need to forgive?  A former friend, a spouse, a pastor, an in-law, a child?  Actively forgive that person and let it go.  From my own personal experience, I know that the stress and baggage related to that memory will soon fade.
  5. Wrap up unfinished business:  We all have loose ends in our life.  In my own situation, I decided that one of the greatest factors of my own stress load was the fact that I had not yet completed my doctorate.  In fact, I had given thought to giving up on the whole process altogether!  And the thought of giving up was stressful!  Last October, I made the conscious decision to finish and I am now getting closer each and every day to wrapping this project up.  I know that the stressful weight that will be lifted when the doctorate is done will be well worth the effort I am putting forth now.  So, take a look at your life.  Is there unfinished business in your life?  If there is, make a concerted effort at completing the task because the stress lifted from you will be considerable.
  6. Strive to improve your spiritual life: As a church music director, I am surprised that I sometimes have to remind myself to improve my spiritual life.  How odd is it that I need a reminder?  I work in a church!  But the fact is that there is stress-relieving power that comes from prayer and from believing in something that is greater than self.

Paul A. Aitken holds music degrees from both the University of Western Ontario & Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, and is presently completing a DMA in Choral Music from the University of Oklahoma.  The first-ever winner of the ACDA Raymond W. Brock Memorial Student Composition Competition, Paul was recently included in the 2006 edition of Who’s Who in America.  As a conductor/composer, Mr. Aitken is Director of Music Ministry at Boise Idaho’s “Cathedral of the Rockies” where he oversees sixteen musical ensembles in both the traditional and contemporary musical vein. 

   
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Thoughts for your community chorus
by Paul Schultz, R&S Chair for Community Choirs
   

Those of us who lead a community chorus are faced with a plethora of organizational tasks that take valuable time from our artistic planning and rehearsal time.  The following thoughts might help streamline these tasks so that more time can be spent on the precious art of making music.

Auditions
There are numerous philosophies on this subject.  For some, once you are in it is forever.  Others screen their singers periodically.  Many choruses hold annual auditions for new singers while some require everyone re-audition annually (or biennially).  Whatever the philosophy, auditions can be a very time-consuming activity.

Singers auditioning often arrive only a few minutes before their audition time and find they must still complete paperwork.  This can delay the audition, throw the schedule behind, and make the singer feel rushed and more anxious.  If you have a website, set it up so those auditioning can complete an audition form online.  Singers can select an audition date, time, and offer brief comments online.  The director (or audition team) can then download the forms and have them ready at the audition time.  If you would like more information on setting this up, contact my website at www.nwrs.org.

Choir Rosters
Once the choir is selected, we usually create a roster including addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, fax numbers, etc.  This is information obtained from the audition forms and is very valuable for both directors and section leaders when trying to contact an individual choir member.  Once this list is assembled it can result in a six or seven page document, depending on the size of your chorus.  This can be expensive to duplicate for each choir member and many members do not want their contact information available in printed form.  We have found our website is again a wonderful tool to solve this problem.

Our roster is available to choir members only on our website.  Members will set up an account with a user name and password.  Then each member can access a PDF file of choir members and contact information.  This saves paper, duplicating costs, and that common phone call to the director asking, “Do you have an email address and phone numbers for Jane Alto?”

Ordering Music
Directors are finding the need to order music much earlier to have it in time for that first rehearsal.  Check with your music supplier to optimize this process.  I have always favored supporting the local supplier but have also found that many publishers will ship scores directly to you more quickly and not charge you for shipping.  Many of us opt to pick up our scores at the local supplier in order to avoid shipping charges.  Check to see if the music can be shipped directly to you without shipping added to the bill.  This alone can save up to a week in arrival time.  I have found most suppliers will do this.  If this fails….shop around!

Distribution of Music and Information

How much rehearsal time is wasted passing out music, distributing rehearsal schedules, rehearsal CD’s, and making announcements?  Most of us have no idea how this time adds up over the course of a season.  Following are some ideas that probably seem obvious but will share them anyway.  

I like to start the year with a “retreat” (really should be called “advance”) dedicated to both team building activities and most of the administrative things that take time away from rehearsals.  This retreat can be held at an alternate location or at your usual rehearsal space.  It can be an overnight event but I have found that three hours on a Saturday morning works just as efficiently.

Your librarian should have all the music in packets (or folders).  These packets should also include season schedules, weekly rehearsal schedules, rehearsal CD’s, handbooks, and organizational information including board of directors, officers, section leaders, committees, etc.  If your singers are required to pay dues, the treasurer should be set up to collect funds.

One of the most important tasks at the retreat should be reading through the music in your folders.  This is why we are here!  This allows the singers to become acquainted with the repertoire, get excited about it, and start working on the music schedule for the first rehearsal.  Singers respond very favorably to a rehearsal schedule listing the specific pieces (or sections of pieces) you will rehearse each week leading up to the concert.  For example:

            Repertoire

  1. Ave Maria                       
  2. Mozart Requiem          
Rehearsal Date          Repertoire to be rehearsed

Mon. January 23:      1, 2 (Lacrymosa; Agnus Dei)

The idea is that with this information, the choir will come to rehearsal on January 23rd having worked on Ave Maria and the selected movements of the Mozart Requiem.

How many of us take time for announcements during rehearsal time?  Is this really necessary?  The answers to both questions are quite obvious but there are ways to limit the time spent.  In our internet world, most information can be distributed in advance via email.  Also encourage email communication from choir members to section leaders for things like absences, late arrival, score markings, text pronunciation, etc.  This can save the director from having to deal with routine tasks not related to the preparation of music.  Every rehearsal minute saved should (over time) make noticeable improvement in the artistic qualities of your ensemble.  Announcements in rehearsal should be limited only to last minute, essential information by the choir president.

Rehearsal Setup/Tear Down
The old philosophy of punctuality is (and should be):  “On time is late; early is on time.”  Many rehearsals start late because the room is not set up, not because people arrive late.  Most community choruses rehearse in churches, schools, or some venue used by other people during the day.  This necessitates both setup before rehearsal and returning the space to the desires of those using the facility the next day. 

The most efficient way to deal with setup is a crew of volunteers arriving early and having it ready to go for each rehearsal.  Often this simply involves rearranging chairs to fit your choir’s needs.  I like to have my choir on risers three rehearsals before a concert.  This may involve borrowing and transporting risers from another place and finding a place to store them for the concert.  The crew might be the same people each week or it may rotate so that all are responsible at some time.

If only chairs are involved, each choir member can be responsible to move their chair to the desired place after rehearsal.  A larger crew might be needed if striking and storing risers.

When using a church sanctuary it is often necessary to move lecterns, alters, benches, etc. These pieces are usually in position for the worship service.  It is vital that a representative from the choir be assigned to communicate with the church office regarding moving these items and devise a plan to insure they are returned to their original location after a rehearsal or concert.

I hope some of these ideas will be helpful to you in the future.  I strongly feel all Artistic Directors of every chorus should do everything possible to delegate non-musical tasks to the leadership of the choir, and concentrate of score study, rehearsal preparation, and bringing the music to life so that it may touch the hearts and souls of your singers and audiences.

Paul W. Schultz
Community Chorus R & S Chair
ACDA Northwest Division
Email:  ps72638 (at) comcast (dot) net
Home Phone:  (253) 759-8648
Cell Phone:  (253) 229-3485


   

 

 

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Articles on two-year colleges in ACDA publications in short supply, but there are some gems
by April Duvic, R&S Chair for Two-Year Colleges
   
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One of the benefits of being the R & S chair is receiving the newsletters from other states and divisions. Since September 2005, I have read newsletters from 23 different states and four different Divisions.  I have enjoyed reading articles written by the various officers and R&S Chairs about their states and the choral activities they have done and are planning to do this year.  What I have found particularly interesting is the reporting, or lack thereof, by and for two-year college choirs and their directors.  Granted, some states don’t even have two-year colleges, but of the states and Divisions that list a two-year college R&S Chair, there were only six articles with any relevance to two-year colleges.  There were multiple articles about vocal health, rehearsal techniques, high school choirs, women’s choirs, men’s choirs, children’s choirs, university choirs, community choirs and a fair number of articles about how great it is to be a choral director, but a dearth of reporting about two-year college choral programs. (Point:  kudos to Jason Heald, from Oregon, who DID write an article in the November Oregon Choral Focus about Vocal Jazz Repertoire)

As one of three choral directors at Clark College in Vancouver, WA, I KNOW that two-year college students are eager to sing in choirs and that, given an opportunity to make great music, they will.  My speculation is that this scenario plays out at other two-year colleges in the NW Division as well.  And if choral music is thriving at the many NW Division two-year colleges, we need to be sharing the news from each and every two-year institution with each other.

Larry Stukenholtz, the R&S Chair from Missouri, wrote an article this fall about his goal of making sure his students are exposed to the same caliber of literature that they would perform at any four-year school.  He does this by keeping track of what literature is being performed at the nearby four-year colleges and universities to which his students will be transferring.  Working on the assumption that he has his music majors for two years, he then maps out a different category for each concert, working to cover the various periods, genres and styles of choral music.  He also uses the “theme approach” to cover all the genres, rather than having a single concert focus on just one musical period or genre.  His ultimate goal is to program concerts that are both educational and interesting in order to attract students and prepare them for the four-year university to which they will transfer.  Because of this article, I am now determined to research the choral programs at the four-year colleges to which most of my students will transfer, in order to help my students get the most out of their time in the choral program at Clark College.

Jessica Hall, the R&S Chair from Alabama, reported on the Alabama Collegiate Choral Festival held November 3, 2005, at which choirs representing two and four year colleges and universities from across the state performed for each other and had an opportunity to work with guest clinician, John Dickson, from Texas Tech University.  The choirs then formed a massed choir and worked with the clinician on a final selection to conclude the day’s activities.  Events such as this offer the two-year college student a peak musical experience and are something each and every state in the NW Division could be doing.  Washington State has been hosting a two-year college choral festival for the past couple of years, after a hiatus of several years.  This reporter would like to promote any and all events for two-year colleges.  Again, please send your information to me at aduvic (at) clark (dot) edu.

Jeff Seaward, the R&S Chair from California wrote a gripping article this fall on the difference between teaching at a high school with a fabulous choral program, and teaching at a community college where he was confronted by the lack of commitment from his students.  After his initial shock, he became aware of the reasons for many of the differences between high school and community college students.  In fact, the article is so “right on” that I plan on asking Jeff if we can reprint it for our next newsletter – anyone who teaches at a community college will benefit from his words of insight and encouragement.  His number one suggestion is to keep our standards and expectations high, that community college IS real college and not glorified high school.  Our curriculum must meet the same high standards as that of universities.  And to that, I say, “AMEN!”

My curiosity about the choral programs at our NW Division two-year colleges continues to be piqued.  I encourage all two-year college choral directors to take a moment to share what is going on at the school(s) where they teach.  Even if all you do is list the kinds of choral ensembles at your schools and how often they perform, it will be a start.  Please send your responses to me at aduvic (at) clark (dot) edu.

     

Sopraltos?
by Marcia Patton, R&S Chair for Women's Choruses

   

We are all aware of the dangers of categorizing voices too soon, if at all. As director of both women’s and children’s choirs I conscientiously try to avoid classifying voices and psyches. Yet the terms soprano and alto seem so much more user friendly than “treble I, II, II”, or “group A B C” (remember your elementary school reading groups....robins and crows!)

I must admit that I do refer to my singers as singing the parts of altos and sopranos, even as I remind them that “the majority of you are REALLY sopranos, you know....”. We make a concentrated, and actually very sincere and successful, effort to move voices around each concert season with the Casper Children’s Chorale. (Concert season translates into “year”...) I do the same with my Kelly Walsh high school girls. It has just seemed like a major hassle to trade parts and seating arrangements on each song, not to mention balancing and shuffling those individuals who actually sight-read and lead the section vocally.

My confession out of the way (you can stop shaking your head here and threatening to revoke my ACDA membership), let me share some strategies for encouraging each individual singer to develop their range, improve their reading ability, and strengthen their ear for harmony.

Warm-ups: At least ten minutes every rehearsal, beginning with descending melodies in the mid-range, adding ascending and descending portamentos, and progressing into vocalises that encourage range expansion and flexibility for all singers. Our vocabulary includes head voice, tessitura, and general musical and physical terminology that encourages singers to think of their entire instrument, and not just their vocal part assignment.

Can you Canon? Solfege and canonic exercises assigned not to geographic sections of the room, but rather counted off by twos or threes--every other person, everyone wearing red, those with specific birth months, etc. Singing a harmonic part should not depend on proximity of other singers. Think “O Music”, “Jubilate Deo”, “Dei Donum Optimi”, “Hashivenu”, and other concert-worthy canons.

All the Singers All the Time: Unless we are actually move into sectionals, all singers rehearse each line. No one just sits, and everyone learns each melodic line.

UNISON! (affectionately known as the K.I.S.S. method of teaching repertoire). The very BEST thing that I ever did for my high women was to require them to learn an art song--in unison--each semester. Why do I keep buying “arrangements” of art songs when I can teach the solo repertoire?

Here are a few of my favorite concert selections that eliminate the need for those expectations of a soprano or an alto “sound”:

A La Ferme Henderson Oxford - University Press
All Things Bright and Beautiful - Rutter Hinshaw
Art Thou Troubled? - Handel Novello
Bring A Torch Jeannette Isabella - Powers Swan’s Wing Press
Can You Count The Stars - Willcocks Oxford
Cara Selve - Leck Plymouth
Carol of the Children - Rutter Hinshaw
Dormi, Dormi - Goetze Boosey Hawkes
El Desembre Congelat - Powers Swan’s Wing Press
Fairest Lady - Page Boosey Hawkes
Gloria Sei Dir Gesungen - Bach Oxford
Heidenroslein - Schubert, ed.Leck Plymouth
Holly and the Ivy- Powers Swan’s Wing
Litanei, Nacht und Traume - Schubert Warner
Little Lamb - Smith G. Schirmer
Path to the Moon - Thiman Boosey Hawkes
Sally Gardens - Britten Boosey Hawkes
Supplicat - Brumby Walton
This Shall Be For Music - Patterson BriLee
We Will Sing For Joy - Scarlatti Choristers Guild

On our Autumn Concert, my men’s “show/doo-wop choir, Esprit De Corps, did a rendition of “Comedy Tonight” with some vaudeville renditions of Soprano/Alto “slams”:
“How many sopranos does it take to change a lightbulb.....just one..she
holds it and the world revolves around her.”
“How many altos does it take to change a lightbulb....none..they can’t get up that high.”
“What’s the difference between an alto and a pitbull....the jewelry.”
“What’s the difference between a soprano and a piranha...the lipstick.”

And on it went.....but never fear, my women’s chorus, Cantabile, got back at the guys on the Holiday Concert:
“How do you know that the basses are claustrophobic...you never see them in a practice room.”
“What’s the difference between Esprit de Corps and a flock of geese....the geese actually move in formation”.
“How many tenors does it take to change a lightbulb......SIX”. (Okay, I never got it either).

So, enough of those platitudes about sopranos getting all the jewelry, the melodies, and the high G’s while the altos get the ostinato D’s, whole note AHS, and perfect scores in sight-reading. I vote for SOPRALTOS!