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PUBLISHERS, COMPOSERS, CONDUCTORS (Part 4), by Jameson Marvin
 
Mood – now there is a concept! I am quite familiar with moods! And especially sensitive to changes of moods. Being mood-sensitive, I am easily flooded with emotion. And this brings me to what I think of as the central core of all of this: I believe that the humanity in music boils down to the aural communication of emotion.
 
Throughout history there can be little doubt about music’s profound capacity to inspire, to uplift, to rejuvenate spirits. Moments, past and present, of mourning and rejoicing have elicited group-song, joining the collective cathartic spirits and experiences of the participants. In fact, recently, anthropological research reveals that humans probably sang before they spoke. From the earliest times to the present, group singing has been in response to feelings, to emotion. Sound audibly coming from mouths spontaneously ushered out to signal an internal emotional response is inherently human.
 
This thought is powerful. For me this is the real answer to the “Why?” question – the catalyst for what I am looking for in choosing a piece of music -- the ability to experience an emotional connection to the composer’s composition. The connection may be immediate or may take place over time, but no matter what, it is the emotion that I feel about a piece of music that motivates me to perform it, and especially to teach it. That is for me, the ultimate energizer – this connection that motivates me to teach my conception of a composition so that I can share it with my students.
 
These insights are the catalysts that hold the possibility of drawing our students closer to experiencing those magic moments: that inspiration fired by the transcendent power of music.
 
For conductors, I think, these thoughts and experiences may answer both questions: “why did the composer write what she/he wrote; the answer to that question, answers the question, why do I want to perform your composition?” Because I understand what the composer wrote and I can’t wait to teach it!”
 
READ Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3 of this series.
Composition Spotlight ~ by Jack Senzig
 
(Each week we look at a piece of useful repertoire from the ChoralNet Community Composition Showcase.  A variety of voicings and levels of difficulty will be presented.  Enjoy!)
 
Among the Signs by Robinson McClellan  for SAB a cappella  (click for PDF, audio, or perusal video)
Level: Small but skilled church choir or higher
Uses: Ecumenical Concert
This piece would program well with:  Russell Robinson’s arrangement of Haydn’s Achieved is the Glorious Work (from “Creation”) available from JWPepper or Sheet Music Plus
 
Among the Signs combines Christian and Muslim texts, monophony and imitative polyphony, chant like rhythms and strictly metered passages.   McClellan skillfully scribes unison choral chant phrases that blossom into beautiful harmony. 
 
In the middle of the piece he quotes the hymn tune Resignation and some of its text including “No more a stranger or a guest…” Several emotionally moving text painting tools are employed.  McClellan makes electricity crackle by offsetting the word “lightning” in all parts by 1 beat in a 3/8 meter.    
 
Take a close look at section D on page 4.  The composer creates an image of a drenching rain by using an offset three eighths pattern in a 2/4 meter.    Your audience will appreciate that each of the three verses begin with the same A section theme, giving them something to hold on to.
 
The richness of the harmony and texture is remarkable considering it is accomplished with only three voice parts.  The men’s range is more T than B (A3- F#4).
 
 
(Original publication: October 7, 2012)
This is just one of the 74 choral conductors on the ACDA Wall of Honor. LEARN MORE about the Wall of Honor and MEET ALL of the award recipients.
 

Can you list all of the "music technology" that you use in your work? It's a trickier question than you might think. First, there are general tools which help us organize and communicate. Tools such as web browsers, Google Docs, e-mail and text messaging can be an essential part of our toolkit, but we use them in similar ways to most other fields. While there are minor variations, professionals from other fields might look at our use of these tools and find it similar to their own. On the other hand are the "discipline-specific" tools that are unique to our field: notation software, digital audio workstations, field recording devices and music distribution software are all pieces of technology that are specific to, or used in ways that are specific to music professionals. This is not solely a music concern, as each discipline has its own unique subset of technology tools, but even the most skilled technology user in one field is likely to be unsure how to use these specific "tools of the trade" in a field not their own. I was stumped recently when trying to help a student use a piece of scientific data logging software-- not because the program was particularly difficult to use, but because I didn't have the experience as a physicist to understand the software. 

 

This point is unlikely to surprise people-- musicians have always used specific tools to make music. What is surprising, though, is how many people have an imbalance between their levels of comfort with general and discipline-specific technology. Furthermore, both of these categories are essential to our trade, but while we categorize them all as "technology" I find that many users have a subconscious preference for one over the other that reflects their own "tech comfort level." Some users are highly comfortable working online and have their smartphones or tablets completely dialed in to their organizational and communication needs, but have never used a notation program or have never worked with a MIDI device. These users often have a high level of comfort with technology from their own personal use, but there's a huge leap in complexity from consumer-oriented devices to a complex notation program. That gap can be overcome with a some training and practice, but will often not come without a specific need to drive it. On the other hand, some users have built a high level of skill with recording tools or editing software through continual use, but are much less fluent with Internet use or digital calendars. In each case, the primary motivator is usually need. There are some people who continually aspire to learn new tools and skills solely for the enrichment or joy of learning. Most of us, though, are motivated more by the "why do I need to know this?" Those with strengths in one area can have a hard time understanding why everyone else doesn't use tool X or strategy Y.

 

A common trap is to think that it's easier to "learn how to use" general tools than discipline-specific ones. After all, you might think, so many people use calendars that it should be easy to find someone to teach us. It's true that there are myriad opportunities to learn basic skills in general tools, but users struggling with the "need to know" often need to be convinced that a tool is relevant to their specific needs. To continue the example, having a digital calendar is great, but how will it help keep a choir organized? General user training likely can't answer these questions. Discipline-specific tools, though, come with the relevance built-in. Their needs can be so specific, though, that finding other people to learn from can be challenging unless you happen to have a close colleague or friend as coach. I would suggest that to be a truly fluent technology user, one must be comfortable with both of these spheres, which means finding both the opportunities to use and learn discipline-specific tools while being comfortable enough with general technology use to be able to envision how these tools can be applied to an individual unique use case. With convention season coming quickly, we'll all be heading to conferences (such as ACDA) to add some bits to our professional toolbox. Amongst the reading packets, concerts and discussions of style and interpretation, there will be plenty of opportunities to read between the lines and see how our peers are using technology to do the work of being a choral conductor, both general and discipline-specific. If you reflect on your own technology usage and find that you are less connected to one of these two spheres, there are few better opportunities to learn from choral practitioners about working with either category of technology in a choral setting. 

More from Daniel Coyle: Tip #15 "Break Every Move Down into Chunks."
 
This is something that most conductors know how to do, whether or not they know this terminology.
 
As Coyle says, "From the time we're small, we hear this good advice from our parents and teachers: Take it a little bit at a time. This advice works because it accurately reflects the way our brains learn. Every skill is built out of smaller pieces, what scientists call chunks."
 
His advice in terms of skills is to, "first engrave the blueprint of the skill on your mind." (see the post on Tip #2) "Then ask yourself:
  1. What is the smallest single element of this skill that I can master?
  2. What other chunks link to that chunk?
"Practice one chunk by itself until you've mastered it—then connect more chunks, one by one, exactly as you would combine letters to form a word. Then combine those chunks into still bigger chunks. And so on."
 
This is, of course, what we do when we rehearse. But I would also stress rehearsing the transitions from one chunk into another. That way you don't have chunks the choir can do easily, but can't string together. It doesn't take much time. Practicing one section or one phrase, just make the transition into the next one and then go back to practice again.
 
I remember that Lloyd Pfautsch, in his chapter on rehearsing in the Decker and Herford's Choral Conducting—A Symposium, suggests ranking the sections of a larger work by difficulty, then learning the toughest portions first to make sure they get more rehearsal time, rather than mindlessly starting at the beginning and working your way through in order. So, if there are 10 sections of a work and numbers 3, 6, and 9 are the most difficult, you'd begin by working on them, then gradually work on the others, connecting as you learn adjacent sections. Seems like common sense, but it's really a brilliant statement about how to approach larger pieces (this doesn't only mean major works, but any work which is multi-sectional).
 
Of course, you can also do that with your whole program, even if it's all shorter pieces: rank them in terms of which ones will take the most rehearsal time and plan accordingly. This is probably what most conductors do, but somehow in rehearsing larger works it can be forgotten.
 
Skills, not just rehearsals can (and should) be taught in this way, too. This analogy comes from a short article on coaching Lacrosse: "Think about how small children become mobile. First they crawl, then they learn to stand and eventually they take those first steps. Once they have mastered walking, the pace increases and they’re off and running."
 
In teaching young singers to sing properly you have to start with fundamental skills and master them (which also means constant reinforcement): first posture, then breath, then learning to use the breath to phonate, etc. Steps are taken gradually to build up the skill of making a good vocal (and choral) sound.
 
Look to see if some of the things you're trying to teach your choir have been broken down into small enough chunks for the choir to learn them properly. It's the way skills (and music) are built, from the ground up, one chunk at a time.
PUBLISHERS, COMPOSERS, CONDUCTORS (Part 3), by Jameson Marvin
 
How do we get to the point of making this decision? There are many overlapping answers, but I think for choral directors it is because we try to figure out how the music is related to the text. I try to understand why the composer wrote what she/he wrote! When I look at a score in any depth, I am especially intrigued by trying to understand the gesture hidden behind, implied by, the symbolic notation of it! – I find that this search often leads me towards answering the Question “why do I want to perform this piece”. It is because, I have come to understand the answer to the “other question”: why the composer wrote what she or he wrote.
 
And THAT revelation I find to be incredibly compelling – because I want to share it! I want to tell my students about it, and I imagine myself doing just that as I sit at the piano trying to gain more and more insight. In rehearsals I often say to the singers – “the composer didn’t have to do that” – and as we discover together “why” he or she did that, their excitement is palpable, their enthusiasm grows – they understand it; they get it! And this knowledge may inspire them.
 
For conductors, acquiring this “inspired revelation” is a complex process. In other words, realizing the symbolic notation, in sound, requires the mind’s ear, the conceptualization of all the information that the symbols reveal, and of all that they imply. Bringing this composite picture to aural life requires imagination. Score study is the catalyst that fires the imagination. Score study spawns the mental-aural image, and this insight acts as a powerful energizer in rehearsal for us to motivate singers towards achieving our conception of the composer’s intentions.
 
The kernel of inspiration for the composer is drawn from the text. Our job is to analyze how the composition illuminates the text by what he/she writes, from the total design to the details that order its architecture: the harmony, melody, rhythm, and texture (and instrumentation in concerted works). This study reinforces and clarifies our mind’s ear of the composer’s expressive vocabulary: tempo and tempo change, dynamics, phrasing, articulation, and rubato (written down and implied).
 
We bring these insights to rehearsal. In rehearsal our object is to develop ensemble – a unified sound continuum that project our mental-aural image of the composer’s intentions. Achieving ensemble is challenging. It is made possible through unifying pitch, duration, timbre, and intensity – get it in tune, get it in balance, get it together, and match the vowels - placing a foundation to project the full arsenal of expression signaled by the composer.
 
So, in sum -- all these structural, stylistic, and expressive elements will relate in some way or another to text meaning and affect or emotion. Does the composition reflect the text broadly or in detail? Does the composer try to illuminate the meaning of a word, or the mood of a verse, or a single line of text, or by reflecting a change in mood -- a passing emotion, or simply by providing a general mood for the entire composition.
 
NEXT WEEK, we will consider music’s divine ability to inspire.
 
READ Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.
 
Composition Spotlight ~ by Jack Senzig
 
(Each week we look at a piece of useful repertoire from the ChoralNet Community Composition Showcase.    A variety of voicings and levels of difficulty will be presented.  Enjoy!)
 
Level: High school sophomore Men’s choir and higher
Uses: Winter concert or Veterans Day
This piece would program well with:  Andrea Ramsey’s  Cover Me With the Night available from JWPepper or at Sheet Music Plus.
 
The Amarillo High School Bel Canto Men’s Chorus commissioned Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep  in memory of a graduate that gave his life fighting for his country.   Commemorating important events in the lives of our ensemble members is a first-class reason to commission a new work.  Janet Lanier tailored this week’s Composition Spotlight piece to needs of the commissioning choir.  Read the partial score (Note: Many composers choose to show only a partial score to prevent theft) and listen to the choir recording.  Right-click or control-click to open each in a new window.  (There is a delay before the recording will start)
 
A haunting piano accompaniment sets the tone of honor and compassion.   The writing is simple but not simplistic.   The well anticipated entrances for the singers add confidence in the singers and ease in execution.   The vocal writing belies the words borrowed from a poem by Mary Frye telling us not to cry.  Phrases like “I am a thousand winds that blow, I am the diamond glints of snow” remind us of our loved one’s presence.  
 
 
(Original publication: September 30, 2012)
This is just one of the 74 choral conductors on the ACDA Wall of Honor. LEARN MORE about the Wall of Honor and MEET ALL of the award recipients.
 
Hi all—hope you've had a great break and are ready to get back to work! This skills series continues:
 
More from Daniel Coyle: Tip#14 "Take Off Your Watch"
 
This has to do with our own preparation and practice.
 
Coyle says, "Deep practice is not measured in minutes or hours, but in the number of high-quality reaches and repetitions you make—basically, how many new connections you form in your brain."
 
He's saying to ignore the clock and focus on the sweet spot (see the last post) when you work, concentrating on depth of work, or repetitions practicing, not on time. I've written earlier about Thomas Sterner's book, "The Practicing Mind—Developing Focus and Discipline in Your Mind," and it has great ideas about this as well.
 
Slow, thorough, focused work—on score study, on improving your rehearsal or conducting technique—this is the work we need to do. Finding the time to do this work is often the challenge, but as Sterner points out, the kind of slow, deliberate work he describes (read his description in the blog post of tuning two pianos with that mindset), your work will often be more, not less, effective and efficient.
 
As much as anything, it's about your own mindset and approach. Try it.
PUBLISHERS, COMPOSERS, CONDUCTORS (Part 2), by Jameson Marvin
 
Personally I am as interested in performing a motet by Josquin, as I am in performing a Haydn Mass or a Bach Cantata or Tarik O’Regan’s latest composition. For example, in a single year, my Glee Club sang The Four Prayers of St. Francis of Assisi by Poulenc, and a beautiful Sanctus from Tallis’ Mass for Low Voices. Collegium performed the great motet Warum ist das Licht gegeben by Brahms, and the 20th century a cappella masterpiece: Frank Martin’s Mass for Double Chorus. Radcliffe Choral Society performs a Sanctus from a Palestrina Mass, a colorful piece by Tormis, a moving and compelling composition by Hilary Tann, and an incredible folk song arrangement by me!
 
I’m stimulated by a wide variety of compositional styles and genres and by many works written by composers today! I especially enjoy looking at publications of a cappella gems for mixed, men’s and women’s choruses. I’m thrilled to stumble upon a choral-orchestral masterwork from the 17th, 19th, 18th, or 20th centuries. These gems and major works seem to be the “apples of my eye”. There are lots of apples! I consistently want to perform these apples – in fact, I can’t wait to dig into them.
 
But why? Why do so many works seem to charge me up? “Why do we conductors want to perform your music” It begins, of course, with Score Study - that’s when we really get fired up about wanting to perform a composition. But why do we get fired up? Probably because we think it is a good piece, we like the piece, we like the text- it speaks to us. We know our choir will like the piece; we will have enough time to learn it, and we can’t wait to teach it because it is really worth teaching! The composition we choose is going to offer some education, some meaning, some insight into values: cultural, aesthetic, historical, stylistic, philosophical, spiritual, emotional, musical.
 
NEXT WEEK, we will discuss how we reach our programming decisions
 
READ Part 1 of this series.
SERVICEABLE FUNERAL ANTHEMS by Thomas Vozzella
 
What to sing at a funeral when your choir is asked to offer choral music...do your ensembles have anthems at the ready? Many of us do not have selections prepared for funerals, especially early in our careers. The last thing on our minds, as young conductors, is preparing music for funerals. Below is a list of serviceable works, not exhaustive, for both funerals and general worship purposes. This list does not include individual movements from requiem masses, oratorios, cantatas, etc., although there are numerous movements that can be pulled from those major works, i.e. Brahms, Fauré, Rutter, Stainer, Bach, Handel, Hayes, etc., as the focus of this posting is on individually written anthems. Although not all are gender neutral, they do have historical significance and are extremely useful, depending on the circumstance. Please, help to make this list as exhaustive as possible. I, for one, would be interested in expanding my funeral anthem knowledge base, with newly composed works, and forgotten chestnuts.
 
And I Saw A New Heaven - Edgar Bainton
Beati quorum via - CV Stanford
Deep Peace – John Rutter
For All The Saints – setting by Robert Shaw
For All The Saints – Vaughan Williams
God Be in My Head  - Walford Davies
God Be in my Head – John Rutter
Greater Love Hath No Man Than This - John Ireland
If Ye Love Me – Thomas Tallis
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men – Vaughan Williams
The Lord Bless You, and Keep You – John Rutter
The Lord Bless You, and Keep You – Peter Lutkin
The Lord Is My Shepherd – Allan Pote
Song for Athene -  John Tavener
They That Go Down To The Sea In Ships – Herbert Sumsion
We Shall Walk through the Valley in Peace - Moses Hogan
When The Saints Go Marching In – setting by John Rutter
COMPOSITION SPOTLIGHT ~ Jack Senzig
 
(Each week we look at a piece of useful repertoire from the ChoralNet Community Composition Showcase.  A variety of voicings and levels of difficulty will be presented. Enjoy!)
 
Orpheus With His Lute by Brian Holmes for SSA, Bb trumpet and piano
Level: High school sophomore women’s choir and higher
Uses: Spring concert or thank-you to a special music booster.
This piece would program well with: Ruth Elaine Schram ‘s "A Red Red Rose" available from JWPepper   and Sheet Music Plus.
 
Brian Holmes’ Orpheus With His Lute is a refreshing piece that dares you not to smile at the beauty of the writing. Three simple treble lines move together in triadic harmony with a flowing trumpet part that brightens the texture even more. Your audience will love this and the parents of your young singers will beam with pride.  Read the score and listen to the recording. Right-click or control-click to open each in a new window.
 
Many of the pieces is the Composition Showcase have lovely honest recordings like this one. They are performances recorded by a real-world choir and shared with the composer. Some composers are not so lucky and must rely on a virtual recording or no recording at all. Please share recordings and performance dates with us. Starting a dialogue with a living composer can add to the experience for your singers, allowing them a depth of appreciation they may not get from the standard repertoire.
 
 
(Original publication: September 16, 2012)
This is just one of the 74 choral conductors on the ACDA Wall of Honor. LEARN MORE about the Wall of Honor and MEET ALL of the award recipients.
 
 
 
When setting up the sound in any hall or room, you eventually come to the complicated dance of on-stage mixing: someone is at the board (usually in the back of the hall) while someone else listens to the sound on stage and telegraphs a series of gestures to try and communicate the necessary adjustments to the monitors. Once the monitors are set (if there are monitors), the engineer will then often try and walk around the room and hear if the sound changes drastically from their station to where the listeners are. Mixing sound from the back of the hall is a conundrum: great sound setups require the engineers to be at the most sonically-ideal location in the room, which means that the listeners (and performers) will have a very different experience from their locations. Furthermore, if you don't have a dedicated sound crew or are trying to set the board up yourself before the concert, you may end up as I have many times in my career: leaving warm-ups or some pre-concert routine to run to the back of the room and make a quick board adjustment. Mobile-friendly mixers offer to simplify the process by letting users control the board using an iPad (or in some cases a laptop) from around the room.
 
The premise is simple: an app shows a virtual interface which looks like the full mixer, and any adjustments made in the app are executed on the board itself. This allows the engineer to walk around the room or on stage and make adjustments from anywhere. The biggest commercial applications are in large concerts with multiple monitor setups, where an engineer can stand on stage and listen and configure individual monitors (often with the musician standing alongside). This is also a huge benefit for ensembles or organizations that don't have a full sound staff, though, as one person can easily configure and adjust the sound setup in an unfamiliar room without having to rely on assistance from other people. Furthermore, when the conductor or accompanist (or a singer) is also the sound person, adjustments can be made in real-time without having to leave the stage. Finally, this can also eliminate the need for a snake or laying messy extension cables through the audience, since the board can be placed anywhere, including on-stage if necessary. Mixers like the Yamaha LS9 function without the iPad, making it an accessory through use of a separate app. The LS9 looks and feels like a normal board, and can be operated without the iPad. The Mackie DL-series, though, replaces much of the traditional mixing console with the iPad interface, meaning all control is through the tablet. This saves some space and results in a smaller overall board, although controlling a high number of channels (beyond 8) becomes a bit slower since you have to either sub-group channels together or swipe between different screens of channels.
 
 
It's important to note that many of these styles of mixers are not ready for mobile mixing "out of the box." Rather than using Bluetooth, which could be built-in but has a much smaller usable range, these styles of boards use wi-fi. Actually, it would be more appropriate to say that they support being connected via wi-fi-- you have to buy (and power) an external wi-fi router to connect the mixer to the iPad. This router doesn't have to be connected to a live Internet connection, though, so you don't have to worry about whether your performance gym will have an Ethernet cable. Connect the router to the board, and connect your iPad to that router's network, and the devices will be linked up through the appropriate app.
 
While the Mackie DL and the Yamaha LS9 are probably the two most widespread examples of this style of mixer, there are others: Behringer has one with built-in wi-fi (no need for an external router) for example, and several other consumer-level manufacturers make mixers for the iPad with a much lower number of inputs. For a robust, professional-grade level of live sound, though, the Mackie and Yamaha boards function like a traditional mixer. If you (or your sound person) find yourself on stage, looking wistfully at the board in the back of the room and wondering if you really have to make one more trip back there, a tablet-compatible mixer may help you manage the mix.
PUBLISHERS, COMPOSERS, CONDUCTORS (Part 1), by Jameson Marvin
 
What changes/modifications if any do you think need to be made to better reach out to today¹s audiences?
 
I think inspiring performances draw audiences. The word spreads and more people come. It is a mutually enriching cycle. Through insightful program notes and texts with translations we can include and inform an audience with the knowledge of what we sing. I also think it is really wonderful to speak to audiences from the stage, to tell them something about the work that gives them the “why and how” to “tune into” the music.
 
Ponder how composers and conductors could answer the following questions:
 
     “Why do I want my choir to perform your composition?
     “Why do I want my piece published?”
     “Why do I want to publish your composition?”
      “Why do I want my choir to perform your publication?”
 
The answers to these questions of course clarify our circular relationship, hence the title: “Publishers, Composers, Conductors.”
 
We are all interconnected! That’s what we are going to be joyfully talking about in this discussion! So, before we begin, I thought it could be helpful to offer some thoughts about what I think the conductor’s point of view is within this circle. Much of what I am going to say, you probably already know, or intuitively feel, but I thought it might be important to bring to the front burners’ of our brilliant brains a consciousness of the process I think we conductors use in making decisions about whether or not to perform a composition.
 
NEXT WEEK, we will consider diversity in programming.
A fellow teacher asked for some advice to teach rhythm using iPads. Wearing my "educational technologist" hat, one of my goals is to find places where technology opens the capacity for students to learn in more intuitive, more creative, or more effective way. I think that music theory in general, and rhythm as a specific example, is an area where digital learning tools can let musicians experience and interact with the concepts in a direct and meaningful way. This is why I firmly believe in the power of teaching and creating rhythms through the use of drum machines and the piano roll editors. The underlying essence of rhythm that many students struggle with is the hierarchy of “beat->division->subdivision” (or big-beat, little-beat) and being able to apply that concept across multiple time signatures, particularly changing the type of note which gets the beat (e.g. 2/2, 4/4, 4/8). Anyone who has ever watched a beginning musician try and count or sight-read outside of 4/4 for the first time understands this challenge. Garage Band has a perfectly functional piano roll editor view for this, and it lets students see the micro and macro structures of time which make up the essence of rhythm. Rather than using the packaged Apple Loops, or recording audio in, try spending time drawing in melodies and rhythms on this "grid" view, changing the time signatures and noting (sorry) the different kinds of observations that can come out of this view when it comes to rhythm.
 
Software drum machines have a similar value in that they allow you to visually align beat and division in a way that is obvious and intuitive. Reason’s (PC/Mac) drum machine was one of the major Earth-shakers in my teaching: set the thing to loop continually, and have the kids program in beat and division until they hear a steady, even beat. Now move the divisions around to create other kinds of rhythms. What do you observe when you move them around, etc.? Finally, they can very easily translate the visual notation of the drum machine into “proper” musical notation. Unfortunately, ReBirth for iPad (Reason) is a visual/interface disaster. I have heard really good things about DM1 for iPad, and the visual interface there is more like what I’d want to see for this kind of free rhythmic exploration.
 
Finally, Impromptu is a very different but very compelling approach to teaching theory including rhythm and form. Impromptu was developed by Jeanne Bamberger, who was at MIT for many years, and is now at UC Berkeley. The software is currently Java, but she shared the beta of the iOS version a few weeks ago and said it was very close to release. I’d highly recommend her as a resource to your teachers, and when the iOS version is released it’s worth exploration. Unfortunately, she mentioned that the accompanying textbook (“Developing Musical Intuitions”) is out-of-print and being revised for her website, but Amazon has used copies available.
 
Aside from DMI, I highly recommend two other resources for teaching elements of music theory through digital environments: Music Theory for Computer Musicians, and Teaching Music with Reason. The latter was a curriculum that Propellerhead released to work with Reason, then decided not to update when they updated their software. They ended up releasing it as a free download under Creative Commons. While the songfiles won’t be useful without Reason itself, the workbooks are a great example of some of the approaches possible through digital composition and DAW software. It’s a bit hard to find, but there are copies floating in back corners of the Internet.
 
These three strategies all involve alternative forms of "notation," or visual ways of representing time, sound and silence. They all can lead into traditional notation, particularly if students then begin to write notation hand have to think about how the proper spacing of notation reflects the same visual layout of time that a drum machine or DAW does.  This is only one possible strategy, though-- if you teach theory or aural skills in your programs, do you have favorite digital tools which help? Discuss below and share any of your strategies!
More from Daniel Coyle: Tip# 13 "Find the Sweet Spot." Once again, I recommend Coyle's book highly.
 
For this tip, Coyle speaks of finding "a place, right on the edge of your ability, where you learn best and fastest. It's called the sweet spot."
 
He then gives hints on finding that "sweet spot" of learning by comparing the "comfort zone," where the sensations are, "Ease, effortlessness. You're working, but not reaching or struggling," to the sweet spot where the sensations are of, "frustration, difficulty, alertness to errors. You're fully engaged in an intense struggle—as if you're stretching with all your might for a nearly unreachable goal, brushing it with your fingertips, then reaching again." And finally, to what he calls the "survival zone," where the sensations are "confusion, desperation. You're overmatched: scrambling, thrashing, and guessing. You guess right sometimes, but it's mostly luck."
 
Coyle gives the example of a 13 year old clarinetist, part of an Australian study, who in a particular practice session, suddenly focuses intensely on her mistakes, figuring them out, and fixing them. The author of the study noted that the girl "learned more in that span of minutes than she would have learned in an entire month practicing her normal way, in which she played songs straight through, ignoring any mistakes."
 
This is analogous to my prior discussions of "drill" versus "scrimmage" (borrowed from the studies of John Wooden's teaching/coaching techniques), which you can find in this post, this one, and here.
 
It's our job to try to keep the choir as often as possible at that sweet spot, where they're having to stretch hard to accomplish something (learn a difficult passage, rhythm, vocal skill, etc.). This way, their learning will be at the optimum speed. That isn't all we need to do, of course, since we need to run through passages or pieces as well ("scrimmage"), but you can read about that in the other posts.
 
But our choice of repertoire is also something that needs to push our ensembles beyond their comfort zone. Finding the balance of some music that they can achieve more easily, but some that is almost beyond their abilities (but not pushing them into the "survival zone") is our challenge as a conductor. I've posted earlier about choosing repertoire, and often have tried to find one piece (often contemporary) that will push my students in ways they've never been pushed before. Since I've been involved with Swedish music, that's provided some of this music for my choirs (in recent years with the University Singers at UNT, Sven-David Sandström's Agnus Dei and Thomas Jennefelt's O Domine). But the specifics can and must vary, depending on the level of your choir—children, middle school, high school, college, or perhaps a program you've built versus a poor one you've just taken over—it's our job to find something that will s-t-r-e-t-c-h our choir's abilities. I've found it's often just that piece that the choir struggles with at first, perhaps dislikes, that they like best by the time they perform it. And it's those pieces that push your choir's abilities ahead faster and further than any others.
 
This is my last post before the holidays—have a wonderful break—and I'll "see" you again in January.