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ICEP Spotlight – ICEP Horizons
(Swedish ICEP Conducting Fellows in Salt Lake City, UT with ACDA Executive Director, Dr. Tim Sharp, ICEP Director, Dr. T. J. Harper, and SWICCO Director, Fred Sjöberg)
This weekend, the 2015 exchange with Sweden comes to a triumphant close with the last group of ICEP Conducting Fellows convening in Malmö, Sweden for the 2015 Nordic Choral Conference. With a total of twenty-eight conductors participating in this year’s exchange, the ACDA International Conductors Exchange Program continues to take large strides forward in its efforts to increase cross-cultural exchange and enlightenment. This was only made possible through our friendship and cooperation with the Swedish International Choral Center Örebro (SWICCO) and their Artistic Director, Fred Sjöberg. As a past participant in the first ACDA conductor exchange program, Fred has been able to help administer and execute this program so it could reach thousands of choral musicians throughout Sweden.
(2015 ICEP Conducting Fellows in Örebro, Sweden with Voces8)
Since 2012, the ACDA International Conductors Exchange Program has provided opportunities for US conductors with successful exchanges with Cuba, China, and Sweden. Our upcoming exchanges with South Korea and South America have accelerated our ability to support the current ICEP objectives to build bridges and create connections with choral communities from around the world.
(2015 ICEP Conducting Fellows Becca Kenneally, Lars Fredén, Amy Johnston Blosser, Gisela Hök Ternström, Dr. Kimberly Dunn Adams, and Dr. Karl Nelson)
Recently, ACDA Executive Director Tim Sharp responded directly to the question of the impact and future of the ACDA international initiatives in his Choralnet ChoralBlog, Ask Tim Anything. He wrote:
“In 2016, ICEP will boast nearly 90 alumni worldwide who have helped to promote the objectives of ACDA and strengthen our relationship with choral communities international music exchange and cross-cultural collaboration. The ICEP Conducting Fellows are in essence international goodwill ambassadors for the choral profession whose primary focus is at once artistic and humanistic. On behalf of ACDA, they are connecting every member of their singing communities with their international partners. As a result of these initial international residencies, ICEP alumni are creating new opportunities for collaboration and real dialogue beyond the borders of the original exchange. These new projects allow ACDA to expand their mission of choral excellence and leadership to countless choral communities.”
I am absolutely thrilled and excited for the current class of ICEP Conducting Fellows from the US and Sweden. The friendships made through this exchange will no doubt last a lifetime and the musical partnerships that have been created will impact the lives of no less than thousands of choral musicians in both countries. However, the strength of this years’ program lies in the quality of the individuals involved who are committed to contributing to the common good and well being of the world. These wonderful people are:
Ann-Sofi Stål
Gisela Hök Ternström
Gunnel Sjöberg
Helene Stureborg
Ida Fahl
Jakob Patriksson
Karl Magnus Jansson
Lars Fredén
Mats Bertilsson
Michael Strand
Pär Olofsson
Stefan Ekblad
Sofia Ågren
Kicki Bejstam
Adam Steele
Amy Blosser
Brian Schmidt
Cameron LaBarr
David Puderbaugh
Dominick DiOrio
Emily Williams Burch
Giselle Wyers
Joshua Bronfman
Joshua Habermann
Karl Nelson
Kimberly Dunn Adams
Michael Murphy
Becca Kenneally
On the Horizon, the ACDA International Conductors Exchange Program is continuing its work to open doors for collaboration and intercultural dialogue with South Korea in 2016 and South America in 2017. The current and future international exchange programs offer windows of opportunity for our profession to walk forward into the vanguard of our profession and fully participate as citizens of the world. 
This week I talk with Randy Stenson who teaches at St. Mary's International School in Toyko, Japan. Randy is an amazing guy, super warm, funny, and engaging. He's a master teacher, and his Varsity Ensemble, made up of high school boys, is one of the best HS men's groups you will hear. His unique approach to singing and movement is just one of the many topics we talk about. Check out the latest episode of Choral History. Be sure to like us on FB, share if you think the epsiosdes are interesting, and go to iTunes to rate us.
p.s. ...I'm still in Sweden and having a great time. You can check out some of my travels and also see what the others are up to just by checking out my Facebook page. I have a ton of videos yet saved on my camera, and as soon as I get reliable wifi that I can use for an extended period of time (surprisingly uncommon in Sweden) I will upload some so you can hear the amazing sounds I've heard while here.
                                                                                               "Works of art make rules; rules do not make works of art." Claude Debussy
If you read Tim Sharp’s ChoralBlog on Monday, you know the title was, “Collaboration Outside Our Comfort Level.” I meant to write about collaboration as well and his comments on Oklahoma and buffalos (my Granny D. grew up in Tonkawa, OK and used to talk about buffalos) convinced me I should just go ahead and ‘be the Buffalo.’ My Blog today will speak to the subject but on a more rudimentary level.
I am the daughter of a ballet dancer/stage director father and an opera singer mother; thinking about collaboration between arts is normal to me. Yet, when I bring up the idea of collaboration between arts, I often get blank stares or an occasional “no way” from those I thought would be open to doing something new. We choral folk could learn much from our fellow artists (whatever their discipline) in the coming together of arts, but may tend to think it is not an option for our ensembles or think it might draw attention away from our music making.
One of my favorite works for solo piano is a suite by Modest Mussorgsky, Pictures at an Exhibition. Orchestrated by Maurice Ravel among others, the work was a memorial of sorts for Mussorgsky’s artist friend, Victor Hartmann, who died at the age of 39. As Mussorgsky walked through a memorial exhibit of 400 of his friend’s works, he was inspired to write a piece reflecting what he saw. It delights me to think two artistic forms—musical and visual--converged to create such a lovely work. And I wonder why we don’t “converge” more.
Other musical and performing art forms already know what we should; using other art and artists to enhance takes nothing away from our own performance. This may seem like a new idea but it’s not. Early in the 20th century, Pablo Picasso collaborated with Diaghiliev and the Ballets Russes on several ballets, using his Cubist sets and costumes for Parade, The Three-Cornered Hat and Pulcinella. In the last 25 years, opera companies around the country have used sets and costumes influenced by the Belgian surrealist, Rene Magritte, for productions of Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Having attended two productions of this version of The Barber of Seville, I can attest it is charming!
All this is great, you think, but how does this apply to choral ensembles? A few years ago, my husband gave me a video of two of my favorite things—a ballet choreographed on my all-time favorite choral piece (to sing or conduct), Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms. Originally conceived for Nederlands Dans Theater in 1978, the chorography has been used by other dance companies, recently by the Boston Ballet. It was profound to see what I was hearing and singing and actually seemed to make my experience fuller. I don’t know if other large choral works would work quite as well having a ballet made on them, but I think Symphony of Psalms does. Last winter, one of my own home town choral ensembles, Chicago A Capella, did a concert collaborating with Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater. I admire them greatly for thinking outside of the box!
I also try to collaborate or be inspired by other art forms with my own ensembles.  Last spring, my chamber choir did a concert inspired by the life of the architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.  My singers, to a person, told me how much they enjoyed the music and how much fun they had with this perspective, different from our usual. Sometime in 2017, I plan to do a concert using Baroque dance in some way; we will see where that idea leads me.
Collaboration doesn’t have to be difficult; it can be as simple as having a concert at an art gallery or museum. There are occasionally announcements of concerts here on ChoralNet of events such as these, with musical offerings intended to enhance the art works or exhibits. I have thought a concert at a house of worship with significant stained glass windows, with works chosen to highlight the windows or the window donors, could be a wonderful sacred concert.
What about you? When will YOU be the Buffalo? Every journey begins with one step; what will be the first step to your collaboration? Please tell us!

What have you been wanting to ask Tim Sharp? Limber up your fingers and start typing, because it’s time to Ask Tim Anything.




If you’re a fan of musical theatre, you’ve most likely heard about “Hamilton.” I’ve been following its success through the eyes of New York friends and reading reviews, and finally I’ve been able to hear it for myself, streaming on NPR. If you wish, take a listen. (Be ready for hip-hop and some explicit language.)


“‘Hamilton’ and the end of irony” on the Washington Post website caught my attention recently. Many of my most favorite musicals are steeped in snark (see “Urinetown” for an example of excellent writing and delivering a deep message through sarcasm). Yet, there is something extremely refreshing about this new musical, with a theme of take-me-as-I-am authenticity without trying so hard to prove itself. Even though hip-hop is not my bag, I am addicted to this score and this story.


Ms. Petri's discussion of the show's theme of not worrying what people will think, how you will be perceived by others, hit me hard. So many of the conversations I have with choral professionals about programming revolve around how to make the audience feel x. More on that in another post; my immediate next thought when reading was of Tim Sharp, for he is the embodiment of absolute authenticity.


If you have had any interaction with the Executive Director of ACDA, you have experienced firsthand the authentic, genuine passion and excitement Tim possesses for ACDA. It is infectious. You cannot walk away from a conversation with him feeling anything but jazzed about the organization he serves. He wants to know its members and their needs, and to steer the organization in ways that best serves its membership. That smile, that energy is 100% real. He loves what he does, and does what he does for the good of us all.


Tim and I would like to embark on an experiment: to open the floor for questions. In the spirit of a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything), this is your opportunity to ask. Questions about ACDA, its future, its policies, Tim's vision...ask. Add your questions here until October 6. I'll help curate them, and Tim will give as many responses as he can. We will post the questions and Tim's answers in a ChoralBlog post in a couple of weeks.


This is truly an ACDA experiment. It is a risk, and one that might not work the way we anticipate. But, Tim and I believe it's an experiment worth trying and a risk worth taking. So...go REPLY below and ask Tim anything.

Last week I blogged about core innovation—that level of innovation that draws upon what anthropologists call cultural ratcheting. Core innovation requires, first and foremost, the ability to pass on knowledge from one individual to another, or from one generation to the next, until someone comes along with an idea for an improvement. We take ideas of others and put our own twist on them, adding one modification after another, until we end up with something new. I don’t view core innovations as high-risk ventures, but rather, the sort of re-inventing and freshening-up process that is needed regularly as we do our work.
A more aggressive area of innovation lies in the area of adjacent innovation. Adjacent innovation takes place when organizations move outside of themselves, and work with those who overlap some part of their core mission. These collaborations have a bit more risk than core innovations, but have larger payoffs by combining the intellectual efforts, human efforts, and financial resources of more than one entity in the pursuit of an opportunity, goal, or challenge.
The risks of adjacent innovation are 1) the increased effort required by collaboration between two individuals or two entities, and 2) the inevitable tension that comes as a result of two entities trying to work together. Moving outside of the home base and the home comfort zone brings these characteristics of adjacent innovation: 1) Complementarity, 2) Tension, and 3) Emergence:
Complementarity—Collaborators are not homogeneous, but rather, are entities with different perspectives, expertise, conceptualizations, working methods, temperaments, resources, needs, and talents. The interaction of these differences forms the complementary foundation for the dynamics of collaboration to unfold.
Tension—The goal of collaboration is not to reach consensus, since agreement does not lead to learning or challenge. Collaboration takes advantage of the tension that comes with differences. Francis Crick, co-discoverer of DNA, said, “Politeness…is the poison of all good collaboration”. Collaboration is the fruitful cultivation of tension. As our song culture teaches us, we have to “Wade in the water children,” or in other words, face the challenges and tension. We go into the storm. Our differences, and our ability to work through our differences, are where the latent opportunities for growth and innovation reside.
Emergence—Collaboration can lead to innovative outcomes that could not be predicted solely from the additive power of people working as a group. There will be the initial “conceptual” collaboration that will help frame a problem, but down the line there will be technical collaboration that will represent problems and their solution. It will be an organic process moving from idea conceptualization, through new idea, to the final working innovation or plan of action.
I moved to Oklahoma eight years ago, and in that time I have learned about three new things unique to the region: 1) dramatic Oklahoma weather, 2) The Difference between a cow and a buffalo, and 3) numerous native American tribes that were relocated to the state. Wilma Mankiller, the first female principal chief of the Cherokee nation, tells the story of how the cow runs away from the threatening storm, while the buffalo charges directly toward it, thereby getting through it quicker. The lesson, according to Chief Mankiller: “whenever confronted with a tough challenge, I do not prolong the torment. I become the buffalo.”
Adjacent innovation calls us to “be the buffalo” as we look for innovative solutions through collaboration.
(The Composition Showcase is a unique resource for conductors.   Choral composers are allowed to share only a few of their best works.  Each week we offer you the best of the best on a silver platter.   The Silver Platter Award winners are works that your choirs will love to sing and your audiences will love to hear)
Silver Platter Award Winner:
Tumbalalayka by Michael Kaulkin SATB a cappella (Click here for PDF and here for AUDIO)
Level: High School or Higher
Uses: General Concert Use
Program Themes: Vocable texts, Onomatopoeia
This Piece Would Program Well With: Love is a Sickness by Dale Trumbore available in the Composition Showcase
Michael Kauklin has given us a choral illusion.  The choir becomes a balalayka  (Russian chordophone) being strummed in several different patterns.  There is some divisi which could be ignored by a younger ensemble including a low D for the basses.  This is a fun arrangement of a familiar tune.  Enjoy!
Tumbalalayka is available from Swirly Music:
This week Choral History is in Sweden, as part of ACDA's International Conductor's Exchange Program. Last night I sat in Gary Graden's Kitchen drinking grappa and talking shop. I managed to get some of it on tape, but I'm not sure that most of the conversation is fit for publc consumption. I will sit with Gary this weekend and do a "proper" interview to share with you all when I return.
If you'd like to see some of the photos and video of my trip, which just began on Wednesday, please check out my facebook page. I've posted a few clips of Gary's excellent choir, the St. Jakob's Kammarkör, as well as photos from some rehearsals and my visit to the Swedish Royal Conservatory of Music and the Swedish Radio Choir. So far, it's been a great trip.
Next week I'll post a new interview, and maybe update more photos. Wifi has oddly been spotty here is Sweden (not what I expected), so it's been hard to keep an active online presence. 
So for this week, I leave you with a link to a rehearsal of the St. Jakob's Kammarkör singing Ēriks Ešenvalds In Paradisum. Keep in mind this was a rehearsal...the concert last night was even more glorious (also interesting: the cellist is Gary's son Filip). 
" I follow three rules: Do the right thing, do the best you can, and always show people you care." Lou Holtz
In two weeks, I will begin another series on Choral Ethics here on ChoralBlog. There are a few misconceptions floating around as to what I mean by Choral Ethics, so before the series begins, I’d like to clear them up. Choral Ethics is not just ethics, but ethics specific to our profession. What may be acceptable for another group of musicians may not be for choral professionals. Choral Ethics and behaving ethically to our singers and colleagues (no matter the level of our ensembles or colleagues) is important to every one of us in some way or other and has the potential to have an impact—positively or negatively--on our profession for years to come.
Writing about Choral Ethics has turned into something I am quite passionate about, but my interest started simply enough. Nearly four years ago, I decided to write a book about something I came to call “Choral Ethics.” A few things motivated me, including a rather unpleasant encounter at a community arts event with a choral colleague.  Nothing seemed to provoke our confrontation; in fact, I had just recommended the person for a rather nice job. But she was hell-bent on being unpleasant, so…unpleasant she was.  She harangued me in public and I thought she was being “unprofessional” as well as something else I couldn’t define. After our encounter; I began thinking about behavior, specifically what we deem “professional” behavior.
“Professional” means different things to different people and musicians throw the term around all the time. As I began to think of what I believed to begin with as a lack of professionalism, it occurred to me it is not a lack of professionalism but a lack of some sort of accepted ethical guidelines within our profession. As I began to examine my own behavior, both in rehearsal and out, I was determined to behave as kindly and as ethically possible. And the whole concept of Choral Ethics was born.
In order to have some sort of general choral ethics code, each of us needs to begin to think about our own personal code of choral ethics, ideally beginning to develop it while in training. Those working with young conductors can begin the process by being a good example first and sharing their personal codes with students. I find my own teachers and the conductors I have worked with influencing my own ethical code, whether positively or negatively.
My personal choral ethics code is a work in progress but has three basic parts.  I try to treat my singers and accompanists as I would want to be treated.  I try to always say something good about my colleagues if at all possible and if I am not able, to keep my mouth shut. And I try to keep my own skills as good as in my capability. This does not mean I expect less from my singers, accompanist or myself; I just try to be nice about it. Since I’ve begun to consciously behave more choral ethically I’ve noticed a difference, subtle at first, with my choirs and how I feel about myself. Rehearsals are more relaxed and we seem to accomplish more. I feel more at ease with my colleagues, no matter how I feel about them. And I feel less stress!
In my upcoming Choral Ethics series, I will share stories submitted to me by our colleagues. I am grateful to those who have felt comfortable enough to contact me with their concerns and Choral Ethics dilemmas. All names have been changed and some minor details have been modified to protect privacy. I am always looking for new stories so please contact me with YOUR stories or Choral Ethics questions if you’d like and they might be featured in a future Choral Ethics Blog post.
Thank you for the support and the “atta girl” I get both on ChoralNet and through personal contact when I write about Choral Ethics. I am a bit surprised the whole thing has resonated with so many. When I first thought about writing about this subject, I wasn’t sure there would be an interest. Now I see not only is there an interest, but a real need.
My definition of innovation is “a sustained act of creativity.” We innovate every time we make a creative change for the better to an existing pattern of behavior or pattern of operation, and then continue to sustain this creative change. As I work through my various levels of activity and engagement, I have learned to ask the question of whether or not the time is right for innovation in any area of my activity. For me, innovation has become a mindset—never “change for change sake”—but always a filter through which I open an eye toward renewal and creative ratcheting.
As I divide daily time, 70% of my attention is generally focused on the business at hand. The day-in and day-out matters of taking care of business. This means that 70% of my innovative thinking is targeted toward core activities that take place, and must take place, on a routine basis. For me, core innovation is about always being mindful of the core of work, and looking for innovations within these recurring details, NOT reinventing the core of one’s work.
In my work with the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA), my ongoing attention is directed routinely toward matters of personnel, budgeting, cash flow, paying bills, membership, publications, legal issues, contracts, conferences, social media, financial development, and building maintenance. For many, if you were to look up the word “boring” in the dictionary, it might just resemble the list I just mentioned. Indeed, boring could be the definition, if I did not view my work through the lens of creativity and innovation. The core of my work is defined and directed by our stated mission. However, this does not mean that innovation cannot be introduced to core activities within ones mission.
The good news for me is that I work with skilled and intelligent people who manage many of the areas of our corporate daily routine. I depend on them to help me keep the, uh, status quo. While I will be the first to reward creativity and innovation, the very fact that risk is involved in all areas of innovation makes it hard to expect that innovation will spring naturally into the routine practice of management.
Innovation is a risk leaders take. In the area of core innovation (the work that comprises 70% of my time), the risk is minimal, so I encourage everyone I am working with to think innovatively about routine items. Occasionally, innovation does come from those that manage routine operations. However, I find that innovation at the core level generally involves making work easier or more efficient, not innovation that brings challenges to the normal workload. This sort of innovation is still encouraged, as we will always be looking for ways to economize time and resources.
While core innovation is not flashy or game changing, it is necessary as the passing of time introduces new challenges to what we do as a matter of routine. I have used the phrase “ruthless about change” in my work, only to recognize that change is inevitable, so we must embrace it. As I look at spreadsheets on a daily basis, I know that we are either growing or decaying. Staying the same is never an option, and I prefer growth to decay. Therefore, I am ruthless about change, and I view such core change through the passage and filter of potential innovation.
Change, when it comes to our core work, must be smart. As leaders, when we look at our mission, we realize that the words of our mission statement is what creates the reality of who we are as an organization and what we do. Core innovation can be energizing and exciting, even in its incremental level of change. Case in point—can you imagine reinventing the wheel, or truly building the better mousetrap? Finding new applications and new efficiencies to the routine is a matter of creative racheting.
I witnessed core innovation recently at a conference of the American Choral Directors Association. At one of our regional conferences, the event began with an all-participant luncheon that was offered free. Free, that is, to everyone that had pre-registered for the conference. You see, pre-registering for a conference brings enormous relief to conference planners since they are better able to assign rooms for events, prepare materials, organize transportation, and a host of other details that matter to conference planners but rarely enter into the thinking and advance planning for attendees. What made this event “innovative” is that the free lunch rewarded and enticed people to pre-register. The routine pattern is to penalize people who do not pre-register by raising the conference cost for late registration. The innovative act was to reward early registration with something that mattered to attendees, rather than to penalize them for registering late. Brilliant, and innovative, and core thinking.
Core innovation takes a mundane, routine, system, plan, or expected activity, and turns it into an improved and more desirable or creative outcome. Core innovation can keep the challenge of the routine relevant and interesting.
POSTSCRIPT:  A couple of ChoralNet readers asked me to offer some specific examples of innovation I have experienced, in addition to my more theoretical blogging on this topic.  I am happy to do so, keeping in mind a head-turning innovation for one might just be business-as-usual for someone else. Specifics:  1) For our staff, I have found that sharing information about new apps has prompted core innovation for some people. 2) Another approach has been "Techie Tuesdays" where we learn some new tool to help us with technology. 3) Recently, a joint meeting of our staff with the staff from another national association produced eye-opening core application ideas for people who performed similar tasks at the two different non-profit organizations.
(The Composition Showcase is a unique resource for conductors.   Choral composers are allowed to share only a few of their best works.  Each week we offer you the best of the best on a silver platter.   The Silver Platter Award winners are works that your choirs will love to sing and your audiences will love to hear)
Silver Platter Award Winner:
Gloria in D by Gordon Thornett for Soprano Solo, SATB (some divisi), Brass Sextet, Timpani and Organ (Click here for PDF and here for AUDIO)
Level: Advanced High School or Higher
Uses: General Concert Use
Program Themes: Glory to God, Songs with Brass
Gordon Thornett’s Gloria in D is a refreshing and powerful piece reminiscent in grandeur to Haydn’s Creation or the Poulenc Gloria.   This is a must see stand alone Gloria for anyone with the resources to field a brass sextet, timpani and organ.  There is a version for piano or organ accompaniment but make this happen with the full instrumentation.  My only regret about the Gloria is that it was premiered fairly recently in my neck of the woods and I missed it!  Enjoy this week’s piece offered to you on a silver platter. 
In the most recent episode of Choral History, I sit down with a living legend, professor Rodney Eichenberger. Rod has led programs at the University of Washington, USC, and Florida State University; for mere mortals, leading just one of those programs would be a major accomplishment. Many of the current top conductors in the American choral scene studied with Rod over the years (if you google Rod's name, a bunch of other choral director's images come up in addition to his), and our conversation covers just how far reaching Rod’s influence has been. I studied with him at Florida State University both as an undergrad and a graduate student, so we talk a little about that shared history.
We also talk about how he developed his signature approach to teaching conducting. If you have never studied conducting with Rod, or seen him teach, I would highly recommend you consider attending one if his workshops (this interview was done at the Choral Conductors Workshop in Cannon Beach Oregon). He has a way of distilling complicated concepts into very clear, logical, and simple ideas. Even if you don't agree with everything (what's the joke about economists? If you have three economists in one room you get five opinions...teaching conducting is like that I think), his approach can be very enlightening. If you have studied conducting in the last 30 years, it's more than likely that you have been exposed in some way to some of his philosophies, even if inderectly. His approach is that far reaching.
Hope you enjoy this great conversation with an icon of the choral world.
"Conscious breath control is a useful tool for achieving a relaxed, clear state of mind." Dr. Andrew Weil
It is the time of year to take a minute to breathe. We are beginning new routines and are spending long hours in preparation for classes and rehearsals. I am watching my friends and colleagues talking on social media about the time they are spending getting ready for the teaching day. Do you consciously consider sitting for a brief time to breathe as you move between tasks? Do you practice inhaling and exhaling while you are driving in traffic?
Establishing a brief time to breathe each day can be as simple as being seated in a chair and relaxing your eyes. Count to four as you inhale and exhale for eight counts. Try this simple pattern three times between classes or tasks. Dr. Andrew Weil, quoted above, has a series of guided breathing exercises he has recorded that can guide your practice. It is also okay to practice mindful breathing with your ensemble. As they enter your rehearsal space they are often preoccupied with the distractions of the day, whether it be from physics class or a day of work.
Take a moment to remember that the breath that fuels our choirs' sound also renews our patterns in rehearsal and life. It is time to remember why we chose this career. We bring joy to the world and an opportunity to create community. As our email boxes begin to overflow with questions and requests for volunteering, performing and donating our energy take the time to breathe before you answer. Set boundaries for yourself that you can live with a week and a month from now. And remember, calming your mind can be as simple as a set of breaths away.
  " I believe in rules. Sure I do. If there weren't any rules, how could you break them?" Leo Durocher
In the past few weeks, everything has started (or will start soon) for our choirs. Getting back into the rehearsal swing with those first rehearsals, it’s time to pass out Choir Rules. Whether we call them “Choir Commandments” for a church choir or “Choir Expectations” (with a contract to sign) for academic choruses or “By-Laws” for a community group, they are still choir rules.  Most choral groups have pretty straight forward ones but a few are…..well, a few are *interesting*. Makes us wonder WHY that particular rule was included.
When my sons began piano lessons, they had no rules.  I allowed them to practice when and how they wanted.  Often, it was right before school and sometimes, right before bed.  As they studied, it turned out we had to have some rules. We had two basic ones, which to this day, apply to all children who come into our home and want to play our Steinway:
  1. No banging
  2. Wash your hands
The first rule was because of my son-the-physicist who studied percussion (and played through his undergrad years).  Eventually, he did find something other than my grand to bang on. The second rule developed because of my son-the-keyboardist (now with several degrees in piano).  His nine-year old self loved to practice so much, he often would eat (pancakes with syrup were a favorite) and run to the piano to play without washing his hands. I usually was the person to practice after he did and I did NOT appreciate a sticky keyboard! Our house piano rules developed over the first few years of their studying. I think they were good rules; and not so complicated for children to understand. And I think Choir Rules should do the same thing—be simple, easy to understand and have a reason for being.
Which leads me to the question, what kinds of rules do YOU have for your choir, how did they develop and why are they important to your organization? I’m sure all have rules about number of absences allowed, excused or not, in order to sing a concert.  I’m positive all have a tardiness rule in there somewhere. I bet there is a music folder turn-in rule or two. And I am also confident all have a concert dress code (and perhaps what condition choir uniforms are to be returned in) or some other guidelines as to what your singers should wear for a concert. Any of the other rules are probably unique to your situation.
I am interested in unique, “only in your choir,” kinds of choir rules. Do you have a “don’t come if you’re sick and we really mean it” rule because of an outbreak of flu several years ago? Is there mention of personal hygiene or cracking gum? What drove you to amend your approach with your church choir when *everyone* seemed to be taking the same Sunday off to go to a football game? Do rehearsals after football (or basketball) games have their own special rules, for those teaching at a high school or university?
When I was in the midst of forming my community chamber choir, I was given the opportunity to read the By-Laws of several other community choruses I knew. The large groups (my proposed choir would be a chamber choir) had many By-Laws I knew would not apply to me. By-Laws which could have been helpful were so wordy as to be difficult to understand. Some rules didn’t make sense to me at the time, but the longer I direct my own community chamber choir, the more I understand why those rules came into being.
I thought it might be fun to share your quirky and funny choir rules in a future Blog, perhaps in late November or early December, as the semester ends and concert and holiday season intensify. We’ll all need a laugh by then. But I need your help. Please contact me via ChoralNet contacts or you may respond here. Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you!

Photo credit Kreg SteppeWe’re here at the beginning of another season, and I’ve seen so many posts on the ACDA Facebook group asking for help with a small choir: a new elementary school group with fewer than 20 voices meeting only 45 minutes a week, a youth choir of around 10 voices, a community college with 4 students signed up. It’s hard to be a choral superhero, looking to do so much with slight resources. I know. Small choirs are my specialty.

When your choir is so small, any little thing can be a huge bump in the road. One member out sick is manageable, but TWO? That rehearsal isn’t going to go the way you expected. It’s my experience that the members of a small choir are most likely members of everything else and there’s going to be more conflicts than you might see in a bigger group. There’s that piece you bought that’s just too challenging for this group at this moment and you don’t have the budget to buy something else and CPDL is down and what do I do?

Here are the steps I take when things go wrong, when my plan is completely derailed and I start to panic: 


This isn’t just a directive to myself. Everything in choir starts, continues, and ends with breath. Take the time to breathe together. Focus on the quality of breath for a particular entrance. Work on releasing together by breathing in. Practice extending the breath through a long phrase. Teach (again) the concept of staggered breathing.

By focusing on breath, the way forward almost always becomes apparent to me.  


This word to my small church choir is like poison. As though the only music worth doing is SATB and anything else is unacceptable. It took me years to understand that they see unison or 2-part music as a failing on their part; they aren’t good enough to sing in 4 parts so why sing at all? This is a faulty mindset. I know it, and you know it, but it takes a lot of convincing for them to even consider it.

When a piece is just too much for the forces on hand and I’m just not able to change to another piece, I find places where we can simplify. What happens if during this verse we sing the melody together? We still get to sing 4 parts in the chorus, but we’re giving ourselves a well-deserved break by giving up our struggle and joining together to make the text sing.  

My 8-voice girls’ choir includes a violinist, 2 violists, a harpist, a guitar player, and a clarinetist. I can perform an SSA piece with 6 voices on the melody and 2 instrumentalists filling in the other voices. I’ll get creative, and they all feel so accomplished.


I love music. Almost all of it. And I’m really passionate about the music I choose for my choirs. I’m privileged to be their conductor, and I work hard to find the right pieces that will make these small groups sound their best.  

But I love the people in my choirs more. And the people come first.


What that looks like with the girls’ choir is the girls get to pick the music. They pick the most interesting things! From madrigals to Broadway and everything in between. I do my best to honor their requests, and find companion pieces to match. We had so much fun last year doing the “Cups” song from Pitch Perfect (their choice) and segueing into Emily Crocker’s arrangement of “J’entends le moulin” (my choice) keeping the cups going. The girls loved it, they sang a French Canadian folk song mixed with a contemporary American folk song, and they had ownership over their choral experience.

But with the church choir, relating is different and in a way more important. When it comes to choosing music for this group, there’s really only two considerations: does this piece fit with the worship theme, and will this piece make “Margie” (not her real name) successful? Margie’s husband has alzheimer’s, and Margie’s respite is church choir. She is the one in the group who needs choir the most. And she is my first priority every single week. 

Reach Out

We are in constant information overload. Constant. By reading this blog post, you’ve used up time and brain space that you could have spent on emails or score study. But you read it because you thought there would be something of value (I hope you found it). You read it because we need each other, personally, to be involved in our music making.

ChoralNet and Facebook are wonderful resources, allowing us to go beyond the googling to ask for actual human advice. Both platforms provide good search tools to help you see if your question has been addressed recently, but ask the questions. Especially in the moments of frustration or panic...reach out. We’re all in the boat together, paddling toward the same shore. 

ACDA has a national mentorship program which is a wonderful way to connect with someone who can help you directly.

But the most valuable resource is our personal time. Time to talk on the actual phone (still a thing) or sit down over coffee (thank goodness, still a thing) or Skype or Facetime or whatever. Reach out with your voice. Take time to be with colleagues, either in person or electronically. We need each other...and I think that goes for the conductors of the big choirs too.

I don’t have all the answers. (Except 42. That one is obvious.) Breathe, Simplify, Relate, Reach Out. What are your steps to success when things start to go awry with your small choir?

I want to frame innovation in a three-tiered classification system that helps me as I direct the work of the American Choral Directors Association. Using the categories of core innovation, adjacent innovation, and transformative innovation, my aim in my work is to survey “Promising Practices” in the choral art, as well as survey innovation taking place at the core of my focus area of artistic expression.
As Executive Director of the ACDA, it is my joy and opportunity to view and experience a wide variety of choral practice in the United States and beyond our borders. As you would deduce, my motivation is first and foremost to assist our members to fulfill our mission, which is to inspire excellence in choral music. Four pillars—education, performance, composition, and advocacy— form the outline in my own exploration of innovation, since these pillars are the foundation of ACDA's mission.
First, I find it helpful to realize creativity and innovation are on something of a continuum for all of us. A head-turning, game changing innovation for one of us may be just another day at the office for another. I also want to say up front that some organizations don’t need their heads turned nor their game changed, and I am not suggesting extreme degrees of innovation are necessary. Secondly, I am personally guided by the knowledge that business leaders, academics, and venture capitalists all agree that organizations that are able to survive, demonstrate the following characteristics:
1) They are ruthless about change;
2) They are not afraid to explore their current successes for new turns;
3) They make frequent, but small, changes that bring in new ideas.
As I continue to blog on the topic of innovation,I want to identify three kinds of innovation as personal categories of thought and action for the larger topic:
  • Core Innovation – These include initiatives that are incremental and enhancements to core offerings. This is an area of automatic renewal and staying ahead of the curve.
  • Adjacent Innovation – These expand the existing organization by leveraging what is already going very well (part core innovation) into adjacent new places or collaborative ventures. Adjacent innovation usually involves slightly larger risks and additional maintenance.
  • Transformative Innovation – These initiatives represent those viewed as breakthroughs or creations of entirely new offerings or initiatives, and usually involve even higher risk to accomplish.
Core innovation draws upon what anthropologists call cultural ratcheting. It requires first and foremost, the ability to pass on knowledge from one individual to another, or from one generation to the next, until someone comes along with an idea for an improvement. We take ideas of others and put our own twist on them, adding one modification after another, until we end up with something new. I don’t view core innovations as high-risk ventures, but rather, ongoing vigilance to maintain as we do our daily, routine work.
Adjacent innovation takes place when organizations move outside of themselves and work with those who overlap some part of their core mission. These collaborations have a bit more risk involved than core innovations, but have larger payoffs by combining the intellectual efforts, human efforts, and financial resources of more than one entity. The risks of adjacent innovation are the increased effort required by collaboration, working within the uncertainty of an outcome, and the inevitable tension that comes as a result of this level of innovation.
Transformative innovation—To do truly different things—presupposes an organization has to do things differently. It generally needs different people, different motivational factors, and different support systems. And indeed, these game-changing and head-turning innovations do not come without substantial risk. The reward, however, is a new and improved organization or way of doing something.
Malcolm Gladwell has taken on this topic in his book, The Gift of Doubt ( Quoting Albert Hirschman and the power of failure, “We may be dealing here with a general principle of action,” Hirschman wrote:  Creativity always comes as a surprise to us; therefore we can never count on it and we dare not believe in it until it has happened. In other words, we would not consciously engage upon tasks whose success clearly requires that creativity be forthcoming. Hence, the only way in which we can bring our creative resources fully into play is by misjudging the nature of the task, by presenting it to ourselves as more routine, simple, undemanding of genuine creativity than it will turn out to be.
People don’t seek out challenges. They are apt to take on and plunge into new tasks because of the erroneously presumed absence of a challenge—because the task looks easier and more manageable than it will turn out to be.
The entrepreneur takes risks but does not see himself as a risk-taker, because he operates under the useful delusion that what he’s attempting is not risky. Then, trapped in mid-mountain, people discover the truth—and, because it is too late to turn back, they’re forced to finish the job.
According to Harvard’s Theodore Levitt, “There is no shortage of creativity or creative people. The shortage is of innovators.” All too often, people believe that creativity automatically leads to innovation. It does not. Creative people tend to pass the responsibility for getting down to brass tacks to others. They are the bottleneck. They make none of the right kind of effort to help their ideas get a hearing.
The fact that you can put a dozen inexperienced people in a room and conduct a brainstorming session that produces exciting new ideas shows how little relative importance ideas themselves have. “Idea men and women” constantly pepper everybody with proposals and memorandums that are just brief enough to get attention, to intrigue and sustain interest—but too short to include any responsible suggestions for implementation.
Transformative innovation is sustainable and “implementable” creativity.
(The Composition Showcase is a unique resource for conductors.   Choral composers are allowed to share only a few of their best works.  Each week we offer you the best of the best on a silver platter.   The Silver Platter Award winners are works that your choirs will love to sing and your audiences will love to hear)
This week's Silver Platter Award Winner:
Night by Melinda Bargreen for SSATBB a cappella (Click here for PDF and here for AUDIO)
Level: Advanced High School or Higher
Uses: General Concert Use
Program Themes: Night, Sea, Sky
This Piece Would Program Well With: Silver Night by Melinda Bargreen in the Composition Showcase
I was delighted this week to get a new work by the very talented Melinda Bargreen added to the Composition Showcase.   The consistent quality of her work is impressive.  If your choir is ready for professional level range and harmony, this piece will be worth your while.   Night ranks among my favorite works we have to offer and is on par with an earlier work by Bargreen titled Silver Night.  I would readily program these two works together.  Enjoy the quality recordings Melinda has offered us as well.
Night is available from the composer’s website:
I've been following conductor Ken Woods for a number of years. He's largely based out of the UK now, but for awhile he lead an orchestra in my home state of Oregon. He stopped posting as much in the past few years, but he's an excellent writer and is full of interesting ideas and more than a little willing to share them. 
He recently posted some "rules" for running rehearsal that I think are an exellent starting point for looking at how to be effective. I want to highligh a few of his thoughts here.
"Know the music!"
His first missive is one that I, as a teacher of conducting, am constantly surprised that some young conductors don't do. It's a little "duh," but I think when conductors are starting out, they undervalue knowing the music, and tend to focus on planning their rehearsal. It's important they know the music, and that they know it deeply. It's also really important to know how to learn your music. You need a process. Sitting down in front of your computer and watching a youtube video five times won't cut it. Your process must give you a deep understanding of all the little details, as well as provide you your own personal interpretation of the message within the music. 
"Play first, show what you want, then talk"
Play or sing first, show what you went, then talk if necessary. If you've studied with Rod Eichenberer (stay tuned for my interview with him next week, btw.), you are familiar with this one. I view talking and showing as two tools within one toolbox. Some conductors are excellent at using talk to elicit what they want. Some are excellent with gesture. Being great at both allows you to be the most effecient, effective, and evocative. There are some great conductors that are awful at one of the other, but they compensate for it through other areas (like hiring professional singer), and are successful despite their weakness in one area or the other.
"If you wait to work on musical details and style until you’ve solved technical problems, you’ll never work on musical details and style."
I think this one is the most interesting. Yes, it is true that you need to work on musical things early, and that you can cloak some technical work within musical/style work and as a reuslt  both get better. This is true. But there is some risk there because when you focus musicality and style, and there is a lot wrong, or something is repeatedly wrong, the ensemble can view the conductor as unaware or out of touch. I've seen a lot of young conductors lose credibilty with their ensembles by focusing on style too much..."how come he's harping on us to sing that staccatto when we can't even sing the note right?!" I still think it's important, and he's not saying to work musicality and style exclusively, he's just saying "don't forget to do this," and that I agree with wholeheartedly.
There are some other ideas in his post that I think are interesting. Go to his site and check out what he wrote

The old proverb, "There is no I in Team", is a good theme for the beginning weeks of the new church and school year. It is often referred to when playing team sports, and is a great way to encourage our singers to work for a common goal. As conductors, there can be a mentality of "I am the leader"- "you are the singers", which creates a division between us. There is a defined role for conductors as the lead in the rehearsal room, which is necessary for order and routine. But do we consider ourselves a member of the team? Do we strive to show each member that their full involvement is needed and valued?

In the beginning of each year I select a team of leaders from within the choir to serve as section leaders. These roles are filled with people of varying skill sets who promote and model strong musicianship, vocal technique, and community-building skills. Leaders in my Chorale are encouraged to reach out to the members of the choir who may not have a connection to anyone as they may be a new member.

We have instigated an "Adopt a Singer" campaign in our Chorale to create a way for inclusiveness to be a part of the choral experience. As a conductor I believe that we foster community through giving our singers the opportunity to not only make music together, but to also have time to share experiences that foster relationship within the ensemble.  I have witnessed many of my colleagues do versions of this mentor campaign. Some create pairings within sections to build a team within the team (my alto two's have a pose that they use for all pictures), others adopt someone from another choir in schools where there are numerous choirs. You can create a series of boxes for singers to leave notes for one another from one choir to another.

Dr. Eph Ehly, one of my mentors, would randomly select a day when we had a slip of paper on our chair and we were directed to write a positive or uplifting note to someone else in the choir, usually directed to the person beside us or behind us (you can be creative about how to design this). The slip of paper would simply say: [blank for a name], I appreciate that you bring [blank - leave this as a space for a phrase] to our community/rehearsal. You can print these out and have them ready to go on a day when morale is high, or when it needs a boost. I still remember how that made me feel, and it has been twenty years since the experience. It can be as simple as saying "you bring a smile" or as detailed as "you have the clearest consonants"!

There are many ways to build community and many of you have wonderful ideas on how to do just that! If you have an idea that has really worked for you leave a reply here and let's build a place to share creative team-building ideas.
                                        "A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, It's the only thing that ever has." Margaret Mead
I have mentioned I have many interests in the Choral World. I enjoy program note writing, both for my own choirs and for others. I have given pre-concert lectures, both for choral works and orchestral, trying to be innovative in my presentations. As a former ballet dancer, I love “chorus-ography” and incorporating movement with choral singing. In fact, I’ve begun planning a concert scheduled some time in 2017 using Baroque Dance, and will probably blog about it here.
The opportunity to be involved in Special Interest Choruses usually presents itself when I least expect it. I don’t mention this particular interest, and then have an opportunity to learn something new or meet someone involved.  That’s when I am amazed and mutter, “what a small world,” to myself. Here on ChoralNet, in my community and even in my own chamber choir, I have met people as passionate about Special Interest Choruses as I am.
There are many kinds of choruses not considered special interest eventho they focus on one particular repertoire in our art, such as mixed voices, men’s, women’s or children’s choruses. In the choral sense, special interest can mean many things. Certain groups of people singing together, or for a particular reason, whom we don’t usually think of as a chorus is what I am speaking about here.
There are choruses comprised of senior citizens as well as hospice choirs whose purpose is to bring peace and comfort to the dying. There are choruses focusing on certain ethnic music or workplace choruses or prison choruses. Once or twice a year around the country, singers convene together as a chorus, with the sole purpose of raising money for breast cancer research.  Those singers often are breast cancer survivors or singers whose lives have been affected by breast cancer in some way. Bravi, I say to you all!
My particular interest, within special interest choruses, is the special population chorus; choruses comprised of singers—both children and adults—with disabilities. I’m the Editor and Owner of the ChoralNet Community “Friends of Joyful Noise,” a community within ChoralNet. This is where we welcome questions about music inclusion or working with singers with learning disabilities as well the nuts and bolts of starting a choir for adults with disabilities of any sort.  But who are Joyful Noise and their Friends, you may ask?
Joyful Noise is a New Jersey (and also Delaware) based chorus, founded by Allison Fromm, which is comprised of adults with disabilities.  They’ve sung at ACDA’s regional and national conferences, as well as at Harvard. Nick Page and Alice Parker have written music for them. Anyone who has seen and heard them have been touched and changed by the experience. Joyful Noise goes beyond what is expected because music means so much to them.  The Joyful Noise singers think of themselves as singers and as people, something for us to think about when working with our own choruses.
Allison and I have been friends for years, meeting here on ChoralNet when she asked questions when first forming Joyful Noise. Both of us are touched by disability in some way, so talking about music and disability is a part of who we are. I admire her for what she has done because I could not do it.  Having a child with autism and having to deal with disability on a daily basis makes it difficult for me to think about doing something like this. I need to get away from disability in my professional life; however, I’m their biggest supporter and cheerleader!
Joyful Noise and Allison have changed our choral world by spawning other choruses for adults with disability across the country. Directors see their performances at ACDA and want to start their own Joyful Noise clone. Verallen (Vera) Kleinhenz and Jeannine Kammann-Cessac founded Expressions of Joy in New Mexico. And in my own state of Illinois, Steven Szalaj is the director of Encore Joyful Noise. There are other Joyful Noise –like choruses around the country too, changing lives and hearts with their music. They are just a small group of choral directors, changing the world.
It has been a delight to work through the concept of "Innovation" at the GALA Leadership Symposium this weekend in Denver, Colorado. GALA is meeting in Denver as they prepare for a national festival there next year. These are some thoughts I shared at the GALA Symposium:
Referencing my definition of innovation last week ….”an act of sustained creativity”…  the following are five steps I use in search of innovation. While ramping up to innovation is not as clearly definable as, say, changing a tire on a car, innovation does having something in common with a tire change--it takes work. I have observed and participated in a number of creative ideas developed to the point of sustainability I can rightly call innovative. The following five steps can be identified as part of the process I followed:
  • Read in as many areas of interest as you have, and read deeply. Be particularly keen to read and study outside of your immediate field of inquiry. Cross-applications, metaphors, and analogies often lead to breakthroughs in ideas and applications. What is needed is not only expertise in an area, but also the ability to make connections between areas of inquiry. My rule of thumb….I set a goal of reading 400 pages each week;
  • If you don’t already read poetry, start reading it. (Triple your acquired page count above  if you are reading poetry!)  For those that deal with words and ideas in our creative tasks, poetry provides a helpful and beautiful window to the world that scientific description misses. A perfect example of this is the poetry of the Bible, which advances our understanding far better than a mere operational manual would do (I have always viewed the Bible as “poetry-plus, not science-minus”);
  • Ask “Why” a lot, and look for the simple, transforming answer. This is the lesson we learn over and over again from the great innovator, Leonardo da Vinci. Lenny would ask “perchè” over and over when approaching a challenge or a problem.  We find the word in his writings and notebooks. He was not afraid to ask the strange questions and the questions that others were apparently not asking;
  • Look at other boxes and find out how they operate. I find that innovation happens, more often than not, by looking at a situation through another box, not just “outside the box”. While the new path or idea may indeed be outside of your operational box, it might be a common path if viewed through another box;
  • Look to collaborative cerebration as a way to generate new facts, ideas, and approaches to challenge. As we look to the work of collaboration, we have to keep in mind we want diversity of thinking, that diversity brings tension, and that new ways are discovered as a result of working through tension, not as some theory that is known up front and worked through during the collaborative process. In other words, collaboration “stumbles upon” a path to innovation.