Advertise on ChoralNet 
ChoralNet logo
The mission of the ACDA is to inspire excellence in choral music through education, performance, composition, and advocacy.


ChoralBlog RSS

Innovation involves a systematic process of work, as well as one ingredient I call the secret sauce of the innovation process. As is true of any process of the mind, this magic ingredient involves a thought process, a mindset, and I have found this particular key mindset to be at the root of any breakthrough leading to innovation.
The methodology leading to a sustainable innovation follows this path: 1) understand the problem, 2) observe real life experience of the current challenge, 3) visualize the innovation, 4) evaluate and refine the innovation, and 5) implement the innovation. These five basic steps can be applied to the major breakthroughs we call innovative.
IDEO, the award winning design and development firm that brought the world the Apple mouse has demonstrated that this deceptively simple methodology works for everything from creating simple children’s toys to launching e-commerce businesses. But what is the spark, the fuse, the “aha!” moment, the epiphany, the light-bulb catalyst, the “secret sauce”, or the “key” to innovation?
The key to innovation was actually given to us clearly by Leonardo da Vinci. Leonardo kept a notebook (as did Galileo, Darwin, and other innovators) and wrote his ideas down, no matter how trivial or inconsequential. He tied his notebook around his waist and it served as his constant companion. (illustration found at
Leonardo knew that focused observation was a powerful pathway to innovation. In one margin he wrote he was taking a break from work -- “perche la minestra si fredda”--”because the soup is getting cold.” Really? Sure it is a great reason to stop working, but why write it down? And did he think that anyone would read it? But that was what he did. Seemingly, no idea or observation was trivial to Leonardo.
Leonardo observed everything. His famous notebook pages reveal hundreds of pictograms, sketches, phrases, musical notes, drawings, doodles, and other reflections. Not only did he observe, he intentionally observed. He made time in his life to ponder. We know this because he wrote his observations down.
Leonardo offers us the “secret sauce” to innovation in his notebooks. Leonardo’s most often used word was “perche?”…”why?” You find this word over and over again in his writings. One entry begins, “Perche li cane…?” “Why does a dog…?” It was not enough to observe, but he also questioned “Why?” And, as we investigate his notebooks, we learn that he went beyond “Why?” and would then seek to explore “Why not?”
In this process, da Vinci reveals that the “secret sauce” of innovation was his mindset to question “Why?” and “Why not?” He would then interpret and intuit shades of meaning to divine their underlying motivations or needs. Leonard posed difficult challenges to himself. He confronted tough tasks. For example, he tried to describe the tongue of a hummingbird. He attempted to describe the experience of thirst. He was not afraid of problems and might even be described as a problem creator—but those problems he created were for him to ponder and for his own disciplined study of the challenges of life. The evidence demonstrates that once he identified the problem, through observations, sketches, and experimentation, he sought an innovative solution.
We are tempted to think of these achievements and say, “yes, but he was Leonardo da Vinci!” True, but Leonardo was also a very real person that came from humble and ordinary circumstances. He was raised between two homes. His famous practice of writing backward has been explained as a possible example of dyslexia, or possibly evidence of being self-taught in reading and writing.
Leonardo did not complete some of his innovative projects. In fact, he started a lot of things he never finished. But, what is important to me as a student of innovation is that he started them. One could even say he was a failure, since he never achieved his life’s dream to fly.
Leonardo’s vocational title on any given day could have been military contractor, inventor, painter, or musical performer. However, I have never heard him called a “failure.” His list of projects ran from useful to fantasy. He was very human—he loved people, work, play, food, and life. Leonardo traded in doubts and questions. He signed his work, “Leonardo Vinci discepilo della sperentia”—“Leonardo da Vinci, disciple of experience.” Leonardo asked “why?” and “why not?”, and then he sought answers and solutions, and he wrote down his observations.
The secret sauce to innovation is really no secret. The beginning of innovation engages a mindset of questioning “Why?” and then systematically moves through a process of discovering “Why not?”
This September, I was fortunate to be one of the conductors selected by ACDA to take part in an exchange with the ICEP (International Conductors Exchange Program).  I was very excited when I first heard about this program a few years ago, when I was asked to serve on the NW Division Steering Committee for the Cuba exchange (the first one that ICEP undertook).   I organized a two-week itinerary of college, community and high school choir visits across the state for Corina Campos, conductor of the internationally renowned Vocal Leo chorus.  Corina’s teaching residency at University of Washington was deeply meaningful to students and faculty, and especially our graduate choral cohort, including an MM student from Columbia, Central America who served as her translator during the ACDA NW Conference. Getting to know Corina and more about Cuban choral music led me to do an entire set of Latin American choral works in our Winter 2014 concert.  Those who attended Corina’s interest session on Cuban choral music were impressed with the large volume of music she shared as well as tips about “performance practice”. 
When ICEP announced a call for applications to Sweden, I was especially intrigued, because growing up in high school, I developed a passion for the Swedish choral canon.  It was by chance, through checking out records (yes, LPs back then) at the public library, that I discovered Eric Ericson and his Chamber Choir.  The compositions they performed, and the tone and phrasing of their singing was immeasurably beautiful and mysterious to me.  It is no surprise that top conductors in our field such as Richard Sparks have written entire books about “The Swedish Choral Miracle”.   In addition, I have a cousin living in Örebrö, Sweden, the city I was eventually tasked to visit.  Let the adventure begin!
Once selected, the first step was hosting my “partner” in the choral exchange, Gunnel Sjöberg, conductor and voice teacher at the Örebrö Kultur School and a prominent soprano soloist in performances across Sweden, as well as a former soprano in the Eric Ericson Chamber Choir. Gunnel came to the United States to attend the NafME NW Regional Conference in Spokane, offered workshops to Gonzaga University Chorus as well as working with University of Washington Chorale and Chamber Singers, teaching graduate students in choral conducting, and offering private voice lessons and a masterclass for my voice studio. While in Seattle, she also did workshops with Seattle Pro Musica, the Swedish Women’s Choir, and the First Covenant Church choir.  Gunnel has tremendous energy on the podium and has composed many original warmups that are imaginative and very effective at building beautiful tone and vibrancy in choirs.  She is also a very encouraging private teacher, working steadily and intensely to encourage more expressive, stylistically correct interpretations. ACDA is very lucky to have had the leadership and service of Tim Westerhaus, Director of Choral Activities at Gonzaga University, who organized Gunnel's busy itinerary. 
In September, I boarded a plane to Sweden to be reunited with Gunnel and her husband, Fred Sjöberg, the Swedish coordinator of the ICEP exchange and conductor of the phenomenal Örebrö Chamber Choir.  I was fortunate to stay in their beautiful home and get to know their two sweet cats, Max and Simba, as well as meeting their three children. I was a co-boarder with T. J. Harper, the director of the ACDA ICEP program and DCA of choral music at Providence College. One of the first things that struck me about Swedes is their ability to slow down and take a “pause” (mid-day break with coffee) that they call “fica”.  It is a time not just to “get caffeinated", but also to have pleasant conversation with colleagues and friends.  Gunnel, Fred and T.J. had many meaningful, fun conversations seated around the kitchen table, even in the midst of a busy week-long itinerary.
While in Sweden, I worked with many students at Gunnel’s “Kultur School”, an after-school program offered to any student middle school and high school aged, teaching choir and private voice lessons, as well as working on musical productions.  I conducted warmups with the Örebrö Chamber Choir, as they prepared for their performance of the riveting “Requiem for Peace” by Larry Nickel, utilizing photographic images of people encountering war in many different historical contexts. One of the highlights of my visit was the opportunity to teach conducting and offer a lecture on vocal technique and Laban movement at the University of Örebrö (my host, Karin Olgren, works on the faculty there, and we are already strategizing ways to have her visit Seattle in the near future!). The students were excellent young conductors and very inquisitive, reaching out even past my visit to email me with follow up questions and ideas. 
While meeting many Swedes (and the entire group of Voces 8, an English vocal phenomenon!), I also had an invaluable chance to interact with other American conductors while in a faraway place. I was able to enjoy conversation and bonding with David Puderbaugh, Josh Haberman, Emily Williams Burch, Adam Steele, and T.J. Harper, in a way simply not possible even at ACDA conferences in the states, where everyone is running fast from session to lunch to performance. Our conversations ranged from choral repertoire, teaching philosophies, the question of university unionization, time management and family life, and of course, where is the best food and drink in the city! 
Today the world is becoming more and more integrated, and I see this especially in a city like Seattle where students come from all over the world to study. I am always looking for ways to heighten my students’understanding of each other through the repertoire. ICEP is a unique vehicle for helping make these connections palpable for many individuals and communities. I see it not only as musically meaningful mission, but an initiative that has potential to raise social consciousness. I encourage everyone to consider applying for future projects.  Just see how it opens up your choral community as well as your imagination- and ultimately, your heart.
  “There is no place like home.” L.Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
On Saturday evening, I will give a pre-concert lecture for the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra, our local professional symphony. The concert is a program of Russian Masters with not a speck of choral music to be heard. I will be lecturing on two ballet suites, Swan Lake and The Firebird. Though it will be a bit of a change from what I usually do now, in fact, it is coming home for me. In a roundabout way, I am a choral conductor because I was a ballet dancer.
As a child, I studied at one of the premier ballet studios in Chicago. Many of their former students went on to have careers with companies such as American Ballet Theatre, Joffrey and the Boston Ballet to name only a few. I sang as well as danced and was a serious piano student….but I loved to dance. I was not the typical ballet dancer; I specialized in character ballet, a specific category of Classical Ballet. Character ballet is stylized versions of traditional folk or national dance, using movements and music which have been adapted for the theater and is very important to the Classical Ballet repertoire. A good example of character ballet within a classical ballet is the series of national dances in the beginning of Act III of Swan Lake or the Divertissements in Act II of The Nutcracker.
My father was a professional ballet dancer and when he was in his 40s, I noticed he wasn’t dancing as much as he used to. I always wanted to dance; it was like breathing to me, and wanted to have a long career. But dancers have a limited prime time; how could I continue being involved in ballet professionally as I got older, besides teaching? I began to think about life after dancing; and since I was also a musician, decided perhaps I could become a ballet conductor. When I was 13, I mentioned this aspiration to one of my ballet teachers…..and he laughed at me. He told me girls didn’t conduct orchestras (when I mentioned a very prominent female opera conductor, he told me I didn’t want to be like her) but thought perhaps I could conduct choruses. Not a very auspicious beginning for a choral career, I suppose. The summer I was 16, just after dancing for the director of a very prominent ballet company, I fell down a flight of cement stairs and wrecked my ankle, thus ending my dancing career. But it was okay.
Ballet has always been in my life, even after my ankle injury. I taught seven ballet classes a week to earn money to get through my undergrad music program. When I graduated from college, I began to think of myself as a musician and choral conductor, not a dancer, but dancing wasn’t finished with me! When I needed a job or relocated due to my spouse’s job, a job teaching at a ballet studio or a choreography gig often fell into my lap. I always had fun but felt a bit, well, overqualified and wanted to move on to my *real* work which was choral conducting. I added liturgical dance to my choral repertoire when applying for church jobs after someone asked in an interview about my ballet studio positions, and did some sacred dance work too.
When I was in music school, I became fascinated with music history as it relates to dance history; I became hooked. I love how things line up with music, dance, art and history. So lecturing about ballet on Saturday isn’t too far from my interests. I plan to drag out my Pointe shoes and show folks how something that seems to make you float on air are actually pretty hard (banging the toes on a table is a great way to get the “pointe” across!). I will bring my character shoes and perhaps demonstrate a bit of the Danse hongraise and Czardas from Act III of Swan Lake if my feet are feeling it. I will feel comfortable and relaxed and happy because I will be coming home. But I don’t live there any longer.
But this sorrow and rage will not inflame us to seek retribution; rather they will inflame our art. Our music will never again be quite the same. This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.
Yesterday, so many of us went to work with heavy hearts, our minds on France, and faced choirs filled with hearts and minds equally heavy. Far, far too often we are finding ourselves in front of a group of singers just after receiving word of a tragic, violent world event. How can we manage our own deep feelings, while helping others through theirs? University of Washington professor Dr. Giselle Wyers offered this advice:
As artists I think we know that we are emotional sponges and can often end up internalizing and wrestling with very difficult emotions. That is part of what makes us able to create and make music. But it can also lead us to feel paralyzed and wrought with despair. So here are some ideas of what might help.  
1) Be informed with reputable media sources, but limit your exposure to terrifying images and sensational reporting.
2) Don't try to solve yet. Be in the confusion.
3) "Bless and release" each victim's final moments by imagining them being held by a loved one.
4) Try to create- anything- cook a good meal, knit, draw, write a letter. Get the feelings out on paper or in music.
5) Allow your emotions to flow and notice how they change and fluctuate.
6) Exercise, keep the adrenal glands flushed.
7) Give to a charity you believe in.
8) Think about what you can offer others who are also trying to contextualize the world's recent events.
What do you do in the face of global tragedy? How do you help yourself, and your choristers?

My dear friends:

Last night the New York Philharmonic and I performed Mahler’s Second Symphony-- The Resurrection-- in tribute to the memory of our beloved late President. There were those who asked: Why the ResurrectionSymphony, with its visionary concept of hope and triumph over worldly pain, instead of a Requiem, or the customary Funeral March from the Eroica? Why indeed? We played the Mahler symphony not only in terms of resurrection for the soul of one we love, but also for the resurrection of hope in all of us who mourn him. In spite of our shock, our shame, and our despair at the diminution of man that follows from this death, we must somehow gather strength for the increase of man, strength to go on striving for those goals he cherished. In mourning him, we must be worthy of him.

I know of no musician in this country who did not love John F. Kennedy. American artists have for three years looked to the White House with unaccustomed confidence and warmth. We loved him for the honor in which he held art, in which he held every creative impulse of the human mind, whether it was expressed in words, or notes, or paints, or mathematical symbols. This reverence for the life of the mind was apparent even in his last speech, which he was to have made a few hours after his death. He was to have said: “America’s leadership must be guided by learning and reason.” Learning and reason: precisely the two elements that were necessarily missing from the mind of anyone who could have fired that impossible bullet. Learning and reason: the two basic precepts of all Judaistic tradition, the twin sources from which every Jewish mind from Abraham and Moses to Freud and Einstein has drawn its living power. Learning and Reason: the motto we here tonight must continue to uphold with redoubled tenacity, and must continue, at any price, to make the basis of all our actions.

It is obvious that the grievous nature of our loss is immensely aggravated by the element of violence involved in it. And where does this violence spring from? From ignorance and hatred-- the exact antonyms of Learning and Reason. Learning and Reason: those two words of John Kennedy’s were not uttered in time to save his own life; but every man can pick them up where they fell, and make them part of himself, the seed of that rational intelligence without which our world can no longer survive. This must be the mission of every man of goodwill: to insist, unflaggingly, at risk of becoming a repetitive bore, but to insist on the achievement of a world in which the mind will have triumphed over violence.

We musicians, like everyone else, are numb with sorrow at this murder, and with rage at the senselessness of the crime. But this sorrow and rage will not inflame us to seek retribution; rather they will inflame our art. Our music will never again be quite the same. This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before. And with each note we will honor the spirit of John Kennedy, commemorate his courage, and reaffirm his faith in the Triumph of the Mind.

Leonard Bernstein, 25 November, 1963

There are two major components to any innovative act. The first is the methodology that takes place as one works up to the innovation. The second component is that breakthrough idea, application, structure, or other “secret sauce” that is applied to the methodology that leads to the emergent breakthrough.
For IDEO, the widely admired and award-winning design and development firm, they describe their approach to innovation as part golf swing, part secret recipe. By this they mean that part of the work is a process they follow that can be analyzed, observed, and improved upon. The other part, the “secret recipe” is the new discovery or application that leads to innovation.
So, to understand the first part of an innovation methodology, here are the steps in the process. There is no “secret sauce” involved in this part of the process—only a solid methodology of analysis, study, and experimentation. This process involves the following:
1. Understand the people and the climate within which you are working. You have to be able to articulate the challenge, the tensions, and the various constraints on the situation. Current realities are important to grasp from the outset.
2. Observe and listen to those you are working with, and take note of what makes them tick. What behaviors do you observe over and over. What dislikes come to the front over and over. Be able to articulate what they love and what they do not like.
3. Start imagining solutions to what you are observing. Visualize solutions to problems without using road blocks. Build a prototype of a system, a model, or an illustrated example of a “fix” to a real or perceived problem or challenge.
4. Start evaluating and tweaking the ideas that have been generated. Don’t lock in an idea immediately, knowing that it will change and will be modified. Plan on improving everything, and know that nothing comes out of the shoot perfect the first time. Watch for what begins to show promise of working, and work for incremental improvements.
5. Beta test the solution to see if it works in a real world setting. This step takes patience and partners willing to take the “look and see” risk of trying something new. Observe the new idea as it takes hold and as it takes shape. Make note of modifications that need to be made along the way.
If this process sounds a lot like good, solid research, coupled with focused hard work, that’s what it is. There is no substitute for this methodology on the path to innovation. While the secret sauce has yet to be applied, these first steps are required before the breakthrough generally takes place.
(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:
Traditional Christmas by Pamela J. Marshall SA, orchestra (Click here for PDF and here for AUDIO)
Level: Elementary
Uses: Holiday Concert
Program Themes: Traditional Carols
If you direct a youth choir, now is a great time to advocate for your choir to sing with an orchestra in 2016.  Build a relationship with your local community or high school orchestra.  Attend their holiday concert and shake the conductor’s hand after the event. Then show them this piece.  It will be a win-win for both organizations.  The carols are the ones everyone knows.  Between your kids’ families and those that just love to hear and see children at Christmas, you should pack the audience in. 
Traditional Christmas is available from Spindrift Music:
Michael Wu is on the faculty at the Landon School, Bethesda, MD and is currently a DMA student in Choral Conducting at George Mason University. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Michael!
When I advocate at my school for an accompanist to be in the room with me during my choir rehearsals, I liken the need to accompany, conduct, teach, and cue to driving a car while disciplining children in the back seat with either a phone ringing or police sirens somewhere in near proximity.  If you have ever felt that your choir is underprepared for a performance, you know what I mean in the overwhelming of senses and needs for your attention.
Of course, in the history of Choral Music, there are great examples of conducting from the keyboard, churches where the organist is the choirmaster, and the Vienna Boys Choir as a major and ongoing example:  Also, there is an entire era of Western Art History (Baroque Era) when ensembles were led from the keyboard.
It follows that most undergraduate and graduate level choral conducting courses require proficiency on the piano, as this prepares so many conductors to lead rehearsal in situations where an accompanist is not present. More than that, it is the introduction to reading and hearing open scores, starting with a grand staff. 
When I attended the Choral Music Experience (CME) at Ithaca College under Dr. Janet Galván a few years ago, our discussion about conducting on the bench started with something like, “If you don’t have to conduct from the bench, don’t.” If you think about the multi-tasking involved, and the fact that in other settings, science has demonstrated that human brains are not built to multi-task (, it follows that conducting from the bench is not ideal. As one of my choral education colleagues put it: “Conducting from the bench forces the sound to just be about making sound.  It is so often not shaped and phrased from the choir where the director is also playing.”
But at that same CME experience, one of the students (like me, a professional seeking continuing development at her craft) was in that setting where leading the choir and serving as organist is the job description.  And there are many of us who have that exceptional ability to accompany so coveted among good conductors.  So, some suggestions:
  1. Study the score: I have found myself guilty of believing that my ability to sight-read can allow me to bypass a solid study of text, form, and the imaginative thinking that causes me to be more of the composer’s advocate.  Whether you follow the very sound pedagogy of marking your score for phrases, dynamics, thematic/motivic ideas, labeling sections, or you internalize the score so that all of those notes and articulations are in your head, knowledge of the score, its form, and its connection to its text is rehearsal planning writ large.
  2. Teach the choir with minimal use of keyboard.  My experience is anecdotal, but I have seen that choirs dependent on the keyboard to play parts are the choirs that are a split second behind the beat.  Using a cappella training and vocal modeling as primary tools in the rehearsal experience develops greater vocal independence, and it allows you to shape phrases, check diction, dynamics, and articulation as a primary focus rather than something on a list of tasks you have to accomplish.
  3. Practice your accompaniment, including choir cues. Much like organists who have to make color changes (pushing/pulling individual stops or using pistons, or manipulating swell shades) have to practice on the exact instrument on which they perform in order to coordinate the necessary movements in the sequence they will occur, conductor/accompanists need to plan when a hand or a head works best for cuing. Ideally, memorizing the accompaniment and cues allows you as director to be more in the moment of the music-making.  Ideally.
  4. Less is more: it still holds true that conductors who show tension or shallow breathing receive the same from the choir, whether they are on the podium or on the bench. The grand head nod also means a moment when your eyes have to refocus, be it on the choir or the music.  Does that gesture have to be so big, or can less demonstrate the cue or the steady beat?
A final challenge for conducting from the keyboard is the focus of the choir.  Is it into a mirror because the organ console is almost in another room as was the case in the church where I grew singing?  Do choristers get their heads out of their music to communicate with their audience (or congregation)?  …with their director? 
I have often noted to my choirs that in choral music, their voices are the cake, while the accompaniment is the icing.  If we tend to the recipe and chemistry that makes the cake terrific, the icing is almost unnecessary.  Conversely, too much icing is too much icing, even if that amount varies from person to person. Moreover, it is usually not possible for any amount of icing to hide a poorly-made cake.  If we are training choirs and choral music is the medium, we need to attend to the voice training, score study, and execution of details and nuances that make the choir express what a composer intends. Only then can we add the icing of sensitive and beautiful accompaniment.  Doing both should mean advanced preparation and internalization of the music so that the conductor/accompanist can be in the moment of making music with his or her ensemble and not so dependent on reading the music to get cues, phrasing, and notes correct.
  “...A person can develop ‘la grippe.' " From Adelaide’s Lament
It is mid-November in the Midwest and you know what that means. A few leaves still cling to branches after their brethren have made a truly lovely, colorful exit. Birds are gathering on trees and powerlines to migrate en masse as soon as it turns cold enough. The geese…….well, those ornery geese will stick around until they feel like leaving…..and it might not be for a while.  We’ve had several lovely Indian Summer type days of late, but as a true Midwesterner, I don’t let balmy days lull me into a false sense of security. The North Wind has not begun to blow in earnest; the character building weather is a month or so off here in Chicago but we know it is coming. There is a distinct nip in the air which leads me to believe the real deal of winter isn’t far off.
I got out my bedroom humidifier out over the weekend and cleaned and cranked it up. Instead of waiting until I woke to a sore throat for more than four days in a row, I decided to be proactive this year and got it going sooner rather than later.  With forced air heat, dryness can be difficult for singers and I’ve depended on a bedroom humidifier for years. It will be of one of several things I depend on to keep healthy over the next few months of the Choral Busy Season and the winter weather that follows.
I set myself up to be healthy during the fall and winter because, like you, I don’t have time to be sick. Getting into the habits of washing my hands all the time (and being especially diligent during cold and flu season), sleeping with a bedroom humidifier once the heating system is on, drinking plenty of water or low or non-caffeinated fluids and getting as much sleep as possible has held me in good stead. I am rarely sick anymore. I am not a physician; but I live with one and don’t really feel comfortable dispensing medical advice accept for one bit: WASH YOUR HANDS!
I was always an allergy, cough and cold gal. Viruses found me no matter what and they always seemed to hit when I was busiest. It was after a particular nasty bout of upper respiratory purgatory I came to this conclusion; there had to be a better way. Since my spouse is an Otolaryngologist (and he was tired of hearing me cough and complain, especially the complaining part), I asked him what I could do to prevent this happening again. I asked again last night and he gave the same advice: Wash Your Hands!
Washing your hands and avoiding sick people (if possible) is good advice for anyone in the teaching profession. Whether we teach in an actual academic setting or not, we Choral Folk are teachers; teachers depend on their voices. And teachers get exposed to whatever bug is making the rounds. Since many of us are also singers (or need to be able to demonstrate), we have to be doubly conscientious about our vocal health. Hand washing is an easy way to be proactive.
Sounds simple, right? Yet most of us don’t wash our hands often enough when we are clearly being exposed to whatever bug is going through town. Hand sanitizers are a good substitute if you can’t get to soap and water right away. I always tried to wash my hands before my children’s choir’s rehearsal but rarely after, simply because I wanted to get back on the road before rush hour. If I had made time to either wash my hands on the way out or had used a hand sanitizer in my car before leaving the parking lot, I probably would have avoided a whole bunch of coughing, sneezing and misery.
What do you do to keep yourself healthy as we approach the Choral Busy Season? In your part of the world, what are the challenges you face as a choral musician because of your climate and how do you handle them? I’m interested in hearing what your challenges and solutions are!
There are no words that I dread more, professionally, than "please submit your bio." It is a thing that must be done, and so I have a very basic bio that I wrote in college and keep on file, gradually being updated as the years go on. 
Dale Trumbore's post "5 Things to Take Out of Your Bio Right Now" on MusicSpoke in September really got my wheels turning about bios. I am guilty of only one of the five: telling the reader how long I've been practicing my craft--a hold-over from when that was pretty much all my bio contained. Read the rest of her excellent advice here.
What was the last thing you took out of your bio?
As I think through the process of innovation and about innovators and innovation models, it occurred to me that it might be possible to profile well-known innovators in order to learn the secrets of their success. This thought led me to the book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey.
In Death in Venice, Thomas Mann wrote Who can unravel the essence, the stamp of the artistic temperament! Who can grasp the deep, instinctual fusion of discipline and dissipation on which it rests!” This is exactly what Currey is looking for as he chronicles the daily rituals of Charles Darwin, Andy Warhol, John Updike, Twyla Tharp, Benjamin Franklin, William Faulkner, Jane Austen, Igor Stravinsky, and many other innovators and artists.
The interesting thing to me, and some would say that this is a rather superficial side of innovation, were the circumstances of creativity in which all of these recognized innovators did their daily work. As I read through the habits and schedules of these game changing individuals, it was clear to me that they lived in a “real world” in which people have to sleep, eat, and earn a living. It was also clear to me that innovation was work, not a burst of inspiration on a mountain top. In fact, I don’t recall reading any circumstances that involved mountain tops, burning bushes, or stars to be followed. Time and time again, the daily rituals I read about were routine, and sometimes rather boring sounding. And, to my delight, I also found a profile that emerged from the varied accounts.
Through the reading of the daily habits of this large number of creative individuals, I found three traits that were consistent throughout the stories. I had hoped at the outset of my investigation that I would discover things like “they all ate large amounts of protein…”, or “they were all born in the month of January”, which could be applied to life, or at least help explain these extraordinary people, but nothing startling came to light. What did come to light in my profile are the following three circumstances:
1. These innovators sat and worked for a measured and routine period of time, usually in the morning, and usually with a defined beginning and ending point;
2. The workplace and the place of innovation for these innovators was a place that allowed the individual to focus, and in several instances, was a place of isolation;
3. These innovators took a serious walk during their daily routine.
That’s it…
That is the profile I was able to establish for a large amount of people who changed the world. And while these revelations are not dramatic, I think they are insightful. These circumstances suggest to me that innovation is dedicated, focused, and is intense work, and that innovation requires reflection. I am encouraged by these traits, as well, as I think about my own innovation mindset. Whether or not my work leads to innovation, I see only good results coming from these three observations of genius.
(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:
Sing a New Song by Roy Dahlinger SSAATTB a cappella (Click here for PDF and here for AUDIO)
Level: High School or Higher
Uses: Holiday Concert, Christmas Festival Service
Program Themes: Winter, Holiday, Joy

Listen to Sing a New Song twice.  FIrst time through I heard a nice piece that I would expect to hear at any high school winter concert.  The second time through I heard a fun rhythmic Christmas song that I know my singers and audience would love.  This piece has a lot going for it and would be a great piece to move your choir to the next level.
Sing A New Song is available from the composer:
Parents all have favorite stories about their children that they share when company comes over. These tales are usually brought out to illustrate some defining and possibly amusing character trait. In my case my mother tells the story of asking me what I wanted for my fifth birthday, and her surprise when I told her my top items were a passport and an atlas. Though we had no plans to go anywhere, to my mother’s credit she got me both. I still have the passport and it’s an awesome picture of an intrepid little boy with a bowl cut and a fascination with foreign cultures.
Later in life this manifested itself as an interest in languages, which led to participation in exchange programs abroad. As a high school kid in 1985 I found a program that would take me to Sweden, and spent six weeks living with a family in a small town in south-central Sweden called Motala. It was a great experience, and I ate more potatoes and herring than I ever thought possible. The latter is an acquired taste which I have since dis-acquired.
Fast forward 30 years to 2015, and along comes the International Conductors’ Exchange Program, sponsored by ACDA. The people-to-people exchanges have been going on for some years, and when I saw that Sweden was on the list I immediately thought how great it would be to return and reconnect to a place that I knew at a different stage of life.
These are true exchanges, meaning we were both to host and be hosted, and for me the former came first, with two Swedish conductors, Mats Bertilsson and Lars Fredén, coming to the US. Their trip coincided perfectly with the Santa Fe Desert Chorale tour to Salt Lake City for a performance at the convention, so we “embedded” the two Swedes with us for our rehearsal process and the tour from New Mexico to Denver to Salt Lake.
They enjoyed the opportunity to observe the inner workings of an American professional choir, and also experienced American choral culture through visits to school and church choirs. While on tour with the Desert Chorale they took part in choral workshops and masterclasses, all leading to the rich experience awaiting them at the ACDA national convention. After only 10 days we parted as good friends.
In September I made the return visit to Sweden, extending the trip a few days before to visit friends that I had not seen in 30 years. It was wonderful to reconnect, and surprising to feel that not that much time had passed, when in fact we had gone from being teenagers to parents of teenagers. I visited the family that I had lived with in Motala- they were still in the same house! They said they remembered me as the boy who read Swedish grammar books at the lake- sounds about right.
Sweden itself seems to have changed quite a bit thanks to recent and not-so-recent waves of immigration. Since my visit in the 80’s a new generation of immigrants arrived, had families and integrated into the society, changing what was once a very homogeneous human landscape into a more varied one. Sweden continues to be at the forefront of welcoming immigrants- most recently thousands by the week have been flooding into Swedish ports, fleeing war-torn homelands in the Middle East and Central Asia.
My unofficial duties over, I was met by Mats Bertilsson, who hosted me for several days in Örebro, and medium-sized city about 2 hours west of Stockholm. There I attended choir rehearsals, led workshops on American music, and spoke with music educators from around the region. As is always the case, we found many commonalities both positive and negative in our respective choral cultures, but also learned from some of the different approaches in the Swedish and American systems.
Each choir I was with performed Swedish music, most of which was new to me despite the fact that I had programmed quite a bit of Nordic music with my choirs. It was a great reminder of the breadth and depth of repertoire that we have as choral musicians, and how hard we still have to work to find it, even in the age of instant access via the internet.
The Dallas Symphony Chorus has a tradition of international touring, and the group had expressed an interest in our next trip being to Scandinavia. With that in mind we went to Stockholm to investigate potential venues, and make contacts with orchestra leaders who might be collaborators down the road. Over Swedish coffee and a lot of pastries we established a good foundation what I think could be a wonderful tour experience including joint concerts between Swedish and American ensembles.
I am so grateful to ICEP for providing the forum through which these connections were forged. To the dedicated volunteers who help make ICEP run so smoothly- thank you!
Joshua Habermann
Music Director, Santa Fe Desert Chorale
Conductor, Dallas Symphony Chorus
“If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it. The more things you do, the more you can do.” Lucille Ball
Right about now we are all gearing up for the next six or seven weeks of insanity. Our concerts loom ahead and so does the end of the semester. The holidays are coming, so in addition to our concerts, we may be Fa-La-La-ing (or not) in our lives outside of work. After our concerts and semesters, we may be able to take a breather…if we don’t have a church job.  If we have a church job, it won’t be until after December 26 we will be able to relax. How do we do it all? Well, you tell me.
Earlier this fall, I overheard a phone conversation of one of my sons. He surprised me by telling the person he was speaking to he would ask his Mom how to do it, since she always makes things happen. I asked him what he meant. He told me he thought I always get the job done, no matter what and that’s true. I look at a problem, any deadlines, who (and what) I have to work with and make a plan (with steps) to get it done. That’s pretty much sums up my life, the choral portion and the non-choral portion. The music is the easy part; it is those little things no one tells you about that can make or break you. I believe the skills I’ve developed in our profession help me in my other roles as spouse, mother, daughter and daughter-in-law, sister and “domestic engineer.” Using my choral director skills has helped me to be ABLE to do everything I would like to do as well as things that come up at the last minute.
I have thought about the specific skills we develop as choral directors/conductors which transfer easily over to our civilian lives and have come up with three:
Having a Vision
We have to have a clear vision of what we want, how to get it and a history of success with putting the vision into practice. Knowledge of repertoire and what our ensembles are capable of helps with vision, but we need to be realistic as well. We have to deal with the here and now for our vision to become reality. Having a vision can transfer over to our “real” lives when we think about a vacation or a dinner party or painting the den; we may have the vision but should also know what we are capable of at the time to be able to realize that vision.
We have to be planners in our profession. I have a concert timeline, as I am sure many of you do. I am able to know what needs to be done for this concert (and who is supposed to do it) and where on the timeline I should be NOW in regards to the next. How many of you are already planning for fall and winter of 2016 and beyond? I’m sure most, if not all of you. Our ability to plan transfers over in so many ways to our everyday lives. In our professional life, we know how many rehearsals it will take for our ensemble to have a good concert and in our regular lives; we know how much time it takes to do dishes. In our professional life, if we don’t know what we are programming, we can’t order music and in our civilian life, if we didn’t buy bread, we can’t make sandwiches.
We have to be managers of detail in our profession. Though we may not always get our hands dirty with the nitty-gritty, we make sure the nitty-gritty gets done. Risers and sound systems and props and programs; someone has to make sure we have them or can get them in time for our concerts. Double or triple those details if we are going on tour. We also need to know what needs to be done, so it can be done. Most of us have learned the hard way when details fall through the cracks someone pays, usually us. Your mother-in-law’s birthday occurs the same day every year, someone needs to send her a card….is it you?
What skills have you developed being choral director that you believe help your everyday life? Do you use any strategy from your civilian life in your choral life? Remember to breathe and enjoy the next few’ve earned it!
The King’s Singers
A class act with a delightfully British wit 
David Hurley, Countertenor 
Timothy Wayne-Wright, Countertenor 
Julian Gregory, Tenor 
Christopher Bruerton, Baritone 
Christopher Gabbitas, Baritone 
Jonathan Howard, Bass
You've heard them, you have their albums, you respect them, and now you can Ask the King's Singers Anything! Please post your questions about their music, their tour, their summer school, even their fine wardrobe in the comments below. We'll send them on to the gentlemen, who will answer what they will for a future post. 
Acclaimed worldwide for their virtuosity, life-affirming energy and charm, The King’s Singers are in global demand. The group tours across Europe, North and South America, Asia and Australasia performing to hundreds of thousands of people each season. Instantly recognisable for their immaculate intonation, vocal blend, diction and incisive timing, The King’s Singers are consummate entertainers. Their repertoire has evolved to become one of the most diverse imaginable with over 200 commissions from leading composers including Luciano Berio, György Ligeti, Sir James MacMillan, Krzysztof Penderecki, Toru Takemitsu, Sir John Tavener, Gabriela Lena Frank and Eric Whitacre alongside a significant collection of close harmony arrangements from jazz standards to pop chart hits. Recently voted into the Gramophone Hall of Fame and with two Grammy® Awards to their name, rave reviews and sell-out concerts confirm that The King’s Singers remain one of the world’s finest vocal ensembles.
Official website: Facebook: King’s Singers Twitter: @kingssingers Spotify: The King’s Singers YouTube: kingssingersvideos Soundcloud: The King’s Singers
  Most dictionary definitions for the word “innovate” stop short of what I believe to be a true and complete definition. If you look up “innovate” or “innovation”, you will see a definition that suggests that to innovate is to come up with a new idea. To my mind, this way of looking at innovation stops short of the real meaning. For something to be truly innovative, an idea has to be more than simply creative — it has to be creative AND sustainable.
There seems to be no shortage of good or new ideas. Brainstorming is fun, and new ideas flow. But to produce a new idea that sticks and provides change over time is true innovation, and truth be told, it is hard work. The introduction of the computer into the workplace was innovative. To suggest that if frogs had wings they would move around more smoothly is merely creative, and frankly, a waste of time to suggest.
I love creativity, but I admire innovation. Creative thinking can be recreational and fun, but innovation goes beyond the excitement of creativity, and becomes applicable for an ongoing change or new direction. Implementing a new idea takes risk, discipline, hard work, and often new resources. A lot more is at stake in the area of innovation than in simple creativity.
In his book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work (Alfred A. Knopf, NY, 2014), editor/author Mason Currey examines how a great many writers, composers, painters, choreographers, playwrights, poets, philosophers, sculptors, filmmakers, and scientists — all innovators in their own way — created their creations. As I read through the many stories of these creative and truly innovative individuals, a pattern started developing that has helped me see the conditions under which innovation and creative thinking take place.
Whether it be core innovation (daily work invigoration), adjunct innovation (collaborative creativity), or transformative innovation (game-changing, sustainable creativity), a certain type of energy and specific working environment seem to be necessary to all creative and innovative thinking.
First, a great number of creative thinkers and innovators mentioned by Currey learned to know when they were at their peak level of performance in terms of creative energy. These individuals learned to work when they were at their best and at their peak zone of energy. Length of time of work was not as important as work done at peak energy times. The take-home lesson?— identify the time that works best for you for your most important creative thinking, and plan to use that time to focus on challenges and opportunities.
Second, it was surprising to learn how many of the creative minds found a specific sanctuary or creative space in which to work. As superficial as it may sound, context does matter. Such a space was defined by quietness, freedom from distraction, and optimal environment for single focus. And, the opposite is also true—the wrong working environment, or one with distractions, is the enemy to creative and innovative thinking. Person after person mentioned a specific work place, a studio, a certain room, or a “hiding place,” as the context that gave them the opportunity to focus during their prime time for thinking and creating. Whether it was Mahler’s stone composing hut in the woods, or Mark Twain’s use of a friend’s guest cottage, creative minds find a place that offers focus for prime-time work.
Third, the motivation each individual carried into their work routine came from an intense drive or sense of mission. All of the individuals had a passion for their work, and believed that what they were doing was important. I find this to be true for my work—the more I focus on the underlying mission, the more passion I have for tasks large and small. To get to this point is not always easy. As the psalmist said, “Restore to me the joy…” To do our most creative work, we must believe in what we are trying to do.
Finally, in spite of movies that show think tanks working into the night, or lawyers fighting court deadlines with non-stop investigative work, or scientists working day and night up until a decisive and climactic epiphany, the truth is, we need restorative rest and sleep. We learn from creative individuals that being overtired will depress the mood, which leads to a variety of negative results. Sleep is to the mind as nutrition is to the physical body. Most creative and innovative people work in sprints, not marathons. I was also surprised to read how many creative individuals took time during their day to take a walk. If the person didn’t walk, they would describe some sort of exercise routine. So, as basic as it may sound, exercise and sleep are still key ingredients at the core of a creative and innovative environment.
(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:
 in Deo sola spec mea by Joy F. DeCoursey-Porter SATB divisi a cappella (Click here for PDF and here for AUDIO)
Level: High School or Higher
Uses: General Concert Use
Program Themes: Old and New, Faith and Hope
This Piece Would Program Well With:  Mass for Four Voices  by William Byrd available from JWPepper and Sheet Music Plus
Chant? Organum? Renaissance Polyphony?  This piece certainly has an ancient feel but a current beauty.  The Latin is a bit of a puzzle in keeping with the dual nature of the work.   The divisi happens only about half the time making it possible to do with smaller forces.  This is another excellent work from a composer our readers know well. 
in Deo sola spec mea is available from the composer:
“Appreciation can make a day – even change a life. Your willingness to put it into words is all that is necessary.” Margaret Cousins
Not all of the Choral Ethic comments I receive are about “conductors behaving badly.” Some are wonderful, touching life and career affirming. Today we’ll speak about how a few little words can make a difference.
Kristie* has directed a community children’s chorus (part of a larger choral organization) for about fifteen years. Her second year, she was approached by the mother of a girl who was really too young to be accepted into their program. Cassie* had an especially awful form of pediatric liver cancer, loved to sing and Cassie’s Mom thought it would be good to give her a chance to sing with other children.  Kristie was a bit skeptical but checked with her supervisor and decided to give her a try.
Cassie came the first day and Kristie was shocked.  She was a tiny little thing, completely bald with a central line (for her chemo) obvious on her chest. But her spirit and her sweet voice made everyone fall in love with her immediately! As the rehearsal period went along, the fifth grade girls competed with each other to sit or stand next to her during rehearsal. In fact, Kristie had to devise a rotating schedule so all of them would get a chance to be next to Cassie. Unfortunately, Cassie was not doing well by the time their first concert came along and wasn’t able to sing.  The fifth grade girls told Kristie they wanted to sing the “Turkey Song” in honor of Cassie at the concert; and so they did.
A few months later, Kristie’s supervisor gave her an envelope (which was obviously a greeting card) from Cassie’s Mom.  Cassie had died the month before and her family wanted to thank Kristie and the choral organization for helping make Cassie’s last few months of life so happy. Mom wrote Cassie would sing the “Turkey Song” for hours in the hospital. In fact, the last words she spoke which were intelligible were the lyrics of that silly song. Cassie’s death hit Kristie hard, especially since she didn’t learn of it until after the fact.
Kristie can’t forget Cassie and will accept any child, with any challenge into her non-auditioned group without hesitation.  That thank you from Cassie’s family has resonated in her and has changed the way she looks at her professional life.
At the beginning of my sophomore year of college, we got a new choral director for our large university chorus. The director was young, fun and beautiful.  Margaret Hillis’ assistant, she called James Levine, “Jimmy” and would tell us to sing out by encouraging us to have coraggio . My friend and I became rehearsal assistants and would take attendance, set up chairs, pass out handouts, doing all those things which needed to be done before rehearsals began. We learned a lot about running a large chorus just by doing those seemingly menial takes.
One summer, three of us worked with her organizing the university’s choral library. It was far from a glamourous job; summer in Chicago being hot and humid, with air conditioning spotty when classes were not in session.  It was also dirty and dusty, and we often coughed and had runny noses as we worked.  But we learned a lot about organizing music.
At the end of our three weeks, Doreen Rao gave us each a lumpy envelope. In the envelope were a thank you card and a banner of the type you would get at a fancy greeting card store. Mine said, “Keep on Singing,” and I still have it.  I have always hung it on the wall next to my kitchen sink to remind me who I am and how necessary it is to thank people.
Doreen Rao’s ‘thank you’ to me all those years ago has made me a big ‘Thanker’.  I write thank you notes to each of my choir members before a big concert and my church choir members twice a year, especially around Christmas.  I write thank you notes to accompanists and instrumentalists and anyone who helps me with a concert or performance. It makes sense to let people know you appreciate what they do for you; perhaps they’ll do it again.
I need to thank someone now; thank you, Dr. Rao, for showing me the way all those years ago!
*Name Withheld
I'd like to share a personal anecdote, and ask for your responses. What do you think about the picture above?
It is a picture of the Mägi Ensemble (I am pictured here, with the white scarf), walking onstage to participate in the Seattle Sings festival. It was a 3-day long festival featuring 34 area choirs, and we were honored to sing. We performed well, and we were proud of our offering.
This was also one of those moments that sparked a flurry of conversation in our group: ONE OF OUR MEMBERS WAS WEARING A BABY.
We didn't even think twice about it. Many of us have had children, and brought those children with us to rehearsals, concerts, etc. This new mama is one of the most professional, capable, and talented singers I've worked with--you know, the one who always practices her music at home, sings all the right notes, starts working on things before we've even looked at them, excellent sight-reader, etc, etc, etc. I feel lucky when I stand next to her. Her now-five-month-old is a delight.
There were some in the audience for whom seeing a baby-wearing mama was an inspiration. We received plenty of positive feedback. One young woman told our director that she'd been unable to participate in choir since she had a child, but seeing our group, she was determined to make it work.
Some were confused. Understandably so; I'm sure they hadn't ever seen anything like it before, and it probably was a surprise.
Some were genuinely upset. How could she? How could she focus on singing while having her baby with her? How could we possibly rehearse with a baby around? What a distraction!
This last reaction was the surprising one for us. At our first rehearsal after the concert, we spent about half an hour talking about the difference in feedback. Should we educate our audiences in advance? What would that even look like? Should we pay for a babysitter for our new mama? Should we incorporate baby noises into all our repertoire?
In the end, we decided what was normal for us was the right way for us. We have, from the beginning, encouraged babies (and children) around the choir. They sometimes fuss, and sometimes need attention, but then we just step out and deal with it. We believe we are growing musical children, and exposing them to some pretty complex music at that.
What about your choirs? What are your policies about children and rehearsal?
I am really liking a book I am currently reading on the subjects of creativity and innovation. The book by David Burkus is The Myths of Creativity, with a subtitle “The truth about how Innovative Companies and People Generate Great Ideas.”
In this 2014 Jossey-Bass publication, Burkus gets right down to business by framing his study in Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile’s “componential model of creativity” which asserts creativity is influenced by four separate components:
  1. Domain-relevant skills (commonly called “expertise”)
  2. Creativity-relevant processes (methods used to approach a problem toward solutions)
  3. Task motivation (a person’s willingness to engage)
  4. Social environments  (the environment in which we operate)
The balance of the book investigates each of the myths identified by Burkus. These are very instructive labels, and I find that most of what I have blogged about so far on ChoralNet fits into one of these innovation “mythological” areas. Here are Burkus’s “myths”:
  • Eureka Myth-the myth of a flash of insight
  • Breed Myth-the myth that some people are born to be innovative
  • Originality Myth-the myth that an insight is somehow original
  • Expert Myth-the myth that experts can only solve hard problems
  • Incentive Myth-the myth that creativity’s motivation can be created through incentives
  • Lone Creator Myth-the myth that single individuals actually create breakthroughs
  • Brainstorming Myth-the myth that brainstorming alone can lead to a breakthrough
  • Cohesive Myth-the myth that zany groups in cohesive communities are the answer
  • Constraints Myth-the myth that limited resources or other constraints limit creativity
  • Mousetrap Myth-the myth that once we have an idea, the work of innovation is done
The author states one universal truth—that is, creativity is the starting point for all innovation, and innovation is necessary for growth and improvement.
(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:
Anthem for the Millennium (America, My Home) by George Simon STAB and piano (Click here for PDF and here for AUDIO)
Level: High School or Higher
Uses: General Concert Use
Program Themes: US Patriotic Songs
This Piece Would Program Well With:  I Hear America Singing by James Johnson available on the Composition Showcase 
 As I was sitting in my Turkey blind yesterday hoping to bag Thanksgiving dinner for the freezer, I thought about the country I live in.  I’m a pretty patriotic guy and I was a little bored so I started thinking about patriotic songs.  America, The Star Spangled Banner and America the Beautiful came to mind.  Then God Bless America filtered through the stirring leaves in my mind and I thought about how much I dislike that piece.  I did what everyone does when thinking about Thanksgiving and thought about what I am thankful for.  I am thankful that George Simon wrote a patriotic song that could replace God Bless America as the go to song for most patriotic American soloists.  
The PDF given is for an SATB version but the recording is of a different solo with backing choir edition which is also available. 
Anthem for the Millennium (America, My Home) is available from the George Simon.