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(An excerpt from the Choral Journal article, “The Training of Church Choir Leaders” by Russell Hammar)
 
       The greatest need in the field of church music today is for vital musicians, who are able to work with people; for persons who can develop the potential musical and spiritual resources in others. The choir director, therefore, must be much more than a well-rounded musician. He/she must also be a diplomat in the best sense of the word. I am convinced that the day has passed when churches are willing to tolerate or be hypnotized by cloistered, esoteric-mannered musicians.  Colleges and seminaries which are offering church music courses and degrees, have an obligation to their students of church music to stress the fundamental necessity of personal relationships as they influence the development of church choirs. The philosophical and psychological factors confronted in the church choir experience cannot be ignored if each church choir is to reach its maximum potential.
       The church choir director must consider such questions as:
  • What are the purposes and functions of the church choir beyond that of providing music for the church services?
  • What are the factors which best motivate the church choir member to give his/her time and energies to the church through his singing?
  • Is the choir member to be educated through this process of serving his/her church through music?
  • What are the rewards for the choir singer?
  • Does the church choir serve specific needs for artistic expression to its members? If it does, in what way does this happen?
READ the entire article.
 
With some notable exceptions, NPR stations are a primary source for broadcast classical music in most communities in the U.S.  So when ACDA shows up in an NPR story, many of us are excited to hear our corner of the music world highlighted in that way.
 
So it is for a trio of singers from Denver who were featured in an NPR article on the ACDA conference, and their participation in the National Children’s Honor Choir.
 
LISTEN to the NPR report about ACDA.
VOCAL ADVANTAGE: BREATH (part 4), by Dina Else
 
We left off last week discussing noisy versus silent breath inhalation.  Before we leave this topic I’d like to address one more way that noisy inhalation sneaks into the process.  In my travels I have had the privilege of singing under, and observing many fine conductors.  One of the fairly consistent habits I’ve noticed is the conductor, him or herself, taking a noisy breath as a part of their initial conducting gesture.  Most of the time the conductor isn’t even aware that they are doing it.  The problem with this habit is, as we discussed last week, noisy breath intake is associated with clavicular breathing.  When we are conducting our choirs and we take a noisy breath, what do you suppose our singers do in response?  You guessed it!
 
This leads me to my next point, the conducting gesture itself.  This is the definition of a conductor on About.com:  ‘a conductor is someone who leads and guides a group of singers in order to perform a piece to the best of their abilities.  The conductor makes sure that the music piece is interpreted properly by acting as the guide to the singers.’  Later on in the description it says, ‘[the conductor] is able to build a connection with the musicians and uses hand gestures or signals that the musicians clearly understand.’  What is doesn’t say is what the hand gestures or signals are supposed to convey to the singer. We know the answer to that!  When we think back to our conducting classes in college we know the gesture conveys several things; the beat, the phrasing, the dynamic level being sung, etc.  
 
What we often over-look is that the conducting gesture also greatly affects tone quality and especially affects the breath intake.  When you are preparing your gesture, keep in mind that you want you singers to experience a breath intake that drops down into their body.  Conducting preps that are high tend to entice the singers into a high, clavicular breath intake.  In parenting terms; your children don’t listen to what you say, they watch what you do.  If we want our singers to form the habit of a correct breath intake, we have to make sure our conducting gesture encourages just that!!
 
(original posting: September 30, 2013)
 
It’s one thing for this dinosaur to say it (and say it, and say it, and say it), but when a hip 20-something says it, then maybe - just maybe! – the message will get through.
 
 
FIVE FROM THE FOLDER: MIXED VOICES by Eileen Chang
 
1. “Jesu, meine Freude, BWV 227.” J.S. Bach. CPDL
One of his six motets, 5 voice with or without instruments.
 
2. “Abendlied, Op 69, No. 3.” Josef Rheinberger. CPDL
Six voice (SSATTB), a cappella, text is from the book of Luke 24:29.
 
3. “Festival Te Deum.” Benjamin Britten. Boosey & Hawkes 48021233
SATB, soprano solo, organ accompaniment, Powerful!
 
4. “Gloria.” Jan Sandtröm. Walton Music WW1277
SATB/SATB Chorus, Soprano and Tenor soli, a cappella.
 
5. “Draw on, Sweet Night.” John Wilbye. CPDL
Six voice (SSATTB), Secular Madrigal,  a cappella.
 
(“Five from the Folder” provides brief, text-length reviews of vocal works currently in the folders of choral directors throughout the United States.  To share five from your folder, contact Scott Dorsey at dorsey@acda.org)
(An excerpt from the Choral Journal article, “Instrumentation of the Basso Continuo in Early Seventeenth-Century Vocal Music,” by Steven Zopfi)
 
       During the first half of the seventeenth century, composers created enormous quantities of vocal music employing the new basso-continuo method. Inherent in this new method was a flexibility of instrumentation. Composers rarely specified which instruments were to be used in the performance of the basso continuo, because they and their contemporaries were familial- with the conventions of continuo instrumentation. Modem musicians, until recently, have lacked that first-hand knowledge, and have had much less upon which to rely when making instrumentation choices. Recent research, however is beginning to shed light on the continuo practices of the early Baroque era, and can provide important guidelines for modem choral performances of this repertoire.
       A useful place to begin discussing continuo instrumentation is with Agostino Agazzari's Del sonore sopra iI basso (1607), by far the most informative treatise on continuo instrumentation in early seventeenth-century Italy. In it, Agazzari lists a rich variety of continuo instruments, describes the manner of playing them, and suggests ways in which they might be used. Agazzari classified instruments as either "foundation" or "ornamental." Foundation instruments are those that "guide and support the whole body of the voices and instruments of the consort: the organ, harpsichord, etc.," while ornamental instruments are "those, which in a playful and contrapuntal fashion, make the harmony more agreeable and sonorous, namely the lute, the harp, lirone, etera, spinet, chitorrino, violin, pandora, and the like." In other words, foundation instruments are chord-playing instruments that provide harmonic support for the other voices, while ornamental instruments are mainly melodic instruments that are capable of melodic ornamentation and harmonic filler.
 
READ the entire article.
 
Over the course of an education, a choral singer could spend a decade singing daily in a school choir.  Then, with the pomp-&-circumstance of a graduation ceremony, that same singer passes from the educational system into the demands of the workaday world.  For the vast majority of those singers, that means leaving choral music behind.
 
There are precious few workplaces that would allow their employees to take off an hour a day for a choral rehearsal (though the world might be a better place if we had choirs at work).  In England, there are several outfits offering workplace team-building workshops that use choral singing to enhance business productivity.  The BBC has also produced a string of reality TV shows about choirs being started from scratch in unlikely places.
 
The singer eager to continue their choral life must look to church choirs and community choruses for their continued musical edification.  The positive effect of singing on the life of an adult chorister cannot be overstated, and the ensembles themselves offer a valuable artistic component to the life of any community.  Church and community choirs are a vital part of the choral landscape.
 
One has heard the concern that more church and community choirs are not heard performing during ACDA conferences.  The reason of course is really quite simple: their singers all have day jobs.  It would be tough to convince 50 people to burn three or four days of their precious vacation time and then pay for expensive travel to a conference city for a 25-minute performance.
 
That said, enjoy this example of a community choir from an ACDA divisional conference.  Note the wide spread of adult ages and the artistic caliber of this performance.
 
Graduate.  Keep singing!
 
 
VOCAL ADVANTAGE: BREATH (part 3), by Dina Else
 
Now that we’ve ensured the proper body alignment is well underway and have established the basics of breath intake, let’s journey a step further.
 
As we wrap up our discussion of breath intake, I would like to point out that we don’t think about breath in our everyday-normal breathing.  The muscles just automatically take the breath in, similar to how they do when we are sleeping.  For singing, however, we have to breathe when the music tells us to; we breathe at specific times according to the phrasing and rests in the music.  This is why it’s necessary to train yourself to be aware of what the natural action is.  Once you have heightened your awareness of the natural action you can learn to trigger it.  A singer’s goal is to take the automatic action and turn it into a conscious process.  You still breathe when you want and need it, but you are doing so along natural lines.  
 
Speaking of taking a breath when we want or need it…similar to speaking, the breath should be inspired by the thought about to be communicated in the music.  The breath for singing should be a natural response to the musical phrase the singer is about to sing.
 
Noisy versus silent breath intake.  I’ve come to realize this is a more controversial topic than one would think.  My two cents worth is to aim for silent.  The silence indicates that the root of the tongue muscle is out of the way, the soft palate is raised and the pharyngeal space is nice and open.  Silent breath also encourages the singer to ‘allow the air to drop in-down-and out’.  Noisy breath is usually associated with a high, clavicular breath. 
 
I was recently working with a colleague whose college voice teacher had taught him to audibly breath in on the vowel.  I don’t have a problem with most of this concept and I’m fine with the idea of breathing in on the vowel you are preparing to sing.  What isn’t okay, in my humble opinion, is the ‘audible’ part.  That constriction of the airway is an unnecessary step that will ultimately affect the tone being produced. 
 
Join me next week as we discuss the conductor’s gesture in regard to breath intake!
 
(original posting: September 23, 2013)
 
None of us in the choral profession have ever been tempted to do this when a singer pulls out a cell phone in rehearsal.  Noooooo.
 
 
FIVE FROM THE FOLDER: MIXED VOICES by Timothy Powell
 
1. “All That Hath Life & Breath Praise Ye the Lord!” Rene Clausen. Mark Foster Music MF0223
A vibrant, celebratory treatment of Psalms 96 and 22, which transforms into the beloved “Praise to the Lord the Almighty” hymn featuring the Lobe den Herren tune, before ending with a poly-tonal, rhythmic final Alleluia!
 
2. “Is any afflicted?” William Billings. CPDL
This very easy and approachable anthem showcases William Billing’s raw genius, capturing the mood of the epistle text with harmonic and melodic shifts over changing choral texture.
 
3. “Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden, BWV 230.” Johann Sebastian Bach. Edition Peters No. 6106
Bach’s stunning motet setting of Psalm 117 showcases his young talent with beautifully executed fugal themes and boundless energy.
 
4. “How Can I Keep from Singing (My Life Flows on in Endless Song).” Robert Lowry, arr. Davis. MorningStar Music Publishers MSM-50-2545
A gorgeous version of this beloved text and tune highlighted by an oboe and violin duet.
 
5. “Let Everything That Hath Breath.” Jeffery L. Ames. Earthsongs S-248
A perfect gospel concert closer with well-written piano, bass, and solo. A true crowd (and choir!) pleaser.
 
(“Five from the Folder” provides brief, text-length reviews of vocal works currently in the folders of choral directors throughout the United States.  To share five from your folder, contact Scott Dorsey at dorsey@acda.org)
(An excerpt from the Choral Journal article, “Choral Flatting: Sometimes it’a a Matter of Register Transition,” by Mel Unger)
 
       Have you ever wondered why it is harder to sing some pieces in tune than others? And why, when these pieces are raised a semitone, the problem disappears? Flatting seems particularly problematic in F major. Why? At least part of the answer to these questions lies in the relationship between vocal registers and tuning.
       Admittedly, the subject of vocal registers is a controversial one. Experts do not even agree on how many registers there are, let alone the proper pedagogical approach to take for their development and coordination. Some divide the vocal range into three registers, some into two, and some avoid the term altogether or suggest that trying to understand the vocal range in terms of registers is to take a negative, problem-oriented approach. Thus, for instance, Victor Fields writes, "reference to vocal registers and register breaks should be avoided. The prevention of a 'register break' is more important than its cure.' Nevertheless, since many singers complain of such "breaks" or "changing spots," a realistic approach requires that choral directors recognize their existence and teach singers ways to deal with them.
       As for the relationship between register shifts and tuning, a little experimentation with singers who have difficulty making the transition from one register to the next reveals an interesting connection.
 
READ the entire article.