Berkshire Choral Festival
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(An excerpt from the interest session “Level the Playing Field: Using Barbershop Harmony to get More Males into Your Choral Program,” presented by Adam Scott during the 2014 ACDA North Central Division Conference)
Wouldn't it be great if the guys recruited each other?
Getting guys to join choir is about scratching their itch.  If the ratio of guys to girls enrolled in band class are almost equal why does it seem so hard to recruit guys?  This session discusses the right types of songs to introduce, when to hold men's choir, rehearsal strategies, tag singing, and getting guys so fired up about music that they do the recruiting for you.  Harmony in the hallways will become the norm and you'll find guys in choir you'd never have expected.
(An excerpt from the interest session “Masters in Miniature: Singing the Great Composers with a Small Choir,” presented by David Rayl and Zebulon M. Highben during the 2014 ACDA Central Division Conference)
       The vast treasure trove of Renaissance music provides a wonderful resource for choirs of all types. Consider a piece like Dowland's lute song "Come again, sweet love doth now invite."  It can be performed unaccompanied, like an English madrigal, but it also works well with the accompaniment of classical guitar. See the following edition:    Alternatively, but less desirable, one could use the harpsichord stop on an electronic keyboard. Treble choirs (for example a 7th or 8th grade female ensemble) can sing just the soprano line with guitar accompaniment. Because these lute songs are strophic, another performance option is the alternation of verses between those sung by an SATB ensemble and those sung by just sopranos. These lute songs have another advantage over the 'typical' madrigal by Morley and his contemporaries--the poetry is much stronger.
       There are other works from the Renaissance that have the same flexibility in terms of performing forces. For example chansons such as Sermisy's "Tant que vivray" can be approached in any of the ways described above.
       The authors strongly urge conductors of choirs of ALL types to explore the possibilities inherent in this vast and still largely untapped repertoire.
(An excerpt from the interest session “Extencec New Works: Sharing Resources and Successes,” presented by David Hodgkins with Alan Harler and Deborah Simpkin King during the 2014 ACDA Eastern Division Conference)
       I am a self-proclaimed Troglodyte. To me an app is something you order before dinner and a tweet is a birdcall. But even I can see the possibilities that are inherent in the internet to share large swaths of concrete, useful information – full scores and recordings – of unpublished extended new works, especially that publishers often find too risky to publish.
       In my 20 plus years with Coro Allegro I have premiered quite a number of wonderful new works that have been embraced by both audiences and performers, only to have the score sit on a shelf because there is no way to share that information in a format that is easily distributed, user friendly, and above all can be displayed in a format that is protected from piracy.
       Until now.
       The session I gave with Alan Harler and Deborah Simpkin King in Baltimore had a new wrinkle: In addition to the typical bibliography about each work, we were able to present the full score with a sound file embedded in the score, so that each work can be simultaneously listened to and viewed on a computer, all with the click of a button, thanks to new technology and the wizardry of John Delorey and his talented minions at WPI. This could revolutionize the way in which conductors research and share resources and successes. In a short time our session will be posted on the ACDA Eastern Division website. I invite you to check it out.
       When was the last time you were truly moved by a musical experience?  This past week, I had the distinct honor of hosting Nick Page for a three day residency with my college students and children’s choir.   Nick is one of those rare individuals who are extremely talented but totally accessible at the same time.  He uses music and humor to cultivate joy and harmony in people.  The culminating event of the residency was a Community Sing where, for an hour and a half, people of different ages, backgrounds and experience levels sang together.  Everyone was asked to make a real connection to each other, through music.   The ensemble feeling that was created made the experience mean so much.
       As I reflect on the residency, I am thinking about my most meaningful choral experiences and they have all involved conductors who cultivated close relationships within the ensemble.   In terms of singing, these ensembles were also the most satisfying.  When our singers feel most comfortable, they probably sing more naturally and freely. There are so many phenomenal musical experiences to be had, but it cannot just be about the repertoire.  While I would like to think my singers remain my priority at all times, I know that sometimes the music takes over.  We never have one without the other, but fostering connections with and among my singers at every rehearsal should be the first priority.
       I read the following last year and it has stuck with me – this was written by a student at Macalaster College:
Music reminds us that in the end, our pursuits to be active, helpful members of society are about people. In our classrooms, we discover wonderful strategies for improving the world, but they will get us nowhere without compassion.   ~Andrea Wilhelmi
April in Paris? Coffee in Paris? How about ANYTHING in Paris! (The company one keeps whilst one is in Paris probably has something to do with enjoying the experience)
(An excerpt from the interest session “The Quest for Quality Choral Literature,” presented by Christopher Kiver during the 2014 ACDA Eastern Division Conference)
       What was the first piece of music you encountered that made you want to pursue music? For me, it was as a fourteen year-old violist playing Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony. I probably only played 30% of the notes accurately, and knew little about music, but I knew immediately this was something special - haunting melodies, driving rhythms, beautiful orchestral colors, incredible dynamic contrasts, each rehearsal further piquing my interest and excitement as more and more of the score was revealed.
       So much music is available to us through live performance, reading sessions, publisher mailings, and the internet. Repertoire lists abound in choral newsletters, journals, and state adjudication lists, though rarely with objective evaluation of a composition’s quality. The following prompts are intended as a starting point for thinking more objectively when selecting repertoire.
       Is the text rich in meaning, nuance and color? Are the melodies interesting or memorable (not necessarily on first hearing)? Does each section of the choir have melodically interesting lines? Does the composer include enough harmonic variety to surprise the ear? Is there rhythmic variety? Is the accompaniment compelling? Does the piece stand up to detailed analysis? Will the composition engage singers intellectually, musically and emotionally? If performing this work, what other great music are the singers missing out on?
       Quality repertoire exists in all genres and historical periods. If the only first-hand experience of music for our singers is through participation in choirs, don’t all singers deserve to sing the very best music?
(An excerpt from the interest session “It’s Not Just Old Music: Discovering Quality and Engaging Music on CPDL,” presented by Ryan Kelly during the 2014 ACDA Southwestern Division Conference)
It is easy to disregard certain pieces on CPDL because their scorings do not exactly match what one’s choirs typically perform. Think creatively, however, and remember that centuries of performance practices often remind us how composers, conductors, and choirs of the past have often adapted works for their singers’ needs. Here are some performance ideas to consider when browsing through CPDL’s vast holdings of public domain scores:
1)      Do you have a younger choir that performs two- or three-part music? Don’t just look at “official” choral music; consider also the great composers’ duets and trios for your choir.
2)      There is no shame in performing two- or three-part music with large and accomplished ensembles. If it is a beautiful two-part piece, composed by a first-rate composer, why not perform it exquisitely with your advanced ensemble? This can be a great palate-cleanser in the middle of a heavy choral program.
3)      Are you apprehensive about programming a six-part madrigal or motet with your choir? From the Renaissance, all the way through the Classical era, it was common for instruments to double voice parts (colla parte, literally, “with the part”). It was also common in early music for an instrument to play a voice part without any singer performing that part. Therefore, do not shy away from the six- to eight-part madrigals or motets. Invite some instrumentalists to double parts or to play parts singers are not singing—this is very historically authentic and can add beautiful timbres to a choral concert.
(An excerpt from the interest session “Starting a Group,” presented by Deke Sharon during the 2014 Western Division Conference)
       People in "a cappella" [the form of pop ensemble singing] have become too concerned with tuning.
       Perhaps it's the prevalence of pitch correction in recordings and pop music, but groups seem ever-concerned with their pitch, and moreover judge other groups as if tuning is the point.
       People usually do not decide what they like or want with their logical minds. They make them with their hearts, and then they justify them intellectually. That's been proven time and again, and is at the core of everything from political campaigns to grocery store product placement.
       To bring it closer to home, do you remember when Ben Folds said to the Beelzebubs in Season One of The Sing Off: "There were some tuning issues, but I just didn't care!" That's exactly what I'm talking about. A great performance with heart and sincerity will always trump technical prowess.
       Do you know who else doesn't care? You don't care. Do you hate all Motown music? Most likely not. I'll bet there are many songs that make you happy But the vocals are well outside what would be considered "in tune" nowadays. And they're beautiful. And real.
       Moreover, if you're focusing primarily on tuning on stage, you're not performing and you're not communicating. You're manufacturing sound.
(An excerpt from the interest session “Overtone Singing as a Choral Art,” presented by Peggy Dettwiler and Stuart Hinds during the 2014 ACDA Eastern Division Conference)
       Remember that overtones are the very basis of vowels, timbre, resonance, and intonation.  Overtone singing can help us increase our abilities in all these areas of singing by gaining greater control of vocal tract shaping and giving a focus to the effects produced by certain movements.  The awareness gained from overtone singing can be applied to matching vowels, tuning intervals and chords, and extending the color palette of the choral sound (an area in which Peggy is an expert).
       Overtone singing is not essentially different from ‘normal’ singing.  The types of vocal tract shaping used in overtone singing are the same as those used in traditional singing when changing vowels, registers, or timbre. None of the adjustments of the vocal tract used in overtone singing are inconsistent with good "open throat" singing.
       Additional information, in the form of video demo, sound files, and works list is available.
       A recent editorial in the International Journal of Research in Choral Singing (IJRCS), written by Dr. James Daugherty, challenges our profession to question our backgrounds in vocal pedagogy.  As the editor of this publication, Daugherty extends and promotes our field’s scholarship on a host of topics related to the choral arena.  In this particular piece, Daugherty raises several issues I found to be thought provoking and that warrant further discussion.  I am going to focus on just one of them here, but I encourage you to read the original article and to check out the journal (published by ACDA) when you have some free time!
       Daugherty has written extensively on vocal/choral pedagogy and in addition to teaching and conducting, he runs the School of Music Vocology Laboratory at the University of Kansas.  In his editorial, he shares some historical context for the topic of choral conductor preparation as it relates to vocal pedagogy, raising some important points for us to consider.  He writes that, although founded in 1924, it was not until 2009 that the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM) required that doctoral students in choral conducting "must have detailed knowledge of vocal technique and pedagogy" (NASM, 2009, p. 142; taken from Daugherty, 2013, p. 1).  For undergraduates, it wasn’t until the 1990s that NASM required students have "sufficient vocal and pedagogical skill to teach effective use of the voice" (NASM, 1993, p. 36; taken from Daugherty, p. 1).  Daugherty raises the point that while the reference is there, NASM does not specify what is considered “sufficient” or “effective”.  Member institutions can determine this for themselves, so wide variants exist and exposure is probably highly dependent on the individual teachers who shape and offer the program.  As we all know, taking private voice lessons where the emphasis is on building an individual voice is not comparable to learning how to manage voices at many different stages of development within the ensemble setting.   The choral conductor has a great responsibility to support healthy vocal technique in the choral setting, and additional training is almost always required to supplement what we are exposed to in college. Many, many conductors seek this information on their own and become very knowledgeable.
       Daugherty says” I know of no choral conductor-teacher who sets out intentionally to hinder the optimal vocal efficiency of singers in ensemble or dispense inaccurate voice information. Yet, clearly, the expectations for our profession as a whole have been less than consistent and far from exacting ones when it comes to vocal pedagogy and voice care” (p. 1).  Additional training and education to supplement collegiate preparation is vitally important.  After all, we are responsible for a lot more than the music we program.  Our singers voices are in our hands and we have a great opportunity to support lifelong vocal health.
Daugherty, J. (2013). Editorial: Voice care training for choral conductors. International Journal of Research in Choral Singing 4(2), Spring 2013.  Published by ACDA.
Link to the table of contents from the Spring 2013 IJRCS, which includes the full text of the article
(An excerpt from the interest session “Music Beyond Borders: World Music for Intermediate Treble Choirs,” presented by Jennifer Alarcon during the 2014 ACDA Southwestern Division Conference)
Create a lasting memory, reinforce the love of choral music in a singer’s heart, and amaze your audience with an authentic performance of a world choral piece! Performances are most authentic with the singers have internalized the culture, resulting in a performance that mirror the original expression (Parr, 2006). As the director, we are the driving force behind our student’s experience, so as you prepare a world choral piece for a performance, consider the ideas below.
Historical Perspective
Let’s learn as much as we can about the culture (Goetze, 2000). As a part of your personal score study, discover what the song or text was used for and where it would be performed. Knowing if it was a part of a celebration, religious service, ceremony, or to help in a time of grief will help make the performance ever so meaningful.
Cultural Perspective
Some cultures are more flexible in regard to instrumentation, improvisation, movement, etc. For example, Latin American music has such flexibility. One can feel liberated to remove verses as needed or add/modify auxiliary percussion instruments from the Latin American region. Let your creativity take over and explore the possibilities not explicitly written in the score.
Dance is one of the oldest forms of expression and is intertwined with singing in cultures around the world.  Adding movement can free the singers’ voices and immerse them in a cultural experience. Movement can be as simple as adding body percussion, claps, or stomps. It can also be as intricate as learning a few classical Indian dance moves for an Indian piece or the basic Merengue step for a Latin American piece. Feel free to explore and discover movement possibilities that are not prearranged in the score.
Works Cited:
Goetze, M. (2000). Challenges of performing diverse cultural music. Music Educators Journal, 87, 23-25+48.
Parr, C. (2006). Eight simple rules for singing multicultural music. Music Educators Journal, 93, 34-37.
(An excerpt from the interest session “Inspiration: Look Beyond the Page,” presented by Tom Wine during the 2014 ACDA Southwestern Division Conference)
       Inspiration.  Where does it come from and how can it be taught to singers in a choir? Defining the element which singers will identify as the source of inspiration is always a challenge.  Miles Davis said, "Don't play what's there, play what's not there."   The score study process should be designed to let the singers understand composer intention and how it affects performance decisions.
        The typical score study process includes: 1. research the composer and the poet, 2. analyze the music harmonically and stylistically, 3. make informed and inspired decisions about interpretation of each line of the score, 4. develop gestures which will present the music to the ensemble.  Directors have an obligation to inspire singers to find for themselves some of the implied phrasing, dynamic shaping, and text stress required to make the music come alive.   Take chances with visual and verbal imagery.  Make a personal connection to the music.
        Be a conductor your singers TRUST.  Trust involves two conflicting positions: competence and vulnerability.  Singers must trust that your leadership from the podium is skilled and prepared so that the performance will not be a failure.  Trust also requires you to make yourself vulnerable.  If you only conduct from a position of power you do not appear open for communication.   Balancing authority with a willingness to give ownership of the music to the singers is the only way to allow the singers an insight into the composer’s inspired intentions.
(An excerpt from the interest session “Oh Brother! Success With Boy Singers,” presented by Julian Ackerley during the 2014 ACDA Southwestern Division Conference)
       Believe it or not, being a boy in today’s world is challenging. Emotions are often shut down in a macho mentality. Boys are generally energetic and curious but also very sensitive to how they are viewed by others, especially their peers. They have split personalities. Boys can be loud, boisterous, vulgar, rude, crude, and insensitive to others…..and at the same time be polite, emotional, helpful, responsible and excited to learn. You never really know which boy will show up to your rehearsal.
       Emotional literacy is an important aspect of male development. Boys need to be helped in cultivating their emotional awareness giving them the vital connections and support they need to navigate the social pressures of youth.
       Music can help through their development but missing males in vocal programs has been a problem for many years. Boys are known to be bullied if they express themselves through song. If music, and particularly vocal music, is perceived as being less than masculine, boys who engage in singing will be punished, usually from their peers. There seems to be a persistent social stigma of male singing, especially boys.
       To retain boys in our choral programs we need to keep things demanding, fast paced and fun! Create an esprit de corps in which the boys learn to work together and set goals. Teach solid vocal techniques that gives them confidence. Affirm their musicianship and their maleness. Pump their egos. Oh, and be sure to have fun!
       As an advocate of male singing at all levels, I feel it is very important that we create a culture where male signing is valued and respected.
(An excerpt from the interest session “Socially Engaged Musicianship in Choral Music Connecting to the World Around Us,” presented by Doreen Rao during the 2014 ACDA Central Division Conference)
       The idea of “Socially Engaged Musicianship” can be framed by Leonard Bernstein’s response to the assassination of John F. Kennedy: “This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”
       Based on Harvard University research that defines “GoodWork” as that which is deemed both excellent in quality and socially responsible, there is excellent repertoire that exemplifies that thesis.   Two examples would Alan Naplan’s Jewish morality song, “Al Shlosha and the U2 MLK remembrance, “In the Need of Love.” Socially engaged musicianship is a way of moving “beyond the traditional objectives of beautiful vocal tone and musical literacy toward singing in choirs as an innately personal way of being in the world.   
        In contrast to the traditional methods of selecting choral repertoire to illustrate particular concepts of music, or repertoire composed or arranged to teach a particular set of musical skills, the socially engaged conductor looks to artistically and educationally appropriate repertoire as a cultural, historical and social environment in which students learn to explore, affirm and celebrate their relationship with the music, themselves and the world around them.
Much like the delicious combination of contrasting tastes of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup blending music from one genre by performance in another can often result in a stunning  reinterpretation of the original source material.
Take for instance Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings.  Originally the second movement from his String Quartet, Op.11, the 1936 work was set by Mr. Barber almost 30 years later for mixed chorus.  The resulting work, Agnus Dei, has become a stunning addition to the choral repertoire of the 20th century.
Here is a somewhat lighter approach to the idea from an ACDA national conference.  The operatic duet has been edited for a choir of young voices, who perform the work with a bit of theatrical flourish.  As you are beginning to ponder next year’s repertoire (sorry, kids, it's time to look ahead), perhaps something of this nature might prove a valuable addition to your programming.
       It is truly an honor to be invited to conduct a choral festival and I enjoy each and every one.  A few weeks ago, I was preparing to lead a day-long event for high school students.  Twelve high schools from a local conference sent trios or quartets for the honor choir, and in addition to singing in a mixed choir, each student sang in the men’s or women’s choir as well.  The day began at 9am and the schedule included almost 7 hours of rehearsal time before the evening concert at 6:30pm.  Sound familiar?  The singers came together from different schools that vary in the amount of choir rehearsal time per day.  In an informal poll, I asked a few students how much time they usually spend in rehearsal on a regular school day –the answers varied from 45 minutes to 2 hours.  I also asked them how long their bus rides were – there I heard 10 to 90 minutes.  While this is not empirical data, I believe it is pretty typical for other festivals of this type. 
       Going into the event, I made an effort to get enough sleep the weekend before, to tank up on water the day before and throughout the festival day, and I used a microphone for as much of the rehearsal time as I could.  I had my singers do a long warm up at the start of the day, chose healthy repertoire for them, tried to give them “vocal breaks” in rehearsals, asked them to do buzzing and humming between pieces, reminded them to drink water and to minimize voice use on breaks.  And I could still hear that some of their voices were tired by the time we were ready for the concert! 
       How do we support healthy vocal technique in these types of festivals?  Can we program less and include more down time that is quiet/focused?  During rehearsal, couldn’t we make use of quartets (a strategy I saw used countless times by the great Weston Noble in Nordic Choir rehearsals) to teach style, phrasing, and other musical elements while the rest of the choir listens?  Or, what if we had some of the other directors lead mini-seminars on vocal health or diction or auditioning for college music programs, as some examples, between rehearsal s? How can we make sure kids don’t overuse their voices on breaks/at meals/on the bus ride?  What if we brought a movie or made kids bring their pillows and required they be quiet on the way to the event (no singing!)?   I certainly don’t have all of the answers, but I have begun to think more and more about choosing music that allows me to make a connection with the students but that will also honor the vocal contributions they are asked to make throughout the day.  I want them to leave feeling inspired by the experience but also, with a healthy and strong voice that they bring back to their school and community groups the next day.  The rehearsal strategies used by the clinician are only one piece of the puzzle; rehearsal schedule, supervision during breaks and meals, transportation, quality of the rehearsal and performance space (ever done one of these in a gym?)  are just some of the additional factors that need to be considered.
       I welcome additional tips and suggestions from those of you who are thinking about this as well!  The more we discuss this from our varying perspectives, the better the experiences we can provide for our students.