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15 Minutes Inside a Conductor’s Repertoire Selection Process

I think that many composers that are not choir directors do not fully understand the process involved in making repertoire selections.  People have stated concerns about the Showcase being primarily listed by title and not composer.  I work from text and as a conductor am not all that interested in who composed a new piece.   If I like a choral work I may then seek out other pieces from the same composer but the title is what catches my attention.  
I am going to perform an experiment for you to shed some light on my process.   I am going to apologize in advance for the brutal honesty of this experiment.  If those whose works are mentioned object you may message me and I will take this down in a few days or edit this post.  If I didn’t think this would be of significant value to our community I would not publically post it.  Each director has their own needs and expectations.  What I liked or why I did not choose a piece is not the point of this experiment.  I know that some of my perceptions were incorrect, but that happens.  Feel free to point out my misconceptions so that we can discuss them.  Please follow along on the SATB page.  Perhaps open a second browser page.
My early goal in life was to be a High School Choir Director.   Although I think of myself as a composer I am by education, experience and 25 years in the profession first and foremost a conductor.   I now teach at the elementary level but for many years I taught at a 2,000+ student urban high school. 
Needs to fill:
I am imagining I am looking for new repertoire in the Composition Showcase for my high school Vocal Ensemble and Concert Choir.  Vocal Ensemble was a small mixed choir of our best musicians.   They starred in our madrigal feast, sang at jazz festival, sang carols in our community and performed the highest level of SATB music.  All of its members where also members of my Concert Choir.  Concert Choir sang a fall concert of easier repertoire, a winter/holiday concert and a choral masterworks concert where we often premiered new works, sang oratorio repertoire with orchestra and performed modern classics such as Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium.  They also had a Pops concert in the spring.   I routinely spent a lot of time looking for repertoire in the summer months for all of these performances as well as listening to CDs of other choirs, and choral sampler CDs from publishers/distributers.
The Experiment:
I opened the SATB page in the Composition Showcase
First to catch my eye was Earthly Light.  The title sounded less than religious which I felt was a plus.  I noticed it had accompaniment options for instruments which made me think it might work for our Choral Masterworks concert.    I clicked on the CHOIR link, was annoyed that I could not also click on the PDF link because of how ChoralNet or my browser is set to open a sound file not in a new window.  I listened to the first 25 seconds and was ready to move on because songs with vocables rarely capture my attention, especially for the Choral Masterworks concert.
I went back to the list and started on my way.  I stopped at Greg Bartholomew’s From the Odes of Solomon.   I noticed who it was by and I like Greg’s “The Tree” so I gave it a look.  I was about to click on the CHOIR link but saw the $7.+ cost and decided to move on thinking I might come back. 
I then clicked on I AM the Vine.  I have heard a setting of this text and wanted to check if it was the same one.  It wasn’t.  I listened and was ready to click the back button until I heard the harmony start.  Then I stayed a few seconds more.  After about 25 seconds I moved on.
I skipped over the next few entries simply because my time was short. 
I stopped at Night.  The recording was too quiet with the background noise where I was so I could barely hear it.  I was about to move on but the harmony I could hear caught my attention enough to check out the PDF.   I saw the text was by William Blake.  I like William Blake.   I read through the text and tried to see/hear some of the score and put this in my definite maybe pile for Choral Masterworks.  Thought I need to rip a copy of that recording and make it louder. 
Saw Psalm 150 and that it was by someone called Hildigunner Runarsdotter which tickled my multicultural interest.  Saw the score was reasonably priced so I clicked on the CHOIR link.  Annoyed that I could not leave the description up when the sound file window opened.  So I didn’t give it its due and moved on.  Too late. I was writing this and the dynamic change and flow caught my attention and I listened longer than I really would have.   Added this to my definite maybe pile.
Riders On the Earth really caught my attention.  I had forgotten about our Area Choir Festival in my description of my choirs.  The title seemed promising.  Riders ON the Earth was a neat idea.  I clicked on the recording and couldn’t hear it well enough with the background student noise.   Added it to the check later pile. 
Savior Like A Shepherd Lead Us made me think I should look at that for my church choir but I didn’t.
Silver Night caught my attention.   Clicked on the CHOIR button as I noticed it was for a reasonable price.  The recording was again too quiet for me so I clicked stop, went and got my external USB speakers and plugged them in, came back hit play and was hooked in the first 10 seconds.   I kept listening already sure that this was a piece I wanted to perform.  Started thinking, “could this year’s choir handle the a cappella?”  “Was that women’s divisi?”  Annoyed that I couldn’t have the description open while I listened.  Did something no one else will do: I opened another browser window and navigated back to the SATB showcase page clicked command F to search for “silver”.  Got a call from my wife to pick up something on my way home and was reminded I had to hurry.   Clicked play again, noticed the SSATBB and put the piece in the “If not this year, then some year soon” pile. 
Left it play and went on to see Julia’s Song of the Klutz.  Thought I wonder if there is an SSA version, that sounds like something for my sophomore girls choir.  Clicked on the PDF and read the text while Silver Night played on.  God I love Silver Night.  (thought to self)  Saw that John Carter was credited for inspiration, made me think for the second time in a week ‘Is that the same John Carter as a book I read called “John Carter on Mars”’ many years ago?   Read some text, The text had me ready to hit the buy button until I saw the word “Pussycats” and decided it wasn’t worth the hassle my boys would make about it, unless it was available in SSA. Clicked the back button, saw it wasn’t available for SSA.  Moved on.
Clicked play on Silver Night again.
Looked at There’s a Certain Slant of Light.  Liked the title but when I saw VIRTUAL, I wasn’t willing to stop Silver Night to listen since I was already late.   Felt the same about There Will Come Soft Rains, remembered I had to hurry home and gave up the process.  Packed up to leave listening to the end of Silver Night. 
Pleased I had found one probable piece I would return to the Composition Showcase as a valued resource just as I always put in the sampler CD from certain publishers.
I will let you all have at it before I make any other comments. 
Replies (13): Threaded | Chronological
on February 22, 2012 5:56pm
Okay, so should we revisit the idea of having some kind of service available to make quality recordings?
on February 22, 2012 8:03pm
Thanks, Jack.  You raise several good points.
Regarding sound files: Our current Showcase layout does make it a challenge to listen, view the score and/or review the description at the same time.  It looks like it's possible to play the sound files through Shockwave (at least it's being done elsewhere on Choralnet) which would allow listening while viewing score or description.  (Or perhaps listening to one piece while searching for the next one to preview.)  Personally, I like to open the score in one tab and launch the sound file in another so I can follow along.
We need to keep thinking (always) about what conductors need and what composers need.  From your description, it sounds like a conductor chiefly wants a very fast and flexible means of browsing, searching, and previewing music.  You mention cost as a consideration, but not the method of purchase.  My guess is that any reasonably swift means of gaining copy permission - email, full-service shopping site, whatever - will work.  What's important to you is finding the right music; the purchase process is secondary.
What do composers need?  I certainly need exposure, a way to make my name and my work visible to conductors, and I think the Showcase is a wonderful step in that direction.  As it develops, I think we can increase the ease of use and search capabilities for conductors.  But I'd especially like to see a way of incorporating more works into the search - keep a few from each composer as "featured", but enable conductors to find other works as well.
And as the Showcase develops, I'm becoming less concerned about possible sales-and-delivery features of the Marketplace.  If conductors have an excellent browsing tool, and composers have an excellent visibility tool, we can continue to deal with sales over email or what-not.
Just my two cents.  I'm really enthused about the possibilities this resource opens for all.
on February 23, 2012 11:16am
As I mentioned earlier in a private message to Jack, the obstacle: "Leave the description or .pdf file open while the song plays", should be easily overcome by right-clicking on the sound file link so that it opens in a new window. Definitely works in Firefox, Chrome and Safari, (I haven't used Internet Explorer for at least 15 years but can't imagine that it wouldn't work there too). I fail to see a problem ;)
on February 23, 2012 2:13pm
Right what? I'm a Mac user, there's only one button.  A bit tongue and cheek there.  You are correct. That is of course an excellent solution.  Mac users like me sometimes forget that we can simply control-click to pull up the menu to open the file in a new window.   I will put something in the instructions but would still like library items to automatically open in a new window.  
     When you right click the file on a PC, does it give you a list of options including "Open file in a new window" or does it just open it automatically in a new window?
     I have been in contact with the composer and we are trying to work it out. 
    The files are MP3 and all from the same composer.   The problem happens on an older MacBook running OS 10.4 and a newer MacBook Pro running 10.6.7.   
on February 23, 2012 2:46pm
Haha I'm a very-long-time Mac user too but I use a Logitech mouse. The new Apple mice also manage right-click though even though they don't look like they have more than one button. ;) 
Checked on my husband's Windows machine and right-click opens the file automatically in a new tab, in Chrome at least.
on February 24, 2012 12:04am
and it is not possible to have everyone happy about default choices - not everyone wants links to open in a new window/tab. I used to have the default settings like that on my blog page but got told off by a netiquette savvy friend, as it is easy to have things open in a new window/tab if you want but impossible to not do so if the settings are default that way. I foresee my browser window having 50 tabs up after looking at the site...
on February 24, 2012 5:50am
Thanks for the perspective. You make a very good point.  I will simply try to educate the user on how to best use the site as is.  I do worry about Mac users who like me would not think to use control-click.  
Did you all know your recordings can be downloaded by control-clicking?  That was also news to me.  If that is news to you and you want to upload a new excerpted MP3 with a chunk missing, feel free. 
on February 24, 2012 1:47am
I don't know if this helps but I have a video of my choral symphony running at the same time as the manuscript on my website.
I use a PC - so not sure if this works with Mac.
On all my other web pages I have the MP3 recording of the concertos running at the same time as the scores - see an example
Because the Mp3s and video are streamed by InsincEurope, there is no buffering issue either for these works which are 25-35 minutes long.
Thanks for all your incredibly hard work here.
on February 24, 2012 5:53am
I see that I should be able to view your PDF and listen to the recording.  However, your site requires a Windows Media plug-in for QuickTime which I do not have for my Macs. 
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