Dr. Al Holcomb’s session was focused on strategies concerning how we, as choral educators and candidates, can make our classrooms a safe space as well as an environment that encourages students to be life long lovers of music.
Why should the music that your students are most likely to make outside of the chorus classroom--a cappella, rap, spiritual, folk--not also be a part of your classroom? Similar to Dr. Holcomb, I am a firm believer that music is a language and that, as I heard another clinician say during the conference, “Not teaching music literacy and just teaching music by rote is like never teaching someone how to read and constantly reading the information to them.” It is the duty of all music educators to teach their students music literacy, not only to better their musicianship and to help them be successful with more challenging pieces in the future, but more importantly so that they can take ownership of the music (both inside and outside the classroom) and not have to rely on their chorus teacher in order to make music.
Dr. Holcomb told us an anecdote during the session about how his chorus teacher pushed the boundaries of his musicianship and ownership of the music he was making and what positive effects it had on his life as a musician and a human. He went up to his teacher one day and asked if the bass line of 'Lean on Me' is do-re-mi-fa, and the teacher of course agreed and asked him to go to the piano and play it in C Major. So he did, but then when he was asked to play it in F Major, he kept playing do-re-mi-fi until he realized that he had to use one of the black notes (which he did not know the use of beforehand). I truly think that one of the best kinds of learning happens when you don’t talk and just do. What a perfect example of this philosophy! Dr. Holcomb suggests that as a result of this discovery-based learning through hearing being prioritized over any skills at sight, from there came an immensely positive impact on his life as a musician. He challenged us all to support this kind of learning in the rehearsal. Instead of always asking your students what key every new song you give them is in, maybe ask them for another song that they know that is similar melodically, harmonically? Ask them the questions that they do not expect. Dr. Holcomb says that a large key that might help unlock students’ natural desire is to relate to choral experiences that the students’ should show ownership of the music that they make.
Dr. Holcomb made it a point to articulate that he believes the goal of the music educator should be to harness students’ thirst for a life full of musical experiences. This requires reconsidering the pedagogies that try to get students themselves to go into the music field and those that throw as many concerts and master works at your students as possible. These methods can prove effective temporarily, but many times seem to feign a love of musical experiences and after high school will likely report to be “burnt out”. As we are educating these students, it is part of our responsibility to not only give them the tools to read, write, and perform, but also the tools they need to include music in the rest of their life. We talked about tools such as repertoire selection, peer collaboration and aural skills to name a few. To have your students leave your classroom with the ability to choose songs that they like with confidence, be able to imitate or even write their own songs, and most importantly collaborate with their friends, is definitely a large part of a successful choral program.
Thank you for reading IC ACDA’s Blog Posts on the ACDA Eastern Division Conference! We had an absolute blast being there and are excited to get this opportunity of reflection and analysis. If you enjoyed reading our posts, check right back here for more posts regarding several awesome workshops we plan on doing over the course of 2016!
-Matthew Coveney, IC ACDA Web Master & Public Relations Chair
Dr. André de Quadros started this workshop listing several eye-opening statistics. 13.4-16.4 million children are in poverty. The United States has 5 percent of the world’s population in prison. Black people often serve just as much time for drugs as white people do for physical violence – up to 52 months. These statistics are, in short, heart breaking. Dr. de Quadros has dedicated his life to leading several initiatives to fight these statistics, and to use choral music as a platform for starting to heal people. He works directly with a men’s prison and a women’s prison in Boston and has formed choirs there. He spoke of his experience in talking to the people incarcerated there and how they often feel forgotten. Choral music allows them to feel like they are part of a community again, and feel deeper, more positive personal emotions. He showed us several examples of poetry and other written texts that have been inspired by his efforts in the prison, specifically from a program he held called, “Remember Me, But Ah! Forget My Fate.” These poems were incredibly humanizing and thought provoking to me, especially because I have only had one or two experiences in my life with speaking to people in prison.
Dr. de Quadros also shared an initiative with a choir named “Common Group Voices,” an Israeli-Palestinian-Swedish choir. They take songs of each other’s cultures and recreate and reimagine the songs to fit the customs of their own culture and language. They also have round-table discussions among the members about issues concerning the relationships of their cultures. Dr. de Quadros stated, “We’re not talking about peace, we’re talking about common ground – who are we as humans?” I think this is a beautifully stated perspective to begin to understand each other in a deeper way.
Dr. de Quadros had a guest there whose name will be undisclosed for confidentiality reasons. He was a former convict of the men’s prison in Boston, and had only just been released a few months ago. He spent 34 years there because he was tried as an adult when he was 17 years old, and was supposed to be in prison for his entire life. He spoke of his experience being in Dr. de Quadros’s choir and how meaningful it was to him. I spoke to this man afterwards and could only think of a small but powerful phrase a professor told me a while ago (while on a visit to a local juvenile detention facility) – “These are good people who just made a bad choice.”
It almost seems unfair that we, who are privileged with a warm home and good food, experience extraordinarily different lives from others who might have made a bad decision or who are caught in social tensions. I can only feel that it is part of our responsibility as human beings to reach out to those in need. I have not met a single musician who did not want to share their craft with others in some respect, whether it be through teaching, performing, or composing. Something that struck me, though, was when Dr. de Quadros said, “If you search ‘choral conductor’ on Google Images, what do you find? A white man in a tuxedo. The reason why it is often difficult to convince our administrators of the importance of music is because we’ve placed the value of the aesthetics and beauty of music over the fact that choral music can truly help people and make them better.” Dr. de Quadros declared that we need conductors who know how to be creative, be agents of change, and be social advocates. I know that this session has reinforced my personal aspiration to use my love for music and teaching in order to help and heal others.
-Sunhwa Reiner, IC ACDA President
On the last day of the Boston conference, 40 people gathered in a room on the third floor of the conference center to hear a session that we had been told about at the concert the previous night. Earlier in the week, four members of the Trinity Wall Street choir had traveled to Norfolk to lead a session at the Massachusetts Correctional Institute. At their phenomenal concert on Friday night, director Julian Wachner had told the audience about their upcoming reflection session for the next morning. The room was quite packed, and the session started off with a demonstration of the kinds of activities that went on during the choir members’ time at the correctional institute. Using some of the improvisation tools and techniques shown at Friday night’s concert, the singers set a poem with the help of the crowd (who provided a drone tone). Afterwards, the singers each reflected on their individual experiences at the correctional institute, where they had fostered creativity and emotional exploration among the inmates.
Andrè de Quadros, who began the prison ministry program known as Empowering Song through Boston University approximately five years ago, was also present and spoke very eloquently about the mission and goals of the program. He talked about how certain demographics of people have limited access to choral music, and about how this specific program helps inmates to develop a sense of self-worth, enabling individual and community transformation. The choir also performed an example of a poem that one of the inmates had written, which they turned into a rap and a refrain in the style of Mary J. Blige.
De Quadros spoke about how each semester an overall theme is chosen for the Empowering Song program, usually a song lyric or stanza from a poem, which helps the artists to draw inspiration and create meaningful contributions. Perhaps the most captivating part of the entire session was when a former participant in the program and degree holder from Boston University's prison education program spoke about his experience. This man had participated in the program for four semesters out of the 34 long years of his sentence. He spoke eloquently and passionately about the doors that this program has opened up for him, and about the sense of purpose that many participants gain from working with their own creativity and musical skills. His willingness to be vulnerable was moving, and everyone in the room was captivated.
Overall, this session served as a powerful reminder that we as music educators and conductors can always find opportunities to reach the people who are most in need of music.
-Annie Brady, IC ACDA Special Events Coordinator
The IC ACDA group attended one final concert before embarking on our long drive back to New York. We headed over to New England Conservatory to hear the Elementary Honor Choir, conducted by Fernando Malvar-Ruiz, and the Junior High Honor Choir, conducted by Andrea Ramsey. Hearing these beautiful young voices raised in song was a wonderful way for us to wrap up our time at the conference!
First up was the Elementary Honor Choir. After hearing this group rehearsing a few days prior, I was especially excited to hear their finished product! One thing that stood out about this concert was the frequent use of vocal percussion and other sound effects to enhance many of the pieces. As soon as the singers began their first piece, "Mi'kmaq Honour Song," the audience was transported by the sounds of birds, rustling leaves, and other noises that are found in nature. Later on in the concert, the birdcalls returned in greater numbers along with monkeys, snakes, and tigers for "Tres Cantos Nativos," a cycle of three songs featuring a delightful cacophony of jungle noises. During "La Lluvia," the students created an indoor thunderstorm with claps, stomps, snaps, clicks, and hisses. The same children who fearlessly imitated orangutans and coo-coo birds in some pieces sounded like angels during the group's performances of "Quiet Sea" and J.S. Bach's "Domine Deus." Towards the end of the concert, the group gave a shout-out to the locals with a lighthearted piece entitled "Goin' to Boston." The group's final piece was a world premiere. Composer Richard Clark commissioned "Dona Nobis Pacem" for the Elementary Honor Choir, and they sang it beautifully. These children gave a great concert, filled with passion and positive energy from start to finish!
The Junior High Honor Choir established a fierce presence by making their first piece, "Hanacpachap cussicuinin," a processional. They then transitioned into J.S. Bach's "Sanctus in D Minor," accompanied by a string quartet. The third piece on the program was one of the conductor's own compositions, "Sing to Me," and the children gave a heartfelt and moving performance. The group also performed an exciting piece called "Pescar Camaron" that featured multiple percussion instruments. Like the elementary choir, they commissioned a new piece as well, "Echo" by ACDA President-Elect Tom Shelton, and Dr. Ramsey invited him up onto the stage to accompany the performance! The choir ended with a spirited rendition of "Give Me Just a Little More Time," which left the audience humming the catchy tune. We were so glad that we were able to attend this wonderful concert!
-Juliana Joy Child, IC ACDA Treasurer
This morning concert session at the Old South Church featured three groups covering a wide age range. The main focus of this concert was to showcase how music is universal among people of different ages, and can stay with someone for their whole life. The first ensemble performing was the Combined Choirs of Haverford High School, conducted by Marsha Core, who has been directing the group since 1987. The choir had a diverse repertoire, starting with works by William Byrd and Sergei Rachmaninoff, which showcased their ability to create a beautiful, full sound. The group then performed “Sleep” by Eric Whitacre, and the captivating dissonances rang throughout the sanctuary. Next was “Double, Double, Toil and Trouble,” a movement from Jaako Mäntyjärvi’s “Four Shakespeare Songs.” This piece takes text directly from the Witches’ scene in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” and the choir was able to get into the Witches’ characters using body percussion and a choreographed dance, entrancing the audience. The last two pieces, “Daniel, Daniel Servant of the Lord” by Undine Moore and “Prime Time Blues” by Anders Edenroth called for gospel and blues styles, which showed the choir’s ability to produce an amazing sound across a variety of musical genres.
The second group to perform was the Keystone State Boychoir, under the direction of Steven M. Fisher. This ensemble is made up of 200 boys ranging from ages 8 through 18. Their program was set up so that one song flowed into the next for most of the set. They started with a combination of three pieces, “Children’s March” from “Carmen,” by George Bizet, which was sung by the younger boys, “Zikr” by R. Rahman, which the older boys sang, and finally all of the boys came together to sing “O Fortuna” from “Carmina Burana.” Perhaps one of the most moving sections of this ensemble’s set was their performance of “Ubuntu” by Dr. Veronica Nix and Steven Fisher. Ubuntu is a South African word that roughly translates to “kindness,” and the boys represented this sentiment by having the youngest boys of the group step forward and make a speech about compassion, love, and brotherhood. The group ended their performance with a medley of South African songs arranged by Steven Fisher, even teaching the audience a song and inviting us to sing along. The boys continued to sing and wave at everyone as they exited the stage, leaving everyone in the audience feeling like a big family.
The final group to perform was the Jameson Singers, founded and directed by Dr. Jameson Marvin. This group is open to amateur singers of any age, which really matched the theme and message of this concert. People of all different ages came together in this ensemble and sang beautiful polyphonic works, such as “Gloria” from “Missa Papae Marcelli” by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina and “Kyrie” from “Mass in G Minor” by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Their set was entirely a capella, and each selection allowed the group to showcase their musicality and place all of the focus on their singing. The space carried their harmonious voices extremely well, and allowed each chord to echo beautifully. The final piece, “Os Justi meditabitur sapientiam” by Anton Bruckner, ended with a glorious Alleluia that rang out and finished the concert perfectly. These three groups did a fantastic job and we all had a wonderful morning at the Old South Church!
- Christine De Nobile, ‘18
Multi-generational Harmony: Working Effectively with Older Singers to Recharge, Respect, and Retain
The founder and artistic director Jeanne Kelly of “Encore” presented an informative workshop on the importance in understanding how to teach the older singer. Encore is a community choral program for older singers 55 years of age and over. Ms. Kelly has found through years of working with older singers that being in a choir reduces depression, amount of medication, physical falls, and boosts morale and social happiness. Even though this is statistically reinforced, Ms. Kelly points out that many of our college institutions teaches music education majors the pedagogy of elementary through college-aged people, but not past that. But the reality is that there is a huge need for educated music teachers who understand the ability and aspects in teaching older voices, especially as community choirs and multigenerational choirs gain popularity. They need conductors who are engaging, caring, respectful, and invigorating. Ms. Kelly urges, “Challenge them, but respect them, and above all, have humor.” Often we are “too careful” with this age group, but during the session, Jeanne Kelly confidently smiled and stated, “We can take it.”
Ms. Kelly gave us several important pointers to be conscious of as we teach the older voice, and a handful of exercises that she uses with Encore. For physical and vocal exercises, she suggests:
One thing that Ms. Kelly stressed is the importance of continually checking posture. Sitting all day, looking at the computer, and old age, are all factors that go into a habit of bad posture. She uses the phrase, “Feel like your ears are over your shoulders.” This immediately straightens their posture. She also encourages not to use the word “drop” for “drop your jaw,” but instead, “relax your jaw.” The word “drop” is evocative of everything drooping down and collapsing in, which is what you want to avoid. Ms. Kelly mentioned that she does posture checks at least 30 times in a rehearsal – constant reminders are necessary especially when working with older aged people. She works with the hips and allows people to sit if they must.
Other things to consider if you are working with this age group: repertoire (consider tessitura, agility, stamina, and intervallic leaps, but also be sure it is enjoyable yet challenging), vocal ability (varied experience, diminished range/control, pitch problems, and excessive vibrato), and format and logistics of the rehearsals (music stands, seating, large print of the sheet music, buddy system for those who need it, rehearsal CDs *a great resource*, carpools – don’t let lack of transportation be the reason someone drops out of choir, daytime rehearsals when possible).
Jeanne Kelly implored us to understand that “music is their lifeline.” For a lot of them, this is their social time of the week. Yes, strive for excellence and challenge them, but don’t allow specifics to get in the way of them continuing to sing. This is an important takeaway.
This session was extremely helpful and eye-opening to how I can help my own community choir that I student-conduct back in Ithaca, the Dorothy Cotton Jubilee Singers. I know that I will try out some of the exercises she suggested and focus much more on posture throughout the upcoming rehearsals. I hope that you also find some of this post to be informative to improving your older-generational choir!
-Sunhwa Reiner ‘16, President of IC ACDA
Rounds are simple, fun, and harmonious exercises that can give a choir a wide range of skills that are needed for wonderful singing. A few members of the IC student chapter attended an interest session that focused on different rounds that can be used as warm-ups and performance repertoire for choirs of all ages. Joanne Hammil, a composer and the director of the Greater Boston Intergenerational Chorus, led the session and gave everyone a packet full of different rounds; many of which she wrote herself. The session was spent singing through many of the rounds from the packet, with a brief description from Ms. Hammil about what technical area of choral singing each piece would tackle.
Some of the rounds were very harmonically focused. One round that was written by Ms. Hammil, titled “Move Like Jazz,” lives up to its name and was composed in a jazz style with some difficult and unique chords that pose a challenge to students to use their ears and to sing in tune with the rest of the choir members. Others focused more on a canonic style of polyphony, in which the singer would be tested on their ability to hold their own melody against others in the choir. One of my favorites of the day was “Elves,” also composed by Ms. Hammil. This style of round is called a “catch,” meaning when all parts are singing together, some sort of secret message can be heard. The group had a blast singing together, and even in the short 50-minute session, we improved our musicality. All in all, this session was extremely informative and lots of fun, too! As a music education major, I look forward to using these rounds with my future choir.
-Christine DeNobile, '18
On Friday night, we had the pleasure of hearing the Choir of Trinity Wall Street, under the direction of Dr. Julian Wachner, performing at New England Conservatory. This GRAMMY-nominated ensemble is based in New York City but has gained international acclaim for their exceptional artistry and versatility. Friday’s program featured a diverse array of musical selections.
The concert began with a series of sacred compositions from the 20th century: “Hail Gladdening Light” by Charles Wood, “Faire is the Heaven” by William H. Harris, and “O sacrum convivum!” by Olivier Messiaen. These three pieces allowed the ensemble to showcase their sensitivity to each other and to the nuances of the music. Right from the start, the audience was taken in by the clarity of the harmonies and the purity of the group’s tone.
After the Messiaen, the group paused to explain a tradition that they have at Trinity Wall Street. Each Sunday, the choir performs an improvisation in which they are all given a sacred text (but no sheet music) to follow. One member of the ensemble serves as the leader and uses hand signs to indicate changes in chords, modes, and key areas as the improvisation develops. The full group maintains harmonic structure by droning, and two or three singers at a time step forward to improvise melodic lines on the text. The improvisation ends with The Lord’s Prayer. During Friday’s concert, the choir performed a full improvisation for us as they would on a typical Sunday at Trinity Wall Street, and they invited us to join in singing a monotone during the Lord’s Prayer. Afterwards, Dr. Wachner came out to lead us in our own improvisation with the text of “Happy Birthday.” The audience improvised together in the Lydian dominant mode, and Dr. Wachner showed us how he would indicate harmonic shifts with his hands. We thoroughly enjoyed this portion of the concert and we hope to continue exploring improvisation of this nature in the future. We recorded an excerpt from the audience’s improvisation and have attached the recording below – please excuse the prominence of our voices in the foreground!
Next on the program was one of the conductor’s own compositions entitled “An October Garden,” which was split into four sections, one for each season. Dr. Wachner played the piano, and a flautist, a clarinetist, and a bassist joined the choir on the stage. Each section of the piece had its own characteristic style that distinguished it from the other three. “October Garden” was followed by another piece by a composer who was present in the room, the beautiful “Given Sound” by Trevor Weston. This piece used a short text, which lent itself well to interesting repetition and layering, and there were some spoken sections that brought out the text in different ways.
The last three pieces on the concert were all arrangements of spirituals: “Precious Lord” arranged by Arnold Sevier, “Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley” arranged by Stanley Thurston, and finally a rousing performance of “Jeremiah’s Fire!” arranged by Rollo Dilworth. The second to last piece featured a passionate and moving performance by bass-baritone Jonathan Woody on the solo. After the last piece, the audience rose to its feet and continued to applaud enthusiastically until the ensemble returned to the stage for an encore. The choir treated us to one final performance before we all adjourned to the lobby, where we were able to greet and congratulate Scott Mello, a tenor in the ensemble and a former Ithaca College interim voice professor. We had a wonderful experience at this concert, and we hope to be able to hear them live again in the near future!
-Sunhwa Reiner, IC ACDA President, and Juliana Joy Child, IC ACDA Treasurer
On Friday I attended an interest session led by Dr. Rollo Dilworth that dealt with planning interactions between your choir and the community.
First and foremost, he differentiated between 'outreach' and 'community engagement.' When we attempt to create an 'outreach' program with your choir, we often are doing things 'for' others. However, when we work toward 'community engagement,' we work 'with' others (Borwick, 2013). Instead of calling up a hospital and asking if our choir could come sing in the lobby around Christmas, we could ask them what they need that we might be able to provide and from there begin forging an ongoing relationship. Community engagement is not about teaching the public, but rather a shared learning.
Dr. Dilworth provided a framework for connecting with community partners cleverly abbreviated as C.O.D.A:
Commonalities with the connection should drive your relationship; even if there are none
Opportunities within the connection should be potentially beneficial to all involved
Development of the connection should occur through an ongoing relationship
Assessment of the connection should occur periodically
Undertaking this kind of community engagement requires 'civic maturity,' which, according to Colby, Elrich, et. al., involves understanding, motivation, and skills. When asking permission from the principal or school board to partake in these relationships, we can refer to the civic education students will develop. Once students understand the concept of community engagement and civic maturity, we can continue to develop student outcomes that align with National Standards. Throughout the process, we should allow students to be collaborators. After determining outcomes, we should plan the activities, proceed with the activities, and then assess them to ensure that everyone is benefitting from the experience.
Dr. Dilworth left us with three important and thought-provoking comparisons on community engagement:
Learn > teach
Exchange > change
Serve > save
I greatly enjoyed this session and hope to work toward effective community engagement with my future choirs!
-Laura White, IC ACDA President-Elect
Fahad Siadat (performer, composer, and founder of See a Dot Music Publishing) as well as Laurel Mehaffey and Dr. David Harris are vocologists from an organization called VoiceScienceWorks led a workshop today called “Music Without Words” focused on the mechanics, accessibility, and compositional use of vocal extended techniques. This field remains relatively unexplored compared to that of any other instrument family, a fact that the presenters attribute to the widespread attachment to the pure “cathedral” tone. Through demonstration of techniques like overtone singing, vocal fry, and yodeling as well as their effective use in compositions by Toby Twining (one of the leaders in this movement), Martha Sullivan (of C4: The Choral Composer-Conductor Collective) and Fahad himself, these choral artists proposed that this kind of exploration of vocal timbre is the future of choral music. And although some of these ideas may seem extreme, especially compared to the more traditional choral tone, the presenters showed that this exploration can begin simply by singing pieces that direct the singers to belt (which the professionals from VoiceScienceWorks emphasize can be taught to be done safely) or even just by with chords of heterogeneous collections of vowels, creating new textures that bring the 21st century choral sound closer to reaching its full potential. Fahad believes that choral ensembles could be treated more like a symphony orchestra, with timbral combinations available as a new compositional tool; at this point, the music is written and readily available (www.seeadot.com) but now these innovative composers simply need performers and conductors that are willing to experiment and take these types of risks in performing new music.
-Jacob Kerzner, '18
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