The members of the Ithaca College student chapter of ACDA are incredibly grateful to have attended the National ACDA Conference in Minneapolis this week! Over the course of four days, sixteen of our members attended interest sessions, panel discussions, reading sessions, concerts, exhibits, and receptions. True to the 2017 theme, "A Life of Song," we learned from choral music enthusiasts of all ages, from children's choirs to college students to musicians who have been in the field for decades. All IC members found an experience that greatly inspired them. We hope to bring what we have learned back to the Ithaca community, sharing music, ideas, and passion to make the world a better place.
We would like to thank the many people that supported us along the way. First, thank you to our chapter advisor, Dr. Galvan, for guiding our chapter all year and for assisting with this blog. We are also grateful to the Office of Student Engagement and Multicultural Affairs at Ithaca College for helping us plan the trip to Minneapolis. Many thanks as well to those who supported us financially so that we could bring 16 people all the way to Minnesota. To the students from Hostra University and Vassar College who wrote guest blog posts, thank you for sharing your experiences. Thank you to all the people who were involved in this conference- presenters, conductors, performers, staff, and volunteers. And finally, thank you so much to everyone in State and National ACDA leadership who worked incredibly hard to make this conference a success! We are grateful for the opportunity to share our experiences with you on the National Conference Blog.
Safe travels to everyone, and feel free to check in with us in the future as we continue to share our choral music experiences from Ithaca College.
IC ACDA President
Yesterday, I had the privilege of attending the undergraduate conducting masterclass. The masterclass was occurring at the same time as several other sessions I was hoping to attend, and therefore, my original plan was to stay for the first hour of the class, and then slip out the side door of the church sanctuary. Instead, I found myself glued to my pew for the full two hours of the class, unable to tear my eyes away except when scribbling notes furiously in my notebook.
I suppose one could attribute my state of fascination to the fact that I have not yet received formal conducting training (it is traditional at my school to take conducting classes junior year and I'm still a sophomore). The clinicians, Dr. Ann Howard Jones and Dr. Jerry McCoy, in addition to being dynamic and engaging instructors, gave incredibly concise and effective advice to each undergraduate participant. Being a relative newcomer to the world of conducting, I am in no place to comment on the pedagogy behind the advice given by the clinicians, but I can definitely attest to the effectiveness of the clinicians' advice being evident in the resulting changes in sound of the choir.
One major takeaway I left the masterclass with was the necessity of a sense of air in the gesture and the concept of deciding whether you want your air to flow left, right, or vertically. In one particularly captivating moment, Dr. McCoy had one of the participants modify his gesture to mimic the air flow created by a ballerina running and jumping into a lift. The result was a flowing, moving line sung with a beautiful and clear tone. I am finding it difficult to explain with words the sense of excitement and inspiration I felt watching the participant's "aha!" breakthrough moment.
Another major concept that resonated with me was that of the intentionality of stance and gesture. Dr. Jones worked with one participant on correcting the reflexive movement in her knees by focusing the participant's energy into her arms. She also explained that one of the most difficult - yet most imperative - things to learn is to bring your choir to you instead of reaching for your choir by conveying strength through your stance. Dr. McCoy worked with one participant on keeping the torso expanded, explaining that a collapse of the conductor's upper body would lead to a collapse in the sound of the singers. He also worked with a different participant on keeping his gestures within the frame of his body.
I could write for ages about each concept and technical solution that the clinicians taught, but for the sake of time, I'll simply wrap up by thanking Dr. Jones and Dr. McCoy for sharing their expertise with us, and for giving me a wonderful introduction to the world of conducting.
-Nicole Cronin, IC ACDA '19
I went to the "Voice of Reason: Social Justice, the Greater Good, and Why We Sing" panel on Wednesday with the intention of getting inspiration for a piece I'm planning to write, and I did not come away disappointed. The panel was geared towards directors who intend to program a concert surrounding an important social issue, focusing on ways in which the message of the performance can better reach the audience. The presenter, Kristina Caswell MacMullen, is well versed in directing pieces with a social goal in mind. She shared about a long program she had directed that followed the story of victims of human trafficking, using a series of related pieces with complete staging.
The main message of this presentation was the importance of telling a story through the music. To reach people with your music, one approach is to take your audience members through the journey of the person you want them to relate to. MacMullen's performance took the viewer through the life of a girl pushed into human trafficking. Another example she showed us was a piece using the last words of several of the young black men recently killed by police officers, which puts the audience into their shoes. Staging was a huge part of these programs, and that has given me so many ideas for my own protest piece I'll be writing in the coming months. While I have performed plenty of staged choral pieces, as a composer, I had never thought to write a composition with specified staging instructions. I always felt that that was the choral director's job, but of course nothing is keeping the composer from making those decisions as well.
Overall, this presentation was incredible and has left me with so many ideas on how to spread awareness through my music.
-Anna Marcus-Hecht, IC ACDA '19
On Wednesday, I attended my first interest session of the conference, called "Thinking Like an Athlete: New Ways to Improve Your Conducting Gesture." Dr. Bert Pinsonneault from Northwestern University, an athlete and conductor, led the session. He explained that the conductor does not merely show beat placement and entrances, but in fact:
I was excited when he mentioned mirror neurons, which I've been learning about in a Storytelling course at IC. These mirror neurons create a motor resonance inside each of us, causing us to feel physically and emotionally what others around us feel simply by watching them. In music, this means that we not only perceive sound as an auditory stimulus but also as a sequence of expressive motor acts; for the same reason we cringe in sympathetic pain when we watch someone get injured in a viral video, we also feel physically what our conductor shows us.
Dr. Pinsonneault had us practice sympathetic observation as we watched athletes in action, feeling their physical motions ourselves. He explained that any athletic activity involves a balance of tension and relaxation necessary for muscles to move. We all got to try some activities that can help us achieve this balance. They were not stretches, per se, but movements that released excess tension. I tend to hold a lot of tension in my body from the stresses I compile every day, taking on the stress I sense from others as well as my own. These activities helped me feel relaxation and ease in my body. I hope to continue practicing the activities Dr. Pinsonneault provided in order to mirror the music physically while conducting.
-Laura White, IC ACDA President
On Friday of the conference, I attended the last rehearsal of the Collegiate Honor Choir and had an amazing experience. One of our pieces that we were performing was "Jai Ho" arranged by Ethan Sperry, and Ethan Sperry actually came to the rehearsal to listen to the piece. He gave us some feedback and requested that we have more fun with it. It was so incrediblel to have him conduct us singing "Jai Ho"; it was a very memorable experience. I could feel myself truly having fun with the piece and connecting with Ethan Sperry and exactly what he wanted from the piece. I also felt myself properly expressing and respecting the Indian culture.
Ethan Sperry told us that the first time he had a non-Indian choir sing "Jai Ho", the actual composer of the piece, A. R. Rahman, burst into tears. He said it was because Rahman saw that his music could transcend other cultures and be universal, and that is a composer's ultimate goal. A composer does not write a piece just so one group of people can perform it; composers write their pieces so any group of people can perform them. "Jai Ho" is a song that captures the Indian culture, and can teach other people about that culture. This culture can be expressed by others once they understand and accept it. The whole Collegiate Honor Choir experience centered around "Unity," and it was truly beautiful to have that message from the concert correlate with the experience we had with Ethan Sperry in rehearsing "Jai Ho."
-Andrea Stock, Hofstra University '18
"My name is Andrea Stock and I am a 3rd year Music Education Major at Hofstra University. I am the President of our Chapter, and I love choral music because of the impact it has on everyone emotionally and spiritually. I'm looking forward to the Unity Choir experience at the National Conference."
After a long day of traveling, I was overjoyed to be able to experience a powerful and emotional performance by the Bel Canto Advanced Women's Choir on Wednesday night. My heart was touched by their outstanding level of artistry and expressivity. The ensemble truly embraced every moment on stage through their captivating storytelling, and as an audience member, I felt such a special connection with the people around me and those on stage. They poured their hearts into the music with every note they sang. This was truly a remarkable experience for me, and I was so inspired by the message they were conveying. The purity and honesty in each piece promoted the idea that there is always hope in the world despite our darkest tragedies. We can continue to spread love in the world by having faith that we can help overcome the violence in our world through the power of music. The bond the choir shared was so uplifting, and their performance was marked by beauty, grace, and elegance.
-Laura Stedge, IC ACDA Secretary
The afternoon Blue Track concert session on Friday, March 10th featured four diverse ensembles. The first, the Crystal Children's Choir from the San Francisco Bay Area showed off their versatility by presenting works that represented many different styles and time periods, written by composers ranging from Arcadelt to Kodály. I especially enjoyed Cao Guangping's "Spirit (Lake)", which featured Tibetan chant paired with mesmerizing choreography. The group immediately followed this piece with a riveting performance of Xiao Geng's "Presage (Water Beetle)", an upbeat Zhuang folk song that was enhanced by movements performed in perfect unison. This group performed in six different languages on the concert, each with precision and authenticity. It is always a delight to see such dedication, passion, and artistry from young singers!
The second group to perform, the Arvada West High School Vocal Showcase, began with a world premiere of an exciting piece called "Arctica," by Z. Randall Stroope. Their set went on to include contemporary, Renaissance, and Classical pieces. The final piece on their program, "Karimatanu Kuicha" by Ko Matsushita, contains challenging rhythms and harmonies, and the ensemble met those challenges.
The Mt. San Antonio College Chamber Singers opened with two madrigals and then moved immediately to an ethereal piece by Jussi Chydenius. Without pausing after the Chydenius, the singers transitioned into a lovely piece for chorus and violin solo, as their conductor stepped off of the stage and the violinist appeared. The singers conducted themselves with choreographed movements. The group's finale piece, "We Can Mend the Sky" by Jake Runestad, was moving and inspiring, and it encouraged the audience to fight for social justice.
Before the final group performed, a special performance in honor of the late Weston Noble took place. A choir of his students performed a piece that had been special to him, and everyone in attendance was visibly moved.
Finally, Cantamus Women's Choir performed. All of the pieces in their set were linked by the common theme of religion/spirituality, but each piece was in a different language and presented a diverse religious tradition. After beginning with Levente Gyongyosi's lively "Laudate Dominum" and John Meuhleisen's serene "Da Pacem," the group performed the world premiere of "Angel Za Bolne (The Angel for the Sick)" by Ambroz Copi. This piece was followed by a beautiful performance of "Heaven Full of Stars" by Eric Barnum, which was then followed by yet another world premiere: "Yukamari Uta (Song of Spa)" arranged by Ko Matsushita. Cantamus finished off a great concert with a spirited performance of Gibbs's well-known "Elijah Rock!"
I had a great time at this concert. Congrats to all ensembles who performed!
-Juliana Joy Child, IC ACDA President-Elect
Many ACDA members, myself included, are thrilled about the recent formation of the ACDA Diversity Initiatives National Standing Committee. I felt very fortunate to have the opportunity to attend the open forum with the committee leaders this morning. Approximately 100 people attended this session, and for one hour, we sat in circles on the floor and talked with each other. The auditorium became a space to share thoughts, feelings, concerns, questions, and innovative ideas.
To facilitate meaningful conversations, the committee leaders had us split up into five smaller groups, one for each of the five major goals of the committee. I was in group #1, which corresponded with the first goal: "To develop a network of personnel and resources that can be called upon to provide education around issues of race, poverty, urban/rural/suburban, LGBTQ, and gender and related issues within the context of choral music." This small group discussion was led by Eugene Rogers, who recorded everyone's contributions to the conversation. Some people came forward with ideas and suggestions, and others came forward with problems they've experienced. During the session, everyone's voice was heard and valued. Many different perspectives were expressed, and new ideas had been formulated by the end of the session.
When it was time to stop, we all felt that we could have gone on talking for another hour. The conversation must not end here! We were all encouraged to sign up to assist the ACDA Diversity Initiatives Committee by following this link:
Every one of us can help to improve diversity and inclusion within ACDA, and in doing so, we can set an example for other organizations.
-Juliana Joy Child, IC ACDA President-Elect
I was thrilled that I had the opportunity to see Carmina Burana performed by the Minnesota Boychoir, Minnesota Chorale, University of Minnesota Chamber Singers, Minnesota Orchestra, Minneapolis Dance Theater, and three soloists including Soprano Linh Kauffman, Tenor Justin Madel, and Baritone Bradley Greenwald. Each person that was part of this performance brought something special to the stage. The dancers were spectacular and made the story come alive. Each element was brilliantly executed and filled with elegance. The choir and orchestra performed with intensity in expression and musicianship. I loved how the soloists brought their own individuality to the performance through beautiful storytelling and distinct voices. The conductor interpreted this work in a unique way that made this experience captivating. I felt a part of the story and I never wanted it to end! I'm grateful to have been in the audience.
-Laura Stedge, IC ACDA Secretary
Joshua Palkki's informative and thought-provoking session entitled "Creating Safe People: Honoring LGBTQ Singers in the Choral Classroom" was attended by hundreds of people. Mr. Palkki began by explaining currently accepted terminology in the LGBTQ+ community. We then talked with the people around us about various issues we had encountered in our own experiences in the choral classroom. When the full group reconvened and shared thoughts, common issues that arose included vocal health and pedagogy, inclusive vocabulary, concert attire, and literature selection, among other considerations.
The focus then shifted to transgender vocal health issues. Mr. Palkki cited the research of William Sauerland, Danielle Steele, and Lindsey Deaton as valuable resources on the subject, after which he provided a brief overview of their findings. He discussed the strengthening of the head voice that occurs with trans women, as well as the thickening of the vocal folds that occurs with trans men, and we discussed ways to help singers through these vocal transitions. Mr. Palkki stressed that a transgender individual's identity may or may not be closely linked with the voice part they are singing; there needs to be a conversation about this matter between the conductor and the specific student who is transitioning. The ultimate challenge of helping transgender students through vocal transitions is that the internal struggles and emotional transitions occurring simultaneously must also be taken into account. Conductors have the tremendous responsibility of finding creative ways to allow transgender singers to perform the voice part that will make them the most comfortable while still protecting their vocal health.
Mr. Palkki also emphasized the importance of programming repertoire by LGBTQ composers and/or literature that features LGBTQ-related subject matter. He concluded the session with a reminder that LGBTQ identities have always been present in society, even before they were talked about; with a little research, a conductor might discover something worth mentioning about a composer's sexuality/gender identity. LGBTQ musicians must be made more visible in the choral world in order for LGBTQ students to truly feel welcomed as a part of a choral community.
-Juliana Joy Child, IC ACDA President-Elect
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