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
Today, I had the privilege of attending a very informative, interesting, and inspiring session led by Dr. Doreen Fryling entitled "A Choral Nest-Building Blueprint: Raising Singers and Lifelong Musicians." The session delved into why we are drawn to singing and why certain students continue singing throughout their lifetime, while some only see it as a temporary hobby.
I found the extensive research that Dr. Fryling had conducted on this topic impressive. She explained to the group that, as a part of her doctoral dissertation, she conducted surveys about why students were drawn to singing, collected information about their musical background, and assessed their vocal-ability at Hofstra University. She used this information to draw conclusions as to why some students are involved in music for longer than others. Throughout her presentation, Dr. Fryling emphasized the importance of teaching self-efficacy in order to keep students involved with singing for a lifetime. I really enjoyed her discussion of how to encourage students, making them feel that they are making progress with their singing.
Dr. Fryling's session was definitely a highlight of the convention for me. Her sense of humor, warmth, and knowledge was simply inspiring, and I feel very fortunate to have learned from her during the hour I spent in her session.
-Leah Sperber, IC ACDA '20
I attended the session called "How a Conductor Thinks: Real-Time Decision Making in the Rehearsal" led by Dr. Jerry Blackstone. This workshop mainly focused on how to run an effective rehearsal and engage your choir. One of the most interesting parts of this workshop was that the choir Blackstone conducted consisted of audience volunteers; I was lucky enough to be one of them.
For me, this was especially meaningful because I worked with Dr. Blackstone two years ago with the NAFME honor choir. During this session, we worked on the same piece I performed with him before, "Ballad to The Moon" by Daniel Elder. This piece is one of my all-time favorites and it was an honor to sing this piece again with him.
The choir was composed of singers of all ages and levels, so it was interesting to watch how Blackstone would execute his rehearsal. One of the biggest points he emphasized was that when you stop the choir, don't fix just one thing: fix as many issues as possible to make the pause worthwhile. Also, he stressed connection with the choir members. One major reason that Dr. Blackstone was able to get the sound he wanted was that he quickly gained the choir's trust. He was energetic, funny, and serious - essential ingredients behind a great conductor. Another technique he suggested was repetition. Once you have fixed a problem spot, run it a couple times to lock it in.. Working and learning from Blackstone was a true delight. His workshop was impactful and inspiring to me.
-Christian Brand, IC ACDA '19
This session featured the Great Northern Union Chorus, Crossroads Quartet, and Ringmasters Quartet in performances and discussions of barbershop singing as a lifelong activity. Great Northern Union has a long tradition of recruiting and retaining members of all ages, and their current group ranges from 16 to 81 years old. The presenters said that their strongest recruitment tool is singing barbershop tags. Tags are the coda of a piece which can be used to teach someone a part and get them hooked into singing in close harmony. The audience was able to participate and learn a tag, and were deemed “official barbershoppers” by the presenters.
The true sense of a bond across age groups was evident in their performance. Director Douglas Carnes said that he chooses repertoire that is musically appealing and relatable to the life experiences of all the men in the choir. The quartets and the chorus sang together on a final medley of songs that expressed the power of music. It was touching to hear the stories of members and how they connected across generations within the chorus. These men are living “A Life of Song,” and proving that barbershop music can appeal to all ages.
-Sean Gillen, IC ACDA '18
Today, I attended the educational and enlightening panel “Teaching Musicianship Through Repertoire”. The panel was moderated by Jo Michael Scheibe from USC Thornton School of Music, and the other panelists included Jeffery Ames (Belmont University), Hilary Apfelstadt (University of Toronto), Lynne Gackle (Baylor University), James Jordan (Westmister Choir College), and Phillip Swan (Lawrence University Conservatory of Music). All six panelists had recently contributed chapters to the book, Teaching Music through Performance in Choir, Vol. 4. Each panelist gave a brief summary of what his/her chapter consisted of.
Dr. Ames began by discussing his chapter on the recent surge in popularity of concert gospel music. He stressed the importance of providing a historical framework of the origins of concert gospel music. He also explained the significance of including appropriate colloquialisms and never sacrificing tone quality (which, he explained, is the key to performing concert gospel with dignity and honor) in performing Gospel music.
Next, Dr. Apfelstadt spoke about making the rehearsal process effective and efficient by breaking it down into three components: preparation, presentation, and evaluation, and by being both proactive and reactive about each rehearsal. It really resonated with me when she reminded the audience that the goal of the rehearsal process is to “make ourselves as teachers obsolete” by teaching for musical independence.
Dr. Gackle then spoke about developing tone colors with the female voice. She presented us with a wonderful analogy about painting with sound in which the conductor is a painter, the female voices are various shades of paint, the spatial placement of the singers is the canvas, and choral literature is the brush. She also stressed the importance of stepping back to reflect on the “painting” at various points in the process in order to reflect.
Dr. Jordan discussed the choral rehearsal as a means of either “musical first aid”, or short-term repertoire fixes, or as a means of long-term learning. He posed the question: is it more important to be concert ready or to foster musical growth in students? I really enjoyed his insights into teaching theory concepts within a harmonic context and strengthening audiation techniques with the ultimate goal of musical growth.
Dr. Swan articulated to us the importance of collaboration, and talked about the concept of the conductor as a “servant-leader”. He explained that one of the most important attributes of a conductor that can creatively and effectively communicate is diplomacy and the mindset of “it’s about ‘we’, not about ‘me’”.
Dr. Scheibe concluded the panel discussion by sharing his findings about phonation, particularly about consonants and the legato phrase. He delved into some problems that might arise due to improper articulation of consonants and some technical considerations for avoiding these problems.
At the panel’s end, I found myself wishing for more time with the panelists. I left the auditorium feeling invigorated and inspired.
-Nicole Cronin, IC ACDA '20
As a student director of a community choir in Ithaca, NY, I was very excited when I learned that there would be a session on the aging voice at the Minneapolis conference! This informative session was presented by Sangeetha Rayapati and Michael Zemek. They began by having everyone in the room name some things that they enjoy and some issues they've encountered when working with volunteer choirs. We discovered that many of us in the room had had similar experiences; most people expressed that they were constantly inspired by the joys of community choir, but they were simultaneously perplexed by some of the problems that persist in this setting.
Ms. Rayapati explained that some of the challenges of working with "third-agers" (or individuals aged 55-75 whose lives are, in some way, in transition) exist partially because of emotional/personal reasons. There are people in this age group who could once sing effortlessly, but their instruments are not what they used to be, and that is a difficult adjustment. There are also those who are struggling with change and loss in their lives outside of the choral rehearsal room, and their emotions play a part in their ability to participate in music making. Ms. Rayapati encouraged all of us to think of ourselves as "active agents of active aging," and to take a holistic approach to conducting and teaching that seeks to address not only musical considerations, but personal issues as well.
Mr. Zemek cited examples of situations in which a choir member might not feel welcomed as a member of the ensemble. These scenarios involved physical and cognitive limitations that come with age that require accommodations. He expressed the importance of ensuring that every member of your choir feels comfortable advocating for their individual needs so that they don't feel less capable of singing as they get older. Community choirs must empower "third-agers" to continue to enjoy singing, so that music can be a tool that helps them through a time of transition.
Together, we all sang through a few vocalises that had been designed specifically with aging voices in mind. I am excited to try them out with my community choir back in Ithaca! Ms. Rayapati and Michael Zemek also provided us with a great list of resources on the subject of changing voices ( attached to this post).
The main idea of this presentation was that both musical and extramusical problems can be solved by taking every individual's needs into account in the community choir rehearsal. "Third-agers" make their best music in a positive, supportive rehearsal environment. I look forward to providing my fellow community choir singers with more opportunities to express themselves and share their stories when I return home!
-Juliana Joy Child, IC ACDA President-Elect
I was so excited to be able to attend the first half of the International Choir Concert, which featured the Inner Mongolia Children’s Choir. This is an ensemble comprised of 80 singers ranging from ages 12-17, and conducted by Yalungerile, the first Chinese woman to receive a master’s degree in performance. Her passion and dedication to this choir were evident through her powerful conducting and careful attention to detail in each piece. Her students clearly were engaged as well – they were wonderfully expressive and always connected to the music. The singers also interacted with each other while singing, making the performance very enjoyable to watch.
The choir performed three diverse pieces that implemented the use of extended vocal techniques, such as whispering and vocal percussion. Some pieces featured accompaniments by instruments unique to the Mongolian culture, such as the morin khuur, a traditional bowed instrument with two strings. Students from the choir played these instruments, and they had great mastery in playing instruments as well as singing. Among my favorite elements of the pieces were the close dissonances that appeared often; the singers performed them with passion. The choir had an immense sound that echoed through the sanctuary, and had the audience members on their feet the instant the final piece ended.
-Christine DeNobile, IC ACDA Fundraising Chair
Beyond words and music: a conversation with composer eric whitacre and lyricist charles anthony silvestri
If you are involved in the choral world, you've run into the name Eric Whitacre. When I found out he was not only going to conduct on the first day of the ACDA conference but also give an interest session, I couldn't believe it! In this session, Eric Whitacre and lyricist Tony Silvestri spoke about the conversations that occur between composer and lyricist in the music writing process. At the start of the session, Eric Whitacre stated that "Poetry is the entire reason our art form (music) is exalted."
Whitacre and Silvestri discussed in depth their own experiences working together on pieces. They stressed how the process is a give-and-take situation and discussed the bond they have created by working together on pieces such as "Lux Arumque" and "Leonardo Dreams of his Flying Machine." Eric described music as a "communal experience," writing his music for the audience with their own personal connections.
Towards the end of the session, Whitacre and Silvestri brought up a few new pieces that they are working on together. They then opened up the floor to questions. This session was enlightening to me.
- Abigail Hesselton, Hofstra Class of 2019
Abigail Hesselton, Hofstra '19 MUED. "To me, I love the sense of community choral music brings. Difference don't matter when you're singing the same piece. I'm just excited to be at my first ACDA conference!"
The members of IC ACDA aim to not only share our own blog posts from the Minneapolis National Conference, but also share the experience of students in other chapters and make meaningful connections throughout the collegiate chapters of ACDA. Thanks to Abigail Hesselton for our first guest post from Hofstra University!
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