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
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
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