Category: Research

Singing Together | Working Together

The news this week was horrifying. Yet another terrorist attack in what we have considered one of our safest cities. Pakistan, Brussels, Paris, Boston, Charleston…the list tragically continues with stories of random terrorism and violence. How can we make this stop? While we might not be able to control or influence what happens across the globe or in a city distant from our home, we can influence those with whom we have the most contact – our singers.

And the most amazing thing about what we do is that it does, in fact, make a difference! Research shows that “singing together appears to inspire spontaneous cooperative and helpful behavior among 4-year-olds” (

Research also has shown that choral singing promotes social bonding and cooperative behavior in a way that goes back to our primitive days as hunter-gatherers (

Karen Howard recently completed a study examining the impact of a multicultural music curriculum on 5th grade students. Using music of the African diaspora, she found that this experience increased the children’s multicultural sensitivity. At the end of the period of instruction, one child’s response to the prompt, “I used to think that people with dark skin…” was “…were normally homeless and I was scared of them. Now I know that black people are no different from white people” (Howard, 2014, p. 249). Yes. We can make a difference.

Within NAfME are a number of sub-organizations that address specific constituencies. Among them is SMTE, the Society for Music Teacher Educators. SMTE has identified several areas of focus, among them are issues of teaching social justice in the context of the music classroom. Their resource page,, has a plethora of links, articles, and ideas to promote social justice in our work as choral music educators. I urge you to check out this very interactive list.

Can we make a difference? I think so. In fact, I believe we have a responsibility to do so. In our choral classrooms, we have an opportunity to teach what cannot be easily taught in other areas of the curriculum – cooperation, community, and understanding. Time to roll up our sleeves, folks, and get to work.

Howard, K. (2014). Developing Children’s Multicultural Sensitivity Using Music of the African Diaspora: An Elementary School Music Culture Project. Dissertation.

Dr. Joy Hirokawa is Assistant Professor of Music Education at Moravian College (Bethlehem, PA) and the Founder and Artistic Director of The Bel Canto Children’s Chorus. She earned a Doctorate of Musical Arts in Music Education from Boston University, a Masters degree in Choral Conducting from Temple University, and a Bachelors degree with honors in Music Education, also from Temple University in Philadelphia, PA. She teaches a course annually at Villanova University’s Summer Music Program in working with the child voice. Dr. Hirokawa is a frequent guest conductor and clinician, presenting regularly at ACDA, NAfME and PMEA conferences.

The Sacred Harp

Several days ago, I was thrilled to read the New York Times article by Phillip Lutz, “A Different Note on Race at Yale.” It recognizes the efforts of Dr. Ian Quinn to implement a tradition of Sacred Harp hymn-singing at Yale University. Referring to his first experience in 2008, Dr. Quinn said, “It just turned my whole world upside down. How moving it was for me to see this musical space where anybody could just walk in off the street and have this experience of singing in four parts without having to audition, without having to feel like they were performing.”

Coincidentally, it was also in 2008 that I was invited to attend my first Sacred Harp event. As I was preparing to leave graduate school for greener pastures, a senior member of my community chorus gifted me his dated copy of The Sacred Harp (1971), with information about local and regional “singings.” I was familiar with a long list of shape-note arrangements, but I was embarrassed to say that I had never been to a traditional singing before. In response, I programmed an entire concert of shape-note tunes, and to address my ignorance, invited Jesse P. Karlsberg and Lauren Bock to lead several singing schools in Potsdam, New York in 2009. (Jesse is currently the vice president of the Sacred Harp Publishing Company. His 2015 dissertation, “Folklore’s Filter: Race, Place and Sacred Harp Singing,” is referenced in the NY Times article mentioned earlier.) Like Dr. Quinn, the experience “revolutionized my relationship to music,” and since 2009 I have taken dozens of students to regional Sacred Harp events.

From the website of The Sacred Harp Musical Heritage Association (

“Sacred Harp is a uniquely American tradition that brings communities together to sing four-part hymns and anthems. It is a proudly inclusive and democratic part of our shared cultural heritage. Participants are not concerned with re-creating or re-enacting historical events. Our tradition is a living, breathing, ongoing practice passed directly to us by generations of singers, many gone on before and many still living. All events welcome beginners and newcomers, with no musical experience or religious affiliation required—in fact, the tradition was born from colonial ‘singing schools’ whose purpose was to teach beginners to sing and our methods continue to reflect this goal.”

My own Sacred Harp addiction led to the idea of sponsoring an interest session that would provide a participatory experience for other choral conductors who, like myself, have conducted many shape-note tunes without having experienced a traditional Sacred Harp singing. This session is being co-presented by Dr. Thomas Malone, with special thanks to members of the local Sacred Harp community who will be in attendance. To make the experience as real as possible, a very brief introduction will be followed by a solid forty-five minutes of singing.

What better place than Boston to start a new musical addiction? Early eighteenth-century Bostonians produced America’s first two music textbooks in 1721. Singing schools began in Boston, and spread across the Northeast, spurring the compositional creativity of William Billings and other tunesmiths from the First New England School. Composers and singing-school teachers began using fa-sol-la solmization and shape-notes to teach music across the expanding frontier. Today, Boston is home to one of the most vibrant and active Sacred Harp communities in the Northeast.

It is my hope that this experience will help instill in others a deep appreciation for traditional shape-note singing, a desire to become more active in local Sacred Harp communities, or the motivation to establish communities where none currently exist. For more information about The Sacred Harp, please visit

Dr. Jeffrey Francom is associate professor and coordinator of the choral area at SUNY Potsdam’s Crane School of Music, where he conducts the Concert Choir and Crane Chorus, and teaches courses in music education and conducting. Previously, he taught at Suffolk County Community College on Long Island, where he also directed the Stony Brook Camerata Singers and Babylon Chorale. Prior to New York, Dr. Francom directed choirs at Mandarin High School in Jacksonville, Florida. He holds degrees from Stony Brook University (DMA), the University of Florida (MM), and Utah State University. Dr. Francom serves as a board member of NY-ACDA.

Musica: A Great Benefit for ACDA Members

If you are searching for choral repertoire, and the fact is, we are indeed searching for choral repertoire all the time, your membership in the American Choral Directors Association offers you the entire Musica choral database to track down repertoire throughout the world.

Why would you use Musica rather than a Google search? Great question! Here are some answers I think you will find compelling:musica-international1

  1. The Musica database references the score for the choral piece you want to find and does not drown in all other areas that you will encounter in a typical Google search;
  2. Music is a structured database, which means there exists a specific field for each type of information describing a score—composer, title, voicing, number of voices, key center, genre, style, form, instrumentation, liturgical use, and much more (for example, try searching in Google for Swiss choral scores for mixed voices in French, for a harvest festival, lasting about five minutes….Good luck with that! But in Musica, your search can be pinpointed with these criteria.)
  3. With Musica, fields of a search are grouped, making the search much more friendly and faster;
  4. In Musica, several search forms are available for the user who can choose the one that is best suited to the research desired, or to the one that is most comfortable to the user;
  5. Musica automatically translates the important data into four languages, allowing access to all data, even those introduced in Musica in a language other than that used by the visitor;
  6. A Musica record includes all the information about the score into a single entity; you will find the bibliographic description, but also the multimedia links (video, audio clip, translations, pronunciation of the text, image of the page, and more);
  7. The information is monitored constantly and checked and improved (in other words, it is trusted) by the Musica coordination team, which is a team of choral conductors and music librarians (in other words, this is a trusted site, avoiding the negative aspects of Wikipedia and Google searches);
  8. The videos selected for the choral works sought are only the good performances, unlike Google and YouTube that mix the best with the worst;
  9. In the composer’s file, nearly 11,000 composers have one or more links to detailed biographies, again checked and monitored by the Musica team;
  10. Musica offers “favorite pieces of the month” for additional exploration and interest;
  11. Musica offers an “auditorium” where you can browse through the vast compilation of all audio and video links;
  12. Musica allows you to interact with the data by using a Musica Wiki or Facebook page;
  13. Musica offers a list of important anniversaries for composers.
  14. Musica can be used to manage your choral holdings without need of doing your own database, by benefitting from private fields to input for instance your location.

Musica has developed into THE choral music research and teaching tool for the benefit of conductors, musicologists, music conservatories and schools, music federations, and choral music industry members, worldwide. For the experienced choral musician, it is the source for discovering literature from around the world. For the student of choral music, Musica is a keen way to discover and learn about the world of choral repertoire.

Music comprises four databases that can be consulted separately: choral scores-170,000 records; choral composers-30,000 records; authors of texts-13,000 records; choral publishers-2,200 records. These databases are interlinked so that it is possible to navigate directly between them.

The database of scores comprises a series of records yielding as many as 100 different types of information about the score, including composer, arranger, publisher, title, genre, form, difficulty, type of choir, language, musical period, instrumentation, etc. About 20 fields are translated automatically through several multilingual thesaurus developed by the Musica International team. As a result, information is automatically and immediately available in the different languages.

Musica currently contains more than 200,000 multimedia links. The multimedia fields are designed to provide a fuller understanding of the piece: image of one page of the score, the text, its translation in several languages, a sound clip of a good interpretation and/or a video, a sound file of the correct pronunciation by a
native speaker of the language, a midi file, and links to pages external of the project. By the end of 2015, the Musica database contained more than 170,000 records, making it the leading virtual library of choral music in which all possible information about a score is available.

Since 2011, Musica has concentrated on the development of features allowing full interactivity with the actors of choral music. The choral world is able to contribute actively to its development through the linked online Musica Wiki, allowing every composer, publisher, conductor, musicologist, or choral music lover to leave comments, additional information and reports of experiences with the music, and to directly input their favorite pieces.

Musica is now a benefit of membership in ACDA. At the Eastern Division ACDA Conference in Boston in February, 2016, I will be joined by the Musica Board to present an Interest Session on the use of the Musica database with all of the features mentioned in this blog. I hope many of you will come and learn from the Musica team as they unfold the richness of this choral repertoire search engine and learning resource.

Tim Sharp is Executive Director of the American Choral Directors Association, the world’s largest association of choral conductors, students, scholars, composers, and choral industry representatives. Tim has pursued an aggressive agenda of strategic planning and progressive initiatives to keep the American Choral Directors Association energized and relevant in the 21st century. He represents choral activity in the United States to the International Federation for Choral Music, and appears regularly as guest conductor and clinician throughout the world. Tim is in his eighth season as Artistic Director of the Tulsa Oratorio Chorus, where critics characterized his performances as having “stunning power” and “great passion and precision”. In a recent review of the Tulsa Oratorio Chorus’ performance of Mozart’s Requiem, arts critic James Watts stated, “The Tulsa Oratorio Chorus, prepared by its artistic director Tim Sharp, was in excellent form, summoning up rafter-shaking power…and showing great sensitivity ….”

Conference Discoveries!

Amelia Nagoski,
Research Initiatives

I don’t have much opportunity to alter my routine: teaching, conducting, score prep, meetings. Wash, rinse, repeat. It’s easy to forget that there’s a whole world outside my rehearsal room that’s influencing my students, singers, audience, and administration. Thankfully, there are passionate, brilliant people looking deeply into the world we inhabit and finding ways we can stay more connected to the past, the present, and the future, and how we can use those connections to make our work more beautiful and more meaningful.

One of the things I love about ACDA conferences is the chance to interrupt the self-perpetuating cycle of doing more of what I already know, and the chance to be influenced by those brilliant, passionate people. With inspiring energy and commitment, they show me things I’ve never considered — or at least never thought I could manage myself. They spark curiosity, and allow me to reboot my work, to break out of the merely habitual routine into fresh thoughtfulness. “Research” may sound dusty, but in fact it’s the thing that allows us to shake off the build-up of old assumptions!

I’m especially excited about our two Research Roundtable sessions, which will feature ACDA Boston logo-Smallconnections between established standard operating procedures and much broader issues: “The Science of Singing,” and “Saving the World Through Singing.” Both will have conversations among leaders in their subject, comparing notes and giving the rest of us practical advice on how we can make our rehearsals, our singers, and our communities better. These inspiring speakers remind us that we work in a world where technology advances side by side with social injustice. Both of these things — and so much more! — are influencing our singers and our audiences whether we acknowledge them or not. The impact of that influence could come sneaking up on us unless we’re paying attention. On the other hand, if we can see if coming, we can harness it to create more beauty, to connect more meaningfully.

The discovery of new ideas, or the discovery of new connections between old ideas, pushes open boundaries between scientists and artists, singers and conductors, audiences and ensembles, communities and music-makers. But it only works if we take opportunities like these to challenge our habits, and embrace new possibilities.

The good news is you don’t have to do it alone. There are thousands of us; we are mighty and we are legion. Let’s listen to each other. Let’s ask questions. Let’s look further and deeper for the answers. Let’s meet in Boston, and see how far we can go together.

On-line Resources in African American Sacred Music

Dr. Anthony Leach
Division R&S Chair, Music in Worship

The internet has positively transformed aspects of the planning that teachers, musicians, worship leaders and others use to frame and/or guide their process that often results in successful programming. Within the African American community there are two organizations that have become my “go to” points of reference as I coordinate repertoire and identify worship resources in African American sacred music:

African American Lectionary

A collaborative project of the African American Pulpit and American Baptist College of Nashville has archival planning materials for a wide array of worship services that are celebrated in African American congregations across the USA. Contributions from pastors, musicians, scholars and others occurred from 2008 – 2013. Selected categories include the following: Emancipation Proclamation Day, Holy Communion and Epiphany, A Service of Healing, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday, Baptism, African Heritage Sunday, Ash Wednesday, Lent, MAAFA Service, Contemporary Heroes and Heroines Day, Anti-Incarceration Day, Jesus and Women, Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter, Jesus and Economic Justice Sunday, Earth Day, Jesus and Hip Hop Culture, Ecumenical Day of Worship, First Sunday of Advent & World AIDS Day, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Watch Night

For each topic, scriptures, themes, hymns, choral/instrumental repertoire, liturgical dance, video and other resource materials are provided. Additional worship and cultural resources are also listed as separate links. I enthusiastically suggest that if you are seeking materials that may help you in planning worship encounters that have an African American focus, visit the website and be inspired!

NtTimeMusic is a music distributor based in Charlotte, NC. Their print, video, music transcription and audio holdings are vast in African American sacred music. In recent years they have provided downloading services for selected repertoire. Traditional and contemporary gospel, Praise and Worship, Liturgical Dance, Musicals, Children’s Choir Resources, Spirituals, Anthems and Hymn Arrangements by African American Composers are some of the broad categories that are available to the consumer. Currently there is a link on their website for compositions by the late André Crouch, composer of ‘Soon and Very Soon,’ ‘My Tribute/To God Be The Glory’ and ‘Let the Church Say Amen.’ is my “go to” resource for compositions that I perform with all of the choirs for which I provide artistic leadership as well as festival choirs around the world. If you are seeking something that they do not have on site they will probably be able to connect you with the composer/arranger for further guidance.

The Value of Research

Dr. Amelia Nagoski
Research Initiatives Chair

I want to talk about the value of research. I’ll be writing a few entries about it in preparation for the next ACDA Eastern Conference, where I hope to help promote research and scholarship among choral musicians.

The word academic can have negative connotations: it refers to things not immediately applicable to practical implementation; things that are theoretical or semantic, that only only describe behavior–or, if they have influence, it is indirect. In my experience, this connotation is only true to the extent that you believe it is true. With judicious application of imagination (more important than knowledge, according to the Albert Einstein poster in my office), research becomes one of most powerful tools for improving real-world results.

At its essence, research consists of finding out what other people have already thought of and tried, imagining something new, and/or combining disparate things into something new. Then you try it, and report on what works… Read the rest