It is NEVER too late to plan for the next great ACDAEast conference! In 2020, we’ll be treated to spectacular music, sessions, and workshops in Rochester, NY. Add it to your calendar… March 4-7, 2020. You won’t want to miss it!!
Nominations for the Helen Kemp Award as well as the Lannom Award are closed for this year. The awards nominations process will open again in mid-2020 with due dates of October 1 (Lannom Award) and November 1 (Helen Kemp award). Please visit https://acdaeast.org/awards/ for information about the awards that honor these two remarkable choral musicians and for details on the nomination process.
Please note: ACDA Eastern Region has decided to reopen the applications for the Elementary Honor Choir and for TENORS and BASSES for the Junior High Honor Choir. Application materials will be available August 1 and remain open until September 18, 2019.
I recently came across this wonderful post on the Chorus America website. Practical and straightforward, it offers some excellent suggestions for creating a safe and welcoming environment for our transgender and gender questioning/non-binary singers.
It is not hard to incorporate many of these steps! Take a moment to examine how binary the choral world is, from the way we dress to the way we address our choirs. By being more gender-inclusive in all we do, we can help our singers feel more welcome in our ensembles. Please take a moment to read!
I recently spotted a post on the ACDA Diversity Initiatives Facebook page that will be of interest to all who are concerned about cultural appropriation. While written from the point of view of a composer, the author poses some excellent questions, and the observations of the commenting responder are spot on. This post is long, but worth the read. If questions of diversity concern you, I encourage you to join the ACDA Diversity Initiatives Facebook Page. Interesting conversation and an opportunity to connect with those also concerned with questions relative to diversity.
I’ve been thinking a lot about appropriation, and recently wrote down some of my thoughts in my newsletter. I don’t have the answers, but the conversation is worth having.
Appropriation is a lively and important conversation these days, and the concept has me questioning every single thing I do artistically. I don’t have the answers, but hopefully I can start an intelligent conversation. One of the biggest concerns in the arts as we’re trying to support and encourage minority artists is cultural appropriation, and I’ve also interpreted that to cross over into gender appropriation as well. Just so we can start from common ground, Oxford defines the term appropriation as “the act of taking something for one’s use, typically without the owner’s permission.” Right away we can see how this might get composers into trouble. We are constantly borrowing words, ideas, stories, melodies, songs, and styles from others.
As a straight white male composer I’m trying to figure out my role. How do I bring a diverse type of poetry and music to singers and audiences without overstepping my bounds? I think about my catalog: I’ve written in Estonian, French, Somali, Spanish and Latin, but none of those languages are “mine.” I’ve arranged spirituals, Motown, Rock, Hip-Hop, I’ve arranged tunes from the Irish, Scottish, Appalachians and Norwegians, I’ve written for treble choirs, GALA choruses, and religions that aren’t mine. None of those belong to me. So am I allowed?
When I wrote “How to Triumph Like a Girl,” I was well aware that I was not a woman. One of the singers who premiered the SSA version said as much, and asked why I thought this was a piece I should write. I told her that I felt strongly about this poem and that it needed to be set to music. I realized that in the process of bringing a woman’s poem to life for a female singer (the first version was an art song), I was the gender outlier in that chain as a male composer. But I wanted this story to be heard on stage and I knew how I’d want it to be told. I knew the kind of reaction I wanted the singer(s) and the audience to feel. I knew that if I succeeded, it wouldn’t matter what my gender was. I didn’t want to set this poem for my own use, but for the musical experience of others. I wanted to do my part in lifting up women, to help them see themselves as strong. The gift here is Ada Limón’s poem. I’m just the middle man (get it??).
Whose permission do I need to appropriate those languages, melodies, faiths, and choral identities? If I’m asked by a treble choir to write for a treble choir, that’s permission. If I’m asked to write a piece in Somali and collaborate with a Somali poet for the text, that’s permission. If a GALA chorus asks me to write a piece that fits a GLBT program theme, that’s permission. If a black poet allows me to set their words, that’s permission. Ada Limón gave me permission to use her words, and I was asked by a female singer to set it. But what if I want to do any of these projects on my own? What if I’m setting words in the public domain? Where does permission come from?
We should be sensitive about doing the right thing. We don’t want to be careless about using someone else’s story, someone else’s struggles, someone else’s identity for our own gain or without permission. But we also want to shine a light on poets, cultures, and voices that we value and want to share. What matters is our intention and that we have the correct permissions to move ahead.
I want to preface this by saying that (1) I LOVE “How to Triumph Like a Girl” and (2) that I’ve never had any issues with your compositions or arrangements when it comes to cultural appropriation or similar issues. I think you do things right and are doing the best you can to respect others.
That said, I appreciate you thinking deeply about all this, but I strongly disagree with your final sentence. Intention barely matters, and permission (although is good to have) is not the real issue. In fact, a lot of misconceptions related to racism, cultural misappropriation, gender discrimination, etc. are based on the attention being on the person’s “intention”, versus the actual real-world consequences of these things. In other words, when someone does or says something that is racist, the problem isn’t that the person did something yucky or that they meant well or not, but the real-world economic and societal consequences of racism or gender discrimination that are supported or perpetuated by these sorts of things (higher incarceration rates, lower educational and economic opportunities, discrimination in hiring… etc.)
It’s important to note that this sort of misunderstanding not only affects the white male artists that don’t know how to navigate these waters, but also self-appointed gatekeepers on the other end that are trying (with good intentions) to defend their culture or identity.
Cultural exchange is immensely important, and is the basis of a lot of good art. However, the line between that and a power dynamic that is unbalanced, taking advantage so to speak, is very thin.
So, things to consider to make sure you are taking into account real-world consequences of cultural/gender misappropriation:
(1) Is your work perpetuating a misconception about the group you are connecting with? Have you done real, serious research in collaboration with this group to make sure that is not the case? Positive and negative stereotypes and how a particular group is perceived by society have real-world consequences.
(2) Is your work disrespecting or misrepresenting some element that the group you are connecting with considers sacred or central to their identity?
(3) Is the fact that your work exists restricting or actually enhancing access to the marketplace for artists from the group you’re connecting with? … this is the important one that a lot of artists with “good intentions” completely miss. In the case of your work, by doing what you’re doing, are you competing with a female composer that wanted to set the same text for the same sorts of ensembles or are you actually creating opportunities for the performers and poet? How is your work affecting that group’s access to these sorts of opportunities?
You’ll notice that nowhere did I talk about whether your intentions are good, or whether you have permission… after all, who is actually authorized to give you permission? At least on my end of the cultural spectrum, I don’t know of the one and true Mexican-Arab that will speak for all of us Mexican-Arabs out there to grant permission on my behalf for people that want to work with elements from my cultures. In this whole equation, whether you have good or bad intentions is actually the least important aspect of this whole deal. Hell, there are plenty of commercial works out there where the intention is “I want to make money and this stuff sells”, but it’s done in a way where (1) the group is well represented, (2) the elements that are central to the group’s identity are respected, and (3) do not restrict access for people of that group.
Happy New Year to everyone!
January typically is a time for many of us to catch our breath. With the rush of the holiday season behind us, there is a sense of renewal with the new year, and an opportunity to examine our pedagogy before the schedule is again heavy with performances as the spring arrives.
Musicians/Conductors/Teachers (and we are all three in one!) constantly strive to improve on their performance and pedagogy. Self-reflection and critically examining what we do is part of our DNA. This occurs moment to moment in a rehearsal, as we formatively assess what we are hearing. It occurs on a deeper level as we reflect on the success of the last rehearsal we had as we plan for the next one. In this blog, I hope to pose questions that will instigate thinking and self-reflection pertaining to broad issues we face in working with our singers.
For instance, consider the question of gender inclusivity. As students are expressing varying gender identities earlier, and people of all ages are becoming more confident in outwardly expressing gender not conforming to binary choices, words matter. Using “Guys,” “Ladies,” “Men,” “Boys and Girls” is not as inclusive as “Choir,” “Sopranos (Altos, Tenors, Basses),” “6thGrade,” “Friends,” “Everyone,” or any other non-gendered term. It can take a little practice to accomplish this switch, but for that singer in your ensemble who is non-binary or questioning, it can mean a lot knowing that you are making the effort to change.
Take a moment to examine repertoire for “hidden curricula.” This applies to repertoire for all ages. Consider the text of “Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater” and what it implies, for example. If you were to switch the gender of an individual described in a lyric, would the lyric still be appropriate and acceptable?
Don’t know where to begin? Start simple! This article published by Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD.org), Creating a Gender-Inclusive Classroom, provides some excellent starting points. Want to learn more? Genderspectrum.org has an extensive list of resources available on the web.
More than almost anything else, literacy is the key to freedom, possibility, and advancement. Those who are literate in a collective language are able to work better together, learn from and inspire each other, achieve higher, and discover a world of previously unknown possibilities.
Likewise, since music is a mode of understanding like a language, the means by which we understand, create, interpret, and perform at a higher level is by laying a common foundation of musical literacy
The first time I had a true aesthetic experience, I was 17.
Within the first 30 seconds of the choir opening their mouths, my life was changed.
It was bright, vibrant, fully committed, and filled with life. The singers’ faces and bodies completely engaged, their eyes in unison on the conductor.
I wept, and I experienced that magic that we all have experienced a few times in our life when we
make music with others who are living with full hearts in the same place and time. The feeling that is so deep and overwhelming that you feel sick with wonder. One month later, I packed the car and moved to the middle of nowhere to go live in that sound for the next four years as an undergraduate.
I knew that my life’s work was not only to figure out how to recreate that sound, and that fire for my students, but to know how to teach others to create and perpetuate that experience for THEIR students.
A peak experience like I had, and that so many musicians have had, is addicting. It’s like a drug that we crave and constantly search for to get our next “fix.” When I graduated and began to look for jobs that would support my sound addiction, I naïvely knew that I would only take a high school job, in a really nice area, with lots of students, who all wanted to be there and felt like I did about choral music. That was easy to find, right?
The reality of what happened is that I took a job as an associate director split between HS and MS in a school district that was 60% affluent students, and 40% students that were in a very low socio-economic bracket who were bussed in from rough areas to help them succeed.
The disconnect between my drive for helping create people who were passionate about choral sound, and the reality of my choirs being filled with 90+ students, many of whom were there simply for a credit, mixed with a few great singers, caused a huge crisis for me. I cried every day for six months because I poured my heart out each minute trying to explain what they should/could feel instead of giving them an experience that made them discover for themselves. But, instead of running away, I decided that I wouldn’t stop until I figured out a system and a way to help my large, “y’all-come” choirs make unified sounds, remarkable music, and give them an experience that makes them want to be there every single day.
My mission became my passion, and my favorite choirs to work with today are non-auditioned, large choirs.
Through my process of finding ways to unify these groups both musically and emotionally, I’ve found that there are a few key ideas and techniques (among many others) that I prioritize in rehearsals:
- Economic voice matching and changing seating often
- A system of exercises that standardizes healthy vowel space/placement and tricks to modify consonants/vowels to improve intonation
- Utilizing the forte dynamic and gradually working our way to a healthy, piano with a core tone and focus
- Picking repertoire that is diverse tonally, challenging and attainable for all levels of musicianship and singers.
- Building peak experiences through principles of appreciative inquiry
I believe that these priorities are the means to reach connection among singers.
I believe that connection leads to vulnerability and making mistakes.
I believe that mistakes lead to discovery.
I believe that discovery leads my students to find their own contribution to make to themselves, the ensemble, and the world around them.
I believe that it is unconditional contribution that creates that brilliant, unified sound that changed me when I was 17.
In the end, I believe that change is the legacy we leave behind.
Dr. Cory Ganschow is Coordinator of Music Education and Associate Director of Choirs at Western Connecticut State University. She is extremely active as an adjudicator and clinician for honor choirs across the country including All-State, All-Region, and All-District Choirs. Prior to teaching at WCSU, Ganschow taught choir in the Texas and Illinois public schools, and served as a facilitator of music in the adolescent behavioral health community. She has sung professionally in the Simon Carrington Chamber Singers, Voce, and Spire, and is also a published researcher and presenter in the areas of choral rehearsal approaches and engagement. She currently serves on the NAfME National Council for Choral Education Executive Committee and the CT-ACDA Executive Board as the R&S Chair for Women’s Choirs. Ganschow holds a Ph.D. in Music Education and Curriculum & Instruction from the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance, a MME from Illinois State University and a BME from Millikin University where she studied conducting with Dr. Brad Holmes.
After presenting an interest session with the Mansfield University Concert Choir demonstrating vocal techniques at the 2006 ACDA Eastern Division Conference in New York City, Frank Albinder commented: “I didn’t know that you were such a process person.” The comment inspired my thinking. Since then as I have read articles on teaching philosophy and observed conductors in rehearsal, I have considered whether the process of how students learn is as important as the final product or, in other words, the performance. If the performance is great, does it matter how we get there? My answer is “yes, it does;” in fact, the process can enhance the product!
I am really looking forward to presenting interest sessions on Saturday morning in Boston, “The Choral Rehearsal: Process to Product,” with the Mansfield University Concert Choir as a demonstration group. Throughout my twenty-six years at Mansfield, I have been passionate about vocal pedagogy and sequential learning as applied to choral rehearsals.
Successful performances are grounded in a creative, yet systematic, rehearsal process that builds confidence through vocal development, musical knowledge, and security in musical performance. My process involves layers of learning centered upon the elements of music: rhythm, pitch, harmony, texture, and tone color, combined with articulation, dynamics, and cultural understanding.
The interest session will focus on specific concepts related to each musical selection and will demonstrate rehearsal techniques that define an efficient and effective rehearsal process resulting in a musical product that is grounded in healthy vocal technique and musical understanding. Techniques such as count-singing using the Tometics method, pitch-reading based upon solfège, text-chanting à la Robert Shaw, and changing choral colors using head- or chest-voice will be incorporated. In addition, exercises for achieving choral blend through vowel formation, dynamic balance, and voice matching will be demonstrated. Here are examples of pedagogical approaches to tone color:
Bright-forward timbre: Laudar Vollio from Cortona laudario (13th c.)
A. Bright tone color
1. Begin with puppy whine
2. Vocalize on tongue vowels only: “nee-ay-ah-ay-ee”
3. Five tones descending on “nyae, nyae, nyae,” or “yellow”
4. Fast vocalises with initial consonants: V, Z, Y
5. Vibration towards the hard palate; soft palate not as involved
B. Application to music
1. Chant text on Shaw chord
2. Learn pitches with solfège in E dorian
Dark vocal color: I’ve been in the storm so long (Jeffery Ames)
A. Vocalize with dark color (compare dark and bright)
1 Sense an open throat – sip air through straw to feel lift in palate
2. Use lip vowels: ah, oh, oo
3. Sing five tone descending scale on “ee-oh” with Oreo cookie concept
4. Sing ascending/descending scales on “noo noh nah nay nee” with puckered lips
5. Put hands on cheeks for tall vowels and rounded lips
6. Pretend you have marshmallows in throat
7. Imagine Timothy Seelig’s concept of the woofer and the tweeter:
woofer– resonance in the pharynx with lifted soft palate
The Concert Choir and I will demonstrate the rehearsal techniques with repertoire selections by Monteverdi, Parry, Britten, Messiaen, Esenvalds, Memley, Ames, Runestad, and Hatfield, and a handout with teaching techniques will be provided. Hope to see you there!
Peggy Dettwiler is Professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities at Mansfield University, where she conducts the Concert Choir, Festival Chorus, and Chamber Singers, and teaches choral conducting and methods. She holds the Doctor of Musical Arts Degree from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. Dettwiler has served as a guest conductor and lecturer throughout the country and has given presentations at numerous NAfME and ACDA Conventions. She has produced two DVDs, one entitled, “Developing a Vocal Color Palette for Various Choral Styles” and the second, “Sing in Style.” Dettwiler made her conducting debut in Carnegie Hall in January of 2014 and presented an interest session at the World Choral Symposium in Seoul, Korea, in August of 2014.
The benefits of having students in your ensembles participate in voice lessons can be invaluable. The reality is that access to these lessons is not always available or affordable. This participatory session will introduce vocal techniques, literature ideas and rehearsal tips that will strengthen your singers’ musicality and promote healthy vocalism throughout your rehearsals. This session is for the “do it all” teacher/conductor searching for more strategies to develop their choral singers’ personal vocal development.
Introducing vocal techniques that encourage the unification of registers and develop effective breath management are essential strategies for strengthening your singers’ musical capabilities. Unifying vocal registers refers to the singer’s ability to smoothly transition between the breaks that naturally occur in the voice. Singing a descending scale on a [i] vowel, particularly through the passaggio, is an effective tool for teaching your singers how to unify the tone through vocal registers. Effective breath management is essential for fostering the musical growth of your singers. Messa di voce exercises can be a key tool in developing effective breath management for your vocalists. Messa di voce is characterized as singing a on a single sustained note maintaining consistent resonance and vibrato while evenly increasing and then decreasing volume throughout the note (Ex.1). One can also make this exercise more interesting for the singer by utilizing a four part singing texture (Ex. 2)
The benefits of breath management include building stamina through increasing the duration of the sustained note, encouraging breath management and NOT breath control, and strengthening tone. It affords the opportunity to incorporate kinesthetic learning and reinforces musicianship through the exploration of dynamic contrast. The consistent implementation of vocal techniques that promote the unification of registers and development of effective breath management should be at the core of all vocal music programs.
At the center of any good choral program is well-planned and thoughtful literature consideration. There are many outlets from which to choose choral octavos to use a teaching aides in our choral ensembles. We oft neglect art songs as instructional tools in our choral programs and have relegated them to solo singing experiences. In fact, arts songs provide another outlet for capitalizing on the value of unison singing. Employing these songs in your choral program not only strengthen your singers intonation but can also be used in group vocal lessons, commonly found in schools throughout New York state, and offer options for assessments.
Collaboration and encouragement are also essential elements in helping your students translate vocal studio concepts into the choral rehearsal. Inviting professional singers into your classroom setting, especially if they are former students, can help your students see connections from your classroom to their career goals. Once might even consider programing a small work with soloists in which you can use your students as the soloists, i.e. Mozart Veni Sancte Spiritus. This type of experience can serve as encouragement for those students who choose to pursue singing as a career. We know that singing is a VERY personal experience. Choral directors should stay engaged vocally so that we never forget what it feels like to be on the other side of the podium. If we remember the skill and effort it takes to keep our own voices in shape, it will inform our efforts to do the same for our students.
Most teachers must subscribe to the school of “Do It All, ” meaning we are the choral director and voice teacher for our students. We may not be fortunate enough to live in areas where the resources are available to provide students with supplemental musical instruction and if we do, our students may not be able to afford those services. We have to continue to grow our knowledge base so that we can effectively and efficiently provide the necessary instruction our students need in order to support their musical growth. The practical techniques outlined in my session in Boston will be focused on equipping you with the tools to employ these techniques in your choral classroom.
Dr. Derrick Fox
Assistant Professor of Choral Music Ed./Choral Conducting
Ithaca College, New York