Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Aurora University Choral Festival Blogpost #3 Alley Cat Love Song

At the October 21st festival concert at Aurora University in Aurora, IL a number of fine ensembles will be singing selections from my choral output over the last fifteen years. I am currently blogging about each piece that is on the program, giving readers some insight into how and why I produced these pieces. Today's post is about Alley Cat Love Song, a bluesy, jazzy setting for SSA/piano of former US poet laureate Dana Gioia's clever poem.

Dana Gioia

Alley Cat Love Song--See score and listen

Published by Santa Barbara Music Press Cat. # 737


Come into the garden, Fred,

For the neighborhood tabby is gone.
Come into the garden, Fred.
I have nothing but my flea collar on,
And the scent of catnip has gone to my head .
I'll wait by the screen door till dawn.

The fireflies court in the sweetgum tree.
The nightjar calls from the pine,
And she seems to say in her rhapsody,
"Oh, mustard-brown Fred, be mine!"

The full moon lights my whiskers afire,
And the fur goes erect on my spine.

I hear the frogs in the muddy lake
Croaking from shore to shore.
They've one swift season to soothe their ache.
In autumn they sing no more.

So ignore me now, and you'll hear my meow
As I scratch all night at the door.

Windsong Chorus channelling their inner kittyness:

This piece was commissioned by Jim Yarbrough, the director at that time (now retired, and will be in attendance October 21st) of the fine Naperville North High School choral program, and one my earliest supporters. Since Jim has a jazz background (and he also was bass section leader under the legendary Margaret Hillis at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chorus!) I decided to write him something jazzy and bluesy. I found this wonderfully sly text by Dana Gioia and set about having some fun with it.
Musically the piece goes back and forth between a lyrical, “night music” quasi- Debussy stereotypical impressionist feel (hopefully pianists will smile a bit when they notice an actual Debussy piano prelude quote in the piano intro) and the jazz/blues sections. The ending plays around with different ways of saying the boy cat’s name, “Fred”, including purring/rolling the r sound. I even had an excuse to include one of my favorite Ravel chords in this piece (a pretty pungent V chord with a flat 9 and a sharp 11). It’s a chord Ravel uses in pieces like the Piano Concerto and his other jazz influenced music.

Here's Debussy Voiles, which I "borrowed" (sampled? stole? parodied?) at the beginning. When pianists first sit down at the piano with the score to Alley Cat Love Song this is a fun surprise for them. They can't help but grin at the unexpected quote from a piece they all know!

Performing Alley Cat Love Song on October 21st will be the women's ensemble from Aurora University directed by Dr. Lisa Fredenburgh:

Under the leadership of Lisa Fredenburgh, the Aurora University Chorale and Chamber Choir perform both on campus and away serving the AU community and communities throughout the Midwest.  She has held previous conducting posts at University of Central Missouri, Meredith College in Raleigh, NC and with the Opera Company of North Carolina and Capitol Opera Raleigh. She holds a DMA and two MM degrees from the University of Arizona where she studied under Maurice Skones, Thomas Hilbish, Jerry McCoy and Kenneth Jennings. Her BA in music education was earned at Luther College, under Weston Noble.  

Dr. Lisa Fredenburgh
Fredenburgh often serves as guest conductor, lecturer and clinician locally, nationally and abroad.  She has conducted All-State Choirs in Tennessee, Georgia, New York, Arkansas, and North Carolina.  She has conducted and taught master classes in the Dominican Republic, Panama and in Bolivia.  She is a frequent presenter at national-, regional- and state-level professional organizations in the fields of Women’s Choral Music, and the Music of Latin America.  She currently serves as Central Division Chair for the Women’s Choir Repertoire & Standards Committee for the American Choral Directors Association and was formerly a member of the steering committee for the 50th Anniversary National Convention in 2009.  

Read more: http://www.aurora.edu/academics/undergraduate/music/lisa-fredenburgh.html#.VhPZZ_lViko#ixzz3nnWkUsCv

Hey, if you've read all this way--here's your reward. The epic hit from last century (1961), The Alleycat by Bent Fabric (love that name!).

Check out the old school image here- an old 45 RPM vinyl record!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Aurora University Choral Festival Blogpost #2 Loosin Yelav

This is blogpost number two about the upcoming October 21st choral festival at Aurora University showcasing my choral music. Today I'll be discussing Loosin Yelav, the Armenian folk song which the Waubonsee Community College Choir, under Mark Lathan (see more down below) will be singing.

Loosin Yelav (The Rising Moon)

SA/solo violin/piano Cat #679       Santa Barbara Music Press

sbmp score and recording

SATB/solo violin/piano Cat. #698        Santa Barbara

sbmp score and recording

I was asked by Mary Alice Stollak, a great conductor (now retired) from Michigan, and recipient of two Grammy awards(!) to arrange this song for her choir at that time, the amazing Michigan State University Children's Choir (the top group is usually high school girls plus some boys with uncharged voices). Mary Alice, early on in her career as a soprano soloist had performed the version of the song by Italian avant-garde 20th century composer Luciano Berio, which is part of his set of folk songs from different countries. Mary Alice felt that this lovely tune would be delightful in choral arrangement. She asked me to do it for her choir and I agreed.

One of the things I tried to accomplish in my setting was to give the illusion of space--- in a sense, the expanse of space as we raise our eyes off of what is in front of us (texting on a cellphone perhaps?) and behold amazing things way up in the sky--like the Moon! One way I did this was to create a rising introduction in the solo violin part; create a rubato, floating feeling in the voices (in the slower sections); and write a piano part which would utilize the whole keyboard, including stretching all the way up to the top of the keyboard. Of course, in the more dancelike sections of the piece that expansiveness doesn't exist. There we're just having fun dancing!!

A rough translation of the text:

The moon has risen over the hill,
over its summit,
its red, rosy face
brilliantly illuminating the earth.

O dear moon, with your dear light
and your dear round and rosy face.

Before darkness reigned
covering the earth; 
but now the light of the moon has chased it away
into the dark clouds.

O dear moon, with your dear light
and your dear round and rosy face.

This piece has proven to be quite popular with singers and audiences. It has been performed on a number of continents, including a wonderful performance directed by the famous conductor Andre Thomas at a festival in England. The piece is easily learned as the Armenian is not difficult. When I visit choirs and work on the piece we mostly have to work together to create two different worlds-- that floating in the sky rubato and then the exhilarating little folk dance that pops up. It's usually pretty easy to get young singers to have fun with this piece.

Here again is the video I shared  a few days ago. This was created by a parent of a young singer performing in a festival choir I was conducting in Pennsylvania. I love the amazing images of Armenia in this little video.

Here is a perfomance at a recent Georgia All-State conducted by the wonderful Jeffery Ames from Belmont University:

Here is the Berio version sung beautifully:

Ready for some more fun? Along with fellow Italian modernists such as Bruno Maderna, Luigi Dallapiccola, and Luigi Nono, Luciano Berio (1925-2003) enjoyed a highly successful career as a composer in the second half of the 20th century. Here is the amazing third movement of his Sinfonia composed in 1969, featuring the Swingle Singers. This is a truly wild segment of the piece-- a bizarre musical collage thrillride through the Symphony #2 Scherzo of Mahler plus quotes from other composers: Ravel, Debussy, Brahms, and many more!

If this music mystifies you, you can Wikipedia Berio Sinfonia and read a decent explanation of what's going on!

The Waubonsee Community College Chorale

Dr. Mark Lathan

Born and raised in the Chicago area, Dr. Mark Lathan received his Bachelor's degree in performance from Northern Illinois University in 1983, where he studied trumpet with Ron Modell and jazz arranging with Frank Mantooth. Earning his Ph.D. in 2001 from UCLA, Lathan studied composition with Roger Bourland, David Lefkowitz, and Ian Krouse. While at UCLA he received the Henry Mancini Award in Film Composition and studied film scoring with Jerry Goldsmith.

He counts among his compositions numerous compositions and arrangements for jazz and chorus, as well as several film scores and a number of concert pieces including two choral cantatas, Inheritance of Love and Song of Hope.  Lathan's various compositions have been published by C. L. Barnhouse, Doug Beach Music, Yelton Rhodes Music, and Art of Sound Publishing. He was a contributing arranger for Louis Bellson's Sacred Concerto which was released on the Percussion Power label in 2005. Two of his arrangements appear on the CD release "Above and Beyond" by the Los Angeles Flute Quartet and his Trumpet Concerto was premiered by Mark Baldin and the Rockford, IL Symphony in 2009 as part of their 75th Anniversary Season Celebration.  "Echale Todas Las Ganas" ("Give It All You Got"), a commissioned composition for Wheeling High School?s Jazz Band I, was premiered at the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic in December 2013.

Lathan is currently in his thirteenth year as Music Professor at Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove, IL where he directs the Waubonsee Chorale and teaches theory, composition, trumpet, and humanities.

Aurora University Choral Festival- Blogpost #1

Coming up on the evening of October 21st my choral music will be celebrated in a concert by multiple high school and college choirs in Crimi Auditorium at Aurora University. For more information on this free, open to the public event visit concert details  Please come and hear the fine choirs singing that evening!

I am humbled by this honor-it's the first time anyone has thrown me a party and filled an entire program with just my music! Lisa Fredenburgh, the head of the music department at Aurora U, developed the idea for this event over last spring and summer and Lisa and I enjoyed getting together to discuss how to make it happen. She sent out invitations to various area choral ensembles and we were fortunate to have some great directors respond with interest (some others couldn't commit to the October date, but I hope that in the future they can do some work with Lisa in some way--she's a great musician and so enthusiastic when working with singers). The directors who will be conducting that evening are very talented, classy folks. I'm thrilled with who chose to participate!

Dr. Lisa Fredenburgh, Aurora University

The schools singing (and the repertoire they have chosen) at the concert will be:

Waubonsee Community College, directed by Mark Lathan

Loosin Yelav (an Armenian folk song)

Mettea Valley High School, directed by Nathan Bramstedt

A City called Heaven (an African-American spiritual)

Carthage College Women's Ensemble, directed by Peter Dennee

This Sparkle of the Day (world premiere, multi-movement sacred piece)

Rock Valley College Choirs, directed by Paul Laprade

Thou art the Sky

Life has Loveliness to Sell

Aurora University Choirs, directed by Lisa Fredenburgh

Shall we Gather at the River/Jerusalem My Happy Home (the last movement of God's Nature)

Melt the Bells (from A Civil War Requiem)

Mashed Potato Love Poem (from Play with your Food)

Alley Cat Love Song
Blood, Guts, and Arias: a Zombie Opera (excerpts)

Massed Concert-Ender: Go Down Moses (spiritual)

It has been interesting to me to see what pieces the directors have chosen. I didn't give them much input, as I thought it would be best to let them choose. At this point I am very happy with their choices, and in many ways they have chosen pieces that emphasize the trends in my output. For instance, I have a commitment to contribute to the legacy of the African-American spiritual and the audience that night will hear two very different spiritual arrangements. A City Called Heaven (in a rare setting for women's voices) is a mournful, desperate introspective cry for salvation, while Go Down, Moses is propelled forward by a very active piano accompaniment, eventually culminting in a great wall of choral sound toward the end. Lisa has noted my fondness for witty, droll texts. Mashed Potato Love Poem is a prime exmple, as is the tongue in cheek Alley Cat Love Song. Further humor (darker and more satiric) shows up in the exceprts from my Zombie opera, Blood, Guts, and Arias. Finally, a number of pieces have been chosen which exemplify my search for serious texts which probe the inner spirituality of the human condition. Thou art the Sky and Life has Loveliness to Sell would be prime examples of that type of piece.

Over the next week or two I am going to blog about each piece, give some background to how I composed the setting of the text and also why I chose to set it in the first place. I hope this will be of value to the singers of each choir (who, I hope, will visit the blog to read) and anyone else out there wondering what living choral composers are thinking as they compose. Well, actually, sometimes we don't know what we're doing- but we keep slogging on anyway!

NEXT POST: All about Loosin Yelav, a sweet and very expressive Armenian folk song about the moon (actually a red moon--cool that, considering we just witnessed the Supermoon!)

Here's a little teaser--this is a video put together by a parent of a student singing at a vocal festival I was conducting in Pennsylvania a few years ago. We performed Loosin Yelav and this is what they created-- some wonderful images of Armenia here!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Unique Christmas/Winter Holiday Repertoire!

Hi choral directors! Hope your school year/concert season is off to a smashing start.

Are you still looking for "Holiday" repertoire? I've got a number of ideas for you from my catalog- both traditionally published and also published by myself.  While I am especially aiming to gain attention for my book of 18 carols for women's voices, please know that if you scroll down you will find some rep for SATB music as well! Some of those pieces below have rental orchestrations which have been very popular with audiences.

Last Fall I released "Carols, distinctive arrangements for women's voices", and it was an amazing  process to not only research and write the pieces but be my own publisher as well. I had a lot of help from many folks around the country- proofreading, choirs trying out the pieces, etc. It made me really appreciate the talent and the generosity of my musical colleagues. The collection has sold well and was just reviewed very favorably in the August 2014 Choral Journal. Scroll way down to read the review.

Thanks for reading!


18 New Christmas Carol Arrangements
Scored variously for SA, SSA, SSAA a cappella; some with simple instrument parts
Sacred texts in English, Latin, German, French, and Spanish
Durations from 1:30 to 5:00 each carol
Price: $15.95 per copy- FREE SHIPPING on all US and Canada orders  (please note- this is the current price- the Choral Journal mistakenly lists it at $17.95)

Order through paulcarey.net or email me at paulcarey440@yahoo.com
Also through Musical Resources, the exclusive wholesale distributor

Paypal or conventional billing available

For a limited time- you may order one copy and use it as a master to photocopy from! The fee is only $150 for right to copy in perpetuity. You may NOT share the book or any copies with other directors, churches, or schools. Email me for more details paulcarey440@yahoo.com

An exciting new collection of 18 carols in new, creative settings suitable for
high school and beyond women's voices, plus also suitable for advanced treble children's choirs.

- Carols and processionals for both concert or madrigal dinner use
- A mixture of transcriptions, arrangements, and new settings of classic Christmas texts, occaisional solo, duo, and trio passages create variety for strophic carols
- Traditional English and Latin texts, plus settings in French, German, and Spanish
- A mixture of easy to more challenging carols, as well as a wide variety of moods and tempi
- Some carols have instrumental parts for one or two players (for instance harp, two flutes or other melody instruments, cello, percussion). Instrumental parts can be downloaded by clicking on the title below.
If anyone out there with a women's choir or youth advanced treble choir would like a TOTALLY FREE PERUSAL COPY- send me your US or Canada street address and I will get one to you. I think once you examine it, you will agree that it can be a resource you can go to year after year for December programming. Last year a number of the choirs who bought copies did 2,3,4, carols out of the book at their holiday program!

Here are some other pieces of mine, including SATB, which might really spice up your December programs.

Let me know if you would like any free perusal scores of these pieces. I will just highlight a few- you can view a complete listing with details, score samples, etc. of all of my many Christmas, Hanukkah, and Winter Solstice scores by visiting:

Selling like the provrebial hotcakes is this new arrangment in Henry Leck's wonderful Creating Artistry-- the Chrismtas spiritual Mary, Had a Baby. Click the link for score and recording Mary Had a Baby

One of my holiday bestsellers is the Hanukkah song "Unending Flame" with a truly nice text (so many Hanukkah texts are awful, I think you will agree). Voicings available are SA or SABar. There is also a rental orchestration for this piece which really makes it pop.

Another bestselling piece which can be either with piano or rental orchestration  is my very dancey SSA version in mixed meters of I Saw three Ships:

If you are looking for SATB works, Nancy Menk made a very nice recording of my lyrical “Hush my Dear, Lie Still and Slumber" which you can hear:  

I also have a piece with a similar feel to it- my arrangement of “Gabriel's Message”, available in manuscript. Contact me at paulcarey440@yahoo.com for a perusal score.

Also, a very popular item in the Roger Dean catalog, my fun, uptempo arrangement of Ding, Dong Merrily on High

Finally, some pieces with brass. First up is “Christmas Bells”, which was commissioned by Edie Copley at N. Arizona University. This is big and festive (yet with a very introspective middle section)  for SATB/brass/organ/perc/handbells.  This piece is now also fully orchestrated.
The ending will ensure that your entire audience is awake:

The other brass piece is not as festive since the text by the brilliant Thomas Merton is generally more reflective- it's called “The Winter's Night Carol”. I don't have a good recording yet of the piece due to miking issues at performances, but I can certainly e-mail you a score if you like!


Paul Carey's work as a choral composer and arranger is well acknowledged and valued.  His newest publication, Carols…for Women's Voices, takes a significant step in furthering his reputation as a composer for treble and women's voices.    Many of Carey's fine and best-selling arrangements and compositions of carols for mixed, children's, men's and women's voices are available through leading publishers such as Oxford University Press, CF Peters, Lorenz, and Roger Dean.  Yet, unlike many compilations of works by modern composers and arrangers, this distinctive collection does not contain works available through other sources or as separate folios. 

Most of the works found in this collection are arrangements of melodies or compositions upon texts from classic manuscripts and various folk sources.   Nonetheless, the recastings of these materials in Carey's hand are fresh and distinctive.  His "Personant Hodie" (from the Piae Cantiones), for example, retains the familiar tune of the work for the most part but lightens the texture with gavotte-like ritornelli and an unexpected reworking of the melody in 7/8.     Other works, such his SSA unaccompanied version of the classic "We Wish You A Merry Christmas", find a different voice through this composer's compositional wit.  As these two examples imply, the collection contains both sacred and secular carols.  In addition, these two arrangements also exemplify the suitability of some of Carey's arrangements for younger choirs.

The title of this collection is somewhat deceiving, for of the eighteen works in this collection, five are entirely new works, penned using familiar texts.  The distinctiveness of even these works can be evinced by comparing two texts that both Carey and Benjamin Britten have set:  "There is no rose of such virtue" and "Adam Lay ybounden" (perhaps most familiar as the text used for Britten's "Deo Gratias" from A Ceremony of Carols ).   The former is richly set with a nearly chantlike solo and responses by duets and a quartet that shimmer with their uses of inversional modal alterations.  The latter text is interpreted through completely new musical lenses.  The ABAB form of Carey's setting alternates between a haunting, contemplative section and a second, more rhythmically driving section.  This compositional choice musically refocuses the text on the apple's theological role, that of emphasizing the praise of the apple's acceptance and its eventual conclusion in the birth of Jesus.   These five original works alone make it difficult to overlook this collection, and underscore the fact that these arrangements can also find a home in the repertories of more advanced treble/women's choirs.

Cristobal de Morales' O Magnum Mysterium is the only work included in this collection where Carey assumes the singular role of editor.  As would be expected, Carey's edition is much more lightly edited than the classic (SSAA) Schirmer edition by Goodale, but the choice of transcribing this work a half-step higher mirrors a significant characteristic of this collection as a whole—each of these "distinctive arrangements" are sensitive to the distinct characteristics of women's voices.  The Morales is often performed in this key, as it simply resounds better and navigates the passaggi more easily.  Furthermore, such sensitivity extends to the variety of texture, styles, tempi, voicings, and languages (french, latin, spanish, german, and english) found herein.  Carey's collection is varied enough to lend variety to any program built from its offerings, yet cohesive enough to lend solidity to such a performance. (Note: This reviewer acknowledges having contributed to the translations of French texts and initial readings of some of the works in this volume.) 

The quality of these arrangements and the breadth of stylistic variety reflected in this holiday collection for treble voices is nearly unparalleled; for choral ensembles and programs of all types, and for churches with treble ensembles, this fine publication could reasonably be expected to occupy a similar place in holiday/Christmas libraries as the Oxford Book of Carols and Carols for Choirs currently hold.  Well edited by Carey and "tested" by various types of treble/women's choruses, this solid collection possesses enough musical gold to fit the needs of many types of choirs, performances, and even educational functions.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Choral Classroom- The Three I's that include me

Sharing one of the most popular items I have posted

This particular post from a few years ago has received a lot of hits since I started blogging- it really resonates with folks so I like to re-run it once a year- so here you go (and thanks to Sir Rick Bjella, who now teaches at Texas Tech). As I read through this post again, I also like the fact that Larry Doebler was a contributor to this. I met Larry two years ago when he commissioned me for a piece for the yearly Ithaca College Choral Festival- what a brilliant conductor, teacher, and man.

Over the last four years I have combined elements of these suggestions (with Rick's permission) plus my own experiences teaching at the North Carolina Governor's School as the basic material for choral conference interest sessions I have presented in Hong Kong, South Korea, Nebraska ACDA, North Central division ACDA, and Iowa and Tennessee MEA with great success. There is so much rich material here to ponder.

Enjoy the read and the great ideas:

The three I's that don't include me: involvement, investment, (through inside-out rehearsing), independence...leading to integrity

(compiled by Rick Bjella-- contributing: Randal Swiggum, Nick Page, Larry Doebler, Lucy Thayer, Tim Bruneau, Patty O’Toole)

Reprinted by permission of Rick Bjella. 


Who or what is at the center of your rehearsals?
Whose opinions are valued most?
Around whom do your structure your strategies for the daily rehearsal?
Student involvement:
  • foster a safe environment ("well, that was creative", “basses I love you dearly...”, “I love the way you truly listen to each other and honor what was said”)
  • share affirmations with the ensemble
  • provide a more accurate, personalized, positive reflection on student efforts in rehearsal. (i.e. "Glenn you are particularly good at dramatic reading of texts, that is a real gift that you have, that is a contribution that you make in a way that is particularly stunning")
  • give the students only the title of the piece ask them “how do you think it will sound?”
  • give short writing moments (in journals, portfolios, 3 x 5 cards, board work, post-it notes
  • have student led warm ups prescribed by the teacher
  • have an improvisation on one note-(the drone has been a powerful musical force throughout the ages-explore different vowels)
  • ask YOU questions (addressed directly to students relevant to personal experiences meant to evoke personal opinions “Have you ever ______? How did it feel? Did you ____?)
  • develop listening squads: students sit out and listen to rehearsal, offering critical comments
  • giving students many opportunities to evaluate both rehearsals and performances (written comments, group discussions, etc.)
  • allow the individual person to react with free movement that reflects the phrasing-start simply and then work towards more subtlety
  • switching parts so that the student is understanding all of the choral parts
  • sing the instrumental accompaniment for understanding of the entire phrase
  • move to the pulse of the music- developing body memory
  • learn parts through solfege (movable or fixed do depending on the piece) Assists pitch memory and independence
  • have singers in positions to be compassionate. (Sing at a nursing home, a soup kitchen, hospital, or funeral, etc.)
  • have student compositions based on one phrase or one word
  • listening with intent (give them a puzzle, a problem, or a chance to share their opinion of something technically challenging - i.e. This Little Babe).
  • fellowship game - sit or stand in a community interview circle (this can also be done in smaller groups as well): a. interview a person in the middle - ask three questions student has a right to ‘pass’ on any question. b. model the activity by being in the center as well.
Student investment and ownership:
  • have students develop their own text interpretations
  • use story telling (composers, personal experiences relating to the text, communing with nature, growing-up, losing loved ones, stories by other artist, authors, poets, visual artist)
  • believe in your story
  • have the students read a letter (that you or they create) from the composer about her intentions for the piece.
  • have the students teach a spiritual, or folk song by rote to the class before passing out the arrangement
  • invite student opinions on an artistic decision (e.g. where exactly the crescendo should begin, which vowel color suits the mood of a particular word best, etc.)
  • have student-led sectionals
  • memorization squads: if the group is having trouble with individuals not memorizing their parts, have a team sit out and check the memorization of individuals in the group
  • have students come up with their own warm ups
  • have them listen to tapes from their own recording sessions and evaluate the relative quality
  • have an anger moment where they allow it to all come out in their singing
  • try student grading of each other and themselves (set up a careful list of criteria - they see much more than you do)
  • have a choir council or officers to meet and discuss issues from the students’ perspective, to act as spokes people, and to plan social events and group-bonding activities
  • use dalcroze activities led by students based upon the music that is being rehearsed
  • moving to the pulse of the note values- freeing the eyes from the score
  • sing silently - owning the score without singing it/ showing it completely through the eyes-check the memory at a predetermined spot.
  • find ways to actively involve them in the drama of the music.
  • have student invested towards nuts and bolt needs (library maintenance, attendance)
  • have touring planned by students- discussing at the ground level objectives and
  • discuss the etymology of words, showing links between one language and another.
  • have a student committee set clear goals regarding students able to sing their part alone with musicianship and understanding
  • have students write reflections concerning a concert
  • consider having student program notes
  • have an open forum -- pose a question on curriculum (i.e. “What makes this a good piece of music?”, “What makes an exciting choir rehearsal?, If you had one wish for this choir it would be..) ask a follow-up question/ journal entries
  • develop abstract expressions - break the choir into six groups, provide them with markers, crayons, finger paints -- ask the them to illustrate a concept you have been working on such as dotted rhythms open vowels, binary form, the heart of the music.
  • run rehearsals of difficult passages in circles (basses, tenors, altos, sopranos) while running the passage have the leader in the middle make suggestions for improvements -- set strict time lines -- change leadership in the middle constantly. (use movement within the circle to solidify different learning styles)
  • have a no limits day -- suggest that they can sing in any manner they think is appropriate and the only thing off limits is the ‘can’t’ word.
  • student independence:
(knowledge=Independence (K=I) and complete imagination)
  • shoot for depicting the text in a synergetic manner not as a result of what the conductor might impose
  • show the score through physical movement reflecting dynamic, dramatic, linear and harmonic elements with complete physical understanding
  • sing one part and reflect physically another part.
  • interact with others through discussion with people not in the choir
  • have students understand the integration of all study with the music that is being performed
Developing Student Integrity [IMPLEMENTATION OF THE DREAM]:
Start small. Just as it is difficult to know what to do with a blank page, it is difficult for some students to know what to do with authority. Don't expect overnight change.
  • model the behavior you wish to emphasize.
  • model them before the rehearsal
  • model them during the rehearsal
  • model them after the rehearsal
  • never stop modeling them
Slowly lead students to independence (i.e. ask students to troubleshoot for a solution to a musical problem instead of volunteering one yourself). This will get them thinking for themselves and eventually, they will think independently all the time and take more responsibility for musical excellence. Know your own musical and emotional interior. If you are not comfortable with the things you are asking students to share, then the students will not respond well.
Constantly invite student input and then LISTEN CAREFULLY TO WHAT THEY SAY. Students have insights into what is going on in the music (or in the group) that you will never have.
Consider the difference between student-centered and student-directed. Is it enough to plan activities around student interest and input? For more adventure, try moving toward student directed activities. Students have many things to teach each other (and you).
Consider these four elements of all rehearsals:
  • time
  • structure of the ensemble, rehearsal room / form of the rehearsal
  • how things are learned and percieved
  • pedagogy: who teaches whom? why?
What can you and your students learn as a result of ‘tinkering’ with one of the above elements?
Moving towards a more student-centered rehearsal (like a new idea) can be messy and not always productive on the short run. HOWEVER, investing in a well thought-out process that encourages students to take charge of their own education will be motivating and exciting for them, and for YOU. 

Special thanks to Randal Swiggum, Nick Page, Larry Doebler, Lucy Thayer, Tim Bruneau, Patty O’Toole for their insights into this document.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Concert Review from ACDA 2015- National Youth Chamber Choir of Great Britain

On Friday at the 2015 ACDA National conference in Salt Lake City the National Youth Chamber Choir of Great Britain, led by Ben Parry, preformed a wonderful program of mostly British works at Abravanel Hall.

The members of the Youth Chamber Choir

Here is the program they presented:

Sing Joyfully    William Byrd

The Lady Oriana    John Wilbye

Music, When Soft Voices Die    CHH Parry

Lay a Garland Upon her Hearse    Robert Pearsall

Coeles ascendit hodie    CV Stanford

No Longer Mourn for Me    R Vaughn Williams

A Hymn to the Virgin    B Britten

Let Beauty be Our Memorial    JAC Redford (American composer)

Words    Anders Edenroth (founder of the Real Group)

Flame    Ben Parry

This program was an absolute delight as the young singers, ranging from about 21 to 25, sang with clear tone and lively enthusiasm as they glided through a mini-history tour of British music. Parry's conducting was clear and encouraged an open, sweet and expressive sound from these highly talented young singers. The chamber choir is the top group of the organization, which numbers over 800 singers of various ages.I was especially impressed with their open, healthy posture and naturalness. I would not be surprised to learn that they have had extensive Alexander Technique training or something similar.

"Words" was a hit with the audience due to its clever text and the beatbox presentation. We heard Real Group sing this on Wednesday night to great effect.

Parry's own piece "Flame" was a real burner as it concluded with a unrelenting pulsing wall of fff sound. I'd like to hear this piece again in order to more fully grasp what the conductor/composer was striving to achieve.  I was not at all familiar with Ben Parry, yet I found a few folks who know him and they spoke very highly of his work. I highly agree, and would love to hear more from this choir and conductor/composer.

The choir has blogged a little bit from ACDA- you can read their comments on the ACDA experience here.

Fun Factoid-- Over the years, a number of singers from the organization have gone on to become Swingle Singers!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Concert Review from ACDA 2015- Ansan City Chorale

From the 2015 ACDA National Conference in Salt Lake City

Review of the Ansan City Choir, directed by Dr. Shin-Hwa Park

Friday the Ansan City Choir from South Korea, performed in Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City. Sporting colorful, flowing costumes, the choir entered and sang a delightfully eclectic program to an appreciative audience.

Sanctus          by Frank Martin

Agnus Dei     by Francis Poulenc

The Fisherman's Song   by  Ji-Hun Park

Arirang   traditional folk song arr. by Kyu-Yung Chin

The Martin and Poulenc were sung with high sensitivity by the choir, which numbers around forty singers. It was nice to hear some mid-twentieth century repertoire, as the focus so much lately at ACDA conferences has been so heavily on American works from about 1995 to the present.

The Fisherman's Song, in seven short movements, paints the passion and, at times, grief and struggle of generations of Korean fishermen and their families. Though the struggle at this difficult life is a big part of the story here, the music often shines brightly as the fishermen sail joyously on the sea and dream of catching epic numbers of fish. This was a highly evocative piece which I thoroughly enjoyed.

The concert concluded with the ubiquitous Arirang, yet this arrangement developed the old chestnut into a sort of theme and variations, all choreographed with imagination and supple movements by the graceful singers. When I saw Arirang on the program I winced a bit, having heard it a million times. But this was a very fresh new take, spinning out over ten minutes or so, and the audience ate it up like candy.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The 2015 ACDA Conference- Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir

Thursday at the 2015 ACDA National Conference held a spectacular performance by the Estonian Philharmonic Choir along with the Tallin Chamber Orchestra, both founded and  directed by Tonu Kaljuste.

Tonu Kaljuste

The Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir

The choir consists of about 24 fully professional singers, while the orchestra is made up of about 22 string players. This is one of the absolute premiere choirs in the world, and their performance was intense, full of power yet also with amazing nuances. The pieces performed were:

Adam's Lament by Arvo Part

Carlo  by Brett Dean

Concerto per vocci e instrumenti

(plus a simple encore)

The centerpiece was "Carlo" by Australian composer/concert violist Brett Dean. This was powerful music, shifting from moments of sublime beauty to gut-wrenching dissonances, all reflecting the life of  the Italian madrigalist Carlo Gesualdo. The choir and string orchestra created dynamics from pppp to ffff and the music constantly shifted in direction, yet all the while creating its own logic over the arc of the composition. This performance was one of the highlights of the entire conference. 

Check out this interview with Dean (OMG, he's not a hot thirty years old. Why are we in America, including the choral arts lately, suffering from what I call the American Idol Syndrome? Here you better be young and pretty to get any attention as an instrumentalist, composer, etc.- and now I am stepping back down from the soapbox)


Here is Dean talking about the piece:

Historians to the present day still seem undecided as to the true merits of Gesualdo the composer, unable to separate the characteristics of his compositions, with their harmonic extremities and surprises and their textural complexities, from the infamy of Gesualdo the murderer. There are, no doubt, numerous contemporaries of his whose music would be just as worthy of the kind of attention now given to Gesualdo, composers such as Marenzio and Luzzaschi who didn’t fan the flame by butchering their spouses. But I believe that with Carlo Gesualdo one shouldn’t try to separate his music from his life and times. They are intrinsically interrelated. The texts of his later madrigals, thought to be written by Gesualdo himself, abound with references to love, death, guilt and self-pity. Combine this with the fact that I’ve always found Gesualdo’s vocal works in any case to be one of music’s great and most fascinating listening experiences and you have the premise of my piece. 

The Part was Part- a nice setup to go into the Dean.

The third piece on the program was a Swingle Singers-ish bit of light fluff. The musicians had a lot of fun with this small plate of tiramisu and the audience dug it.

At the finish the performers were rewarded with a thunderous standing ovation full of shouts and whistles. They rewarded us with an encore--a sweet, little Estonian lullaby. This simple, minimalist tune was a real ear-worm. The lullaby simply faded away into silence as the lil baby fell asleep, Kaljuste grinning knowingly to the audience.

Kaljuste is a masterful conductor, and his sly sense of humor appeared again at the end when he had the choir bow, the strings bow, and he himself bowed, of course. Then as the applause kept going forever he even lifted the scores from his podium and had them bow to the audience-- this was greeted with a big chuckle from the audience. I could listen to these folks FOREVER. Whoever within ACDA desired to get this group here and make it happen for ACDA is a genius- congrats!

More from the ACDA 2015 Conference- MusicSpoke reading session


Here is a blog I am sharing written by the fine composer/accompanist Kurt Knecht. He and Jennifer Rosenblatt are the founders of the new choral music distributor, MusicSpoke, a very composer-friendly organization with a refreshingly new business model. They held a reading session on Wednesday of the ACDA conference in Salt Lake City which, especially for a Wednesday, was very well attended. Below is Kurt's blog, or you can click here and go directly to it. Here' Kurt's blog entry:

Normally, choir directors tell me that when they attend a reading session, they feel lucky to find one usable piece of music. It's a gold mine when they find two usable pieces from a session.
After the MusicSpoke reading session at the National ACDA convention, two directors came up to me. One said, "I could easily use any piece on this reading session to great success with my group. Every piece is good." Another came to the booth later and said, "That was easily the strongest reading session I've attended."

I had the same reply for both of them. "Do you want to know why our reading session was so strong? I didn't pick any of the music. We put the power back in the hands of our composers and asked them what pieces they would like on the reading session."

Pete Eklund leading the session

A great deal of the success of the session was also because of the masterful job my friend Pete Eklund did in leading it. He got us through a lot of music very efficiently. He helped the readers through more difficult rhythmic passages. He said something interesting about each piece, and he acknowledged all of the composers. I couldn't have asked for a more professional and outstanding job. Many thanks, Pete!

My favorite part was just reading through the music of such fine composers together. Dale Trumbore and I even played a little impromptu piano duet on Winged Lullaby, and I haven't been able to get the tune out of my head since.

Here is a list of the pieces and links to performances on MusicSpoke. Please go check out the music and use it for your choirs.

Rise Up, My Love, My Fair One - Joseph G. Stephens

A Cradle Hymn - David von Kampen

Sky Flier - Josh Rist

Requiescat - Andrea Ramsey

Esa Enai - Kurt Knecht

Winged Lullaby - Dale Trumbore

Lux Aeterna - Saunder Choi

O Vos Omnes - Connor J. Koppin

Stars Over Snow - Timothy Tharaldson

Discovery - Christina Whitten Thomas

Stay - Garrett Hope

I Shall Return - Andrew Marshall

Sicut Cervus - David V. Montoya

Be Thou My Vision - Tinsley Silcox

Holy Mountain - Kile Smith

The Suffering Servant - Ryan Keebaugh

Kyrie - Nick Dahlquist

The Snow I Hated - Jordan Nelson

The Holly and the Ivy - Jason Horner