Celebris Ensemble Concert Feb 15, 2020

Choosing a Valentine’s Day concert was an immensely rewarding task. I got to choose some of my favorite music of all time, including Dirait-on by Morten Lauridsen. I haven’t had the opportunity to perform it since my sister-in-law walked down the aisle. It’s one of the most beautiful pieces ever!

Read to the end and there will be a song for you to listen to!

We also have a world premiere by our Composer in Residence, Jane K (Evgeniya Kozhevnikova)! She has set a poem by Christina Rossetti, a wonderful and sometimes under-appreciated British poet. If you are in the Kalamazoo (or even if you are not) on Feb 15, come on down to Bethany Reformed Church at 5:00 pm. You can find our Facebook event here. Follow us for more info!

Without further ado, here is the program. Enjoy!

I

Sing We and Chaunt It (Robert Lucas Pearsall)

Shall We Go Dance? (Charles Villers Stanford)

II

I Sat Down (Edward Bairstow)

Set Me as a Seal (René Clausen)

Dirait-on (Morten Lauridsen)

III

Echo or Come to Me (Jane K [Evgeniya Kozhevnikova])

A Birthday (Jane K [Evgeniya Kozhevnikova])

IV

And So It Goes (Billy Joel arr. Bob Chilcott)

Fix You (Coldplay arr. Philip Lawson)

Stand by Me (Ben E. King arr. Mac Huff)

As promised, here is the world premiere of Pity Me Not (poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay) by Jane K (Evgeniya Kozhevnikova).

Why Music Schools Must Change or Die: A Call for a Practical Music School that Prepares Musicians for Success

I’ve recently heard that many colleges in general and music schools in particular are struggling. They’re struggling with decreased enrollment, higher costs, and decreased interest. Unfortunately, the response to these troubles has been reactive rather than constructive. For instance, some higher ed professionals blame parents who don’t wish to spend a gazillion dollars for their kid to get a degree that won’t lead to financial stability or success. They blame the skyrocketing costs of tuition which forces students to take out unreasonable loans that will take a large portion of their lives to pay off. In short, they blame everyone but themselves.

While there is much to be said about parental priorities and the financial cost of Higher Ed, addressing those concerns won’t change things in the short run and won’t lead to stability in the long run. The education industry is contracting. A storm is already upon the education sector. Ignoring the storm won’t help. Furthermore, it’s easier to blame other people for the problems in your industry rather than face the difficult proposition that you might be part of the problem. If you want to change the world, you need to start with the man in the mirror, to paraphrase a famous song. I firmly believe that schools can at least halt (perhaps alter is a better word) the trend of attrition, but they must change.

The following is my own opinion. Please do with it what you will. If you have questions or concerns, please send me a private message. I would be happy to speak with you.

Since I graduated in 2017 with a master’s in conducting, I decided to take the hard road of being a gigging musician and a creative entrepreneur. This has not been easy. I started with nothing; I pay college loans every month. On top of this, I discovered that a lot of the skills I needed for success were not taught to me. I’ve endeavored to rectify this through self-education through a fancy institution known as the library.

The path for musical success is doable. I’ve become convinced of this through study and through experience. However, in order to succeed, a lot of things need to happen. The musician needs to learn a lot of skills, and not just the skills of musicianship (accurate performance, flexibility, and improvisation) and musicality (artistry, beauty of tone, phrasing, the It Factor, etc.). No, the musician also needs to be skilled in business (money management for self-employment, taxes, incorporation, setting up a studio, etc.), marketing (social media, websites, promoting concerts, contacting other musicians and teachers, etc.), professionalism (the fine art of showing up on time, knowing your music, communicating in a timely fashion, etc.), as well as many others.

Musicians should also have the correct mentality for entrepreneurial success. Namely, that to start your own business is really, stinkin’ hard. You will fail more than you succeed, and you will often not pass the audition (rejection!). You will have months of financial feast and famine. Success takes grit, ingenuity, and hard work.

Schools fail to prepare their students for this in several ways ways: 1) While many music schools touch on these skills, they often do not do so in an organized fashion. Adding a class or two is not going to solve this problem. 2) The faculty they hire to teach skills have no real world experience. They’ve been in the ivory tower for most of their lives, and so they’ve not learned in the school of hard knocks. 3) Faculty teach classes that functionally assume the students already know what is being taught. If half of your class if failing, it doesn’t mean that they are stupid or lazy; it means you are teaching the material incorrectly. 4) Faculty are teaching classes that are in no way applicable to the real world.

Does this mean that faculty should never teach a class on the history of Bach’s violin concertos or on the correlation of philosophy and music aesthetics? As an avid reader and learner, I firmly believe that those have their place (i.e. learning for its own sake). Moreover, these types of classes have helped me create more informed musical performances, so there is a practical advantage. Sometimes I’ve even applied these types of classes to something completely unrelated. However, there is a pedagogical order to things. Kids need to learn to crawl before they can run.

The world has drastically changed, and musicians must change with it. This includes music schools. No longer can they assume that students will come “just cuz.” Those days are gone. Higher Ed types need to assume that they must work hard to attract students with practical, helpful classes that enable students to succeed.

Perhaps some changes are in order.

Celebris Concert Program Sept 27 & 29, 2019

This year, we will be performing this beautiful concert twice, so if you miss the first one, you can make it to the second! Or, you could come to both. 🙂 The first concert is on Sept 27th (7:00 pm) @ Bethany Reformed Church in Kalamazoo; the second concert will be on Sept 29th (6:00 pm) @ Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Allegan. You can find our event on Facebook here.There will be no charge for these concerts, but we will be taking up a collection. This helps pay for our musicians and funds future projects (of which I always have a few up my sleeve) with our ensemble. The best part of all is that we are now a 501c3! This means you can donate and take it off your taxes.

The Celebris Ensemble invites you to an evening of stunning, uplifting music featuring works by Fanny and Felix Mendelssohn, Elizabeth Poston, and Craig Courtney, as well as world premieres of several pieces by Evgeniya Kozhevnikova. Entitled “Exaltation & Resolution,” the program deals with pivotal moments in our lives: moments of love and death, heartache and hope, and—above all—taking joy and strength in moments that may never come again.

I

Magnificat octavi toni (Orlandus Lassus) 

Jesus Christ the Apple Tree (Elizabeth Poston)

II

Abendlich schon rauscht der Wald (Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel) 

Blue Moon (arr. Jonny Priano)

III

Four Love Songs (World Premieres by Evgeniya Kozhevnikova)

A Birthday (Poem by Christina Rossetti)
Pity Me Not (Poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay)
Departure (Poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay)
Remember (Poem by Christina Rossetti)

IV

Abschied vom Walde (Felix Mendelssohn)

V

I Will Rise (arr. Craig Courtney)

Jesus, Our Friend Indeed (J. Aaron Greene)

Introduction to The Four Principles of Healthy Vocal Technique: How to Sing Different Musical Styles without Vocal Pain

I have two rules for my voice students. 1) Sing healthily. 2) Sing in tune. With these two rules in place, most styles can be performed in a way that does not hurt the voice. All singers have to do is apply simple principles of biomechanics (how the body works and moves) to their singing. Unfortunately, many singers needlessly shorten their musical careers because they neglect to learn even the most basic vocal technique.

There are several reasons why singers do not study how to sing. First, they think that “either you got it or you don’t.” Singing—to them—is some sort of magical skill that people are born with. This idea could not be farther from the truth. While some singers are excellent mimickers and have large amounts of innate talent, most singers need to put in the time to develop their talent. They must practice and take lessons and then practice some more, just like a student of any other instrument, such as cello, trumpet, or piano.

Second,  singers are afraid that lessons will change their unique, one-of-a-kind sound. They are afraid that voice lessons will cause them to sound too polished. This is an avoidable danger, but there is an element of truth to this fear. Unhealthy singing can produce a very distinctive tone. Unfortunately, singers often sacrifice a long and fruitful vocal career by creating these distinctive vocal colors. Simply put, the human voice was not meant to make those unusual sounds for extended lengths of time. Biomechanics can be very unforgiving.

Third, they think that they can learn from social media. There are many people on video sharing sites who are happy to get likes and shares and views by talking about and modeling what they think is healthy vocal technique. Often what they teach is anything but healthy vocal technique. It is mere quackery. As a voice coach/teacher with years of experience and multiple degrees, it bothers me when I hear some social media personalities claim to teach viewers how to sing beautifully in 5 minutes, and then the personalities demonstrate using unhealthy vocal technique! Singing is a skill that takes many years to master. Anyone who promises you that you can learn to sing quickly or easily is selling you a bill of goods.

Fourth, they have had unpleasant experiences with voice teachers in the past. Some voice teachers will not push their students, and so their students end up treading water for years. These students have wasted precious time and money with these charlatans, therefore they assume that all voice teachers are like that. This is untrue. Just like with any field, some professionals are good and others are bad. A good voice teacher will push you to develop your most authentic voice in the healthiest way possible.

With this in mind, I have produced this how-to book on the Four Principles of Healthy Vocal Technique. In it, I have distilled years of studying and teaching the voice into its most basic elements. I teach these principles to every voice student and choral singer at the outset of our time together.

The following information is not new. It is not meant to be. It is, however, factual and seeks to develop the ability to sing using scientifically accurate methods. These principles of healthy singing can be applied to many styles of singing, from pop to jazz to country to classical to musical theater to many other styles. I have also included vocal exercises, helpful diagrams, and demonstration videos to help the reader. These tools are meant to supplement the reader’s understanding of this complex topic.

This book will remove much of the mystery of singing, but it will not automatically make the reader a talented singer. As I have stated before, beautiful singing takes a lot of concerted time and effort, trial and error. What this book will do is grant the reader a firm conceptual basis of singing, enable them to sift through the poor teachers and the hucksters on social media, and hopefully start a fulfilling, lifelong journey of making music using the voice as their instrument.

Program for Celebris Concert on June 1, 2019

Hello Everyone,

I’m excited to share our program with you. We will be performing at First Congregational Church in Kalamazoo on June 1, 2019 (7:00 pm). We have some amazing, professional singers and some very moving music. As with many of my concerts, some of the music is very old, some is very new. I’ve always loved the juxtaposition of ancient and modern.

The theme for this concert is Remember Me: Songs of Hope, Love, and Longing from America and the British Isles. We’ll be looking at songs (folk, pop, and classical) that have American and British composers/poets. Some songs are British songs arranged by Americans, and vice versa. Through looking at songs from both countries, I’m hoping that the songs will speak to the universality  of the human condition. All humans hope, all humans love, and all humans long.

We’ll be premiering a piece by Evgeniya Kozhevnikova, a recent graduate of Western Michigan University’s school of music and winner of a 2019 Downbeat award! She plays the piano beautifully, and her piece reflects that sensitivity and creativity.  She will also be gracing us with some solo piano pieces.

Cost is $10/person at the door. Follow us on Facebook.

Come. You’ll enjoy it!

I

My Sweetheart’s Like Venus (Gustav Holst)

The Turtle Dove (Ralph Vaughan Williams)

Danny Boy (Arr. Ryan Block)

II

And So It Goes (Billy Joel, Arr. Bob Chilcott)

Fix You (Coldplay, Arr. Philip Lawson)

III

A solis ortus cardine (Gilles Binchois)

Easter Anthem (William Billings)

IV

Remember (Evgenia Kozhevnikova)

My Lord, What a Morning (Arr. Harry T. Burleigh)

Will the Circle Be Unbroken (Arr. J. David Moore)

V

Jesus, Our Friend Indeed (J. Aaron Greene)

On Fighting Old Mistakes and Welcoming New Ones

I am finally at the point in my life where I can look back with some objectivity. I’ve done things that I’m immensely proud of.  I’ve created events and institutions that are still running even after I’ve left that position.

I’ve also made mistakes. Plenty of them. I can’t tell you how many times that I’ve fallen down. But the trick is to get up, wipe the metaphorical (or literal) blood from your nose and the dust from your pants, and then keep moving forward.

One quote that I tell my private voice students and my choirs is this: Never make old mistakes; only make new ones.

Now, on the face of it, this truism might seem simplistic. And it is. But it assumes a few things.

1) It assumes that you will make mistakes.

Making mistakes is inevitable. You will mess up. You will hurt friends and fail them in ways that you didn’t know that you could. You will get fired from that job, and it might even be your fault. You will bomb that test, show up late to that interview, and waste that money on what you thought was a sure thing. This will happen. I know that it will because it happens to everybody. You aren’t special.

2) It assumes that you often keep making the same mistakes.

This, for me, is the most frustrating part of the whole bit. It’s one thing to make a mistake. It is another thing to make the same mistake multiple times. How many times can you be late for work because you overslept? How many times can you double-book yourself for a gig? How many times can you selfishly choose to spend time and money on yourself when your friend is in need?

These are our blind spots—the problems in our lives that are of our own making, our sins and foibles. And yet we repeat them ad nauseum.

3) It assumes that we can stop making these mistakes.

This is the difficult part of this statement. It forces us to attack those sins and habits that continually rear their ugly heads. We must take proactive steps to ensure that we don’t repeat and repeat and repeat them. In lessons and rehearsals, I tell my singers to mark the mistake with a pencil. Double/triple/quadruple underline it. Circle it. Whatever it takes. Write reminders to not miss that note or rhythm.

Lasting change and personal growth must be intentional.

4) It assumes that we will make new mistakes in the future.

This, too, is inevitable, and we must not fear it. Fear of failure is debilitating. It stops us from taking chances. It hamstrings us from achieving the things that we will only accomplish with persistent trial and error (read: everything new thing that we attempt to do).

So when you fall flat on your face, get back up. Own it. When you fail your friend, do whatever it takes to make it right. When you fail that interview, make sure you are more prepared for the next one. If you are always late for work, get up 10 minutes earlier or buy a second alarm clock. Learn from your mistakes, change yourself, and move on.

Life Update March 2019

Yes, it’s that time again! Much has happened since January, and much more will happen in the coming months.

Singing

Sounding Light

This week, I’ll be singing my first gig with Sounding Light, a talented professional choir based in Oakland County, MI. We’ll be singing Muehleisen’s Pieta, a massive work reflecting on the pain and sorrow of war. Here are the performances. Come to one of them, Detroit-area, Flint, Frankenmuth, and Cleveland friends!

Friday, March 15 – 7:30 p.m.

Featuring Stoney Creek High School Choir
Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist
1007 Superior Avenue E
Cleveland, OH 44114

Sunday, March 17 – 4:00 p.m.

Featuring Stoney Creek High School Choir
First Presbyterian Church
746 S. Saginaw St.
Flint, MI 48502

Saturday, March 16 – 7:00 p.m.

Featuring Stoney Creek High School Choir
Our Shepherd Lutheran Church
2225 East Fourteen Mile Rd.
Birmingham, MI 48009

Monday, March 18 – 7:30 p.m.

Featuring Stoney Creek High School Choir
St. Lorenz Church
140 Churchgrove Rd.
Frankenmuth, MI 48734

Battle Creek Master Singers

I’ll also be singing with the Battle Creek Master Singer’s Cabaret on March 23 & 24 featuring the wonderful voice of Rhea Olivacce as the guest artist.

I highly recommend coming! People who come enjoy the music, the food, the beverages, and the fun!

Writing

I’ve been quite happy with the positive reception of The Giftless Chronicles. I’ve had people who don’t even read the YA Fantasy genre say that they had to know what happened next in the story.

Shadows and Nightmares: A Story of the Giftless Chronicles (available on Amazon), is the follow-up to my first novel. I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed writing it. My characters grew, the world I created was further developed in mythology and history, and there was some great humor and action.  Ultimately, the story is about trauma and healing, but with some awesome monster-killing action in between. My story has been out for a month, and people really seem to like it!

I’m currently working on my second full-length novel set in this universe. It will set up the final struggle with the big bad in book 3. Can they stop The Return, and what will it cost them?

Conducting

As always, I’m conducting a lot. My singers in West Michigan Homeschool Fine Arts will be putting on their final concert of the year on April 9, and then I’ll be working with another homeschool ensemble until early June. I wrote a new music-reading curriculum for my singers that has been quite effective, and we’re advancing to nerdier stuff like asymmetrical meters and intervals.

My Branch United Youth Choir in Coldwater, MI will host its annual choir camp (dates to be announced soon!). It’s always a great four days! If you know of anyone in the south-central MI/Northern Indiana area with kids, this would be a great opportunity to learn about singing and reading music. Best of all, the kids have fun with music and make new friends.

Celebris Ensemble performed our first Christmas concert in December! I’m happy with the group and very excited for our next concert (soon to be announced). Stay tuned!