Guilty Pleasure: I Heart John Rutter’s Music

Last week, I had the privilege of substitute rehearsing the West Michigan Homeschool Fine Arts’ Northern Lights Chorale. One of the pieces handed to me was For the Beauty of the Earth by John Rutter. Admittedly, it has been a long time since I have seen the piece or performed it, but my mind was instantly brought back to those warm, fuzzy feelings I had when I performed John Rutter pieces back in high school and college.

British composer John Rutter was one of those rare birds in the classical music scene of the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s: an unashamedly tonal composer in an era when everyone was trying to be “original.” Even in our current day he is a bit of an anachronism: he lacks the golden mane of Eric Whitacre or the soundtrack-like qualities of Ola Gjeilo (which is not to say that I haven’t enjoyed music from both those composers). Yet his music is tuneful, pleasant, and memorable. What’s more, his music is fun to sing. You find yourself humming his melodies later in the day when you’re working or getting ready for bed.

He mastered Christmas music, church music, and folk songs. I fondly remember listening to his recordings of the Cambridge Singers (which he founded) as a teenager and mimicking that classic British straight-tone.  Then, I’d throw on some Robert Shaw just to let that vibrato rip.

He’s not considered new or hip any more. Perhaps conductors think his music is too cheesy. I can’t remember the last time I heard his music on an ACDA concert. But he wrote some really cool stuff. Here’s the University of Utah Singers under Brady Allred performing Cantate Domino. This song is a blast to sing.

Cantate Domino is vintage John Rutter. Highly melodic music lines coupled with text-inspired metrical changes and beautiful harmonies.

Maybe it’s time we start looking back to his music. In an era of political and socio-economic upheaval, sometimes you need something a little old-fashioned to help steady the nerves. Remember, cheese is a vital part of a well-balanced diet! I unapologetically declare him to be one of my guilty pleasures.

Here’s a list of some of my favorites that I’ve performed. This list is not meant to be exhaustive or ranked. Enjoy!

Christmas Music

What Sweeter Music; Pretty much anything in the 100 Carols for Choirs; Go Tell It on the Mountain; Candlelight Carol

Sacred Anthems

For the Beauty of the Earth (obviously); All Things Bright and Beautiful; The Lord Bless You and Keep You; A Clare Benediction; God Be in My Head; O Be Joyful in the Lord; A Gaelic Blessing; I Will Sing with the Spirit; Open Thou Mine Eyes; The Heavenly Aeroplane (seriously fun piece for children)

Major Works

Gloria; Requiem; Magnificat


March 2016 Life Update

Well, it’s been a while since I posted on here. I blame busyness. And boy, have I been busy!

It’s been a good kind of busy, though. (1) I have been diligently working through school at Western Michigan University. (2) I started a new job at Borgess Hospital. I’m still teaching voice lessons through Marshall Music. (3) My children’s choir in Coldwater is still going strong. (4) I direct church worship on Sundays. (5) I even had a gig singing Faure Requiem here in Kalamazoo!

WMU has been a great school to attend. My conducting prof, Dr. Kimberly Dunn-Adams, is awesome. I have learned so much from her! Under her direction, the Chorale this year has sung for the state ACDA conference, the Michigan Music Conference, and the regional ACDA conference. I sang solos at the latter two, which was a blast.

In January, I started a new job as a Patient Sitter at Borgess Hospital. For those of you who don’t know what a Patient Sitter is, it is what it sounds like. I sit with patients who need supervision so that the nurses can do their job of providing care. Needless to say, I have had some very interesting shifts, including one very eventful night in the psych ward.

I’m still teaching voice lessons at Marshall Music as well as privately. My students are learning. It’s always nice to see singers who are passionate about growing, singing healthily, and learning to read. I even have one student who regularly does her sight-reading practicing! That’s crazy, right?

My Coldwater responsibilities have kept me busy. The Branch United Youth Choir finished their first official Christmas program in December. We have a Butter Braid fundraiser coming up, and we are eagerly preparing for our spring concert in May. The kids are singing well. I have been especially pleased with my younger choir’s growth this semester.

My church in Coldwater has been very supportive during my time at WMU. They are wonderful people. Balancing school, work, and church responsibilities can be tricky. I am thankful for a loving church body that has shown patience and kindness to me.

Yesterday, I sang the baritone solos for the Faure Requiem. It was a great experience singing with the folks at Portage Chapel Hill United Methodist Church. They were very appreciative. We were able to sing some wonderful music together.

I look forward to singing the part of Pilate in Ars Voce’s upcoming performance of Bach’s St. John Passion (March 20). I will be singing with members of the Chicago Lyric Opera and other great performers in Kalamazoo and Battle Creek. I would love to see you all there!

Anyway, so that’s it for now. Thanks for reading. I hope you all have a great day! I’m going to keep enjoying my Spring Break.

People Are Not Tools

This past weekend, I had the privilege of attending the ACDA MI state conference. I had a wonderful time with my classmates, heard some great choirs, and was able to network with other directors in the state. I recommend ACDA conferences. You learn a lot, meet great people who are passionate about the craft, and get to take some time off to recharge your artistic batteries. Today, however, I want to talk about one aspect of conferences that can be dangerous. I want to talk about networking.

Don’t get me wrong. Networking in-and-of-itself is a good thing. Sometimes, though, it degenerates into brown-nosing.

I have a confession to make: I am psychologically incapable of brown-nosing. How did I come by this realization, you ask? It all started a few years ago when I attended an ACDA conference. There were bigwigs there, and I must confess. I was tempted to kiss up. You see, I had met a fellow conductor at the conference who was an amazing kiss-up. This conductor was so good at name-dropping and all-around butt-kissery that he seemed to be getting the right amount of attention.

So I decided that I would try too. At the conference was a clinician who was well-known in conducting circles. I went up to the clinician with the intent to at least try to make an impression. But something terrible happened. I froze. My mind went completely blank. I tried to force something intelligent to come out of my mouth, but found nothing. I finally just shook the clinician’s hand awkwardly for what seemed like an eternity, hastily mumbled a few words of thanks, and walked away. That was when I discovered I could not brown-nose.

Kissing up to folks always seemed dishonest to me. If I were on the receiving end, I would wonder if this person is only talking to me because they want to get something out of it.

This dishonesty is not confined to the relationship of inferiors to superiors. It can also be seen of those in a managerial capacity. You get the impression some managers talk to you only because they want something from you. They can be warm, but it is a superficial warmth. Something cold and lifeless lives behind that smile. You are simply a means to their end.

People are not tools. They should be treated with love, respect, and dignity. When you talk to others, it should not always (often?) be because you want something or need something to be done, but because you genuinely want to know them. In other words, you should actually care.

You’d be amazed at how well people respond when they know you honestly and sincerely care about them. They will do things for you. They will forgive you if you do or say something insensitive. They will answer your questions. They will forward your name. They will enthusiastically follow your leadership. You will earn real and lasting respect. You won’t have to be a sycophant or a dictator in order to succeed.

Bruce Lee and the Art of Music Education, Part 2

This is the second in my articles about Bruce Lee and the Art of Music Education. For those who missed my first post, you can find it here. This last weekend, I attended the American Choral Directors Association (Michigan Chapter) Fall Conference. I have frequented these sort of conferences both in MI and in NC. I highly recommend attending conferences. They re-tune your ear, provide you with fresh ideas, and connect you with other professionals in your area.  In these conferences, you attend different seminars that you hope are applicable to your field. I have found that there is always some new tool or technique that I can use to become a better conductor and teacher.

Another thing I have found is that you cannot use every technique they tell you works for them. Some new techniques worked well for me, and some spectacularly failed. I have even bought books that collect dust on my shelf because they have not worked for me. I have been excited to try many techniques only to see them fail when I implement them with my classes and choirs. Why is this? There are several reasons why some techniques work while others do not.

Reason #1: Incorrect Application

First, maybe I am doing it wrong. I might have misunderstood the concept. Or, I missed or forgot a an important step in the technique. When that happens, I have to go back to the drawing board. What did I do wrong? Is there some way I can fix it?

Reason #2: Different Personalities

Second, maybe my personality and the personality of the presenter are completely different. What works for one teacher might not work for another. Maybe the technique requires someone who is extremely high-energy and very outgoing. If this is the case, it means that the technique will never work for someone who is more low-key, and vice-versa. There is only so much modifying of your personality you can do before you will come off as fake and the technique will fail.

Reason #3: Different Skill Sets

Third, maybe the skill set of the presenter is vastly different than the skill set of the listener. Some presenters have been taking piano lessons since they were little children. I have have come a long way in my piano skills, but I will still not be at their level. What is natural to them is not going to be natural to me. If a technique relies on strong piano skills, I will need to seek a different method of approaching the technique they taught. If however, it is based on singing (one of my strong skill sets), then I will be able to use it easily.

Reason #4: Different Philosophies

Fourth, the presenter’s philosophy of good choral and educational pedagogy might be vastly different than mine. Something the presenter might think is extremely important is something I might think is not. The converse is also true.

In a previous post, I mentioned that Bruce Lee was a proponent of honesty in martial arts. He meant that a martial artist should predominately use the techniques to which they are most naturally suited. The more honest or natural the artist is, the better s/he will be. The more an artist tries to imitate another, the less-capable they will be. This principle holds true for all artists. If you want to be a great artist, learn new techniques, but be willing to adapt them as necessary to fit your strengths, philosophy, and personality. Only then will you be truly great.