Arts Entrepreneurship

I’m singing a Solo Concert at First Presbyterian in Kzoo!

I will be performing a solo concert at First Presbyterian in Kalamazoo on Nov. 18! I’m very excited about this. It gives me the opportunity to perform rep that I’ve always wanted to perform and to show different sides of my musical personality. There will be a bit of something for everyone. I’ll be singing some solo music by Handel, Bach, Fauré, and Vaughan Williams, some choral music by Dan Forrest and me (an original piece!), and even some vocal jazz.

Most excitingly, I’ll be performing with some wonderful musician friends that I got to know at WMU. Western is a truly amazing place where you meet talented, dedicated, hard-working musicians who aren’t trying to compete with each other all the time. It’s a place that believes you can succeed by lifting each other up, not tearing each other down. Western isn’t even paying me to say that!

It will be a benefit concert, but I’m still working out some of the details on that. I’ll let you know once things are finalized. If you’re free on Saturday evening, Nov. 18, please stop on by First Presbyterian!

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Life Update October 2017

Well, it’s that time again: time to let the world know what is going on in my life. I’m excited about finishing several projects, some of which have taken years to come to completion!

Non-fiction Book on How to Sing

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know that I like to write and teach about singing. Helping students sing more healthily is a passion of mine. It is something I’ve worked long and hard at for several years. Through that time, I distilled the main elements of healthy singing into four easily understood categories. Most vocal problems can be reduced to one or more of these singing fundamentals.

Well, I finally put these awesome materials down in writing! I’m polishing some things in it and making helpful how-to videos that will make this book even more useful to the beginning singer. This book will enable the beginning singer to gain a clear understanding of the voice as an instrument. It will also help voice teachers who want to know how to teach beginning singers. My goal is to publish this by the end of the year.

Young Adult Fiction Novel

Yes, you read that right. I’ve been slowly writing my first fiction novel. I would have finished it sooner, but school and other priorities tend to take precedence. Thankfully, the book is nearing completion as well.

The book has it all: an evil conspiracy, monsters, hunters, lots of action, and martial arts! Ultimately, though, the book is about family, and how the choices they make impact their lives. I also plan to publish this soon!

Solo Singer Benefit Recital in November

I’ve wanted to sing a recital in Kalamazoo for a while. Now, I’ve made time to do it! I will be raising money for charity at the concert by singing a lot of different repertoire. There should be a little something for everybody. I will be performing jazz, choral, baroque, classical, and other styles of music. A lot of great musicians will be joining me for this event, so the music will be stellar. I will announce dates and what we’re raising money for soon. Stay posted!

Choral Extravaganza Next April

I have been working with several choirs in the south-central MI to host a benefit concert in April 2018. I’m really excited about this, as it accomplishes several things I’m passionate about. I love helping people, and I love collaborating with talented, motivated individuals. More to come on this as we get closer.

Regular Work

I’m also continuing to teach voice lessons and martial arts, conduct the West Michigan Homeschool Fine Arts Kalamazoo Choir, lead worship at Calvary Baptist Church in Quincy, and direct the Branch United Youth Choir in Coldwater. Life is busy, but good!

 

When to Change a Tradition

As someone who is on the opposite end of the spectrum from traditionalists, I sometimes become restless. When I go to a restaurant, I like to try new foods. When I’m in a class, I seek out a new seat in every session.  Repeating old projects verbatim-to me, anyway-is boring. Can I do or try something new? This is part of the reason I enjoy the arts. It is project-oriented (e.g. the concert, the recording, the fundraiser, etc.).

In the past, this has sometimes caused friction. People like tradition, and tradition isn’t inherently bad. The problem comes when tradition transmogrifies into traditionalism. Tradition becomes an end in and of itself. It hardens into a mindset. The tradition is “the right way” to do something. Why change the tradition if it still kinda sorta works?

What does tradition provide? Tradition provides continuity and community for an organization or individual. At Western Michigan University, the choirs often sing the alma mater before concerts. The college students link arms and sway back and forth as they sing. While to some this may seem cheesy to some, the students like it. It is something distinctive and special. It gives them a sense of belonging. It connects choral singers-past, present, and future.

With all of that said, I think there are several reasons to change a tradition:

  1. Perhaps the old way is not as effective, and needs to be tweaked. The results of doing the tradition are diminishing, and it needs updating to be more effective. Maybe you should use technology to speed up the process. Maybe a certain step in the operation is redundant.
  2. Perhaps you’ve found a much better way. You went to a workshop, and they showed how the such-and-such Master Chorale of someplace does this awesome thing in their rehearsals that will make your life as a choir director better. This new thing might work for you; it might not. You will never know until you attempt it.
  3. Perhaps you want to put your own stamp on an organization. The organization just does not feel like it is yours. It feels like the old director’s. You know that if you do this new thing, then you will establish a new tradition, your tradition. The danger with this lies in trying to change things too fast, particularly if the previous director was popular. If you change things too quickly or flippantly, there will be a backlash against you.
  4. Perhaps the people in the organization have become complacent. They do the same ole, same ole. Because they are content treading water, they are not going anywhere. The organization is not growing, and is often shrinking. As someone once told me, an organization that refuses to change refuses to live.
  5. Perhaps you want to prepare them for a much bigger change in the future. People tend to do what is comfortable. In order to prepare them for a big change, maybe a smaller change will help them accept the larger one.

To be clear, I’m not talking about completely jettisoning tradition. Throwing out a tradition simply because it has been done before is foolish and arrogant, and will likely cause problems. It will make you look like a dictator. However, methodical change, when wisely implemented, will enable your organization to grow.

 

The INTJ Musician

When I was in undergrad, I took my first Myers Briggs test. It was paradigm-shifting. I finally understood significant aspects of my personality. Some don’t find this test particularly helpful. If it works for you, great; if not, that’s okay too. All I know is that it worked for me. If anyone wants to take it, you can do it here. Anyway, I discovered that I was the type called INTJ. We are very rare and often misunderstood. Even rarer are INTJ creatives and performers. That’s because INTJ’s typically don’t like to be in front of others.

I know what some of you are asking. What on earth is an INTJ? INTJ’s come from a personality test that deals with several aspects of a persons personality. Before I dive into them, it must first be said that each of the personality elements are more of a spectrum than a definite thing. This means that a person will have some of the aspects of a personality type, but not all of them. Humans are complex. One INTJ might be 60% introverted and 40% extroverted, while another might be 90% introverted and 10% extroverted. Labels and categories are generalizations, and should be treated as such.

First, the test determines if you are primarily an [I]ntrovert or an [E]xtrovert. An introvert is someone who loses energy by being around others and gains it by being alone. An extrovert gains energy by being around others and loses it when alone. As an INTJ, I often find it exhausting to be around other people. For instance, I have a set amount of time I can spend at a party until I turn into a pumpkin.

The second category is i[N]tuitive or [S]ensing. Intuitive people tend to make their decisions based on internal decisions like logic and connecting the dots rather than merely “external facts.” They look for patterns behind data and use logic to figure out a better path. INTJ’s use intuition to make decisions. It is not unheard of for an INTJ to always be thinking multiple steps ahead. They often live inside their own head, and sometimes struggle to get out of it.

The third category is [T]hinking or [F]eeling. Thinkers trust logic and facts more than feelings when making decisions. For the thinker, feelings often get in the way of making good decisions. An INTJ then, does not trust feelings when it comes to decision making. Some of you might be asking at this point, “Aren’t creatives always going with their feelings?” I’ll approach this subject in a later post.

The last category is [J]udging or [P]erceiving. Those in the judging category are driven to make decisions and plans based on what they’ve understood. Perceivers believe that formulating the idea is the important thing, not implementing it. INTJ’s are the opposite. We have to put our plans into action.

Although I have read a lot of internet articles about INTJ’s, I have not seen many that talk about INTJ creatives. INTJ Musicians, in particular, are seldom mentioned other than in listings of possible celebrity INTJ’s.  In coming posts, I will be unpacking how being this personality type has affected me as a professional musician. We approach the creative process and performing differently than other types. It is my hope that this might help you deal with that INTJ Creative in your life. If you don’t know how to handle us, we can be a handful.

 

Picture Source: By Jake Beech (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

The Branch United Youth Choir Just Received a Grant from Josh Groban’s Find Your Light Foundation!

A few years ago, the Branch United Youth Choir began with the intention of bringing the arts to youth in an (according to the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs) artistically under-served county. With hard work and support from the community, we have changed lives. Children have learned to sing, formed lasting relationships, and created beautiful art.

We could not have started without help from motivated individuals in the area. A former music teacher graciously donated the use of a digital keyboard during rehearsal. It has proved invaluable over the past few years. We would have struggled without it. Unfortunately, the keyboard was feeling its age. It also did not possess a full 88  weighted keys or a sustain pedal.

With this in mind, we asked for a grant from Josh Groban’s Find Your Light Foundation in order to purchase a new keyboard. They are a wonderful group that supports other organizations that provide musical training and enrichment to children. They recently contacted us to let us know that we had been approved! We heartily thank them, and we want them to know how much we appreciate them. This donation will help us greatly as we seek to bring the arts to the youth of this rural community. I am so looking forward to using this when we start at the beginning of October!

BUYC Choir Camp 2017 Recap

Choir camps always prove to be enjoyable, busy, and exhausting weeks. Last week was no exception. We played games, worked hard, learned much, and sang a lot! Our theme this year was Songs of Childhood. We learned about how children are raised in different countries, and we even played children’s song games from all over the world. We will be doing one more this summer in Detroit (July 17-20). If you’re interested, here’s the site you need to visit!

Every year, I am amazed how much the kids can learn in 4 days, especially since some of the children have had little to no musical training! Here’s a quick overview of what I taught them:

IMG_1412Day 1:

First we started out with some fun camp songs. It is a choir camp, after all. You have to start with singing :). We then learned how to sing with good posture and how to sing in tune. We also began working on some songs that we would perform at the concert on Thursday. I made a new arrangement of “A la puerta del cielo,” which they sang pretty well.

Day 2:

We reviewed the words and melody to an Argentinian children’s game called “Caracol.” The game is kinda cool, but it takes a little while to be able to sing and play it at the same time if you don’t know Spanish. The kids played an Indian (from India) game called “Fire on the Mountain,” which they liked a lot.

Day 3:

IMG_1415The kids finally got to play “Caracol.” The word means “snail.” It’s a line game where one side of the line twists the other into “the shell.” Then, the opposite side of the line pulls everyone out again. The group picks up speed, and the children are flung outward onto the ground. Children love these kinds of games; they are played all over the world. Learning these games are a great way for kids to connect with other cultures.

Day 4:

IMG_1418One of our board members also leads a drumming circle at her church. She led a short djembe drumming class. This provided a nice change of pace as we were preparing for our end-of-camp concert later that night. The kids sang four songs. Some had harmony, because it is very important for children to sing in harmony if they want to grow musically. Children need to develop their ability to hold their own part while other parts are happening. This grows their musical hearing and performing skills.

IMG_1416Well, that about sums it up. The kids had a great time. They really seemed to enjoy learning about children from other cultures. They immensely enjoyed playing children’s games from other countries. What a fun and informative trip through the musical world!

 

My Recap of the Composers’ Workshop

Composing has always been a little intimidating for me. I enjoy doing it, but can never escape the feeling that I could be doing it better. Additionally, finding people who are open and honest about the craft can be difficult. For this reason, I was drawn to the John Ness Beck Foundation Choral Composers’ Workshop that I attended last week. The workshop is presented through Beckenhorst Press. This publisher has always been one of my favorites. They strive for accessibility without sacrificing artistry.

Anyway, it was an excellent workshop, and I learned a great deal. There was so much information that I often felt like I was taking a drink from a fire hose!  Consequently, I don’t feel like I am doing the workshop justice by condensing it to a short blog post. However, it would be a greater injustice for me not to try. So here goes nothing:

First off, let me say that Dan Forrest, Craig Courtney, and Howard Helvey are wonderful teachers. Having worked in the industry for years as composers, editors, and pedagogues, they brought a wealth of wisdom and experience to the workshop. Additionally, each participant had the opportunity to present pieces for critique. That can be a terrifying proposition, but Dan, Craig, and Howard tempered forthrightness with kindness. They took a scary situation and made us feel at ease. This is no easy feat!

They also taught us to delve into our compositional process. When are the best times of day for us as individuals to compose? How long should you try to compose per day? They answered these and many other questions with personal anecdotes as well as stories from other composers.

This year, they invited lyricists to join us for a day, and we got to pick their brains and collaborate. This experience was very exciting. Working with lyricists gives you a different perspective. You gain a new appreciation for the craftsmanship of the words, as well as an understanding of how much effort goes into choosing each word.

Lastly, they told us about the composing industry. Specifically, when are the best times for submitting pieces for publication? What about self-publishing? How difficult is it to get published? To which publishers should I submit my pieces? They answered all these questions and more.

Composing was always something I wanted to do better. I had ideas, but they did not always come together into a coherent whole. The composers’ workshop I attended this past week helped me figure this out. I think this will make my future compositions more cogent and compelling.

It also helped me as a conductor. Good conductors must understand why the composers and lyricists made the choices they did. This understanding, in turn, enables conductors to perform pieces precisely and expressively. The workshop provided that insight.

I would highly recommend this workshop to aspiring composers of choral music (particularly church music). The teachers are honest and kind, the fellow participants are talented and affirming, and the sessions were informative and life-changing.