Music Business

The Program for My Kzoo Ensemble Concert on May 22!

Hey All, Thought I’d give you a head’s up on what to expect at our concert on May 22 (7:30 pm) @ Bethany Reformed Church. I had a very productive day with composer Ryan Block, and gained some cool insights into his arrangement of Danny Boy. I think you all will enjoy this beautiful song.

You’ll notice that there is a great variety to the repertoire. That’s because I like variety! It is the spice of life, after all. You will hear everything from medieval music to American and English folksong to jazz. I think you’ll thoroughly enjoy the arrangement of Blue Moon by Jonny Priano. Without further ado, here it is:

I

Gloria from Messe de Nostre Dame (Guillaume Machaut)

Lamentatio sanctae matris ecclesiae Constantinopolitanae (Guillaume Dufay)

Lobe den Herren (arr. Hugo Distler)

Hark, I Hear the Harps Eternal (arr. Alice Parker)

II

My Bonny Lass, She Smileth (Thomas Morley)

My Sweetheart’s Like Venus (arr. Gustav Holst)

Danny Boy (arr. Ryan Block)

Blue Moon (arr. Jonny Priano)

On a completely unrelated note, I’m still trying to figure out a name for this ensemble. If you have any ideas, please PM or contact me here. I would greatly appreciate it!!!!

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Brand New Choral Ensemble in Kzoo!

Hello Everyone,

I thought I’d take a break from promoting my young adult novel and talk about a new ensemble that I formed! We’ll be singing our inaugural concert at Bethany Reformed Church in Kalamazoo on Tuesday, May 22 (7:30 pm).

I guess I should give you some context. During my time at WMU, I met a bunch of wonderful, talented, and committed singers. It killed me that I could no longer consistently sing with them or at that high level of artistry.

The goals of this small ensemble are to unify the community through love of music, empower musicians young and old through education and presentation, enrich the artistic life of the community through creative collaborations performed at a high level, and enkindle a love of music through engaging performances in new places. I’m open to innovative ideas performed in interesting places!

Though we’ll sing music from a bunch of different eras, we’ll be specializing in early music, jazz, and contemporary music—these are strengths of the music scene in Kzoo, and I think we can add to it. We’ve got an amazing group of singers, including Bri Rigozzi, Melanie Walker, Laura Healy, Libbie Hayden, Max Wagner, Ryan Block, and myself. We’ll be singing music from the Middle Ages (Machaut) all the way to a brand-new arrangement of Danny Boy composed by local jazz pianist and singer Ryan Block!

Since this is a new venture, we really need your support! We’ll be asking a suggested donation of $10/person for the concert. If you want more choral awesomeness in Kzoo and the west Michigan area, you are free to give more! Please support your local artists. Regardless of what you can give, we want you to come and enjoy it! 

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.

 

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.

August 2016 Life Update

The past several months have been eventful! Life has been busy, but good. I ran two of my most successful children’s choir camps (Detroit and Coldwater, MI). Both of them were the best attended of any of the camps I’ve conducted in their areas. The kids responded in ways that I did not expect.

This year, I used a new theme: the African-American Spiritual. I have always loved spirituals, but I was initially at a loss as to how to teach about them. A couple months passed until the curriculum formed in my mind. In fact, the deadline to complete it was quickly approaching.

Thankfully, inspiration finally came knocking. I approached the four-day camp this way:

Day 1: What is a spiritual? (Roots of slavery and how spirituals are a fusion of African music and European hymnody/folk music)

Day 2: The Fisk Jubilee Singers (How they popularized the spiritual and used it to fund Fisk University)

Day 3: The Spiritual and the Civil Rights Movement (How spirituals were adapted to help end Jim Crow and encourage racial integration)

Day 4: The spirituals go mainstream (How choral groups all over America frequently sing the well-loved spirituals)

The kids really connected with the curriculum, but not like they did in years previous. They weren’t bubbly excited; they were seriously interested. They loved singing the spirituals. They understood the plight of slavery and the struggles of black Americans as they have worked to rise from it. I think the spirituals helped personalize this history in a way that only teaching about it can’t.

I had no idea when I came up with the idea for my theme that racial tensions would be this high in the USA. However, I’m thankful that I did it. It is only through understanding that we can truly empathize.

The rest of my summer was spent working. The Lord provided me with a job at a nearby hospital. I have been both blessed and extremely taxed by this job. I work with folks who need to be watched for various reasons (suicidal, homicidal, addiction, dementia, head trauma, etc.). It has definitely caused me to consider things about the world in a different, perhaps deeper, light.

I was also prepping for the upcoming school year at WMU. I will be starting a graduate assistantship in the vocal and choral departments in a few weeks. I am looking forward to the challenge. I love teaching voice lessons and conducting, so this seems right up my alley. I am also choosing repertoire for my graduate conducting recital (Spring 2017!) and my various and sundry choirs.

Lastly, I will be leaving in a few days for the Norfolk Chamber Choir and Choral Conducting Workshop. It is hosted by Yale University and directed by the inimitable Simon Carrington of King’s Singers fame. I’m very excited about it. I believe I will learn a lot about choral singing. Hopefully, it will lead to more choral singing gigs, which I am keen to be doing.

Anyway, that’s about it for now. I will keep you posted as new opportunities and the like happen in my life.

 

Staying on the Front Lines

I recently spoke with a well-known music teacher and clinician. Sometimes, you don’t know what to expect when talking with someone who has achieved a high degree of success in their career. This person, however, owned that special combination of being very philosophical and yet very practical.

We were talking about music education. This teacher stated that many music ed professors on the collegiate level had not stepped foot in a k-12 classroom in years. They needed to be in the field. How else would they know how the changes in culture and technology were affecting music education? I thought this was an interesting idea. I made a comment, something to the effect of “so you want them to spend time on the front lines?”

While I do not know the extent to which someone needs to be on the front lines (perhaps it is different for everybody?), I do believe this teacher was correct in principle. Successful directors and profs often become removed from the day-to-day grind that they went through at the beginning of their career. They’ve taught college students the same lectures for twenty years. Over time, they can forget what it is like  to be on the front lines. They are so used to being generals that they have forgotten what it is like to be lieutenants.

I believe this can do a couple things. 1) This can decrease their empathy. Some profs have lived somewhat comfortably for many years in the ivory tower. They simply do not remember all the sacrifices they had to make, the exhaustion that comes at the end of the school year, the frustrations that can arise in working with admin and parents, etc. 2) This can make those profs unaware of the changes in culture and development that affect children. Simply put, life has changed drastically even in twenty years. The ubiquitous presence of electronic devices, video games, and instant information has dramatically transformed the education landscape. Family life has changed as well. I’ve known many parents who have their kids heavily involved in multiple after-school activities. College profs should know what that functionally means when teaching the next generation.

This is partly why I enjoy my choir camps that I run in the summers. This last week, I was able to direct and teach children in the downriver area of Detroit for a four-day seminar. The extent of their vocal and musical training varied widely. Many of them had never sung in a choir. Several hadn’t sung harmony before, much less learned to read a piece of music. I taught them the very basics of singing and making music. The kids loved it and grew so much. It was a great time!

This next week (July 11-14), the Branch United Youth Choir will be hosting a choir camp in Coldwater, MI. If you know of any child or family who wants to learn to sing, please contact us. I am excited to work with this new batch of kids. I love the challenge of starting at square one, giving the children the skills to succeed musically, teaching them to create and have fun with music, and bringing it to a conclusion with an enjoyable performance at the end. They work hard and learn much.

Additionally, teaching on the grunt level refreshes in my mind what it is like to work with the populace at large. Many times, the children’s parents aren’t musicians. They aren’t signing up to support the arts in schools. They just know their kids seem to like music. Perhaps the kids sing around the house all the time. Maybe the kids were told by their friends that choir camp was a lot of fun and that they learned a lot. Understanding this keeps things in perspective when I advocate for music education.

In whatever field, it is important for professionals keep abreast of current developments. This is also true in music education. We should never forget from whence we came. For me, teaching young musicians is an excellent way to do that.