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Life Update August 2018

Well, the fall season is fast approaching, and I am busily organizing things in order to be prepared. I’m incredibly excited about the opportunities the Lord has given me,  and I even have some opportunities for others that I can share!

Vessel for the Arts—The Story

This fall, I will be the music director for a production called “The Story.” It is a series of vignettes from the Bible (Adam & Eve, Esther, Daniel, Jesus, Mary Magdelene, etc.). I’ll be conducting the orchestra and working with the voices. The performances are Dec. 7, 14, 16 at Comstock Community Auditorium and Dec. 8 & 15 at Caledonia High School Fine Arts Center.

*Big Announcement!!!!* 

We are hosting auditions on Aug. 21-25. If you are interested in the mission of Vessel for the Arts and want to try out, please come. The project will be a lot of fun, and we’ll present gospel truth in an engaging and artistic manner! Click Here for audition and rehearsal information.

Branch United Youth Choir—Coldwater, MI

We’re starting our fifth year (can you believe it!) of empowering young singers in this rural community in south-central MI. We just hosted a wonderful choir camp on June 25-28. The kids enjoyed themselves and learned about musical theater. Our next season looks like this:

Fall Semester:
Oct 2-Nov 27—Rehearsals
Dec 1—Concert
Fall Tuition: $80
Spring Semester:
Jan 22-Feb 26—Rehearsals
Mar 1—Concert
Spring Tuition: $80
There are tuition scholarships available for those who are interested but aren’t sure how to pay for the choir. We want to make music training and empowerment available to all.
As a cool thing, if you are a homeschooler, you can get your tuition paid for by the Gull Lake Partnership

West Michigan Homeschool Fine Arts

I will continue to conduct the Kalamazoo Jr./Sr. High Choir for the WMHFA. Even though last year was a first year for all of us, we made some great strides. My goal is to keep the momentum going. We’ll be participating in MSVMA this year and everything. To all my school teacher friends—I’ll see you there!

Celebris Ensemble

This last May, I started a small vocal ensemble in Kalamazoo. We sang a fun concert with some early music, contemporary music, and vocal jazz. We’ll be singing some concerts in the next few months, including in October and December. Stay tuned!!!

Voice Lessons

I’m thankful that there seems to be a lot of interest in voice lessons for the fall/spring season. If you are interested in them, contact me here. My goal is to get my students to become the best singers they can be in the shortest time possible. You’ll get a solid foundation of healthy vocal technique, and I will get you to the next level!

Book Stuff

Those of you who’ve been following me know that I put out a book in April. I’m happy to announce that I’ve completed a novella in my same Giftless Chronicles universe. I’m currently finishing the first round of editing. I hope to get this out soon, with perhaps another related project!

My Music

I also published a song called The Hunter and His Love. Listen to it on Spotify and buy it and stuff.  The more you listen to it, the more bills I get to pay and the more music I get to create!
Okay, I think that’s it.
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My Single Is Out!!!!!!

 

Hello Everyone,

You heard it right. My new single is now posted to the cool places on the internet! This post is a one stop shop for my ballad. Take a listen, add to your playlists, and all that other stuff you whippersnappers do!

As always, I also want to let you know that the book that inspired this song is available for sale at Amazon and Kobo! Buy it! Buy it! Buy it! You know you want to. Support your local (or not so local) artist. Thanks, and enjoy!

Here are some links:

Spotify

iTunes

Amazon

Here’s another Youtube version!

 

 

The Ballad I Wrote Is Coming Out Next Week!

I recently told an extended family member that one of my goals in life is to create things. Hence, if you look at my Instagram account, you will notice it is called @joel_creative. This is not a label of what I think I am, but rather what I aspire to be.

Many creative endeavors are linked. Sometimes, I’ll write a solo song and then turn it into a choir song, and vice versa. I wrote a solo arrangement of Danny Boy and then gave it to a friend to write a piano accompaniment. Instead, he turned it into a choral arrangement, which my Celebris ensemble sang at our concert a couple months ago (he was in the group).  I call this confluence of ideas, people, and products “synergy.”

Here is a behind-the-scenes look at the making of my ballad. If you want a sneak peak, please sign up to my email list by Wednesday, July 11!

My Ballad: A History

Another example of synergy is when I wrote my young adult novel The Giftless Chronicles: The Vampire Conspiracy. I decided that one of my characters would sing a portion of a folk ballad. Since he’s part of a community that hunts monsters, that would be the subject matter. Folk ballads tell a story, so I chose to have two characters (a hunter and his love) go into the woods to fight an evil witch. Things get messy from there.

The Melody

Inspiration hit me like a Mack truck. I’d already written a folk melody (in Dorian mode, for all you music nerds) that would work perfectly. What if I wrote the whole text? I decided it would be like an old ballad, with old-timey words and everything. I finished it, and that was that.

Arranging the Song

Then another thought occurred to me. What if I made a recording? It would work well for promotional purposes. Other authors use skills that they have to promote their work. As a singer, conductor, & composer, I have a very particular set of skills (say that in your best Liam Neeson voice). Why not use them? I’d need to arrange the song, so I spoke with a friend, Joel Myers of The Founding, and he gave me some wonderful ideas.

Corralling the Musicians

After that, it followed that I would need to record it. I started corralling musicians, which is a lot like herding cats. Getting them all into the same room at the same time is quite difficult. In fact, I had two different musicians bail on me at the last moment. I was afraid that the recording wouldn’t happen, but I eventually ended up with Flute (Maria Gugliemina), Alto soloist (Daniela Peña), Bass-Baritone soloist (Me), Violin (John Robey), Cello (Samuel Kelly), and Mandolin (Joel Myers).  They’re all talented, dependable musicians, and you should hire them!

Recording the Song

Eventually though, we ended up in the recording studio and knocked it out. I sang and conducted at the same time, which I think helped keep us together and cut down on rehearsal and studio time.

Next, my studio technician (Garrett Gagnon) worked his magic. He cut/spliced things together, changed the balance on things, and then sent his versions to me. I listened and asked for some changes. All-in-all, it turned out to be a fun project, and I’m excited to share it with you soon.

One of my sisters told me that it was weird to write a song that goes into my book. It probably is. I’ve never been accused of being a normal person! Normal is boring, right? She also said that I should say that it was inspired by my book. I think either way works: the song can stand on its own or fit into my Giftless Chronicles universe. You can decide what you want it to be.

Life Update July 2018

All of us know that life can get busy. Most of us, however, like to work on one project at a time. There’s only one problem with all of that for me: I’m a musician. My life is a continuous set of gigs.

The good thing about this is that I rarely do the same thing in the same place for more than a couple of times. Variety is the spice of life, and I love the challenge of taking on a new project, performance, or job. For a professional musician, life is a like a box of chocolates…and stuff.

The downside is that sometimes I don’t feel like a professional musician, but rather like a professional plate spinner.

Such a lost art!

Anyway, without further ado, here has been my life since my last life update:

West Michigan Homeschool Fine Arts

I concluded a wonderful season with my homeschool choir. They were a blessing to me, and I don’t say that lightly. The kids brought an enthusiasm and focus to choral singing that I have never seen in that age group. We learned a lot and made some wonderful music. I greatly look forward to conducting them again in the fall.

Branch United Youth Choir

We finished our season with a collaboration with the irrepressible Nancy Brown and the Union City Community Chorale. The chorale was excited to have us there, and we even sang a song with them, which is always fun.

We also recently finished our annual choir camp (June 18-21). I taught them how to sing and gave them some basic sight-reading skills. Our theme this year  was Musical Theatre. The kids learned about the history of musical theatre (yay for learning stuff!) and how we got to styles that are used in musical theatre performances today. We did a scene from The Pirates of Penzance and sang some wonderful music from different musicals.

The Giftless Chronicles: The Vampire Conspiracy (Book 1)

A couple months ago, I had the privilege of publishing my first book. It’s a Young Adult novel and it’s about (hard to guess, I know) a vampire conspiracy. It’s a been an intriguing opportunity to learn about the self-publishing world. One of the best compliments have received multiple times is that readers “had to know what happened next.” To me, that is a sign of an engaging book. Please take a look at it and buy it!

I’m also excited to announce that I’m 14,000 words into a novella (17,000-39,999 words) set in the same world. This time, I’m focusing on one of the other characters, Corinne, and her adventures as she learns to be a Chronicler. Lots of exciting action, drama, and new characters to meet as I delve deeper into this rich universe!

Celebris Ensemble

It’s been a dream of mine to sing with a dedicated, talented group of singers. I formed an small choral ensemble here in Kalamazoo, and our first concert was on May 22nd at Bethany Reformed church. You can listen to some recordings and learn more about us at my Celebris tab. I’m working on next season, which should be some exciting performances. If you want to hire us for a gig, contact me at celebris.ensemble@gmail.com.

Detroit Symphony Orchestra Gig

At the beginning of June, I performed with a large group of professional singers (mostly made up of Audivi and Opera Modo) which sang in the DSO’s rendition of Puccini’s Turandot. It is some truly glorious music, and it was nice to sing in a mass choir of that caliber. The voices were powerful and resonant, and the musicianship of the singers was precise and focused.

DSO Gig 2018

Upcoming Gigs

I’ve already listed a few in my other sections, but here goes: My Detroit Choir Camp is the last week of July and the first week of August. If you are in the Detroit area and you want your kids have fun singing musical theatre, contact Noelle Stiekes here.

I made a recording of a folk ballad that I wrote, orchestrated, and produced.  It’s based in my Giftless Chronicles world (one of the characters sings the first stanza in my novel), and it’s about a Hunter and his love who go into the woods to fight an evil witch. The song turned out pretty cool, if I do say so myself. If you want to get a sneak preview, sign up to my email list. You get access to behind the scenes stuff there!

I signed on to be the music director of a production of “The Story.” It’s traces the gospel through various Bible accounts. It should be a great time of collaboration and I’m looking forward to our performance in December.

In March 2019, I’ll be singing a gig with Sounding Light, a professional choir based in Oakland County, MI.

I think that’s about it. If you have any interest in voice lessons, hiring me for a singing or conducting gig, please contact me. The more work the better.

Announcing Our Kzoo Ensemble’s Name!

After much deliberation, we have come to a decision! Finding a name for your ensemble isn’t easy. Not only do all of you have to agree, but it can’t be taken, or copyrighted, or anything like that.

Our new name is Celebris (pronounced Cheh-leh-brees). It’s Latin for “festive, honored, or celebrated.” We think it fits with our mission of providing a variety of high quality, enjoyable music. Our audiences will enjoy not just early music or contemporary music, but music that will uplift the soul from different genres and time periods.

As an interim step to making our own website, I have created a tab on this one. Please take a look. Recordings included! If you are interested in collaborating with an exciting group of talented young professionals, please contact us at celebris.ensemble@gmail.com!

I’m Singing with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra Next Week!

Earlier this year, I auditioned for Audivi, a Detroit-based professional choir under the direction of the very kind and capable Dr. Noah Horn. He asked me if I would be willing to perform with them in the opera chorus for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s production of Puccini’s Turandot. I figured it would be a good chance to spend some time with family and sing with some wonderful people. If you’re in the Detroit area next week (June 8 & 10), please come on out! You even get to hear this beautiful aria:

One of the challenges singers face in the classical job market is whether to be a specialist or a generalist. Should they specialize in opera or professional choirs, early music or contemporary music, straight-tone or full-voiced vibrato? The answer, in my opinion, is complicated.

The answer boils down to several questions, to which the answer can vary according to the person. 1) What do I enjoy? 2) What am I capable of doing well? 3) What can I make money doing?

What do I enjoy?

Artists need to enjoy what they are doing. If they don’t enjoy what they are doing, the art will suffer because their hearts and souls are not fully engaged. The art might be technically good, but it won’t be great. Also, artists need to enjoy it because there will usually be a lot of rejection before success comes. Arts business is not for the faint of heart.

What am I capable of doing well?

Singing early music (music written pre-1750) typically requires a singer with a smaller, lighter voice. Singing the operas of Richard Wagner typically requires a big, heavy one. Often, the singer’s instrument determines whether or not a singer can do that specific kind of music. The vocal generalist is somewhere in between. S/he can sing well in multiple categories, but will frequently struggle to find a niche.

I’ve found myself to be somewhat of a generalist in this regard. My voice is pretty loud, and I can sing with full vibrato for those Puccini operas. On the other hand, I can sing straight-tone and light vibrato for early music and choral music. What’s more, I enjoy the variety. I get bored doing one type of singing. “Variety is the spice of life” is kind of an unofficial motto for me. Take a look at my Singer Page to see what I mean.

What can I make money doing?

Sometimes, specialization and generalization boil down to which will make more money. Like everyone else, singers need to pay rent, electricity, etc. Some singers can kick enough backside and take enough names in early music or opera that people are willing to fork over enough cash for them to live on. Others need to do early music, contemporary music, opera, oratorio, and professional choirs in order to make a living. They cast their nets widely in order to pay the bills.

Conclusion

How people fall on these questions will determine where they should spend their time and energy. I recommend trying a bunch of different types of music and figuring out what you are good at. Then, pursue that/those type(s) as diligently and intelligently and artistically as possible. Take risks. Grow. Life might just surprise you.

 

 

 

On Floaters and Burrowers, Or Reflections on My Kalamazoo Ensemble Concert

I’ve been recently reflecting on an old TV episode I watched once. In the episode, one of the characters mentions that another character is a floater—he would float through life and things would just kinda work out for him. We’ve all met people like this. They always seem to be in the right place at the right time. Others naturally like them, want to do things for them, and give them things/opportunities. And since they are floaters, they probably don’t even know that they are. If you’re this person, count yourself blessed.

Then the TV character mentions the other kind of people—burrowers. These are the people whose faces are always buried in the mud and dirt of life. Any opportunities they get are the ones that they made happen through blood, sweat, and tears, and it’s usually half of the opportunities that the floaters get. Frankly, I’ve always felt like a burrower. I work hard on projects, always going two steps forward and getting pushed one step backward. On the plus side, I always feel like I’ve really accomplished something when the project is finished and I can reflect on a job well done. Wearing the dirt feels like a badge of honor. The dirt makes you feel like you’ve really accomplished something.

Which brings me to the ensemble concert last night. I remarked to one of my ensemble members how much easier this particular project has been to create than others I’ve done. Sure, there were struggles and the obligatory musician who drops out at the last minute (honestly, guys, we gotta start doing better about that), but overall it went pretty smoothly. The singers came with their notes learned. We got things done in the rehearsals, which were still fun. Everyone pulled their own weight. We created beautiful music.

So I want to thank everyone that helped with last night: the audience that came and enjoyed our hard work, our recording engineer who was willing to come and was easy to work with, the ensemble that worked hard and sang well, the good folks at Bethany Reformed Church who welcomed us with open arms, and those that supported us financially as we try to get this ensemble off the ground. You are all wonderful people. I’m so privileged to make music with all of you.

Here’s some video from the concert!

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

 

Danny Boy (arr. Ryan Block)