Western Michigan University

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! 

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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!

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.

 

I Am Traveling to the Baltics!

So, next week, I will be traveling to Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania with the WMU Chorale! I am very excited about this, as it is always fun to write new countries on my list of places that I have visited. So far, I have been to Canada, Ireland, Italy, and Thailand.

Interestingly, almost all of my visits to other countries have been music-related. I have put on concerts in Toronto on two separate occasions. The first time, I sang  with a group of my sisters’ friends at a church up there. The second time, I was the director of a community children’s choir. We put on several concerts and saw some great sights, including the CN Tower and Niagara Falls (the Canadian side of the falls are better). I also took my children’s choir to Italy. My goal was to eat my way through the country. In that attempt, I succeeded! The food there was amazing.

For those of you who may not know, my family sings together. We sang and ministered in churches in southeastern MI. People would always joke that we were the von Trapp family. We would respond that we were the von Schneider’s :). Anyway, my family also ministered in Ireland and Thailand through concerts, masterclasses, and lectures. Those were very memorable trips!

Of all the places I have visited, my favorite was Ireland. The country is verdant and beautiful. We got to see so many great sights. We visited the Cliffs of Moher (the Cliffs of Insanity from The Princess Bride), the Dingle Peninsula (one of the few places they still speak gaelic as the first language), and Blarney Castle (I did kiss the Blarney Stone; I don’t know how much gab I was gifted, but whatever).

However, the best and most important aspect of every trip is meeting the people of that country. Forming new relationships is a great experience, and it introduces you to different ways of viewing the world. This might come as a shock, but not everyone has the same worldview as you ;). In Ireland especially, we stayed with Irish families and worshiped with Irish folks. It was a powerful experience that I will never forget and always cherish.

I am hoping this trip to the Baltics will be equally extraordinary. We will be competing in a competition over there. This is a little frightening because of the citizens are pretty hard-core about their choral singing. Their standards are very high. We will also be meeting and singing with choristers in the respective countries. I am looking forward to getting to know them.

I will try to keep you posted as we travel. If you want to hear our repertoire, come to our pre-tour concert at Milwood United Methodist Church next Tuesday, May 16. It will be a wonderful concert. We would be happy to see you there!

On the Wisdom of Trying New Things

Those who know me know that I love to try new things. My classmates at Western sometimes got exasperated with me because I liked to sit in different seats pretty much every class period. Don’t worry, I tried not to sit in someone else’s seat. That would throw off their groove, and would just be plain mean.

When I go to a restaurant, I look over the menu and see if there is something I haven’t tried before. I’ll try the fettucini alfredo even though I know from experience that the pasta primavera is good. It’s a small thrill of exploration. Maybe I’ll find a new, amazing dish.

Over the next few months, I will be working on a lot of projects which I hope to share with you soon. Some of these have to do with my children’s choir. Some of them don’t. Some are collaborative. Some are personal. Some are recent while some I have been slowly working towards completing for years; I am finally close to wrapping them up. After finishing them, I hope to move on to new projects, concerts, and concerns. This helps me grow as a creative, find new opportunities, and meet new people with whom to collaborate.

So what’s my point? My point is that going through life doing the same ole, same ole is boring. It can get you stuck in a rut. Change is invaluable not only for creatives like myself, but also for everyone. Try something new. Sit in a different seat. Talk to someone you’ve never met. Gain a new perspective (literally and figuratively!). Order a dish you haven’t tried before even though you’re comfortable with the veal parmesan. Start writing that blog, book, song, whatever. Read that book that’s been collecting dust on your shelf. Start learning a new instrument. Go on a date with that person who you think might be interesting. Take a risk. Change it up. Your life will be richer for it, and, who knows, you just might like it.

Life Update May 2017

So, I did it. I finally graduated with my 2nd master’s degree. My first was in voice performance; this one is in choral conducting. I have thus completed one of the most difficult accomplishments of my life! I cannot begin to fully explain to you the hard work it took to get to this point. I am thankful and exhausted.

Let’s just say that I have learned a lot this year. This past fall, I took a very full load and began new teaching duties as the voice graduate assistant. I was privileged to teach voice classes and lessons for the voice department. This was a great experience for me. I got to teach what I consider to be the important fundamentals of vocal skill. The class learned the basics of healthy vocal technique: posture, placement, breathing, and relaxation. I also taught them some slightly more advanced concepts: leaps, dynamics, vowel modification, and registration among other things. I had a blast, and the students seemed very appreciative of my teaching. It’s so cool to see someone grow because of what I taught them!

I also had some struggles. This spring, I performed my conducting recital. It was easily one of the most stressful things I have ever done. The pressure to make the vocal and musical elements as perfect as possible was enormous. I greatly appreciated all the hard work of the singers and instrumentalists. Thank you so much.

A week and a half before my recital, my grandfather passed away. He was diagnosed with cancer several months ago, so I was expecting it. Still, it was very difficult, and it made it hard to concentrate during a crucial time in my life. Thankfully, folks at Western stepped up to help me. I could not have made it without their care and understanding.

Things are starting to settle down. I just have two more major things to do, and then my summer will begin. First, my Branch United Youth  Choir concert is this Saturday, May 6. If you want to come, the concert is at 7 pm. We will be singing in the beautiful sanctuary in St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Coldwater, MI. I always love performing in there. The acoustics are superb, and the architecture is stunning. We will also performing with Blarney Castle, a progressive Irish group. They have been winning competitions and performing all over Southwestern Michigan, and I am excited the BUYC will be with them on their first performance in Coldwater.

This group actively sought to collaborate with us, and I am thrilled to perform with them. The children have been working hard on a duet with the beautifully expressive voice of EJ Schubkegel. I made a solo arrangement of “Danny Boy” that I will be singing with the guitarist, Patrick Hartson. He and I have had a great time working through all my funky chords that I made him play! I think it will be a fitting tribute to my grandfather.

Lastly, the WMU Chorale will be competing and touring in the Baltics in a couple weeks. I have been so honored to sing with them over the past two years. This year in particular has been truly exciting. They are an exceptional group of musicians, and I think we will represent the USA well in Europe.

Anyway, thanks for reading. I’ve been wanting to get back into writing for my blog, and now I actually have time to do it! More to come!

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.