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

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Life Update January 2018

“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It is a very mean and nasty place and it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward. How much you can take, and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done. Now, if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hit, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you are because of him, or her, or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain’t you. You’re better than that.”-Rocky Balboa

Well, it’s been a little while, but I’m back here blogging. As I look back on 2017, I see it as a year of change and challenge. Struggle defined last year. I made progress on things, but other issues presented themselves, and roadblocks moved in front of me. Things moved much more slowly than I thought they would. The challenge is to keep fighting. C’est la vie.

Two days before my graduate recital, I was singing at my grandfather’s funeral. He had been diagnosed with cancer about nine months earlier, so we’d had a little time to prepare, but it was still hard. I miss him dearly. Thankfully, my graduate choral conducting recital went fairly smoothly. I thank my professor, Kimberly Adams, for helping during that time.

I graduated with my second master’s in choral conducting and was inducted into Pi Kappa Lambda, the national music honor society. My master’s at Western was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It feels good to be finished, and I’m thankful for the training I received.

After graduation, the WMU Chorale traveled to the Baltics for a competition. We swept our categories and won the overall prize. This was a wonderful group of hard-working musicians. I consider it an honor that I got to work with them.

In the fall, I began working with West Michigan Homeschool Fine Arts‘ Jr./Sr. High Choir in Kalamazoo. It was a brand new group, and I did not know what to expect. The first day, 5 more signed up! They’ve impressed me with their desire to learn. We’re growing together and making some beautiful music. I’m very thankful for their efforts.

My children’s choir in Coldwater performed our annual Christmas concert recently.  Branch county is an artistically under-served community, so it is not the most fertile soil for musical training. I’m thankful for the commitment of the families.

I sang a recital in November. It was the first recital that I’ve done just ‘cuz. It’s very liberating. You get to do the repertoire that you want to do. I even premiered a piece that I wrote for an ensemble of which I’m a part. This is Salvation Has Come to Us.

My plans for the spring are as follows:

  1. Starting work towards my martial arts training. I’ve been learning and teaching it for years, and I’m excited to begin working on certification. I will be hosting an introductory class this Saturday, Jan. 6 from 8:30-9:30 am. Y’all are invited!
  2. Publishing my young adult novel. Things have admittedly moved a little slower than I expected, but that’s what happens when it’s the first time you do something! This will get done!
  3. Publishing a short how-to book on singing. The content is already written. I just need to do some graphic design work.
  4. Hosting my own website away from WordPress. I plan on doing this ASAP. Look for it soon.
  5. Starting an additional job at Bronson Methodist Hospital. I’ve already begun it.
  6. Preparing for the future.
  7. Keep on keeping on. Life can hit pretty hard. You gotta hit back.

P.S. In the picture at the top is a sculpture of famous boxer Joe Louis’ fist. If you ever want to see it in person, it’s in downtown Detroit.

 

 

An Update to the Website

Hello Everyone,

It has always been my goal with this blog to offer helpful information and resources for those involved in singing, performing, and teaching, as well as keep you updated on my life and musical work. I think that has been accomplished over the past several years. However, you all deserve even more!

In the next few weeks you may see some changes to this website.  I will be adding some recordings and hopefully some other cool things too. Stay tuned!

Voice Recital 2017 Program

Hello All,

My recital is one week out! On Saturday, Nov. 18 at 7:00 pm (First Presbyterian Church of Kalamazoo, I’ll be singing my heart out to some pretty awesome music! Accordingly, here is the program. Since it reflects my musical tastes, you’ll be feasting on a smorgasbord of musical genres, including baroque and romantic music, Irish and American folk music, choral (and Christmas!) music, and vocal jazz. You’ll be missing out on some amazing music if you don’t come!

I

Thus saith the Lord/But who may abide from Messiah (George Frederick Handel)

Et in spiritum sanctum from B minor Mass (Johann Sebastian Bach)

II

The Vagabond from Songs of Travel (Ralph Vaughan Williams)

Whither Must I Wander from Songs of Travel (Ralph Vaughan Williams)

La lune blanche luis dans le bois from La bonne chanson (Gabriel Fauré)

Jared Montgomery, Piano

Intermission

III

Danny Boy (arr. Joel Snyder)

When I’m in the Storm (Joel Snyder)

Josh Moran, Guitar

IV

A Basque Lullaby (Dan Forrest)

Salvation Has Come to Us (Joel Snyder)

Concentus: Cara Gross, Bri Rigozzi, Sarabeth Brown, Savannah Gonsoulin, Ryan Block, Andrew Miller, Mathieu Hastings; Jared Montgomery, Piano

V

The Way You Look Tonight (Dorothy Fields and Jerome Kern)

Let’s Fall in Love (Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler)

Ryan Block, Piano

My Upcoming YA Urban Fantasy Novel!

Okay, so this blog is primarily concerned with music-related things, but I’m just so excited about this! Several years ago, I began writing a novel about a monster hunting family. School got in the way, but I finally finished it and am sooooooo close to publishing it. Here’s the plot summary!

When a vampire shoulders John into the boy’s restroom at his new school and tries to snack on him, his first instinct is to fight back. But with the undead, punching and kicking just won’t cut it. Thankfully, his new friend Donovan’s Gift is killing monsters! Discovering that John is Gifted too, Donovan invites him to join his family of Hunters. John hopes he’s found the family he’s always longed for…

Though born into Hunting royalty, Donovan’s younger sister Corinne is constantly overlooked. Small, thin, and lacking the Gift, she learns instead to weaponize her mind…Dark tensions fester beneath the surface of her family. Her parents play favorites, Donovan sneaks around with a girl from school, and her uncle antagonizes the Hunter’s Council.

In Hunter lore vampires thirst for blood first and think second. So why are these vampires always one step ahead? And who’s hunting whom? A tale of magic, mystery, mayhem, monsters, and martial arts!

How to Choose a Voice Teacher Part 3: Beware the One-Sound-Fits-All Teacher

Those who look for a voice teacher often love to sing specific genres. Many enjoy musical theater, for example. But they also love other genres as well. I have taught students who sing rock, country, jazz, folk, celtic, choral, and opera.

This is not a problem for me, as finding the student’s best natural voice is my ultimate goal. Once the singer masters the fundamentals of healthy technique, they can apply it to any style of singing. I encourage students to bring in repertoire that they want to learn, with the caveat that I reserve the right to say that the particular piece might not be the best fit for them vocally.

Many voice teachers, however, do not share this philosophy. There have been times when I can guess who a singer studied under, not because of the student’s mastery of technique, but because that teacher’s students all sound the same. Often, they sound exactly like that specific teacher.

This is especially true when the teacher is a classically trained voice teacher. Don’t get me wrong; classically trained voice teachers are great. I am one. Due to the nature of classical singing (something I should go into in another post), these teachers possess a deep understanding of the vocal mechanism. That is good. However, this knowledge can lead to a rigidity of thought or an arrogance that says that no other style can be “good” singing. Unless you want to always sound like a classical singer (which is not necessarily a bad thing), avoid this type of teacher.

The uniqueness of the voice necessitates that each voice sound unique. That’s profound, I know :). What it means is that I believe in bringing out the unique beauty of every voice. Some voices are light and flexible, so I try to bring that out. Others are big and powerful or warm and rich. Each voice has its own particular strengths to be developed and weaknesses to be fixed. A one-sound-fits-all approach simply will not do. In fact, it can hurt the student’s voice, or just make them sound unnatural.

A couple more observations and then I will finish. Sometimes the mental rigidity is on the side of the student. Many singers have difficulty singing well in more than one genre or they are mimickers, so they turn into carbon copies of their teacher. A good voice teacher will discourage the student from mimicking his or her exact sound. Students can either be a mediocre copy of their teacher or a great masterpiece of themselves.

It’s okay to master one style, but I want my students to be able to experiment in more than one style. The more styles one can sing, the more marketable one is. It opens up opportunities. It’s like adding more apps to your tablet. The more it can do, the more powerful it is. I practice singing in multiple styles: jazz, folk, choral (jazz, pop, and classical), and classical (baroque, classical, romantic, and modern periods). If you come to my recital on Nov. 18 (shameless plug:)), you will hear the fruit of this.

I hope this somewhat rambling post is helpful to you as you look for a voice teacher.

(Image is in public domain)

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!