Several years ago, I coauthored two books on Choral Music with my mentor Donald Neuen. I started the foreword to our book, Empower the Choir, with this statement:
"When a choir sets forth on the journey from its first rehearsal to the final performance, it does so as a ship, in the middle of the open sea, taking on water. Perhaps this analogy seems a bit macabre as the first statement in a book about choral concepts, but were it not the case there would be no need to rehearse. We must embrace the challenge presented by the composers whose music we sing, knowing that when we take the personal initiative to work diligently as members of a team we enjoy one of life’s greatest gifts."
Now, while I will admit to having some qualms with my writing, I am happy to see that my core values have remained consistent. What’s more exciting is that today, five weeks into graduate school, I am seeing these values validated and enriched by the input of my professors and my cohort.
Moving forward from the foreword
We have been assigned the job of creating a blog for each of our music studio's websites. I have decided to use the ideas presented in the foreword to Empower the Choir as the launching pad for this project. Empower the Choir was a “manual for singers.” In it, we included a number of key concepts that we thought were essential for choral singers to know. While the textbook, Choral Concepts and the seven DVD series Choral Techniques and Methods taught conductors how to ply their craft, Empower the Choir was designed to bring the singers into the process. The guiding principle is simple: teach concepts, teach specifics, and then use them to constantly reinforce each other. If you do this effectively, you will have singers that function as partners in the pursuit of commonly held artistic objectives as opposed just followers of your directives. This strategy has served me well as a choral conductor, musical director, and voice teacher for nearly twenty years, but I have never tried to truly break it down and analyze the various components as it relates to my work in musical theater. Now I have an opportunity to do this.
For the assigned blog, we were asked to come up with ten topics. It is probably not a surprise to people who have worked closely with me over the past nineteen years that the topics all gravitate toward my “soapbox” issues. These topics provide the undergirding of my objectives and strategies as a music director and voice teacher. My goal now is to string them into a cohesive and perhaps even useful resource for my readers. Your contribution through comment, criticism, and analysis would be extremely useful to me. In addition, my knowing that people who have been with me along the way are reading them will force me to stay honest and not aggrandize my accounts for an uninitiated readership. Here are the ten (well 13) topics:
- I Really Need Your Help With My Homework.
- The music director and choral conductor as voice teacher
- Music is music, right? Knowing the true vernacular of your score
- Knowing your plan: the necessity of developing a detailed rehearsal plan
- The importance of teaching concepts along with specifics
- Five ways you can immediately improve the impact of the ensemble singing in your show
- Using cabaret-style performances to sharpen your singers musical theater skills
- Words count! Why discrepancies in nomenclature create disputes among voice professionals
- Success for Adolescent Boys: Strategies to help young men with changing voices stay connected to the vocal arts
- Ten questions to ask your student when they declare their intention to get a degree in musical theater
- Ten reasons why you can say no when asked to participate gigs that don’t reflect your artistic values
- Snake oil: leveraging the successes of a few studio alumni to fill your lesson calendar
- The stratification of talent: why elite performers reach incredible heights while access to the arts declines across America
The first five topics are sequential and well underway. Beyond that, it starts to become a bit freeform, and I will use any feedback to guide and clarify the process as I move forward. The final three, those beyond the scope of this assignment, are more rants about issues I want to write about. Those might come at any time.
While these are all subjects that I feel passionately about, I do not consider myself an expert. I simply have spent a good deal of time doing this work and have afforded myself the luxury of being able to step back and review it through the eyes of a student. I know that that process will be better served through collaboration, and I am confident that there is value in the experiences I have had as a musician. I look forward to sharing this process with you.