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choral music

Music Advocacy

John Rutter: The Importance of Choir

March 31, 2015

Storefront-Blog-Rutter
Listen as composer John Rutter delves deeply into the importance of choir in all aspects of life.  He shares his own love of music with us as he discusses the many places music enters our lives and changes who we are.  Please enjoy these few words of wisdom from one of music’s greatest minds:

 

 

For great pieces by composer John Rutter, click here.

 

John Rutter: The Importance of Choir

Written Transcript

**Anyone using either video or transcripts of the interview must credit it as John Rutter’s words, taken from the video.

Choral music is not one of life’s frills. It’s something that goes to the very heart of our humanity, our sense of community, and our souls. You express, when you sing, your soul in song. And when you get together with a group of other singers, it becomes more than the sum of the parts. All of those people are pouring out their hearts and souls in perfect harmony, which is kind of an emblem for what we need in this world, when so much of the world is at odds with itself…that just to express, in symbolic terms, what it’s like when human beings are in harmony. That’s a lesson for our times and for all time. I profoundly believe that.

And musical excellence is, of course, at the heart of it. But, even if a choir is not the greatest in the world, the fact that they are meeting together has a social value. It has a communal value. And I always say that a church or a school without a choir is like a body without a soul. We have to have a soul in our lives. And everybody tells me, who has sung in a choir, that they feel better for doing it. That whatever the cares of the day, if they maybe meet after a long day’s school or work, that somehow you leave your troubles at the door. And when you’re sitting there, making music for a couple hours at the end of the day, that’s the only thing that matters at that moment. And you walk away refreshed. You walk away renewed. And that’s a value that goes just beyond the music itself.

Of course, as a musician, I put the music at the heart of it, but all of these other values just stand out as a beacon. I think our politicians need to take note…my gosh do they ever! [laughs], and our educators, those who decide education budgets, church budgets, just need to remember it’s not a frill. It’s like a great oak that rises up from the center of the human race and spreads its branches everywhere. That’s what music does for us. And choral music must stand as one of the supreme examples of it.

The Inside Voice

The Inside Voice: An Interview with John Rutter

August 1, 2014

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We recently had the opportunity to sit down with John Rutter and discuss his forthcoming Anniversary Editions series, published by Oxford University Press and Hinshaw Publications.  2014 marks the 30th anniversary of the Cambridge Singers, and the composer’s 70th birthday is quickly approaching.  With this in mind, the John Rutter Anniversary Editions celebrate his huge contribution to choral music with special editions of his seminal works and accompanying notes on the music and performance.

We hope you enjoy the interview.  Browse the music of John Rutter.

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Directors' Toolbox

Repertoire – Choosing Quality Choral Music, Conclusion

February 24, 2014

Now that you have found some potential pieces and they fit the “who, what, when, where and why” of your practical considerations, what now?  Consider the following additional questions:

  1. Is the piece singable by your choir?  When I was hired to teach my first high school choir, I was on fire for music that I sang when I was in college.  I thought it was so great, I wanted my student choir to sing it as well.  But, I had not given any consideration to “who, what, when, where and why.”  Well, as you can imagine, much of the choir was frustrated with the level of difficulty of the piece and I ended up removing it from their folders.
  2. Looking at the text, what is the piece saying?  Is the text suitable for the age of your students?  Make sure that the text is age appropriate.  Some years ago, I took a poll in my classes about the importance students placed on words in the popular music they were listening to.  Overwhelmingly, the majority of my students said that the words are “extremely important” to any song.  So I began paying more attention to what the text was all about in the music I was choosing.  Oftentimes we would discuss the text of a piece as a class, and sometimes we would even write in journals.  I was amazed at the reflections my students offered to “read aloud” to the rest of the class, about what the text meant to them.  Through these reflections, the students were able to connect the text and music to their own lives, ultimately creating a real and honest performance.
  3. Is the piece range appropriate?  Does the range of the notes in the piece fall within the capabilities of the choir for which you are choosing it?  Check to make sure that there are not many notes that fall outside the tessitura of each section.
  4. Will the piece pass the five-year test?  Does the piece have staying power?  Will it still be something your choirs can sing in five years?  If not, can you justify making the purchase for the present?
  5. Does the piece contribute to the variety of music chosen?  It is always a good idea to sing a number of different styles and a variety of music on any one program.
  6. Will it contribute to building the vocal ensemble sound?  An important thing to consider.  Sure, sometimes you’ll want to sing something for the fun of it, but that should be the exception rather than the rule. What specific vocal techniques can this piece help you teach?  Legato, staccato, singing chromatics, crescendos, etc.  Plus, knowing this will help when you need to educate folks as to what educational reasoning you used to consider this particular piece.
  7. Are you excited about the music?  If you have high-quality choral music and you’re excited about it, chances are your students will be excited as well.  If you and the students are excited and perform it well, the audience will recognize this and enjoy it too.  Occasionally, you will have to “sell it” a little more if it is a challenging piece, but if it’s high-quality music, they will grow to really enjoy it and recognize its intrinsic value.

The repertoire we choose is an important tool that can have a very powerful and positive influence on our students.  It is essentially our “textbook” for the class, and can determine the success or failure of a program. Balance in choosing music is important. Sure, you should choose some quality arrangements of popular songs, but don’t forget the rich music of our cultural past.  I always loved the statement the character Glenn Holland made in the movie Mr. Holland’s Opus: When speaking to the principal he states, “Mrs. Jacobs, you tell them that I am teaching music, and that I will use anything from Beethoven to Billie Holiday to rock and roll if I think it’ll help me teach a student to love music.”

In this results-oriented society, let’s not forget that the most important thing is not so much the concert, it’s what’s learned on the journey toward the performance.

Directors' Toolbox

Repertoire – Choosing Quality Choral Music, Part 2

February 12, 2014

In Part 1 we discussed practical considerations in choosing repertoire, such as the makeup of your performing group and the your intended audience.  Now we’ll look at how to find appropriate literature:

Where do you look?

  • Existing library of music where you teach  If the titles in your own library are not already listed on a spreadsheet, this would be a helpful project to complete. Enlist the help of student aides and perhaps some parent volunteers. Set up the fields you want, including title, composer/arranger, publisher, voicing, number of copies on hand, the date the piece was performed and even the style. This will make it easier to search for repertoire in the future.
  • Programs from previous concerts  This is especially helpful for teachers beginning a new job. Take a good look at what’s been done successfully in the past, particularly what was done four and five years before. It might give you a good idea of where to start.
  • Go online  jwpepper.com  has more resources and search capabilities than ever before. You can customize your search, hear quality recordings, see samples of the music, and search for Editors’ Choice, Pepper’s exclusive evaluation of the best new titles each year. Take a look at the Basic Library as well, where you’ll find a selection of chorals that have stood the test of time. Pepper also carries all state and festival lists.
  • More online resources  Other websites include:
  • Attend choral concerts  This is still a great way to find music. Go to as many as you can. Keep your program and make notes on it as to what songs are worth considering (or not!)
  • Conventions and conferences  Perhaps the most exciting, conventions and conferences can afford you the opportunity to hear many concerts, attend workshops, mingle and talk with colleagues, and even pick up free music packets.
  • Publications:  The Choral Journal, ACDA; Teaching Music, NAfME; Teaching Music through Performance in Choir, GIA Publications; Choral Repertoire, Oxford University Press; The School Choral Program, GIA Publications.
  • Build a library of recordings  Go to iTunes.com, amazon.com, and barnesandnoble.com to begin listening to and collecting recordings of professional choirs singing great music.
  • Build a repertoire file  When I began my career in education, I started a file labeled “ideas” into which I was constantly dropping notes during the school year. These were reminders to myself of things that I would change or implement for the following year. I quickly set up a file labeled “Repertoire Ideas,” to which I loaded pieces of music, programs, notes from students, and any and all ideas for music that I wanted to consider in the future.

Next post, the conclusion of Repertoire – Choosing Quality Choral Music

Directors' Toolbox

Repertoire – Choosing Quality Choral Music, Part 1

January 31, 2014

Of the responsibilities that music teachers have, perhaps one of the most challenging is that of finding and choosing quality repertoire.  With the amount of literature available for all types of ensembles, the task of selecting the best music for student ensembles has become somewhat daunting.  Not only do we need to keep the capabilities and interests of our students in mind, but also our audiences;  both parents and administrators alike!

Finding excellent repertoire doesn’t just happen. It’s a career-long process. Much of what follows regarding this process is a combination of advice I have received from colleagues who have developed successful programs, books and magazines I have researched, and the results of trial and error.

Practical Considerations

Before choosing a particular piece of music there are some things to consider:

Who is singing?  Is it a mixed chorus, men’s or women’s chorus? Auditioned or non-auditioned group?  Is it large or small in number?  What is the balance between the sections?  Motivated singers or social singers?

What are their capabilities?  And what are the language and diction requirements?  Is it a group of beginners, intermediate or advanced singers?  In other words, what is the ratio of music readers to nonreaders?  This can be a challenging aspect, as you want to make sure that music chosen is not too difficult to frustrate singers, yet challenging enough to maintain interest.

When will it be performed?  How much time do you have to educate students and rehearse the piece so the performance reflects what the composer intended?

Where is the performance?  And for whom will it be performed?  Will it be in a school auditorium, local church, on a stage, in a hall or an outside venue?  Some of these aspects may affect your choices.

Why are you performing?  Is it for a winter, spring, or pops concert?  Will it be a themed or non-themed concert?  A  festival or competition?  Are there sacred or secular considerations?  Let’s face it — we’re all headed for a performance of some kind.  The skill is in making the journey toward the performance an exciting activity for the students.  Not only should they learn how to sing the piece well, but sing it with proficiency, artistry, and understanding of the music “behind the notes.”  Once these preliminary questions have been addressed, you can move forward.

 

In my next installment we’ll discuss where to look for quality repertoire.

Music Advocacy

Who’s in the Choir?

September 10, 2013

Teddy Roosevelt, Tina Fey, Joe Montana, Barbra Streisand
Why join the choir?  Well, for one reason, you’d be in some very good company.  Here’s a rundown of some former choir members:

Want to have something in common with our country’s leaders?  Woodrow Wilson was a member of the UVA Virginia Glee Club, while Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt both sang with the Harvard Glee Club.  And General H. Norman Schwarzkopf sang and conducted the choir at West Point.

Can you be an athlete and a singer?  Ask Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana, Danica Patrick, and Sugar Ray Leonard — they all sang in choir.

Some of our great composers enjoyed choral singing as well.  Leonard Bernstein and Elliot Carter were in the Harvard Glee Club.  Charles Ives was in the Yale Glee Club, as was Cole Porter (who also found time to write more than 300 songs while he was at Yale).

Maybe choral singing can’t guarantee a life of fame and fortune, but all of these celebrities sang in choir at some point in their lives:   Blake Lively was part of In Sync (no, not N’ Sync! In Sync is the show choir at Burbank High School).  In her pre-acting days, Glenn Close was a member of Up With People.  Other former choir members include Tina Fey, Ashton Kutcher, Brad Pitt, Amy Adams, Wayne Brady, James Belushi, Sandra Bullock, Anne Hathaway, and Jamie Foxx.

Last but not least, these folks shouldn’t come as a surprise;  they all make their living in the music industry:  Kristin Chenoweth, Kelly Clarkson, Quincy Jones, Alicia Keys, Usher, Dee Snider, Lance Bass, Avril Lavigne, Clay Aiken, Lenny Kravitz, and Axl Rose.  Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond were in choir together at Brooklyn’s Erasmus Hall High School.

Who’s your favorite choir-member-turned-celeb? Has your school or church had a choir member who went on to be famous?

Archive

Growing up ”Southern”

July 5, 2013

My mother and grandmother were born and bred in Kentucky, something that I am most proud of.  Having a Southern heritage is something that I wear like a new suit on Easter Sunday morning – with my head held high.  We didn’t always have a lot at our house, but my mother’s five children were clean, well dressed, and well-mannered – or we didn’t sit very well the next day!

My Grandma Becky – everyone called her that, from the neighbors to all of the folks at church – was a wonderful cook.  I can still taste her homemade chocolate pies and pumpkin cake!  My mother learned from the very best!  At our house, we learned to waste nothing.  Before the fancy silver can with the black lid that said “Drippings” on it, there was just a coffee can – but there was always a can that sat near the stove, and each time bacon was fried, the bacon grease was carefully poured into that coffee can for later use in green beans, black-eyed peas, greens, almost anything.

Another tasty treat that we southerners love is butter!  I learned that butter makes everything better!  I put butter on everything from peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to pop tarts (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it).  I’m not talking about that yellowish, artificial “can’t believe it’s not” stuff that I can instantly tell isn’t, but I am talking about the REAL thing.  Good, softened, melted butter just makes everything taste so good.  I guess I should probably interject here that you should not talk to your doctor about their opinion on this subject because I am sure it would differ from mine!

Oh, and iced tea!  Nothing that comes from a can or a bottle, but tea that has sat out on the porch steeping in the sun, and then has a couple cups of white sugar poured into it – just puts a smile on everyone’s face.

As you can tell, I am so proud of my heritage.  But everyone should be – for that is where we came from. It doesn’t matter what part of the country you call home, it is the memories that truly make us who we are.  Another thing that I love about being Southern is the music.  I grew up listening to country, country gospel, and southern gospel music, and I have often said that it runs deep in my veins.  Music is such a huge part of my heritage, just like butter and green beans with bacon grease cooked in them!

J.W. Pepper offers a wonderful service called e-Clubs where we send complimentary e-mails to music directors that highlight new and best-selling music as well as go-to classic repertoire to assist you in choosing materials for your choir, band, piano or whatever musical interests you have. We have e-Clubs for instrumental directors, piano teachers, and school directors, and we have them for Church Choir directors too!  We offer this great service for traditional worship, contemporary worship and blended worship, and now I am so excited that we even have one for SOUTHERN GOSPEL too!  How about that!  So it doesn’t really matter what your heritage is, we have something just for you – and all you have to do is sign up here!  Go on now… oh, and before you go, would you pass the butter?

Directors' Toolbox

Teaching Music to Deaf Students

January 22, 2013

As a musician and a person who deals with both the music business and the deaf world, I assumed as many do that students with hearing loss would never hear, understand or appreciate music.

Fortunately, as I began talking with fellow interpreters in schools, I learned that many deaf children (both with and without hearing aids and cochlear implants) were in music classes.  This was enlightening and encouraged me to investigate instrumental music classes for deaf students and the incorporation of sign language into choral programs.

One of the first schools to teach music to deaf students was the Illinois School for the Deaf.  They allowed the resident boys the opportunity to participate in a brass band.  The band was supported by state and private funds throughout its nearly twenty-year existence.  It gave students a musical outlet, provided functional music and entertainment for the other resident students as well as community members, and became a symbol of strength and ability among members of the deaf community.  Fred Fancher, a deaf bandmaster from Tennessee, conducted the band.  The band ensemble presented concerts in many towns and cities throughout the United States.  NAfME reported that the quality of the music produced by the boys was very good.  The band received a fair amount of criticism along with a vast amount of praise and was a most successful and meaningful endeavor.  Even though the band has been defunct for more than fifty years, some music classes and activities at the Illinois School for the Deaf are still offered to students.

As more and more hearing-impaired children participated in the instrumental music program, it was discovered that, like hearing children, the ability to play an instrument helped the deaf children alleviate their frustration.  Tim Lautzenhauser states in his book, The Art of Successful Teaching, “Music offers a chance to let go and express the rainbow of emotions we all feel, and through this experience expand our own realm of emotional expressions.”

The children were taught by developing a strong sense of rhythm, followed by breathing exercises, hand clapping, marching and body swaying to standard repertoire such as Old Mac Donald Had a Farm.  Some children were able to play by reading the score.  Just like with hearing children, music notations represents two things; a hand position on an instrument, and a time frame.  However, the deaf child cannot “improvise” and must depend totally on sight-reading the music.  Many deaf children remove their shoes for band or orchestra practice to be able to feel the rhythm from the other instruments.

According to the research done by Alice-Ann Darrow in 1989, schools offering music to deaf students start most students with understanding about how to keep a steady beat.  Once that concept is understood, the next step is rhythmic training, and from there they advance to notation, tempo markings, and dynamic structure.  Sound is not as much an issue as understanding the structure of music:  how the notes blend and the individual attributes of the notes, which finger positions produce a note, and how long to hold whole notes, half notes and quarter notes.

Band and orchestra instructors require support when teaching deaf students.  Parents, special education teachers, and audiologists can all offer help working with deaf students in the music classroom.  The expense of this individual support is costly and oftentimes the interpreter has no music knowledge, making the job more difficult.  As with most tasks, simply asking the deaf students what works is the best way to proceed.  Let them lead in this area of their development.

Both digital hearing aids and cochlear implants have difficulty transmitting the fine tones of musical structure to the listener.  It will be interesting to see how improvements in these aids will allow children to experience the joy of music in the future.

As the incorporation of sign language becomes more popular for both hearing and deaf children, many composers have added information about sign language (along with the actual signs) to their music.

Please view these musical selections which will help you bring signing and singing  into your musical programs.

Archive

Top 2012 Customer Picks for Choir and Band

December 21, 2012

Top Picks for ChoralOur editors have their work cut out for them when choosing which titles to include in our Editors’ Choice series each year.  We did some digging to find out which titles Pepper customers favored this past year and were pleased to see that, for the most part, you liked what we liked.  Here is a list of the top 10 picks for both band and choir music, amongst you, our customers!

For Choir:

  1. Firework – Katy Perry, arr. Alan Billingsley – 10274183
  2. O Come All Ye Faithful – arr. Dan Forrest – 10312016
  3. All on a Silent Night – Becki Slagle Mayo – 10307377
  4. How Great Our Joy! – arr. Craig Courtney – 10312008
  5. Blessings – Laura Story, arr. Heather Sorenson – 10292259
  6. Jar of Hearts – Christina Perri, arr. Andy Beck – 10288773
  7. Tshotsholoza – arr. Jeffery L. Ames – 10276407
  8. If I Only Had a Brain – Harold Arlen/E.Y. Harburg, arr. Sally Albrecht – 10274821
  9. Earth Song – Frank Ticheli – 10027720
  10. Baba Yetu – Christopher Tin – 10277920

Top Picks for Band
For Band:

  1. Foundry – John Mackey – 10282825
  2. Jungle Dance – Brain Balmages – 10279417
  3. The Seal Lullaby – Eric Whitacre – 10281862
  4. Dynamite – Taio Cruz, arr. Victor Lopez – 10279716
  5. Above and Beyond – James Swearingen – 10280771
  6. Rolling in the Deep – Adele Adkins, arr. James Kazik – 10299425
  7. Firework – Katy Perry, arr. Michael Story – 10279776
  8. Ignition – Todd Stalter – 10280022
  9. Aces of the Air March – Karl King, arr. James Swearingen – 10280589
  10. Blue and Green Music – Samuel R. Hazo – 10281804

Were your top picks for 2012 included in the lists above?  Tell us YOUR favorites!