Browsing Tag

choral music


Veterans Celebrated with Song

December 8, 2011

During his childhood, Philadelphia CBS 3 news reporter Ukee Washington was a member of the Philadelphia Boys Choir.  A few months ago Ukee and the Philadelphia Boys Choir were ask to sing God Bless America at a Phillies National League Championship baseball game — but as most of us know, the Phillies were eliminated before that could happen.

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Directors' Toolbox

Set a Festive Mood Before the Concert Begins

December 1, 2010

Christmas MusicOne of the highlights of the holiday season is enjoying one of the many music programs that add so much to the season.  While attending one such holiday concert,  I experienced an added touch that really enhanced the evening’s performance.

As audience members arrived, they were greeted by several small student groups playing carols.   The groups consisted of various instruments and were placed at different locations, both outside the entrance as well as throughout the foyer.  I noted they were spaced far enough apart that they didn’t interfere with each other’s performance — all the while keeping the sounds of the season within earshot of the incoming audience.  The effect was that of instrumental carolers,  creating a festive atmosphere that greatly enhanced the seasonal atmosphere for the evening’s performance.

The “caroling” groups consisted of middle school musicians that had volunteered to perform.  The carols came from several standard holiday collections that can be rehearsed with full band and are easy enough to perform with little rehearsal time.   The director divided the band into the small caroling groups for the concert night.  The caroling groups were so well received that they took the show on the road, and used the instrumental groups at various functions around town — playing before choir concerts and singers caroling before band concerts.

What a festive addition to holiday celebrations!  It not only builds performance opportunities, responsibility and confidence in young musicians, but puts your audience in the mood for a special holiday treat!




A Random Act of Culture

November 16, 2010
If you were one of the lucky shoppers at Macy’s in Center City Philadelphia at noon on Saturday, October 30, 2010, you enjoyed an unforgettable experience!  The Opera Company of Philadelphia brought together over 650 choristers from 28 participating organizations to perform an impromptu rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s “Messiah,” accompanied by the Wanamaker Organ, the world’s largest pipe organ. This special event was one of a series of “Random Acts of Culture” to be sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation over the next three years. This video is so inspiring, I can’t wait to see and hear the next event in the series. Who knows, I might even be one of the unsuspecting people in the crowd to be surprised and delighted when it happens!

    Need the link?


Enter Our Facebook Drawing!

October 15, 2010

 Psst… spread the word!   Enter your group for our Facebook sweepstakes called “Put Your Group on Canvas.”  A few J.W. Pepper employees put their creative resources together to offer you a chance to display your music ensemble’s photograph on a top-quality, large canvas!    The winning organization’s  photograph will be professionally printed on a 30″ x 40″ canvas, and mounted on a sturdy wood frame. 

If you’ve visited one of our stores, you’ve seen this type of canvas print decorating our walls.  Just imagine how excited your music students are going to be when they see an impressive portrait with their musical talents on display for all to enjoy.

Click here  to enter and to view contest details. 

Select the sweepstakes tab to enter the “Put Your Group on Canvas” drawing, which runs through  October 31, 2010.  Five winners will be randomly selected.    The prizes are valued at $100, and will be shipped free of charge to each of the five winners.

This is a golden opportunity to let your music ensemble’s talents shine!  Good luck!


Choral Conversations — Sally Albrecht

October 5, 2010

Sally Albrecht

Sally Albrecht is Director of School Choral Publications for Alfred Music Publishing.  She has composed over 300 choral pieces and is well known for her work with choral movement.  She has received an ASCAP award every year since 1987.  Luckily for us, Sally has kindly taken time from her busy schedule to give this interview for us.

When did you begin in music?   I sang with the rest of my class in grade school (St. Dominic’s Catholic School in Shaker Heights, Ohio).  We sang for church every morning and put on an extensive St. Patrick’s Day show each year.  I was finally allowed to start taking piano in the second half of 4th grade, when my 5 fingers could reach out far enough to play 5 notes!

 Did you have an “a-ha” moment when you knew you wanted to be a musician?   In high school, as I was trying to make the big decision between music and math, I decided to ask my music teacher what he thought.  I said “I think I’m going to major in music.”  To which he replied “Of course, you are.”  That was it.  That was the turning point for me.  I actually ended up with a double major in music and theater at Rollins College, and went on to get a master’s in each at the University of Miami.

 What kind of things inspire you?   Children singing.  Long walks.  Quiet time.  Moving water.  Great movies.  Great acting.  Great dialog.  My husband (Jay Althouse).

 What inspired you to become a composer?   I have been a choral editor for almost 30 years now.  I work on a lot of other composers’ pieces.  Because of my job, I am able to see what is popular, what is fresh, what works.  I started composing myself in 1982.  At first, I only wrote one or two chorals per year.  That has increased over the past 15 years to 8-12 chorals per year.  I’ve also written many children’s songbooks and musicals, featuring from 5 up to 40 songs each.  I am also fortunate to collaborate with my husband, Jay Althouse.   He has an exceptional background in theory.

 What would you say defines your style?   I work to compose memorable melodies with logical voice-leading and stimulating, singable texts.  I want my music to be successful with developing choirs, to be accomplishable without too much blood, sweat, and tears — so that the director can work on musicality, diction, phrasing, tone, emotion.  I often write for a specific choir or event.  Sometimes, having definite and clear goals and parameters for a piece makes it more inspiring to write.

 Tell me one thing that people might not know about you?   Jay and I enjoy collecting folk art;  native art by untrained artists, primarily American, some from Haiti and Mexico.

 What are you working on now?   Right now, I’m in final preparations for a week-long Alfred school choral recording session, so I’m finishing up several chorals and putting the final touches on them as well as preparing the alternate voicings.  As far as new compositions, on the docket is a seasonal musical based on a Mexican folk tale, and a songbook that I think boys will especially enjoy.  I don’t want to give too much away!

 What is your all time favorite choral piece (by another composer) dead or alive?   Dead:  Mozart’s Requiem.   Alive:  Mark Hayes’ setting of Simple Gifts.

 Do you have any advice or tips for those interested in composing?   Study the music of different types of composers, old and new, young and old, dead and alive.  Spend some time every day writing and listening to what others have written.  Just as a clarinet player or singer works on his/her instrument every day, you need to work at writing every day.

 Would you say that music comes to you more often through slow, careful planning, or by sudden inspiration?   The core idea or the “hook” of a song is usually sudden inspiration.  Then I let it develop as I walk, swim, fly, or drive, continually jotting down ideas, rhymes, rhythms.

 What are your favorite texts to set to music?   My favorite are those that I develop myself.  I’ve had some fun setting Shakespeare, too.

 What is your favorite thing about composing?   The moment when a song is done, written, when it has all come together.  Then, after that, the joy of hearing it (or, better yet, conducting it) in performance.

 Quickfire questions (partially stolen from James Lipton on Inside the Actors Studio)

1. What is your favorite word?   Incredible.  I use it much way too much!

2. What is your least favorite word?   Impossible.  I’m just a positive thinker, so I always look for a way to make things happen if at all possible!

3. What sound or noise do you love?   It’s a tie between ocean waves and a soft rain.

4.  What sound or noise do you hate?   An airline announcing “Ladies and gentlemen, this flight has been canceled.”  I can handle delayed, but really hate hearing canceled!

5. What profession, other than your own, would you like to attempt?   Interior design.  I love seeing how fabrics and colors combine, and I never tire of walking through other people’s homes and seeing how they are laid out and decorated.  I’m a house tour groupie!

6. What is your favorite composition?   Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.  I love the depth and the variety of the music, the wonderful imagery it develops.

7. What is on your iPod?   Well, I just recently got my first iPod late this summer — using credit card points, of course.  I’ve loaded the 2010 Alfred choral music on it.  That’s as far as I’ve gotten.

8. Is there anyone you would like to collaborate with, living or dead, that you haven’t yet?  I’d like to set a text by Christina Rossetti.  Perhaps next year?!

9. If you were stranded on a desert island, and could only have the music of one composer, other than yourself, who would it be?   George Gershwin.  From Rhapsody in Blue and An American in Paris to Porgy and Bess and all the awesome songs he wrote with his brother, Ira.  Ah, those lyrics are, well, to use my favorite word, just incredible!  His music offers a lifetime study in melodic development, text-writing, and prosody.

Sally Albrecht is an extremely talented composer, musician and clinician.  If you haven’t been to one of her clinics, you should get to one!  Sally, thank you for letting our readers get to know a little bit more about you.

Click here for a sampling of Sally’s published works.


Stringing Along

September 20, 2010

Stringing Choral Folders:

“First, take the metal tip of the string and loop it under the claw…”

If you have to string choral folders to securely hold your music, you’ll want to watch this video!   Some choral folders are sold with an accompanying bundle of strings that can leave you thinking, “If I can lace shoes then I can string a folder, right?”   Well, after years of answering customer questions about stringing choir folders, I thought a how-to video may help.   And just so you know, the first time I tried to string a choral folder, the metal tabs were sticking out in odd ways, waiting to catch on my clothing.  I instantly felt like that kid trying to learn to tie my shoes.

Once strung, the folders are a great cure for the “spilled folder” effect or the “dig and find” recovery method stringless folders can cause.  The center strings secure octavos and allow you to neatly organize pieces you are currently working on.  The additional storage pockets work well to hold additional pieces that you may want to carry.   I know I sound like an advertisement, but hey, I work in the advertising department, so why not?

I hope you enjoy the video, and I wish you many happy concerts!

Click here for information about our 501 choral folders.

Click here for information about our 701 choral folders.



Southern Gospel Music: Part 1

September 16, 2010

Do the names Blackwood, Goodman, Gaither, or Speer mean anything to you?  If you grew up in the South, they probably do.  These are some of the most recognizable “southern gospel” family quartets that have ever performed.

Southern gospel music evolved out of the “shape note” or Stamps-Baxter singing schools of the South.  Early in the 20th century, hymnals were rare and treasured like Bibles, with many using a method of music notation called “shape notes.”  While the system had originally only used four tones of a scale, by the turn of the century, three more had been added, corresponding with the seven unique notes of a major scale.  Each one of these notes was given a shape to represent it, and even though the shape note was printed on a staff, most people who learned to sing using shape notes had no idea what pitches they were singing.  They knew only what shapes correspond to the seven tones of a scale:  do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, and ti.  While they may not have been musically trained, they were taught to sing with gusto!

Shape note schools were founded all over our country, even as far back as the 1700s, but through the years, many went by the wayside.  It seems that people of the South held on to this tradition and many are still active today.  In 1924, the Stamps-Baxter Music Company was founded in Dallas, Texas.  Familiar songs like If We Never Meet Again, I Will Meet You in the Morning and Just a Little Talk With Jesus were published by Stamps-Baxter.  One of the ways that folks heard these songs was by traveling quartets, usually four men, who sang these songs and others like them in churches throughout the South.  These quartets paved the way for the southern gospel music we know today. 

I’ll share more of the southern gospel music story soon.


Choral Conversations: Mary Lynn Lightfoot

August 31, 2010
Mary Lynn Lightfoot

Mary Lynn Lightfoot

Mary Lynn Lightfoot is the Choral Editor for Heritage Music Press, a composer, an educator and an extremely funny woman.  She has over 230 published choral compositions, and has received an ASCAP Award annually since 1988.  Mary Lynn graciously agreed to be interviewed for our Choral Conversations blog in between her many clinics and events this summer.  Here are highlights of the interview: (All answers are paraphrased)

When did you begin in music?   I started taking piano lessons when I was four and continued up through high school.  I was actively playing piano all the time.  I played at church and I played for the local Kiwanis club every Tuesday.  I also accompanied my high school choir.  My mother is a retired music teacher, so that is where the musical influence directly came from.  Her parents were very musical as well.  It all started with learning how to play piano, which I think is the absolute most important tool any musician can possess.

Did you have an “ah-ha” moment when you knew you wanted to be a musician?   I was so involved in music throughout my entire school years that it was such a part of me.  When I left to go to college, my intent was to be a doctor, actually a surgeon.  I went to college on a French Horn scholarship, and was so involved in the music department, I ended up staying there and I never looked back.  Music is such a part of me, it is just who I am.

What kind of things inspire you?  First and foremost, young people.  I began writing because I was a music teacher, and  started writing out of need for my kids to have something decent to sing, especially at the middle school level.  During the early to mid ’70s, there wasn’t a lot out there for that age.  Art also inspires me.  I am an avid fan and love many things, from the classics to the very modern.  I love the glass sculpture of Dale Chihuly.  In music and in art, I like things that cover a really wide and diverse spectrum.  Very eclectic.

Do you miss teaching?  Absolutely! I didn’t stop teaching because I didn’t like it.  Geoff Lorenz called me one day and said “I’d like to hire you,”  so I moved from teaching to explore a part-time editorial position with Heritage Music Press.  I miss the kids and I miss everything about teaching.  I sometimes have an intern that I work with, and of course work with singers in festivals and honor choirs that helps satisfy that need.

What would you say defines your style?   My style is accessible quality and features melodic lines.  I hope my style is interesting, and that it incorporates quality lyrics.  I write for where I think there is a need.  I am very careful and concerned about the lyrics as well as my accompaniments.

Tell me one thing that people might not know about you.  I’m a huge college basketball fan, I just love watching it.

What are you working on right now?  As we speak, I am working on a commission for a high school in Texas.  It is going to be a celebratory piece to honor the first graduating class of this new high school.  It is SATB with children’s choir, trumpet and keyboard.

Do you have any advice or tips for those interested in composing?   Certainly!  How long do we have?  First, I would encourage those that have the interest to avidly pursue it.  It is a very fun and interesting journey.  I love to encourage new writers.  New doesn’t necessarily mean young.  Maybe there is a retired teacher that has always wanted to pursue writing.  New writers first need to have a grasp of the style in which they write.  They need to be able to answer some questions.  What kind of music do I write?  What market do I write for?  What age group or groups are my specialty?  Then you need to familiarize yourself with the music of different publishers, because each publisher has for the most part a specific style.  For example, if you’ve written a pop tune, you shouldn’t send that to Heritage Music Press, we don’t do that.  Vice-versa, if you send a concert piece to a publisher that mostly does pop, that’s not going to work either.  So, study the different publishers and then send your piece to the one that most closely resembles your style of music.  Don’t think that what you write is set in stone.  Be flexible and willing to make changes and work with an editor.  I did an interview for the ACDA Choral Journal that may be very helpful for new composers.  It is in the February 2009  issue and it is called Perspectives on Publishing Choral Manuscripts. We talked about how to get a piece published.

Would you say that music comes to you more often through slow, careful planning or sudden inspiration?   I think it happens both ways.  I think it depends on whether what I’m writing is something I want to write, that can just be sudden inspiration.  When you’re writing a commission, you have to plan and set down the parameters — you have to know: What is the voicing?  What is the purpose of the piece?  What do they want?   Next you find or write the text and then, of course, inspiration is going to hit.

What is your favorite part of composing?   Now, this is something else people might not know about me.  I love the solitude that composing provides.  Now, that may be a little selfish, but I love what I call “going into lock-up” — finding that text, and then when I’ve found the melodic part of the piece that I think people will walk away humming or whistling, that excites me.  When the piece finally comes to fruition, it is a huge emotion for me.  Writing for me is an extremely emotional experience.  It is in a very positive way, draining — always in a positive way.  To think that I can be a vessel through which musical ideas flow, well it is extremely comforting.

Quickfire questions (partially stolen from James Lipton on Inside the Actors Studio)

What is your favorite word?   Possibilities

What is your least favorite word?   Negativism

What sound or noise do you love?  Mountain streams

What sound or noise do you hate?   Disrespectful ones

What profession other than your own, would you like to attempt?   I would love to be an art dealer

What is your favorite piece that you have composed?   Each piece I write is special, but I would have to put the commissioned pieces at the top of the list because you become so involved and connected with those that have commissioned your work.  For me to list one of those, I just can’t.  Non-commissioned, I would say my Pie Jesu  has to be at the top of the list.  It was a gift to the Putnam City Honor Chorus in memory of the children who perished in the Oklahoma City bombing  in 1995.  There is another piece that I wrote as a gift and it is a setting of Sara Teasdale’s Life has Loveliness to Sell — actually the name of the poem is Barter, but I called it Life has Loveliness to Sell, which is the first line of the poem.

Is there anyone, living or dead, that you would like to collaborate with, that you haven’t?   I’ve never really thought about it.  I’m not sure.

If you were stranded on a desert island and could only have the music of one composer, who would it be?   Wow! I’m not a person that can narrow it down like that.  I love so many different things!

(The following questions Mary Lynn suggested to me later, and they are great, so I am stealing them too)

What is on your iPod?   James Taylor, Miles Davis, New York Voices, Tony Bennett, John Mayer, Nanci Wilson, Black-Eyed Peas

What are your favorite TV shows?   HBO’s Treme;  Psyche;  Burn Notice;  In Plain Sight;  Modern Family;  Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations;  Real Time with Bill Maher

What are your favorite foods?   Thai, Asian, seafood, Italian, my brother-in-law’s burgers

Mary Lynn is by far one of the funniest, kindest, most genuine people I have ever had the pleasure to meet.  Do not pass up an opportunity to meet her or see her in action at a festival.  Many thanks to you, Mary Lynn, for the gift of your time in creating this blog.