March 13th marked the 62nd birthday of late composer and musical pioneer Moses Hogan. He is considered a pioneer of the modern spiritual, bringing the heart and soul of these historic songs to choirs across the nation. His work gave voice to the rich, deep history of the genre and brought it into the modern era.
What started as a single day of music advocacy by the New York State School Music Association (NYSSMA) back in March of 1973 has grown into a month of celebration and advocacy for music in our schools. The tireless efforts of NYSSMA, other state organizations, and the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) to promote the importance of music education has been joined by the other arts, and March is now recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as “Arts in Our Schools Month.”
Most choir directors spend time thinking about how to keep their group vital and thriving. This usually involves the recruitment of new members from your congregation and community. Keeping things fresh and vibrant is a true challenge, and sometimes competing with the rest of the world to help grow your ministry can be tiresome. Here are some ideas about how you can invest in your ministry and grow in important ways.
Voices from 120 countries unite in one of the most powerful moments in composer Eric Whitacre’s film Deep Field. After the viewer travels through the cosmos via a stunning array of Hubble Space Telescope images, the time comes to return to Earth. At that moment, 8,000 voices ring out above Whitacre’s moving orchestra music. They represent the largest group to sing in one of Whitacre’s “virtual choirs,” and many participants said they were moved to tears when they saw how the final film represented humanity.
The idea for Black History Month was developed during a difficult time for African Americans in the United States. In 1926, segregation and racial violence against the black community was widespread. Amid this struggle, a man named Carter Woodson, now known as the Father of Black History, wanted to find a way to celebrate African American achievements.
Ola Gjeilo began composing before he could even read music. When he was a child in Skui, Norway, just outside of Oslo, he taught himself to play the piano and created compositions that his father, an accomplished amateur saxophonist, would write down for him. His father’s love for jazz music led to the heavy influence of jazz in Gjeilo’s music at an early age and a special fondness for the improvisations of pianist Keith Jarrett.
Composer Eric Whitacre delved into the visual world of film after he received an invitation he could not refuse. After conducting his Deep Field orchestra piece, which is based on the Hubble Space Telescope’s findings, he was approached by audience member Scott Vangen, a NASA payload specialist, who invited Whitacre to come to the Kennedy Space Center for a visit. Just a month later, Whitacre was there.
The spiritual and educational value of asking different generations to sing together is meaningful, and the energy they create together can be palpable. In the “good old days,” multigenerational singing was a regular part of worship. Now, many churches offer special activities for children and youth during services, and this can affect how young people view worship. Recently, churches are rethinking this philosophy by looking for moments where children, youth, adults and seniors all get an opportunity to minister together. I’d like to offer some suggestions about how you might form and maintain a multigenerational musical group.
Music, for many, is about joy before anything else. Spend a few short minutes with conductor, composer, and choreographer John Jacobson, and it will quickly become evident that this is the case with him. His passion for music and education are written in his smile and the energy he exudes with each moment spent talking about it. That joy began at a young age.
Composer Craig Hella Johnson calls it the “long sacred silence” – his way of describing a common audience reaction after choral performances of his recently published composition Considering Matthew Shepard. In an age when hate crimes are on the rise and divisiveness is rampant, Johnson’s work raises deep questions about our humanity. It focuses on how people can learn to love those who are different from them. Audiences often pause in silence before applauding; such is its impact. During a performance at the University of Southern California this year, one student performer described the reaction this way: