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:
One of the most important but sometimes overlooked jobs of a choral director is to help their students take care of their voices. With the stress of repertoire preparation and the other time-consuming aspects of our job, it can be something that we cognitively recognize but don’t necessarily have the time or energy to pursue. Our students, no matter the age, are going through critical times in their vocal development. We ask a lot of them vocally – range, projection, volume, facial expression, blend, tone, and many other skills – and we need to help them protect their voices and learn to care for them in a healthy way.
It was at a television station in San Francisco, California, where Deke Sharon realized how far his work in a cappella music had reached. He went to the station to complete a satellite interview for an Australian morning show when he struck up a conversation with a gentleman who was there to talk with the national media about military drone strikes. Sharon said the man, who was dressed up in an “FBI suit” and looked very serious, had an outburst of joy when Sharon said he was there to promote the movie Pitch Perfect 2.
Teaching middle school tends to be “the road less traveled” for many new music educators. Sometimes this can be due to a lack of targeted training for middle school music, but more often it’s a fear of not knowing how to work with the physical and psychological changes experienced by this age group. Thankfully, there are experienced mentors like Cristi Miller who are more than willing to help other teachers develop skills that work for their classrooms. Miller is a frequent clinician at choral workshops such as the Joy of Singing, and Pepper was able to sit down with her to talk about teaching, composing, and inspiring the next generation.
When browsing the choral sheet music collections of any music educator, one might be struck by the wide range of styles and themes present as well as the myriad composers who have graced the world with their art. One name stands out, however, not only for his prolific output, but also for his practicality and his dedication to creating music that is accessible to young voices without sacrificing its integrity. That name is Roger Emerson.
In an age where it seems easy to make an amateur recording with electronic devices, the process of collaborating on a professionally produced choral album may be foreign to many people. We were given access into this process through an invitation by the Philadelphia-based choral ensemble The Same Stream. The choir draws its unique name from a poem written by the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore entitled The Stream of Life.
Over a period of two years, the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) has strengthened its partnership with an exciting program that is building connections between music educators. American Young Voices hosts the largest school choral concerts in the world in five cities for music students in grades 2 through 8 and their teachers.
Clinician, conductor, and composer Michael John Trotta is one of the bright young minds of modern choral music. His work has been performed at Carnegie Hall and featured at several national conferences, with recordings of his compositions broadcast worldwide. Pepper had the opportunity to sit down with Trotta to discuss his background, inspiration, views on education, and some of his most successful works. Continue Reading…
This past summer, Pepper had the pleasure of hosting four of the nation’s top clinicians for a recent Joy of Singing workshop. While they were here, we brought them together to discuss their experiences with teaching, focusing especially on middle school. Before you watch the video, here’s some background on each clinician as well as a glimpse at their thoughts on working with middle school students: