On July 23, 2012, J.W. Pepper hosted Summer Sing, a choral music reading session in the company’s corporate headquarters in Pennsylvania. While reading sessions are a standard practice for Pepper, inviting musicians into the corporate location for such an event was a first, and as the hundred-plus attendees of the sessions will attest, a great success.
With all the on-line media options available to directors in order to preview music, some might question the value of attending a live event over simply searching and listening via the internet. So what do attendees and organizers see as the benefits of attending a live reading session, as opposed to listening to recordings at home, church, or school?
Live Events Display a Clinician’s Perspective
Individuals who deliver the content of live reading sessions are typically composers and performers in the genre of music they are presenting, and hearing the live input of these experts in their field proves a valuable resource to session attendees. Clinicians at the Pennsylvania Summer Sing offered attendees not only a look at a vast array of new pieces for school and church use, but also offered their suggestions on the application of the pieces they presented—whether songs would be good for graduation, advent, or competition, for example. Lloyd Larson, who presented materials at the church choral segment, continually referenced the events on the church calendar and related the songs he presented to this ever-present definer of church repertoire.
Additionally, the clinicians at the event also gave pointers on the effective performance of the pieces in the read-through. Clinician Greg Gilpin made specific mention of what sort of expression directors might seek from their performers to increase a song’s effectiveness, or even what sort of props might make a whimsical song more fun for the group and the audience. Such tips can prove a valuable fresh perspective for directors looking for ways to enhance their programs.
In Person, Composers are Real People Too
The opportunity for personal connection to the individuals behind the names printed on the front of choral octavos provides a real value point to those who attend live reading events. Most composers of church and academic music have stood in the shoes of the everyday school or church choral director. They understand the challenges directors face, can sympathize and even joke about those tricky scenarios, and offer a rapport between the music publishing industry and those who depend upon it for repertoire. A clinician’s dedication to helping teachers and directors provide a quality musical experience to those under their direction resonates deeply with those who attend their sessions. A feeling of kindred spirit goes a long way in encouraging musicians and reminding them why they do what they do, even when challenges arise. This kind of personal connection can’t be duplicated by simply shopping alone.
Directors are Still Performers at Heart
While teaching music and seeing students or ensemble members grow and achieve is rewarding in itself, there’s nothing quite like being part of the music. At a reading session, attendees get an additional level of perspective on the accessibility of a piece by reading and singing it themselves. And since the attendees of reading sessions tend to be seasoned musicians themselves, directors enjoy the opportunity to sing with a strong and musically attentive ensemble. Sometimes it’s nice to step back and remember what it’s like to simply be part of the music, rather than being the one responsible for holding it all together. Sight-reading in a room of a hundred like-minded singers certainly beats humming along with a studio recording.
J.W. Pepper sponsors dozens of reading sessions and events all over the country throughout the year. Directors who have never attended such a session might consider the benefits attendance could have to their organizations. After all, music is rarely a solitary endeavor. How better to appreciate and experience new ideas for an ensemble than in enthusiastic company?
For a full listing of Pepper’s upcoming events, visit jwpepper.com/, and click on the events calendar link, which you will also find here. Viewers can also watch recorded sessions of Summer Sing, coming soon to J.W. Pepper’s YouTube channel.