Vowel Modification: A Timely Example

If you talk with your choirs about vowel modification at extreme vocal ranges, this recent movie song should be in your back pocket. The other day I heard a student singing the song and subconsciously using the same vowel modification as the performer. Once you’ve got the concept, it’s much easier to implement in your own work.

So while The Greatest Showman is a huge, hit, make sure your student note how this singer modulates “me” to “meh” as she rises in pitch.


Art Tutorials

My son loves a series of art tutorials on YouTube. With friendly narration and a close shot of a page of paper, he is taken step-by-step through the drawing of some creature, or character, or scene.

At first, I was turned off by the whole idea – I’d rather see him creating than copying, I thought.

But then I remembered Austin Kleon’s mantra: steal like an artist.

A budding artist doesn’t need to create whole cloth from their imagination; she needs to fill her mind with the moves of her art, so she can call upon them to create. Only with thousands of repetitions and variations will she build the vocabulary of her art and be ready to create something original.

These art tutorials are a way for my son to build that vocabulary. In just the same way, a budding musician should take advantage of guitar, piano, violin tutorials to build a vocabulary of basic musicality.

Announcing MC3 2018

After our first round of the Michigan Choral Commission Consortium, I took a year off to reflect, as well as tackle some other big unrelated projects. Now I’m back with the second edition of MC3, and I’m hoping it’s now going to be an annual thing.

In essence, we’re joining together to commission new music for Michigan choirs. Our lead composer this year is Andrea Ramsey, and she’ll be writing an upbeat, uplifting SATB+piano piece suitable as an opener/closer. The text looks great!

The coolest part of how MC3 is set up is that the value grows with the number of participants – so participating choirs are motivated to get their friends involved. For every 10 choirs who join, we commission an additional piece. I’m hoping to commission at least two pieces this year, and I think there’s the potential for three. We’re already close to signing up the first ten, just from past participants. The $300 fee is reasonable for commissioning an outstanding composer, but if you get three or more commissions for the same $300, you’re actually paying less money per piece than you might pay for octavos at the store!

Consortium members receive:

  • PDFs of the composition upon completion (planned for August).
  • Opportunity to influence selection of composers for future years.
  • Possible special collaborative events (stay tuned).
  • Your choir name listed in the octavo in the event of its publication.
  • A private Facebook group for sharing insights and ideas with other MC3 members.

If you’re a Michigan choir director, watch for an email from me about joining our merry band of new music supporters. And if you don’t get one, contact me for more information, or just click here to become a new member of MC3!

What We Do With It – A Mister Rogers Appreciation

Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the beginning of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Today I was struck with this quote:

“It’s not so much what we have in this life that matters. It’s what we do with what we have. The alphabet is fine, but it’s what we do with it that matters most. Making words like ‘friend,’ and ‘love.’ That’s what really matters.”

Mr. Rogers’ example is one of not only using his skills, but being forever mindful of how he was using them.

How often do you ask yourself, what am I doing with my alphabet of musical skills? What can I do with a choir?

What is the musical equivalent of using the alphabet to make words like “friend,” and “love?”

True Friendship/True Ensemble

George Washington wrote in a letter to his nephew,

True friendship is a plant of slow growth and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation.

So it is with great ensemble singing. We cannot attain the deep, intimate, soul-stirring performances of our dreams without adversity, without striving, without time spent together.

I would rather hear a choir of amateurs who have forged this bond than a choir of the best “ringers” brought together to sing for a concert.

Wouldn’t you?


Where You Set The Bar

Overwhelmingly often, students will rise to the bar you set for them. They will not always clear the bar, but they will rise to meet it.

Musical students have infinite potential for growth, and too many students turn away from music-making, or never reach their potential, because their leaders do not set the bar high enough.

Set the bar higher. You will risk disappointment, you will fail to serve them well as you grow, too. You will not always do justice to good music.

But your students will rise. Today, tomorrow, and long after they leave, they will rise because of where you set the bar. Or they won’t.

Seriously But Not Personally

There is a balancing act in handling personal failures – particularly when it comes to mindset. Performing arts students should be reminded regularly of these two opposing forces.

Take your mistakes seriously. Work hard to recognize mistakes, work hard to prevent mistakes, and work hard to correct mistakes once made.

Don’t take your mistakes personally. Remind yourself that you are not your mistakes, and that mistakes are an inevitable part of pursuing art.

Which are your students struggling with today? These opposing muscles must both be strengthened for musicians to succeed. Remember that the student not taking his mistakes seriously today may be the one taking them too personally tomorrow – and he will need different encouragement depending on his state of mind.

Views as a Metric

Views, likes, shares. They’re what we count, because they’re easy to count.

But views are a terrible metric for quality. As my 11-year-old pointed out today, Gangnam Style holds the record for most YouTube views, at over 3 BILLION.

It doesn’t make it the best song, the best video, even the best Psy song.

But it’s easy to measure, so we measure it.

It takes constant reminding that views are not correlated to quality. Remind yourself today that the work you do is valuable, even if it doesn’t garner 3 views, let alone 3 billion.

Views are not quality, and quality does not compel views.

Say it again.

2 Questions

Ask as often as possible to the people you work with:

How can I make your life better?

Ask as often as possible to yourself:

How can I show my love?


How to Use a Piano While Practicing

There are lots of ways a piano can help increase your practice efficacy. Here are ten:

  1. Use the piano to play your part in time with your singing.
  2. Use the piano to play first and last pitches in each phrase.
  3. Use the piano to play the full accompaniment as you sing.
  4. Use the piano to play the left hand of the accompaniment as you sing.
  5. Use the piano to play the bass part as you sing (unless you’re a bass).
  6. Use the piano to play the melody as you sing the harmony.
  7. Use the piano to outline the harmony as you sing the melody.
  8. Use the piano to play whichever part is closest and/or most dissonant to yours.
  9. Use the piano to play random distractions while you sing your part.
  10. Use the piano as a stand to hold your music while you sing a cappella.

Don’t fall into ruts in your practice – use the piano for all it’s worth!