March 18, 2013 Composition
Throughout the year, various organizations offer submission opportunities to composers and lyricists. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is currently holding their annual music submission where members of the LDS Church may submit music for consideration. Some pieces are used in Church magazines while others are published on their website for home and Church use. This yearly submission period is an excellent opportunity for budding or experienced composers to share their works that fit the stated categories.
The Church offers three categories:
- General Music (includes childrens songs, hymns, hymn arrangements, anthems, etc.)
- Hymn Text
- Relief Society Music (music suited for the womens organization of the Church)
In addition to possible inclusion in future publications or web posts, there are cash awards given for selected pieces.
If you’re interested in submitting, their deadline is quickly approaching. All works must be postmarked by March 31, 2013 and award recipients will be notified by July 1, 2013.
For more information on guidelines as well as a submission form, visit http://www.lds.org/music/submit-music?lang=eng
*This blog post is for informational purposes only and Teton Music is not a sponsor of the submissions. This blog is not an official website of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints offers over 20 free hymn arrangements and original anthems for choirs on their website, lds.org. All the pieces are written by members of their church who have freely shared their talents and can be copied for incidental, non-commercial home or church use. Teton Music Blog contributor, Michelle Willis has two pieces included:
I Stand All Amazed (SAB)
O Little Town of Bethlehem (SATB)
Check out the download page for these and other free sacred choral music at http://www.lds.org/music/library/music-for-choirs?lang=eng
Variety is the spice of life. So it is with music selections as well. Most conductors have a handful of favorite ‘go to’ pieces they’ve directed before and are known crowd favorites, but it’s always good to expand the ensemble and audience’s exposure to lesser known composers or pieces. With a library of over 85,000 scores, ScoreExchange.com has something for every taste. The music is available for instant download so there’s no ordering and then waiting for weeks for the sheet music to arrive. Score Exchange is an open forum where any aspiring or seasoned composer can post his or her works, so the quality does vary quite a bit. The positive is this site provides you the ability to view the entire music before purchase and even has a player that will play a MIDI file of the piece you’re considering. Composers are also encouraged to post mp3 files of performances so you can hear actual ensemble interpretations of the piece.
Score Exchange has also made it easy to narrow what you’re looking for. Search options include by:
- Instrumentation (Choir, band, orchestra, etc.)
- Genre (classical, modern, jazz, and so much more!)
- Music purpose (worship, film, theater, concert, etc.)
- Event (Christmas, Easter, patriotic, funerals, weddings, etc.)
- Type (original composition, arrangement)
While you’re browsing, make sure you check out composer Michelle Willis’ page at http://www.scoreexchange.com/profiles/michellewillis
January 17, 2013 Conducting
As with many aspects of conducting, there is not a single right way to signal a cutoff to instrumentalists or a choir. Although the desired end result is the same (for the ensemble to stop singing or playing), some methods are more effective to clearly communicate a cutoff point to your group. When I was a teenager, I was first taught how to cut off by a church seminary instructor. He wanted the entire class to take a turn during the year to conduct a hymn so his simple instruction to the group was to take your pointer finger and draw a curly pig’s tail at the end of a phrase. Since no one really paid attention to the conductor anyway during the opening hymn, it probably didn’t matter that this technique wasn’t the most effective. Through the years that followed, I sang and played under the direction of a number of conductors and found as a performer that some cutoff cues were easier to interpret than others. A good cutoff:
• Signals a clear point in time for the ensemble to stop. Some cutoffs are unclear because the specific moment is not precisely defined by the conductor’s gesture. Instead what the group sees is a continuation of movement in the conductor’s hand or an undecidedness in the gesture that leaves the group guessing if they were supposed to stop or keep going.
• Is visible to the entire group. Visibility is accomplished by being either large enough or clearly identifiable. Think about it this way-You want your ensemble to identify your cutoff as if it were part of a police line-up. There should be no question when you want the group to cut off! It is always a good idea to “set the box” with your ensemble and make them familiar with the gestures you are using in your conducting, especially the cues for entrances and cutoffs.
• Avoids small, diminutive gestures. Indicating a cutoff for a large group by closing the hand slightly or pinching the thumb up to the index finger can be very difficult to see. Instead, consider turning the entire hand over, as if you are flipping a pancake on a griddle. This allows for a concise point where you want the sound to stop and makes the gesture visible from any angle. This is not to say that you can never close the hand or use similar small gestures, but you must tailor it to the size of your ensemble. When you are using a baton for orchestras or large vocal ensembles, the most important point to remember is to stop the movement in the stick AND your hand completely to assure that the gesture is followed.
For a quick online tutorial on one method of cutoffs, check out the following video by Michelle Willis. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ru2z9hjVUJA
For the Love of Music,
Purple Heart. Emmy. Super Bowl ring. Standing Ovation. What do each of these things have in common? They’re all one of the highest honors bestowed for extraordinary effort or performance. For each of these awards to retain their meaning and prestige, both the giver and receiver must understand the effort required to receive it. Sadly, the purpose of a standing ovation has become misunderstood or completely unknown by many concert goers. This post aims to both educate and cause the readers to examine their own standard for what they consider ‘ovation-worthy’.
In performing arts (theater, concerts, etc.) a standing ovation is a form of applause where members of a seated audience stand while clapping. An individual audience member decides for himself if he will stand based on his personal judgment of extraordinary performance by an ensemble or individual performer. The level of audience approval of the standing ovation is measured first by how many audience members stand, second the length of time that the standing and applause continues, and third (over the course of an event) by the number of ovations given. Standing ovations are considered one of the highest honors and compliments to a performer or ensemble. Often it is used at the entrance or departure of a conductor or special performer, where the audience members will continue the ovation until the person leaves the stage or begins their performance.
In Ancient Rome, returning military commanders (such as Marcus Licinius Crassus after his defeat of Spartacus) whose victories did not quite meet the requirements of a triumph but which were still praiseworthy were celebrated with an ovation instead, from the Latin ovo, “I rejoice”. In the English language the word began to be used around 1831 to refer to sustained applause. Standing ovations are also a well-known part of political addresses. Russian leader Joseph Stalin was known for shooting people who stopped clapping first in his standing ovations. As a result, they would go on for extensive periods of time. Modern political leaders typically receive standing ovations when entering as well as interruptions during their addresses such as the State of the Union address by the President of the United States. It is unknown when standing ovations for musical or theatrical performances began although many musical aficianados are familiar with the account of King George II standing at the first few notes of George Frederick Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. Although he did not applaud, he remained standing and this tradition has remained for more than two centuries.
Today’s Standing Ovation
In most circles the standing ovation has become an obligatory audience gesture. These standing ovations occur in a variety of ways. Two of which are highlighted below:
The Popcorn Ovation. This begins with one or two enthusiastic ‘kernels’ that leap to their feet and begin to clap with great passion. They could be a proud parent or friend of one of the performers and would have stood up for the performance if every note was sour and off pitch. Then a few more people stand up because they too know someone in the ensemble and want to be seen standing up too if their friend sees them in the audience. These individual pockets of kernels continue to pop up across the audience and start to spread to those sitting closest to the people already standing. Pretty soon, practically the whole audience stands up and half heartedly clap their hands like mindless lemmings. Regardless of their individual feelings of the performance, many concert goers end up being compelled to stand when a portion of the audience is already standing and clapping. They end up standing because of concern of what others and that others will see them as unappreciative of the performer.
Time to Go Home Ovation. This type of ovation occurs people mistake the early exit of some audience members for a standing ovation. This occurs after the final number is completed and the audience begins to clap. The antsy group of audience members see the performance is clearly over from the program and proceed to stand up and make their way past other audience members on their way to the back of the hall and the exit. Sometimes a seated audience member or even an entire row will stand up to give the exiting people more room to get by, giving the false appearance to others of a standing ovation. All chaos shortly breaks loose because people standing up for those exiting and those truly giving a standing ovation collide with people who just want to get out of dodge. The performing ensemble is left to see the whole scene unfold from the stage and wondering which audience message to believe.
Should I Stand or Not?
In its true form, giving a standing ovation should be a personal decision and not based on whether a certain person you are with or percentage of the audience has already stood. Giving a standing ovation out of obligation is a disservice to the performers and devalues its actual purpose—to recognize performance greatness. I recently attended a performance packed with 21,000 others where professional singer Dallyn Vail Bayles performed a stunning and heart wrenching rendition of “Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables. I found myself deeply moved by his interpretation. After the piece was over I immediately rose to stand and show my approval. I was pleased to see that others in the audience made their own judgment of the performance with some standing and others remaining seated but still applauding with appreciation. This was a small victory for the true meaning of the standing ovation.
I’ve had people ask, “So how do you handle my kid’s play or band concert? Do I give them a standing ovation?” My answer goes back to the definition of a standing ovation and then putting it in context of the age and ability othe performer(s). Today’s politically correct culture teaches the ‘everyone gets a trophy’ mentality where there are no losers. Sadly one of the many consequences of this philosophy is it means there are no winners. All of a sudden mediocrity and truly magnificent performance are all rewarded with the same award and recognition. If the junior high band plays a piece with extraordinary feeling or skill, I would personally give them a standing ovation.
My hope from this post is that you personally examine your own standard for what deems a standing ovation in your book. Be an appreciative and courteous audience member and help spread the meaning of standing ovations with others!
A Little Trivia
Placido Domingo holds the world record for the longest ovation ever on the operatic stage: 101 curtain calls and 80 minutes of applause, in Vienna, after singing Otello on June 30, 1991.
November 14, 2012 Concerts
We’ve all seen it in person or a video on YouTube. A bride and groom are at the altar. The clergyman is conducting the wedding ceremony when all of a sudden the groom’s head begins to sway. His eyes roll back and before you know it he topples backward down the stairs. While it is tempting to laugh when such an incident happens, fainting during a concert is a real concern of conductors and choir members alike.
Without becoming too technical, fainting is simply a sudden loss of consciousness from a lack of blood flow to the brain. There are medical conditions which make some people prone to fainting, so it is important that conductors be aware of any situations where this is the case. Conductors can help educate their choir members some of the triggers that increase the chance of fainting while singing.
Stress with your ensemble the importance of staying hydrated. Not only is it good for their voice, but it also keeps blood pressure regulated and reducing the chance of dizziness or fainting. And remember, water is the best hydration. Sodas and other beverages actually have the opposite effect and dehydrate.
Be Aware Allergic Reactions
Oftentimes for concerts choir members will add a dab or two of their favorite cologne or perfume for the special occasion. What they forget is some people have severe allergic reactions to certain fregrances and being in such tight quarters as an ensemble can be downright suffocating. Individuals who suffer from allergies of this nature can become victims of shock and lose consciousness. Although this isn’t fainting per, se, the result is the same of a person losing consciousness.
Don’t Lock your Knees
Keeping your legs rigid while standing for a long period of time can interfere with circulation and cause the blood to pool in your lower extremities. If the blood has trouble getting back up to your brain, you’re in danger of passing out. Keep your knees loose and shift your weight occasionally, especially if you start to feel some numbness. There’s no need to dance around, just slight movements will help keep the blood flowing.
Don’t Perform on an Empty Stomach
Performers may feel too nervous to eat before a concert but it’s easy way to keep their energy up. Foods high in potassium (bananas, apricots, and nectarines) are a good choice because they keep electrolytes balanced and help give the performer needed energy and stamina to stand for extended periods.
Look for Ways to Encourage Movement
Give choir members opportunity to keep the circulation flowing. This is especially important for longer concerts where an entire work like an oratorio are performed. Consider allowing the choir to sit during solos or orchestra only numbers. Other ideas include some creative programming such as including numbers that naturally have movement like spirituals. If there are a number of different groups performing, mix up the program where each ensemble performs a few selections during the set and then rotate through several times during the night. This also provides more interest and contrast to the concert so the audience hears various groups from beginning to end (Womens, Mens, mixed, a cappella, show choirs). When the concert is a single ensemble, I have seen the group change formation during the concert which allows choir members to move.
In your final choir preparation before a concert take a few minutes and share with them these strategies.
November 8, 2012 Concerts
The common business adage, “There’s no ‘I’ in ‘team’” is also applicable to musical ‘teams’. The conductor not only wants the ensemble to sound like a cohesive team but also to look like one. If you’re part of an organization that has a low (or non-existent) budget for ensemble attire, what are some strategies to help your group visually communicate a team as much as their music will? Here are a few suggestions:
This option can be as casual or formal as you’d like our group to look. Childrens and youth ensembles look great with matching t-shirts with the organization’s logo. Other groups choose to dress it up a bit and add some bling to the shirt around the neckline or over one of the pockets. Collared polos or button down shirts usually easy to find at discount retailers and come in various sizes to suit the sizes of your group.
Existing school uniforms
Black & White with matching tie
Black and white is the most common low cost ensemble attire, but if parents or the institution have $15 or less to spend on each student, consider matching ties. It dresses up the predictable look of black and white and gives a commonality to each member when pant and skirt length, fabric, and design will vary for each person.
Black on top and bottom
A caution with all black. Consider the background of where you will perform. You want the attire to stand out from the background so the focus is on the ensemble. If the group is on risers with a dark background, all the audience will see is floating heads and arms. For a touch of color, men could wear colored ties and women wear a brooch.
The term Sunday Best indicates suit and tie for men and skirt or dress for women. For added conformity, consider assigning certain colors. These can be based on the season of the year (pastels for spring, reds for Christmas, etc.) or assigned by the conductor (school or organization colors, etc.). Notice this particular photo example where each member is wearing a different outfit but they all blend together for a consistent look. This option works best with larger sized choirs where the variance of individual outfits blend in like a beautiful mosaic.
October 15, 2012 Rehearsals
I don’t know a conductor who would turn down the opportunity to rehearse and fine tune his ensemble one more time before a big concert. Whether your group is volunteer, doing it for a grade, or even paid musicians, they are individuals who carry on other lives outside of your ensemble and every moment you have together can improve the quality of your performance if time is used wisely. When surveyed, ensemble members clearly stated their number one irritation with their experience as an ensemble member is when the conductor does not start rehearsals on time.
- Announce rehearsal start time at an odd time (i.e. 6:57pm or 7:03pm)
This has been an effective technique used in the direct sales industry to get party guests to come on time for the consultant’s presentation. The human mind perks up when it sees or hears something unexpected or unusual. Your start time will become deeper engrained in your group’s mind and they will make more of an effort to be there.
- Have “The Talk”
While other techniques listed can be effective in helping foster or mold the right behavior, there’s nothing like good old fashioned candor. Sometimes we employ some of these techniques and hope that the group will get the hint. As the conductor, you’re the leader of the ensemble and much like a manager of a workplace team, it sometimes requires a frank conversation. The best received “Talk” I’ve heard is when the conductor approached it from an angle of “I need you. Your fellow ensemble members need you. While we may be individual voices or instruments, we are like a big pipe organ and need every key, every voicing in order to make beautiful music. If you show up on time I will make the promise to you that I will not waste your time. I will make use of every moment we have together.”
- Start on time no matter how many (or few!) people are in attendance
Those who have made the effort to be on time deserve your full attention even if you have gaping holes in other sections. When tardy members come in and realize that they’re walking in late to an existing rehearsal, it clearly displays your commitment to quality, productive rehearsals. Where necessary, a private conversation with regular offenders will help specific problems with attendance.
- Have a set agenda every rehearsal
Whether posted to the group or something just for yourself, a set agenda of what is on tap will keep the rehearsal moving and provide the necessary urgency to start the rehearsal on time. A set agenda also shows the group that their plate is full and there isn’t room for casual chit chat.
- Give an incentive
If you can help answer the old adage, “What’s in it for me?” for every individual member, you’ll see more consistent attendance. An incentive doesn’t have to be something tangible or cost you anything out of pocket. For some age groups, it may be the only resort, but for most, their incentive for arriving on time is they don’t miss out on a moment of inspiration or instruction from you. I have been part of many groups where the background of a certain piece or a thought for the day was shared that was just as beneficial as the rehearsal of notes, etc. Music is an art form that involves more than just the sense of sound. It speaks to the spirit, to the heart, and to our minds. Don’t underestimate the value you provide to your group.
September 22, 2012 Benefits of Music
It has taken me years to come to grips with this, but I think I am finally ready to admit it and begin the healing process—I was a victim of involuntary music lessons. Yes, that’s right, my mean, unbending parents forced me (against my will) to learn the essential life skills of self-discipline, concentration, and stick-to-it-iveness. I also regret to report that these skills have molded me into a productive, well-rounded, and educated member of society. If only my parents would have caved in and let me abandon lessons on multiple occasions, maybe my wretched life would have been different.
I have to admit— my perspective of my parent’s stubborn persistence is completely different now from when I had to sit reluctantly practicing Hanon scales at 6:30 in the morning. Now, I wish someone would ‘force’ me to go learn and practice, knowing what ‘involuntary music lessons’ has done for my life.
Let me start off by clearly stating that I am not advocating an over-the-top forcing of children when it comes to music lessons. Remember the poor young Beethoven being dragged out of bed at 3 am by a drunken father and his friends to practice the piano? That certainly doesn’t build bridges between a parent and child; but, I do think my generation (those raising children now) has gotten pretty soft when it comes to having kids pursue something good that they don’t want to do. I was raised by parents who instilled in their children the value of music. Mom had taken piano growing up but quit before she had really developed the skill and regretted it as she got older. She knew that music training not only taught us a specific skill, but knew we were developing lifelong character traits in the process. Each of their six children started the piano around second grade and were required to stick with it until they could play most songs from the church hymnal. After that point, we could continue taking lessons of our own volition or stop without mom and dad breathing down our necks. Most of us continued to take lessons because we gained a love for music and the skill we had acquired. In fact, once we had taken piano for two years we were allowed to start a second instrument if we desired. Five of the six of us immediately picked up a second instrument as soon as we were allowed and benefitted from the basics we learned first from the piano. So what would I say are the top traits acquired from involuntary music lessons? Here are my top 5:
Worthwhile, beautiful things take time and practice. You have to make a lot of mistakes, study, fail, and try again and again. Your muscles will ache, your brain will be fuzzy sometimes, and you may loathe looking at that instrument at points, but the spirit that’s inside you says, “Don’t give up. You have the strength for this.” Think of military personnel. They have incredible discipline and can stand at attention as long as the general requires, or brave extreme situations because they know their leaders are trying to prepare them for the worst possible scenarios so, if at all possible, they can come out of danger alive. Piano practice won’t protect you from a grenade, but it will teach you that discipline has multiple rewards (including the monetary type) and opens many doors in life.
From drive thru food to the Internet, we seem to live in an instant gratification society. Music lessons are not that way. Much like losing weight, gaining an education or learning a new language, it takes time (many times months and years) and you’ve got to exert a lot of physical or mental energy to realize your end goal. There’s also an element of consistency that can’t be overlooked. You can’t cram 6 months of practice into a 15 minute Cliff Note and play like Mozart. It is the daily practice that inches you closer and closer to your goal.
Imagine taking an ACT or SAT when you have never studied. You never liked to study–you don’t know how. You hate sitting still and paying attention. So, you get to the test day, and you fail. There is so much to be said for the skill of being able to concentrate. Children have wiggly bodies (some much more than others), and sitting on a chair or bench and doing something over and over can seem like the ultimate form of torture; but, as the body and mind grows, so does the ability to concentrate, if exercised regularly.
4. We sometimes need to do things that aren’t our favorite
Much like eating our vegetables, sometimes we just need to do things that are good for us. Does it mean we can’t have the desserts of life to serve a life sentence on the piano bench? No, but it helps us live a life of commitment. I have had several conversations with my children when they’ve come to me and said that they wanted to quit baseball or a play. I’ve explained that they made a commitment to themselves and their team and that there are others that are counting on them. Most times I have found that the reason they want to quit is something about it is challenging or hard and instead of conquering the difficulty they think they’ll just quit. If life was void of all gain and no pain, there would be no joy in the victory, no jubilation in reaching the peak, or reason for existence for that matter. My family’s motto has become, “We can do hard things” and has served us well.
5. Important Skill in a dying field
Just as Princess Leia from Star Wars desperately called out, “Help me Obi Wan Kanobi, you’re my only hope”, so do our churches, communities and schools. They are all in tremendous need of musical skill. Music gives emotion and meaning to our worship, pride in our country, and spirit to our school events. Be a part of the legacy instead of part of the continued deterioration of this fine art. Without music, life would be a mistake and lived in silence.So join me in committing today to invigorate our classrooms, our churches, our communities and our homes with the joy of music through involuntary music lessons. Our next generation will thank you!
For a more musical world,
Getting an ensemble ready for a concert is a huge endeavor and takes a large portion of a conductor’s time; but, before the first note is sung or the first chord is played, the teacher/artistic director needs to spend enough time researching content for the program.
Listening to a concert with no theme–especially with choirs–is like talking to someone who keeps changing the subject every few minutes. You don’t even get time to really let the subject matter soak in before they yank you in another direction. As directors, we need to avoid the musical “schizophrenia” which may come from lack of planning. Careful programming is well-thought out and has a common thread that carries the listener through the experience.
A few examples of themes that can be used are:
- Music presented in chronological order (ex. Baroque to Classical to Romantic)
- Selections grouped by Composer or Genre
- Day and Night
- Christ’s Birth, Life, Death, & Resurrection
- Moments in History
The list is extensive, of course, so these are just a few ideas.
For my orchestra Halloween concerts, I enjoy choosing a theme that will help tell a good story, as I create a script with a plot, antagonist, climax, and resolution. The themes I have used in the last 3 years are:
- Something Wicked This Way Comes (villan themes)
- Video Games Alive (video game music-Mario Bros., Halo, etc.)
- Heroes (selections featuring heroic characters-How to Train your Dragon, Spiderman, etc.)
Some people like to have scripts or spoken dialogue between musical selections or groups of pieces–some do not. I do like to have spoken dialogue to bring the audience in on what they will hearing next. This can also be accomplished by putting a write-up in the program, but I find it can be distracting because listeners will keep glancing at their program instead of giving their full attention to the performance.
Programming is a lot of work, but so much fun, and it turns a mediocre concert into something to be remembered.