Category Archives: blog

Back Home and Back in the Saddle

I spent a wonderful few days last week with fellow choral conductors from around the country–and the world. I heard some great music, good choirs and wonderful speakers. And I luxuriated in having them all in my home town. I networked with some local choral directors from my own neck of the woods–coffee and then singing together in a reading session was so fun–and spoke with a few people I had only known from reputation. All in all, it was a great experience. Now, back to reality!

The MMS’s first rehearsal of our spring concert cycle was Tuesday. Forgive me for blowing my own horn but THEY WERE GREAT! After all the preparation and planning, I have a wonderful group of singers for this concert cycle. But it took work to get here and it’s finally paying off. Everyone is on the same page for a change, no attitudes and everyone practiced before they came to rehearsal. I couldn’t ask for more–well, I could, but I will take this for now!

To the ACDA convention

I’m excited. I am going to the American Choral Director’s Association’s national convention tomorrow and the rest of the week. It’s always good to go to something like this. It’s a chance to see people I haven’t seen for a while and learn something new. Hear something new. And just reconnect with my profession/passion.

Our rehearsals start next week so the timing couldn’t be better–I’ll be charged at exactly the right time.

No Singing at the Table

My mother had a few rules for us when were young and not singing at the table was one of them. It may seem like an odd rule but you didn’t know me as a little girl.

My sister and I sang together–all the time. When she was four and I was six, we joined our church’s Cherub Choir. She sang soprano and I sang alto, since I could read and she couldn’t. And we sang all the time. We made it up if we didn’t know parts for a song and I harmonized and she sang descants, experimenting to see what was best. We sang on the way to school together, whether walking or in the car with our grandmother. Grandma liked, for some reason, the Air Force and Army and Marine and Navy songs, and we sang “here we go, into the the wild, blue yonder, flying high, into the sky….”so many times with her, it was funny. We
sang in our yard, swinging on our swing set. We sang in the wading pool. We sang every where and any where…..except at the dining room table.
Mom, who was a singer herself, felt there should be one place we shouldn’t sing. We got around it at holidays, when we sang Grace for our family. Our siblings were not all singers and I think Mom didn’t want them to resent us. For Grace at Thanksgiving and at Christmas and Easter, we all sang the Blessing in the form of a round. All in parts and all together. And it was magical.

Recital time

I still study voice. And I feel free.

I began studying again about five years ago when I began the MMS. Essentially, I wanted my technique to be as good as my singers. I wanted to be in shape, vocally, for anything I would want to program. My chops would be good and I would be able to teach anything–Mozart to Bach, Monteverdi to Brahms.

What I didn’t count on was how it would make me feel: alive.

I’ll be singing in my teacher’s recital in a few weeks. What am I singing? Some Cole Porter. I sing almost anything but have found the musicals of the 1940s and 1950s show my legit voice off to it’s best advantage. And they’re crowd pleasers. Knowing my audience of parents of the younger students and spouses of the older, I want to perform. I sing Handel and Bernstein on my own time.

I am putting together a recital which will raise money for autism research later this year. The repertoire is eclectic and covers a few genres but the music fits my voice like a glove. And I’m having a blast!

Hunkering Down

There is a blizzard outside tonight. We here in the Midwest are used to snow–our ancestors dealt with this prospect every year, so what’s the big deal? They didn’t have Doppler Radar predicting every little snow flake and were often caught unaware as to what was to come. The newscasts have been talking of this storm for five days. It seems to be living up to their predictions, with the snowing and blowing and cold right on schedule. But still, nature is amazing.

Midwesterners are hardy. Midwesterners prepare. Midwesterners get things done despite adversity. We have character and know, when it comes down to it, Mother Nature is in control and there is nothing we can do about it. If we have to take a snow day and put our plans off for a few days, we can relax and enjoy the snow drifts.

In the choral world, there are ‘snow drifts’ as well. If we can relax and enjoy them, our music will be better for it. Hot chocolate anyone?

New Year, New Attitude

Happy New Year! It’s been a few weeks since I posted but you will allow me a bit of a break to gather my thoughts. With the New Year, I decided to ‘clean house’ . I got rid of, improved and streamlined some things in my life as well as in the ‘Midwest Motet Society World’. I got a new email address. I cleaned closets and music files. And I decided to let a singer go. It was for the best and the singer is the one who ‘told’ me…….but it was really my idea. I would have reached out later this month if they hadn’t contacted me.

It wasn’t working with this singer because the MMS didn’t seem a priority to them. I have no problem with folks having a life outside of our chamber choir but when rehearsals close to concerts don’t seem important enough to attend or there is always something that comes up, it’s time to move on. I ask for a commitment for about 12 weeks, twice a year. My singers are busy people who sing and conduct and teach….I respect their time. When my time and the time of the other members of the MMS aren’t respected as well, I know that singer is not a good fit for the MMS.

All of my singers have beautiful voices but we are a chamber choir not a bunch of individual soloists. And we want to be a choir.

“…….and the tongue of the dumb shall sing.”

I love “Messiah”. Truth be told, it is probably my favorite large choral work. There’s a little something for every one–from show piece arias to choruses that are both difficult and poignant to recitatives that move the story along while being musically interesting. The story that is told, using scriptures from both the Old and New Testaments, can be appreciated by all.

Traditionally, it is performed during the Advent and Christmas seasons but it is really a Lenten work, first performed and commissioned for Lent. We as choral musicians often chop it up to fit our needs. And, masterwork that it is, it adapts, no matter if we sing only the Christmas portions—plus “Hallelujah”—or the Lenten portions or any thing in between. Whatever we do is probably fine, since George F. Handel had different versions, depending on the soloist available.

I have sung, conducted, studied and listened to “Messiah” since I was a little girl. My Mom was a coloratura soprano and her preparations for “Rejoice” are part of my Christmas memories as much as decorating the house and baking cookies are. I first sang “For Unto Us a Child is Born” when I was about 12 or 13, being allowed to sing with the adult choir because they needed more altos and I was singing alto at that point in my life. I learned “He Shall Feed His Flocks” as my first aria of any sort, but not the recitative for some reason.

I was about 18 or 19 when I received my own “Messiah” score—G. Schirmer of course—as a Christmas gift from my mother. Mom told me to learn the arias and recitatives because they were money-making for any good soloist. And I did. When I officially ‘became’ a soprano in college, I began to learn each aria and recitative from beginning to end, starting with “There Were Shepherds” and ending with “If God Be for Us” as well as everything in between. I conducted and prepared “Hallelujah” in an undergrad conducting class, using my own score, and have marks and comments in the margins from dear Dr. Larson, which I treasure.

Conducting “Messiah” is always challenging, no matter who the singers are. I have markings and notes and comments in my score from long ago performances as well as more recent gigs that remind me anything can happen and often does. I have had to sing as well as conduct a few times, because sopranos have gotten sick at the last moment and there wasn’t time to get anyone else. I have had singers and instrumentalist faint. Conducting choral portions for a “Do-It-Yourself Messiah” has brought the craziest moments, with a youth symphony playing and soloists from the community. I have had to teach a conductor—who normally works with junior high string players—how to conduct recitatives because the “powers-that-be” wanted an instrumental conductor and not ‘just’ a choral person, with interesting results.

Still, the text moves me. The choruses move me. The music moves me. I can be reserved and professional most of the time but some turn of phrase, some musical line will strike me and tears come to my eyes briefly as I conduct. Some moment in the performance will reach me, jaded old musician that I am, and it is like I am hearing it for the first time.

One of the recitatives always gets me, no matter who is singing, who is playing or if I am performing or conducting. It is sung by the alto, thank goodness, and it is the recitative I didn’t learn as a teenager. The text, taken from the Prophecy of Isaiah, tells what will happen when the Messiah comes:

“Then shall the eyes of the blind be open’d,

And the ears of the deaf unstopped.

Then shall the lame man leap as an hart,

And the tongue of the dumb shall sing.”

It so moves me, I think because it reminds me of my son, Russell, who has autism and who cannot speak. I like to think that recitative is meant for him and all people like him. I am comforted to know, even in this great work, some one had thought enough to include this text. And I love it even more.

Making Christmas

I haven’t been around for the last few weeks. You see, after our November 7 concert, I had to switch gears in a matter of days and get ready for a Christmas concert. Oh sure, I had the music chosen some time in August, but had to rehearse and get all the little bits and pieces together. And this was a paying gig for a local organization, so we wanted it to be good. The program had to be excellant and, for events such as this, I write a script to introduce the music and history to our audience, most of whom have no idea what a chamber choir is.
I take Christmas music seriously, no matter how light hearted and ‘fun’ it is. I believe choral musicians, more than others, really create Christmas, whether we lead music in a church setting or a school concert or, like our performance, a community concert. The music must be chosen carefully and must include something familar, something meaningful and something out of the ordinary. And of course, something fun!
Our concert included many familar carols as well as three of the Alfred Burt Carols. It was a magical concert and I was so happy we had the opportunity to do it in this venue. After the concert, I received several emails telling me how much they enjoyed our program. And how our concert really made Christmas.

Concert over, Next Concert

Yesterday was our fall concert. It was wonderful–a concert of setting of psalms–and most were sung and played very well but I’m happy it’s over. I was ready for it to be over about a week ago simply because I have moved on in my mind.
We get to a certain point in time where everything is in place and we begin to plan for the next concert. For me that means to start numbering music, put folders together and finding recordings if possible. It means I begin to study new scores, look at calenders for rehearsal schedules and get the “audition machine” going again.
First, the current concert needs to be performed. Right after, we have our individual de-briefings and we revise our By-Laws with the information. We say good-by to those who won’t be able to continue with us for various reasons and get contacts together for new members.
I am not sure what I like most–preparing or performing. There is something to be said for both. But I do know when it’s time to move on. And today is the day.


What does it take–a few minutes–to NOT make a nasty comment? Or, to make a person feel welcome? What about asking someone to lunch or coffee or to go to a concert with you, someone who needs a friend or who is doing something good for you?

What’s in it for you? Not sniping is a such a small thing in the grand scheme of things. It shows you have a degree of self control. Being petty with someone you don’t like–or think you don’t like–may be hard at first but the rewards you will reap will be worth it.

Rise above and do yourself proud. Be kind to those around you every day. And get the reputation of being someone whom anyone would want to work with and be with and live with.