Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Tonal Tuesdays - Social Media Make Music

I was one of the original, "I will never touch a computer" , dare I say, idiots.  When the Vic 20 launched in the 80's we bought one for our children.  It was run by a tape player that held data.  It had a very tiny memory and was quickly replaced by the the Commodore 64.  Our son and daughter could make it work just swell.  I, on the other hand, couldn't turn the silly thing on.

They brought a computer lab into our school with 30 Commodore 64 machines.  I was supposed to take my class down for at least one period a week.  The school officials failed to teach the teachers how they worked so I enlisted a grade 8 student to teach the students.  It was all Greek to me.

Then I taught a teachers' university upgrade course and, you guessed it, it had to have a computer component.  Guess what I did?  Yup, I enlisted a fellow teacher to come and teach that segment.  Keep in mind, I still don't know how to turn on the machines.

A few years later, I was on team writing a music course for primary teachers.  We were using a computer and of course the operating system was DOS.  Even when I wrote all the steps down in painful detail, getting into the program was a nightmare.  I still didn't know how to turn it on.  Someone else always had to be there to do that part.

I finally learned to use the computer when a friend and I ran a training program and we did a newsletter each month.  I sat by her side and watched.  Then I bought her old computer and away I went.

I love computers now.  I don't know what I would do without them.  I learned by constantly clicking and finding  how things worked and virtually playing with the machine until I learned what it could do.

Now, the world is ours.  We can talk to people anywhere at all.  Bloggers are sharing their ideas for repertoire and all things choir.  Some recent discussions centred around how to use Facebook for recruiting new members, and even getting audiences to a concert.  There are groups that Tweet their ideas for music and availability.  Blogs and web sites abound full of information and ideas.

So how has this changed our way of doing music?  The advent of You Tube has really made it fun to find other groups presenting music and is a great learning tool for finding repertoire.  I have never had so much discussion with other musicians as I have had since the beginning of our Embro Thistle Singers.  There are so many ideas and ways of working  with singers, I am amazed that I have worked in the music scene for more than 30 years and was able to carry on not knowing any of this.

I think this abundance of information and ability to contact and be contacted can only lead to great understanding and knowledge.  Our daughter found a choir in Harringay, Tottenham in London, U.K. that has a very similar philosophy to us.  They have a grand web site and blog and even a You Tube channel.  No more tinny tapes across the ocean and expensive phone calls.  Hallelujah for the world wide web.   We will share more about getting to know this new choir as it unfolds.

I know there are people from all over the world who read our blog.  Isn't that amazing?  What has the web done for you?  Please share.  to misquote the song, we have the whole world in our computer!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Fun Friday - Virtual Choir

More than a year ago, our daughter sent me a link to this new idea called a Virtual Choir.  Here is the composer and originator, Eric Whiteacre telling you what that is all about.

Here is the very first virtual choir performance.  Check out his two others on You Tube.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tonal Tuesdays - Creative License

One thing I know for sure is that no one choir director is like another.  All choirs are just as unique.  Music must be chosen to not only suit the occasion but to suit the singers.  I am not an arranger as I find that writing arrangements a very pedantic exercise.  It is a very good thing that there are people who love to arrange pieces for choirs to sing.  Now, if you are not a musician who enjoys arranging the music, let's talk about how to find just the right music for our choirs.

I remember once saying to a choir director something about how a huge choir had a great sound.  He said that when you had that many voices it wasn't as important to get the notes right as the largeness of the sound covered a myriad of sins.  It is more work in a large group to keep everyone on time on the attacks and cadences.

With a smaller group then not only must starts and stops be perfect but the harmonies are right out there in detail.  It is most important to work on the harmony and balance.  Knowing that, choosing the right arrangements of songs is paramount.  If the song is too intricate it may not be worth the time it takes to learn.  If the piece is not one your singers really enjoy, you may discard it or work on it a bit and come back to it.  We have done just that with a number of pieces.  When we came back to them, they had a different feel because they had some knowledge of them and the songs came along more quickly.  Even Kristy has grown to love Banks of Doon and the tenors have almost forgiven me for Over the Rainbow.  Tee, hee.

It is most important that the singers understand why music is written the way it is.  When they know why there are dissonances and resolutions they are much more able and willing to work through the hard bits.

The only nod to arranging that I make is that sometimes we will slow or speed a piece or section according to the meaning and the sound we feel makes it work.  Oh yes, there are times when those attempts are laughed at by all.  Others are accepted with a sigh of relief when it feels that much better to sing.  A few times we have had to change notes in a chord where the originals seem to make no sense.

Anytime we change an arrangement we are very aware that we must honour the composer's intention as we know it. We would never change an arrangement substantially because, you remember, I am not an arranger.  We would make only small changes helpful to us in presenting the music more singable for us.
If more changes were needed, then we need to get a new arrangement.

Yes, we can use creative license to make the music better.  I think it is important to know your singers and be willing to firstly choose music that suits your choir and secondly to challenge the singers.  Too big a challenge will make them feel at odds, but too small a challenge or in my view, too much music that is the same, creates dull songs and eventually a lack luster group.

Right now we are looking at adding some more light hearted pieces.  I'll be looking for some fun arrangements that suit our singers.  Last year we did Yellow Polka Dot Bikini for the Embro Fair.  Now that was fun.  Any suggestions?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Fun Friday - Land of Hope and Cheddar

There was a contest run by the British Cheese Board (not to be confused with a British cheese board - sorry, I just couldn't resist).  A choir aptly named "Upbeat" presented this as their entry.  The words are on the screen and the humour in their faces.  Such fun.  Okay so I didn't call it cheesy.  I resisted that one.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Tonal Tuesdays - Choir as Democracy

I was reading a post from Liz Garnett's blog on how a choir is NOT a democracy.  Chris Rowbury another choir blogger suggested that she was absolutely right.  I agree that someone has to have the final say in choosing music, final style choices, venues etc.  However, I feel very strongly that there should be input from the choir and that they should all know that although we cannot always act on every suggestion they have been heard and taken seriously.

I know that the other members of our do not want my job as the director.  I have asked so I really do know.  However, we have never come to loggerheads about any issues.  Sometimes, it just takes a quick whole choir discussion to settle on an idea and sometimes it takes a private discussion with a member who has a strong opinion.  All of that I believe, strengthens the collective feeling in the group.  I can say, "I understand how you might not like singing in unison but can you see how this song will work as a song merely for fun?"  If the majority really feels strongly then why would I continue with it.  I have been know to come back to a song later on with a different tack.

When my sister was working with a choir in Georgetown, Guyana, they had just come out from under a 25 year dictatorship.  They didn't know how to trust each other.  Being in a choir, helped them to understand co-operation when they had been forbidden to even speak to others in the past.  So even though Margie was the leader and they did what she said, they worked together to get the desired result.  That to me is a true democracy.  There are leaders whom we choose and allow to set our course.  We then, are working together to make the best country, school, club etc. happen.  We do need our leaders to be listening and bringing forth OUR concerns.  To me, a choir is no different.  Margie's choir helped them to understand the democratic way.  Cool.

Although, I do understand what Chris was saying about a being a "benign dictator",  I absolutely do NOT ever want to be considered such.  If something we are working on is going to cause division or dislike, I would rather not push that upon the choir.  Part of my pleasure is the sheer joy of sharing music we love collectively or have come to love.  Benign or otherwise, dictatorship is not where I choose to be nor would I want to work with that model.

Have you had similar experiences even outside a musical group?  What are your feelings?

Friday, July 13, 2012

Fun Friday - World Choir Games

This is so cool.  There are choirs meeting in Cincinnati for the World Choir Games.  All ages and stages compete.  You can visit their web site to see and hear more. http://www.choir-tv.com

Here is the theme song for the World Choir Games.  This is wonderful.  Enjoy.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Tonal Tuesdays - Paying for Membership

There has been quite a discussion lately in the Community Choirs section of Choral Net.  One choir leader has asked for advice on how much to charge for choir membership.  Most of these choirs are in the U.S.A. so they talk about tax forms for none profits and other area specific details.

Personally, I am thrilled that our choir is totally without membership fees.  We pay for our own transportation and our shirts.  We volunteer our time to be at our concerts and we hire no paid personnel.  We started by borrowing music but have been given a number of donations and now we are able to purchase music to use.  We have 2 treasurers who keep track of our money and we decide collectively how to spend the money.  I love this method of co-operative management.

The choir I belonged to previously started out this way and now they charge for membership and pay soloists etc.  I find that difficult to swallow.  I know all things change but I truly believe that fees can close the door to come people being able to participate.  There has been discussion about scholarships for those unable to pay but some would not like to have to disclose that I would think.

Part of my not wanting to be paid is that I don't want to "work" for anyone.  I am self-employed and so I love the freedom to choose.  I want to continue that freedom in my volunteer time.  Do I feel that my time and talent are not worthy of being paid.  Absolutely not.  However, my pay comes in the great enjoyment, and fun we have.  I can make mistakes and we just laugh and carry on.
There must be a case for high fees (some over $200 a year).  I just cannot justify it in my own mind.  what do you think?  What does your choir do?  I would love to hear your perspective.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Fun Friday - Words as WE Hear Them

You remember when we were learning Purple People Eater for the Embro Fair last year, I was surprised to find out that the words I had sung forever, "---one eyed, one horned FIVE Purple People Eater" was actually a "flyin' Purple People Eater".  My sister said the Lord's Prayer with "Hallowe'en" Thy name instead of "Hallowed be" Thy name.  What words did you mistake?

Here is a fabulous take on  Oh Fortuna from  Orff's cantata, Carmina Burana and the words some people hear as listening.  Check this out and have a laugh or two.  The cartoons are funny as well.  Oh by the way, when I was taking a course at University of Toronto on teaching listening skills in music, our professor called this the "tuna" song.  Hmmm.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Tonal Tuesdays - Canada's Musicians Loved at Home?

Canadians have a long standing history of not respecting home grown talent.  Calixa  Lavallée  is a case in point.  Lavallée was asked to write the music to a patriotic poem in honour of St. Jean Baptiste Day in 1880.  With many changes in words over the years in the English versions (the French version for some strange reason has never changed), became the official national anthem of Canada one hundred years later in 1980. 

Lavallée like many musicians, found he needed to go to the United States to work to be able to make a living at music.  He married a young lady from a French community in Massachusetts.  He even fought in the American Civil War.  There are a number of streets named after Lavallée in Quebec which of course didn't happen in his lifetime.  He wrote one of our most important songs but never got recognition here at home.  

Bobby Curtola was one of the first Canadian music talents to make a concerted effort to be a Canadian star.  In 1960, he made the very first coast to coast tour of Canada by any artist.  

In 1964, I was in high school in Chatham, Ontario.  One day we were called down the the gym-atorium (remember those?) and treated to an impromptu concert by this young man who sang like a dream.  Little did I know how important this young Bobby Curtola would become in the world of rock music.  I do remember that that day was sponsored by Coke.  That in itself was amazing as we couldn't even have advertising on the maps in our classrooms.   In researching this post, I found that Bobby Curtola was the first pop singer to record a jingle that sounded like a hit song.  Check it out in this You Tube video of the Coke commercial.

I can't hear Fortune Teller without remembering that day.  That was my first brush with someone famous and someone from Canada.  He has always had a special place in my heart because he was proud of being a Canadian and was determined to make his mark by keeping that as his mission.

Now, we can make a huge list of very popular and famous Canadian musicians.  Justin Bieber is the current rock star and I hope he and others realize that the way was paved by people like Bobby Curtola who made it his mission to stay in Canada for the most part.  

Curtola has received the Order of Canada and more than deserves it for his great work.  He is still performing today.  What a great role model he is for our Canadian musicians. 

We can help our Canadian talent in all genres if we go out of our way to support them.  Somehow, many Canadians feel that artists of every stripe must get a reputation outside of Canada before they are accepted here at home.  It is not as evident perhaps as in the past but it is still there.  Look for Canadians working to make a mark, and make it your mission to help them to be accepted and beloved here at home first.

Who is your favourite Canadian artist?

Sunday, July 1, 2012

ETS at the Highland Games in Embro July 1

One thing I know for sure is that our choir excels at making great music and baking!!  We had baking galore and coffee available for people for a donation.  We even gave some to people just because.

It was a hot day for sure but the breeze helped us survive.  Check out my cute hat below - not.  Harold opened up the theatre so we could make coffee, set up tables and have electricity for our compilation CD that Damon made.  Glen, Kay and Attie stayed most of the day and chatted with those they knew and each other.  It made the time go by quickly.
So here we are looking oh so cute in with the fire fighters beside us cooking hot dogs.  I still smell like a hot dog.  They tasted so good I don't mind. Kay's signs were a great addition.

We had the dessert that people came and got after they had  lunch.  We also met a lady who misses singing and would like to join us in September.  The whole day was about sweet things.  Cool.

It was a great day.  There were many hundreds of people at the Community Centre for the Highland Games.  We saw a small portion of those but they were very generous and supportive.  We really appreciate that.

I will download a couple of the songs Damon as recorded at our practices.  One of these days we will do an on purpose recording without my counting or giving instructions in the background.  Stay tuned.