Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Tonal Tuesday - How Music is Important

I just attended an amazing event that recognized the achievements of the sales force during the past year, shared product knowledge & presented training in all areas & levels of the business.  It was a four day event in a large convention centre.  With static displays, interactive booths, & presentations going on before and after the main presentations, it was a busy & amazingly full time.
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What was common throughout the conference was that music was ever present.  I don't mean the "elevator" type of thing but meaningful, on purpose addition of great music.  There was live music with band & singers, recorded music and a soloist who sang about 5 numbers throughout.  Oh yummy!!

So why music?  Well, here are my ideas as to just HOW music is important.  Those of us trying to justify music education to a less than enthusiastic bunch of bureaucrats, maybe you can use some of these.

1. Music stimulates - while people are gathering upbeat and often popular music is played or performed.  The people are energized and ready to sit and learn.  What better way to get students ready for learning than to energize.  There is actually current research that says just this.  

2. Celebrations enhanced by music - Nothing makes you feel more excited than a rousing rendition of "Happy Birthday".  Most weddings include songs that say just what the bride and groom mean to each other.  Funerals almost always include poignant musical selections sung and/or played to help the living grieve & remember the loved one in a special way.  At a recent retirement celebration, a marvellous soloist sang "You Raise Me Up" to the retiring executive who had spent his career supporting and building people to be the best they could be.  It was so fitting and nothing else could have said it better.   We have a wonderful outlet for emotions that is healthy and helpful.  

3. Music make us feel GOOD! - Don't tell me you haven't sung at the top of your lungs in the car, the shower or some secret place.  Of course you have.  We all do.  There are times when I have a solved a particularly tough problem and swing into "Oh What a Beautiful Morning" just because.  Hearing some songs just get our "mojo" going.  I can clean and organize up a storm with upbeat music.  It seems if I sing, I don't notice the time or the work.  So I miss a few dust particles.  Mama Mia was meant to be sung flipping the duster.  Music has the power to change us in ways we don't always understand.  It just does.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Fun Friday - The Swingles - Couldn't Love You More (John Martyn cover)

Amazing sounds and close harmonies.  This takes listening and a close relationship among the singers.  Wouldn't you agree?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Tonal Tuesday - Lazy Choirs, Lazy Singers, Lazy Sound

bicycles,bikes,tandem bicycles,tandems,transportation

Have you ever ridden on a tandem bicycle before?  Have you ever peddled in a peddle boat?  Both of these have two sets of peddles but work just fine with only one set being pushed.  Both the bicycle and the boat go faster and more efficiently if both people work together more or less equally.  A choir could be seen in much the same light.  All of us are riding the same vehicle and are supposed to be helping it get to the destination.

Choir are like any team.  We have our positions to play and we let the rest of the team down when we play with less than our best effort.  Now, I know we are all aware of that theory but how does it happen that sometimes, we lose our team focus and become lazy and how does that get back on track?

1. Size - Have you ever seen a team with hundreds of players on the field at a time?  Can't say as I have either.  However, there are HUGE choirs out there.  I remember saying in a conducting class once that a huge choir would be hard to work with.  My professor said that in fact the opposite was true.  Because there are so many voices, mistakes were less noticeable.  Each person's contribution was less noticeable too.
With a smaller choir, each person's voice is more important.  If you only have a few people in each part then the presence of each is paramount.
If you have a large choir then you really have to work at making certain the members all feel that their contribution is important.

2. Music - The choice of music really makes a huge difference here.  The music needs to challenge without being so difficult that the singers are overwhelmed.  When each singers feels a sense of accomplishment from learning a part that contributes to an overall exciting sound, then they stay sharp and alert and the sound and attitude remains positive.

3.  Contributions - I thrive in a co-operative atmosphere.  Oh yes I do have to be in charge but I love that our choir members contribute ideas for music and feel they can tell me when they are not happy with the sound or need more direction.  They all know this is quite acceptable.  Each person knows that his or her opinion and talent makes a difference.

4.  Good Coaching - As directors, we have to keep our team enthusiastic and keep all players working to the best of their abilities.  It is really important that our warm ups and training keep focused on making sounds correctly and always finding new ways to teach the physicality of making great sound.

5.  Humour - You must have a sense of humour.  When you make a mistake, be honest and say so.  Instead of getting bent out of shape at a less than perfect sound, make a funny face or just stop and go back.  Humour keeps things alive.  Yes, you can be serious but enjoy the process.  Just as you can joke while peddling like crazy, you can enjoy the work of teaching and learning great music and the process of making it as a unified team.

Keep having a great time making wonderful music.  Mix it up and keep the interest high.  If you choir doesn't get lazy then your sound stays bright and well tuned.  No same old, same old for you and your singers.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Fun Friday - Stourbridge Carnival Ladies Have the Moves

Stourbridge is part of Cambridge, U.K.  They had a carnival there for hundreds of years but it fell out off until revived quite recently.  If this entertainment is any indication then it will be alive for many years to come.  What fun!!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Tonal Tuesday - Protecting Your Relationship with Your Choir

I read an article on Facebook about his gentleman who got divorced after 16 years of marriage.  I not only agree with most but feel they are a good guide to every relationship. I found that these 11 points were most salient.  A marriage is a union between consenting individuals that outlines rights and obligations. Hmm.  
Let's think of a conductor and choir's relationship as a marriage of sorts. The heading of the points belong to the original writer but the description is mine as I see it applying to a choir & director.

1) NEVER STOP COURTING - Never take for granted that just because they joined the choir they will stay.  The choir has a responsibility to help the director by showing up, working hard and appreciating the effort (our ETS members are very good at this)
The director needs to keep practices fresh by doing new pieces & warm-ups.  The choir can keep things exciting by bringing new ideas or like Gary, inviting us to his home for the last practice because the church was too stuffy.

2) PROTECT YOUR OWN HEART - Find what pleases you.  If something isn't working, take a moment to discuss it with the choir member or director after or before a practice.  If you let things simmer in silence then no one wins.

3) FALL IN LOVE OVER and OVER again - When you have been working hard or it has been more effort than usual to get to practices, fall in love with the music, the group or the concerts all over again.  After we sang at the Relay for Life , I sure remembered why we do this. The smiles, comments and applause reinforced our mission of Song, Service, Fun.

4) ALWAYS SEE THE BEST - Yup.  We can spend our lives finding fault, or we can choose to find the good.  Catch them doing something right.  Only you can control this.

5) IT'S NOT YOUR JOB TO CHANGE OR FIX HER - We are all different and differently talented.  Rejoice in the differences.

6) TAKE FULL RESPONSIBILITY for your own emotions - Remember that no one can make you "feel" any certain emotion without your permission.  Remember little kids who say, "He made me feel bad." and you told the child that he could choose how he felt or reacted.  Works for big people too.

7) NEVER BLAME - Look inward for solutions.  See 6 above.

8) Allow people to JUST BE - Accept that sometimes you or the choir will be happy, sad, energetic or lethargic.  Roll with it.

9) BE SILLY - Laughter IS the best medicine.  Being overly serious all the time is counter-productive.

10) FILL THEM UP - See #4.  Be sure to tell others just how much they mean to you.  Tell the basses how important their part is.  Tell your singing partner that their confidence in that phrase helped you "get" that part.

11) BE PRESENT - Focus on the here and now.  Enjoy the moment!

Making a choir work is not just about the right music, the right practice tactics or concerts.  It is about creating relationships.  People must be able to work together to produce a wonderful musical sound. Respect and real caring are integral to that melding of sound and emotion. People are not machines producing sound and that respect for their humanity is oh so important.  Working on the relationships makes the music sparkle.  Make it so!

You can find out more about Gerald, who was the inspiration for this article, on his blog at

Friday, July 11, 2014

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Tonal Tuesday - How Should an Audience Behave?

There was a very interesting article in the Telegraph U.K. talking about audience responses & behaviour during a concert.  Click here to ready the full article.  This is a different take on how audiences respond & what is acceptable.  I think there is a line one should not cross in any given situation.

I attended a great concert by a popular group.  There were two ladies behind us who kept talking about how cute "he" looked in his leather jacket and how many places she had travelled to see him.  This time she had flown all the way from Vancouver to Toronto to see "him".  As the discussion really had nothing to do with the music at hand, I finally turned around and asked them to step out to talk or start listening, PLEASE.  I don't think I was out of line and they did cease the chat and seemed to be listening.

I have always thought that any behaviour is acceptable as long as it doesn't interrupt another's enjoyment of the event.  The screaming that used to happen when the Beatles or the like sang was and still is a really pain, in my opinion.

So how should an audience behave?
1. Standing - I attended a Jon Bonjovi concert (fabulous by the way) and the young people in front of us were enjoying some mood enhancing smoke by times but stopped their friends from standing in front of us when we hadn't chosen to stand.  It was a unwritten law apparently.  However, we all stood and swayed to the ballads but only if the people behind us were.  I like that "rule".

2. Shouting or singing - Sometimes the performers encourage singing along or answering etc.  No problem there.  If you are interrupting others, I feel it is unacceptable.  They paid money (lots of it usually) to hear the person on stage not you.

3. Swaying or waving.  Again if the crowd is doing it or your movement isn't interfering or you have checked with your near neighbours (eye contact counts) then by all means feel the music.  There are times when I want to get up and dance.  I will either dance my fingers on my lap or escape to the lobby and dance.  When you gotta, you gotta.

4. Clapping & Hooting & Standing - At the end of a piece, clap or hoot or whistle your praise but please oh please save the standing "O" for really great, above average performance.

5. Etiquette - I love proper orchestral etiquette with the first violinist coming in first, tuning the orchestra and then the conductor.  All of that is so historical and sets the tone.  I think we can teach others by quietly continuing the applause at the correct time.  For instance, not applauding between movements so that the piece can flow in its entirety.  If someone applauds incorrectly, we can just stay still and perhaps it will catch on.  If not, it isn't the end of the world.

Truly, the most important thing is that people go to the concerts.  Hopefully, they will be thoughtful of others.  Just as hopefully, others will be accepting of different styles of enjoyment and not get their knickers in a knot over small indiscretions.  Go, listen, enjoy and applaud.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Fun Friday - Happy Birthday to the U.S.A. Boston Pops Style

July the 4th is a marvellous time for music.  I remember always listening to the Boston Pops concert that ends with marvellous fireworks.  My brother & his wife travelled to see Arthur Fiedler with the Boston Pops and sat on a grassy hillside for the concert.

I lived in Windsor as a kid so the celebrations of July 1 and July 4 were celebrated over the Detroit River with a spectacular fireworks display.  Windsor & Detroit joined together to create this Freedom Festival that culminated with the fireworks.

So all in all fireworks & orchestral music always are a part of my experience as a Canadian of our American neighbours country celebration July 4.  Happy 4th friends & neighbours to the south!!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Tonal Tuesday - Stompin' Tom & Canada Day Up Canada Way

Isn't it amazing that no matter what is being celebrated, music always plays a main part.  Canada Day is no exception.

In 1867 on July 1, our Fathers of Confederation signed the British North America Act creating Canada as a self-governing independent country.  The next year our Governor General proclaimed that July 1 be celebrated each year.  Our original Dominion Day became Canada Day 1982.

Every year there is a huge celebration in Ottawa (capital of Canada).  Of course, the centre piece is music representing the many cultures that make up our amazing country.  These celebrations help us to understand how diverse our country is no only in geography but in people.  We as a country encourage people to maintain the cultural diversity.

Someone who was unabashedly Canadian was the late Stompin' Tom Connors.  His songs were about Canada & Canadians and here he is at the Ottawa celebration in 1993.  His song has bits of Oh Canada & the Maple Leaf Forever a losing contender for our National Song.

Happy Canada Day to all who are Canadian no matter where you live now!!  Hurrah for CANADA!!