Behind the scenes of Harmony Handbook

It’s been an exciting spring here in Ithaca, as I’ve finished not one but two books about different aspects of choral pedagogy. The first to hit the shelves this summer is Harmony Handbook: Repertoire and Resources for Developing Treble Choirs. It’s a deep dive into the practical process of skill-building that allows students to successfully sing in two-part harmony. Split into five chapters that focus on a specific stage of harmony development, each of the 10 choral selections has a two-page rehearsal guide that identifies key objectives and provides specific warm-up and rehearsal technique recommendations. It’s deeply informed by my work with ICYC.

I’ll be talking about it throughout the summer at my SCA and Celebration of Song reading sessions, but if you’d like to learn more, here’s a short video explaining a little more about the book and how it’s intended to be used.

Big news on the career front!

I’m proud to announce that in June, I will officially be joining Alfred Music Publishing as Associate Editor of Choral and Classroom Publications. If you’ve been following what I’ve been up to the past couple years, you’re aware that I’ve had an increasing professional association with Alfred as a composer, clinician, and all-around “woman behind the scenes” on the proofing and editing front.

While I’ll still be living in Ithaca, this new position will have me traveling all over the country to host reading sessions at music education conferences and music dealerships. I always enjoy meeting other music educators, sharing ideas, and gathering inspiration to bring back to my own singers at ICYC. I’ll be on the road a lot this summer: Mechanicsville, VA; Peoria, IL; Heidelberg, OH; and a few other places to boot!

This also means that I’ll be officially departing from my role as instructor at the Ithaca College School of Music at the end of the semester. I have really loved the past 4 years. Teaching at my beloved alma mater has been a rich and deeply meaningful experience, and I hope to keep my ties to IC very strong. I could not have asked for a more wonderful group of colleagues, many of whom were the teachers that shaped me as a young musician.

Thanks for your support! I have so much more news to share coming soon…..keep your eyes peeled!!

So much in store for 2019!

What a year 2018 has been! I’m just now catching my breath over a blustery November weekend, after weeks of hard work, writing, and of course, lots of music-making.

2018 saw me dramatically expand my career as a traveling clinician: Alfred Music has had me out on the road a lot in the past year! I conducted reading sessions at the Oklahoma Music Educator’s Association conference in January of this year, and then traveled to the Show Choir Camps of America’s summer program at Heidelberg College in Tiffin, OH. I was also lucky to join the adjudication staff at the 2018 King’s Dominion Festival of Music, and will be returning again in 2019.

Next month, I’ll be traveling to the NYSSMA Winter Conference to give reading sessions, and then to Georgia’s Music Education Association Conference in Athens, GA in January 2019, and to the ACDA National conference in Kansas City, MO in February 2019.

On a more local level, I’ll also be a guest composer during a composition unit in general music at Northeast Elementary here in Ithaca, NY, where my daughter attends school. It’s exciting to be able to work alongside Karla Notarianni, Northeast’s terrific general music teacher!

The Ithaca Children and Youth Chorus had a banner year, also: we commissioned a new work, Kaddish, from IC student composer Ian Soderberg for Temple Beth-El’s Holocaust Memorial Service in April. Then, in June 2018, members of the ICYC Chorale participated in the regional premiere of composer Hugh McElyea’s oratorio, Tenebrae, at Sage Chapel on Cornell University campus. The entire production can be viewed by clicking here. We capped off our 2017-2018 season with a performance at the Ithaca Festival.

This fall, ICYC is back at it again: several of our students performed with the Cayuga Chamber Orchestra for their “Movies and Music” concert at the State Theater. Later this month, Chorale is the musical guest at the Area Congregations Together (ACT) Thanksgiving Service. We are lucky to be able to bring our music to so many in the community.

The biggest surprise of all in 2018: I wrote a book, to be published by Lorenz next spring! In August of this year, I was approached by one of the editors at Lorenz to write a book for music educators. 3 months later, I have a finished manuscript, and I can’t wait to share the book with you! We’re still working on a title, but I’ll keep you posted as it goes to print. I also have another book in the works for 2019, with a different music educational publisher. More on that soon!

I hope to be a little more communicative as 2019 approaches. It’s been a wonderful whirlwind of a year.

Wanted: choirs to premiere new works!

Photo credit: jayneandd via Flickr. Used in compliance with  Creative Commons License 2.0

Photo credit: jayneandd via Flickr. Used in compliance with  Creative Commons License 2.0

Spring has brought with it a lot of creative energy -- I've been writing a TON of new music! In fact, so much music that I haven't yet had time to find new choirs to premiere some of my newer works. 

That's where YOU come in. 

I'm looking for fresh, forward-thinking choirs who are eager to work with a living composer (ME!) on creating new music. Here's how it works: I give you the right to reproduce enough copies for your choir, you rehearse it,  perform the work in concert, and record it, then send a copy of the recording to me. Your choir gets to premiere a brand-new piece of music for the cost of duplication only, and I get to add another recording to my rapidly-growing composer portfolio. It's a win-win. 

As the rehearsal process unfolds, I would be more than happy to talk to your choir about the composition process, give feedback on your interpretation of my piece, and if time, distance, and finances permit, perhaps even come to work with your choir in person for a rehearsal. Interaction via Skype is another possibility. 

Interested? Here's a list of pieces I'm currently looking for premieres on:

  • A Song of Living (for SATB voices and piano) -- some divisi, recommended for HS & up. Based on the Amelia Burr poem
  • An Irish Airman Forsees His Death (for SATB voices, a cappella) -- includes solos for Tenor and Baritone. Based on the W.B Yeats poem of the same name. Recommended for HS and up. 
  • Vaga Luna Che Inargenti (for SSA voices and piano) -- an arrangement of the Italian art song by Vincenzo Bellini, recommended for upper MS/HS choirs, or community choirs
  • Pirate Story (for 2-part treble voices) -- based on the Robert Louis Stevenson poem from "A Child's Garden of Verse." Suitable for elementary/MS choirs. -- THIS IS NO LONGER AVAILABLE, AS IT WILL BE PUBLISHED BY ALFRED MUSIC IN 2016. 

Contact me to receive a perusal copy of a score, and let's get started making music together!

Why the arts matter

This weekend was my 4 year-old daughter's first dance recital. She performed two numbers with her fellow 3-5 year-old buddies in her beautiful blue and green sparkly dress, her teenage teacher gracefully demonstrating the choreography at the very front of the stage for the little girls to follow. Some dancers followed well. Some had poise. Some hammed it up for the audience. Others were consistently on the wrong foot, or staring off into space, or completely doing their own thing for a bit. 

I loved EVERY MINUTE of their performance -- and of every performance I saw at the junior recital from those dancers aged 3-9. And it had a LOT less to do with the perfection of the final performance, and a LOT more to do with the journey I know each of those children took over the course of the year. 

They learned about tenacity. About working towards a goal. About coordination and cooperation within a group. They learned about becoming part of something much bigger than themselves. About how when you fall down or your shoe flies off or someone accidentally takes your prop during performance, you keep going with a smile on your face. They learned the joy of their young bodies in motion. They learned about leadership and peer modeling from the older dancers, each and every one of whom I wanted to hug and congratulate and thank for being such a good example to my daughter. 

This is kind of learning that you simply cannot get by teaching to a test. Ever. The multi-age, peer modeled approach that is found in dance schools, in youth bands and orchestras and choirs, in youth theater organizations -- the selfsame model that is being slowly squeezed out of public school classrooms in the name of "serious education" in STEM -- if we allow that model to vanish from our public schools, or to become a luxury only the wealthy can afford, we will unintentionally cripple the next generation. There ARE no worksheets, no scan-tron tests that can capture this kind of teaching and learning. You cannot put a price on the sense of achievement, self-worth, and pride that a child radiates after he or she has finished a good performance. The change in their confidence is almost tanglble. They GLOW. 

And let's face it -- real life looks a whole lot less like a standardized test, and a whole lot more like the performance on the stage: sometimes we nail it, and sometimes we fumble, but either way, the show MUST go on. The more we can give our children life skills like resilience, tenacity, and teamwork, the better off they will be when they leave the schoolroom and step onto the world stage. 

Foreign Lands -- an exciting update!

I received word last week that my piece "Foreign Lands" (2-part treble choir and piano) will be published by Alfred Music in their 2015 release. I am BEYOND excited. (If you'd like to hear a recording of the piece, performed by a school choir, click over to my music page and take a listen).

I'm thrilled that Alfred will be publishing my first piece -- my connection to them goes back some 20 years, to when I was a high school freshman at a summer show choir camp. It was there that I first met Sally Albrecht and Jay Althouse, who were the powerhouse team behind Alfred's choral division at the time. I was blown away by Sally's incredible musicianship, infectious enthusiasm, and her attention to performance details. Jay was incredibly well-versed in pop music styles across multiple genres, and that left a deep impression on me as well. I may have walked into that camp feeling a little unsure about show choir, but I left there with a drive to become a better performer, and a lot of new musical tools at my disposal.

My own high school teacher, Andy Beck, had been a studio singer for Alfred for years, and it was through his influence that I was honored to join the ranks of Alfred's studio singers, first as a substitute, and then as a regular. Being in a studio with 5-9 other incredible singers, with a huge stack of octavos to record over the course of a weekend really drove home to me the importance of having sharp sight-reading and musicianship skills, as well as the importance of creating a good ensemble sound. It was INCREDIBLY intimidating when I started, but the rest of the singers could not have been more gracious or welcoming to me. Standing at a mic singing with this group was like the world's best voice lesson.

For the past year, I've also been doing some proofing and editing for Alfred under the umbrella of my business, Forte Music Publishing. Proofing taught me a lot about the engraving process, and about what makes a score easily readable and digestible to the eye. It also gave me a lot of working examples of what Alfred was looking for, in terms of submissions.

When I first started writing choral music a year ago, my goal was just to get someone (anyone!) to be willing to sing through it. To be able to share that music on a larger scale with the world through publishing is a blessing I doubted would ever come. I have always believed that every choir, no matter whether it's composed of seasoned professionals or of absolute beginners, deserves good music to sing. I spend a great deal of effort selecting texts that are personally moving, and writing music that is pleasing to the ear, and yet accessible to most musicians. More or less, I try to write music that I would want my own choir to sing, and that would be a satisfying musical experience for singer and listener alike.

I am so grateful to Alfred for extending me this opportunity to send my music out into the world, and hope it will be the beginning of a long and fruitful partnership. I'll be sure to let you know when it's in print!

Choral music -- a path to human connection

Why choral music?

Today's world increasingly relies on technology as a means for human connection: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Skype have opened up amazing new possibilities for humans all over the world to talk and interact. Only yesterday afternoon I was trying to get into a Google Hangout with Eric Whitacre, one of my favorite composers (unfortunately, I was unsuccessful -- the Hangouts filled up within seconds of being posted!) Tomorrow morning, I have a composition lesson via Facetime with my teacher, who lives in Connecticute. In light of these new ways to connect, is choral music still relevant? 

Choral singer

For me, choral music has provided me with some of my most powerful moments of human connection. I think of the year I spent in Ireland, singing with a choir made up primarily of African asylum-seekers. Music was their connection to each other as strangers in a strange land, and their connection to the homes and cultures they left behind. I think of the enormous swell of emotion I felt singing Frostiana at the 2012 Ithaca College Choir reunion, where we had gathered to honor our beloved conductor. I think of the sheer joy I get every time I have the privilege of stepping in front of a group of singers to conduct -- I know we're going to get to take an incredible journey together. These are but a few examples.

The way I approach composing choral music has a lot to do with connection, also. For me, choral composition ALWAYS starts with a search for a text. I look for words that really make me feel deeply -- a text that touches on some essential truth of the human condition -- and from there, my goal is to enhance and embroider that truth with the power of multiple human voices. My task is always to make whatever "aha" moment is already present in the text apparent to the listener through thoughtful use of all the tools of the composer: rhythm, melody, harmony, register, dynamics, texture, instrumentation, and so on.

Getting all of those ideas successfully translated to the page is the first step. The conductor and choir do the rest of the work bringing a piece to life. Each singer has to bring their own understanding and interpretation of that text to the larger group. The conductor's task is to take all of these ideas -- the composer's, the singers', and her own -- and to harness them into a unified whole that amplifies the message and intent set by the composer and the author of the text. At its best, choral artistry is a giant magnifying glass, an amplifier of sorts for human truth. 

Is it any wonder, then, that humans singing in a choir react to this kind of unity on a physiological level also? Consider that when a choir begins to sing together, their heartbeats involuntarily synchronize as they sing. If that doesn't point to choral music's power to forge deep connections between humans, I don't what does. 

Through choral music, I have explored the languages and cultures of the world; learned to appreciate religious traditions both familiar and foreign to me; plumbed the depths and heights of the human experience; looked at the world through the eyes of the old and the young. I have assimilated bits and pieces of all of those truths into the person I am today. 

So while social media and technology continue to emerge as new ways for humans to connect, it is my fervent wish that humans will keep returning to the power of the choir for hope, for healing, for exploration. and ultimately, for the power of connection. 

My journey to composing

One of the questions I get the most is, "How did you start composing?"

Music has been woven into my life from the very beginning. I grew up in a household where both my parents sang to me, and music was always on the stereo. My first memory is of sitting on my father's lap as he played "Back In The USSR" fiercely on the piano, wailing along in his wild baritone. I'm told that from the time I was two I was making up little songs and ditties in the backseat as I rode to preschool -- so, in some ways, you could argue I've been a "composer" for thirty-something years now!

Still, it was not until last summer that I sat down and decided to write my first "real" choral piece. I had just returned from a show choir reunion at the high school I attended and taught at for 4 years. It was a lark, an experiment, and certainly just for fun. Predictably, what came out of that first effort was a show choir pop tune. And yet, as soon as I finished that piece, I found that I wanted to write another. A few weeks later, I wrote He Wishes For The Cloths of Heaven. Feeling pretty pleased with myself, but wondering if this was worth sharing with the world, I emailed it to Dr. Tim Reno, one of my oldest and dearest friends from my undergraduate years at Ithaca College. When he responded that he wanted to program the piece for one of his choirs, I was deeply encouraged.

As is so often the way in the world, one thing led to another. I just kept writing. A few treble choir pieces followed, and then an acquaintance asked if I'd be willing to compose something for the Women's Works of Ithaca concert a few months later. I jumped at the chance. Women's Works gave me my very first rehearsal and premiere experience, and it was a perfect opportunity for a fledgling composer.

The month after Women's Works, I was off to Albany to work with Dr. Reno's choir at Siena after having a few brief rehearsal check-ins via Facetime. Once again, it was an enormously positive experience, and a deep confirmation that as a musician, I am really happiest creating music in the choral rehearsal.

I'm not quite where this composing journey of mine will lead, but I'm happy that you're here on my site, taking the time to read this. I hope you'll stop by frequently!