“It’s OK; you’ll grow into it.”

When I was a kid, I remember my Mom taking me shoe shopping. They’d put my foot on that sizing device that looked like a cross between a scale, a vice, and a skateboard, and tell me how big my foot was. Then my Mom would go grab a pair of shoes one size larger. Wait… what? Why? The skateboard just said I’m a 7 and you grab an 8? What’s that about?

So I stuck my foot into the size 8 shoe and my Mom knelt down by my feet. You know the drill: she turned her thumb sideways and mashed it down, trying to gauge how much space was between my big toe and the end of the shoe. Seeing that there was about as much space as the width of her thumb, she smiled. “It’s OK; you’ll grow into it.” Now there’s a woman who knew the value of a dollar...

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A cappella in a show choir show? What?

Recently, I was fortunate enough to meet Jeremy Alfera. Jeremy has a great reputation in the state of Ohio, particularly for winning show choir competitions. Over time, I began to follow his success. I watched his show choir shows on YouTube, and then began to branch out into the videos of his AA-level Symphonic Choir. Yep – Jeremy Alfera does it all, folks. And very well.

Then I noticed that he had some students who were copying Pentatonix. They called themselves “Logarhythms” and were a joy to watch.

So… I reached out to Jeremy, asking if he’d like to bring Logarhythms to our a cappella festival. Little did I know that he also had a 40-person a cappella CHOIR!

One thing led to another, and I discovered that Logarhythms was going to do a section in his competition show choir show...

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Gordon Ramsay shows us a recipe for success

I don’t watch a lot of television, but I do have a weakness for Gordon Ramsay shows. Hell’s Kitchen, Kitchen Nightmares (UK version is better than the US), The F Word and even Hotel Hell. If Gordon is on, I’m watching. I can’t help it – I love the guy. His passion and high standards mixed with a certain “colorful” presentation just hit the mark for me.

Another reason I like watching Gordon is that I love to watch anyone who is the best at what they do. I don’t even have to like what it is they’re doing. The excellence trips my trigger. That’s why I love watching the olympics. Archery? BORING… unless it’s the olympics. Show me the best archer in the world and I can’t tear myself away. If it’s an American, even better.

So I look to the best to learn whatever I can apply to my craft of choral...

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What’s all the buzz about high school a cappella?

High school a cappella is all the rage right now. It has enormous buzz. Why is that? Why is there such an explosion of a cappella in high schools? And, after we explore that phenomenon, what do we do with all the recent hub-bub centered around this question: “How is it that many high school groups manage to outperform college groups?”

Let’s take a look first at why a cappella is blowing up in high schools. Then we’ll get to the core differences between HS and Collegiate a cappella.

A CAPPELLA IS EXPLODING IN THE HIGH SCHOOL RANKS BECAUSE:

The kids love…

-music that is familiar: students have always asked “can we sing insert song from radio here?” That song might not be appropriate for a freshman mixed choir, but it certainly will work for an a cappella group.

-the social aspect of sing...

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Is vs. Isn’t

Take a look around, and find an object near you. Look at it. What is it? Say the answer out loud. How long did that take? A second?

Now look at the same object and list what it isn’t. List everything that object is not. It’s OK, I’ll wait…

How far did you get before you gave up? How many things did you list that the object isn’t? 10? 50? 100? The fact is that there is an almost infinite list of things the object is not.

 

So many times, singers fail to identify what they’re singing exactly. Consider every variable at play when singing: target vowel (formant), pitch, rhythm, diction, dynamics, syllable stress, tuning, blend, balance, position in chord and more all come into play. Each aspect of desired outcome must be taken into consideration while singing.

Therefore, for your sin...

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You can feel however you want, but you can’t do whatever you want.

Ultimately my accompanist, Bryon Dobbs, deserves all the credit for this one. He said something in class once that had a great impact on me. He said “You can feel however you want, but you can’t do whatever you want.”

Now, many of you reading this are all grown-up. You’ve already figured this out. You go to work even if your head is splitting or you’re low on sleep. You clean the house when you’d rather flop on the couch. I’m not talking to you personally (other than as a gentle reminder).

No, I’m not talking to you personally. I am, however, talking to you as a musician – one who inevitably is going to be (a) working with some young’uns OR (b) find yourself in a rehearsal funk in your own group. I’m also talking the choristers/your students/etc...

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Put down the pencil!

So many times I tell my choirs to “begin with the end in mind,” as I learned from Steven Covey. When discussing a performance, I will sometimes ask, “What do you want the audience to say when you finish?” or “What do you want the audience to feel during your performance?” When it comes to singing in a competition, this line of thinking goes a bit farther.

Let’s take for example when my choirs perform at Ohio Music Education Association Large Group Contest each spring. OMEA ratings are:

-I: Superior

-II: Excellent

-III: Good

-IV: Fair

-V: Poor

We discuss what we need to do in order to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that we deserve a Superior rating. Until recently, I told the students to tell the judges (with their singing) to put down a “I.”

Then something changed...

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Practice vs. Practish

A great former student of mine, Kurt Zimmerman, once said something amazing. He said, “There’s a big difference in the way people practice. Some people practice and some people practish.”

Just think about the staggering simplicity of this phrase: Practice vs. Practish.

“Ish” is part of our culture now, even part of our language. If you look up “ish” on dictionary.com, this is what you’ll see:

-ish

1. A suffix used to form adjectives from nouns, with the sense of “belonging to” (British, Danish, English, Spanish); “after the manner of,” “having the characteristics of,” “like” (babyish, girlish, mulish); “addicted to,” “inclined or tending to” (bookish, freakish); “near or about” (fiftyish, sevenish).

2. A suffix used to form adjectives from other adjectives, with the sense ...

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The Magic Board of SOLFEGE

When I was in college, we practiced interval training for sight-reading using this chart. I’m sure it’s been around forever. It’s called the Magic Board of Solfege. I used to have a big poster of it, and point to different scale degrees in patterns to familiarize the choir with intervals. Then at one point I used an overhead projector. I had one plastic sheet with a staff and one with the circles, so I could move the chart into different keys. These days I use a smart board, so I included the notebook file if you could use it.

This is one of the best ways to sharpen singers’ ears...

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Repetition is the Mother of all learning.

Get out a pencil and copy this down…

Repetition is the mother of all learning.

Repetition is the mother of all learning.

Repetition is the mother of all learning.

Repetition is the mother of all learning.

Repetition is the mother of all learning.

Repetition is the mother of all learning.

Get the point? One thing I have noticed of late is how many singers/groups fail to understand the value of basic repetition. They overlook time spent doing. They work until they get things right… and then they stop. Ever heard this quote? “An amateur practices until he gets it right; a professional practices until he can’t get it wrong.” I’ve searched around and can’t find a source for this quote, which is too bad… because it’s so powerful.

Early in life we learn the value of repetiti...

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