Category Choral Thoughts

“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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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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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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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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Go to school on someone else’s dime

One of the most valuable things I ever learned from RD Mathey at BGSU was how to go to school on someone else’s dime. By this I mean I learned how to watch, listen, and think analytically every second of rehearsal. Let’s take a look at how getting into this mindset can help singers. If you are in a traditional choral setting, think director and choir. If you are in a self-run a cappella group, it still applies. Even if you don’t have a formal “director,” someone has to be steering the ship, right?

Some common ways “going to school on someone else’s dime” helps:

1) But I’m doing it – Most singers think they are doing what the director wants them to. They mean well, so they think their intention translates into action...

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Green Lantern would make the BEST singer

Growing up, I was addicted to comic books. What boy doesn’t want to be a super-hero? I remember reading and re-reading the adventures of the X-Men, Justice League, and the Legion of Super-Heroes. Not only did I love reading all the adventures, I spent time daydreaming about what my life would be like if I had super-powers. One facet of those daydreams was to ponder which hero I would be if I had the choice.

Super-heroes come in a few flavors:

  • -The exceptionally-trained “regular guy” – Batman, Green Arrow, Hawkeye, Karate Kid. These were men who had no special powers, just an immense amount of training in some form of combat, and occasionally a helpful gadget from a utility belt.
  • -The technologically-abled – Iron Man, Cyborg...
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Do your best… or not.

I think every choir director has felt frustrated from time to time that their singers are sometimes less than 100% involved in rehearsal. Everyone has their own level of tolerance for rehearsal complacency, and mine is… well… very low. I expect singers to be engaged and active ALL THE TIME. To be fair, nothing works at 100% all the time – least of all young students – but we can strive, we can wish, we can try.

I often say to my students “The only two options you have when singing are (A) singing your best or (B) singing less than your best. When you are in rehearsal, you can’t do anything other than A or B. You can’t do your math homework, clean your room, play video games, listen to the radio or anything else. You can only do your best or do less than your best.”

To i...

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Zebra Question

Zebra Question

I asked the zebra,
Are you black with white stripes?
Or white with black stripes?
And the zebra asked me,
Are you good with bad habits?
Or are you bad with good habits?
Are you noisy with quiet times?
Or quiet with noisy times?
Are you happy with some sad days?
Or are you sad with some happy days?
Are you neat with some sloppy ways?
Or are you sloppy with some neat ways?
And on and on and on and on
And on and on he went.
I’ll never ask a zebra
About stripes

-Shel Silverstein

I was reading this poem to my daughter recently (it’s in a book called “The Little Big Book for Dads”) and it made me think about both my teaching and my students in a new light. This poem crystallized something for me, something that I have always felt deep inside.

As a teacher, I look for ...

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