We are in the listening business

Let’s face it people, we are in the listening business. In order to be great singers, we have to listen all the time. And I’m sure you understand there is a big difference between listening and hearing. Hearing is just the main physical activity where sound is processed into your brain. Listening is actively scanning that sound for content.

To what should you be listening? How about…

-The director

-The tonal center

-The singers around you

-The vowel shape (formant)

-Entrances and cutoffs

-Music you love

-Music you don’t love

-Music you don’t know

-Other groups like yours

-Multiple versions of the same song: multiple ensembles performing the same song in the same style or the same song covered in different genres

-Static noises around you like the refrigerator, the air conditioner, th...

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Twists on taking attendance…

How do you take attendance? I’ve run across a few ways, maybe one will work better than your current plan.

-Numbering: every student gets a number. Start class, have everyone number off. The secretary (or you) catches those not present and logs those numbers into the records. Fast and easy. Make sure everyone in the program has a unique number, then you can do it even at mass rehearsals when needed.

-Pull your tag: every student has a tag (or poker chip, whatever) that is velcro-ed to a board that shows your seating chart. Singers pull their tags off the board on the way into rehearsal and drop them in a bucket.

-Metronome: set a metronome at something like 80 bpm. You call last names and the students shout “here” on the beats… Anderson – HERE! – Baker – HERE! – Calland – HERE! etc...

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Thirty-second notes

I have a Springpad account where I store a bunch of my thoughts. I store them like a squirrel gathering nuts for winter. The notebook is called “writing thoughts,” and every so often I dip back in there to see if there’s something that would make good fodder for a section of a new book, a blog post, or what not. Well… right now I don’t have a cohesive thread for another book. Some things seem to be about blog post length, and I’ve been posting those.

Many things, however, are just little bits of stuff. Little analogies that hit me or just thought-provoking topics. Since they aren’t really enough right now to justify a whole post, I’ve decided to create Thirty-second notes (32nd notes). I’ll just drop them in place and then… they are what they are. They are not life-changing...

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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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Gearing up – one group’s experience with pedals

Eleventh Hour is no stranger to using pedals in their set. Well, to be fair, they are no strangers to using A PEDAL in their set. EH has been using a bass octave pedal for maybe six years now, ever since we worked with The Fault Line the first time. We’ve always known about pedals. We’ve hosted SONOS at least three times and always drooled on their pedals like fools. Still, we hadn’t ever broken out of our comfort zone. Until now.

As we have gone through this season, there were two forces that combined to make a perfect storm of interest to finally force us into using some new pedals. (1) Our vocal percusssionist is also a budding looper / tech geek and (2) we have a female singer who can flat out rock. I don’t mean she rocks like “she sings well.” We’ve had those kind before...

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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
Again.

-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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Joint rehearsals – a great way to sharpen your group

I don’t know why I didn’t think of this sooner. Honestly, it never entered my mind. Maybe it hasn’t occurred to you either that having a rehearsal combined with another local group can be amazingly beneficial. Recently, Eleventh Hour has been doing joint rehearsals regularly and we love them. They actually started by accident…

There is group just up the road from us in Dayton named V ega, from Chaminade Julienne High School. Their director, Joe Whatley, student taught with me and still calls me for advice from time to time. He wanted me to clinic his group, but my schedule was really tight. I told him that if he brought Vega to my school, I’d work with them on the night that Eleventh Hour typically rehearses without me.

Vega had really improved since I worked with them the previo...

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