Thursday, February 12, 2015

Recruitment, Retention, Attention...are there really any new ideas?

I have been struggling with the ideas of recruitment and retention of singers in choral ensembles.

In my last post,

I announced an event LCA will be holding in late April. If you are interested in singing please check it out.
Here' my dilemma however, my gut tells I should stay true to programming and planning music that is at the heart of good choral writing, but also incorporate the occasional pop oriented music. This has always been my default and the groups I have worked with including LCA, have seem to responded. 

However, the response in recruitment and attendance at concerts, doesn't necessarily match with the singers experience. This is part of the reason I am hosting the "In Choir" event I mentioned above. 

Does the community in a wide sense know what it's like to sing with a group of people who really want to sing, sing well, and sing with purpose? My head tells me no, but my gut says people need and want to experience events personally. The issue is that singing feels really exposed, even if you are singing with a group. I love and support instrumental ensembles, so I am not saying anything negative, but beyond the need to understand the instrument well enough to play in an ensemble, the instrument can function as a buffer between the individual and the audience. It can be about the player and instrument. The professionals will of course say that they are always thinking about the audience. I believe that is true. But it is still tough to stand in front of a bunch a people and open your mouth, praying the "right" stuff will come out. 

It's easy to poo-poo the pop culture and media, and say that today people are so jaded by "perfect" music they hear on their portable devices and in the car. But that's a cop out. Some of the music is great and often has the emotional quotient that really engages people. And the engagement is the key.

So on our upcoming concert we are connecting with the audiences, maybe new singers, and definitely supporters of choral music and Lincoln Choral Artists with some very unique songs.

Five Hebrew Love Songs, composed by the very popular and talented Eric Whitacre, features 5 short movements of text about love, written by soprano soloist and wife of the composer, Hila Plitmann.

Lambscapes is a collection of fun, tongue-in cheek settings of Mary Had a Little Lamb.

The Men will have some fun with a song about the importance of good tailoring, especially when it comes to your lower half.

And the women will inspire us with their tongue twisting agility in a setting of the the text "Peter Piper."

There's ample opportunity for friends, new friends, and the whole community to enjoy some great music and be apart of the event!

WITH ONE STEP — Begin Anew

May 15, 2015 | 7:30 pm 
First United Methodist Church, 2723 N. 50th Street

Monday, February 9, 2015

Lee Nelson; voicing, seating, and the Lincoln community of singers

I had the great joy to sit in on a clinic rehearsal and choral sessions lead by Dr. Lee Nelson, director of Choral activities at Wartburg College on Saturday, hosted by Abendmusick at First Plymouth Congregational Church on Saturday afternoon.
InChoir Sessions

The weather was gorgeous, the windows, were open in the rehearsal room and Lee was rehearsing 3 great selections: Praise to the Lord- F. Melius Christiansen, Christ the Apple tree- Stanford Scrivens, and The Promise of Living- Aaron Copland.

It was great to see some of the cross-over singers participating in this event. Lincoln Choral Artists shares some singers with Abendmusick and First Plymouth. This is a great example of the community of singing that exists in Lincoln. 

Dr. Nelson, at the end of his rehearsal, talked about that fact that often we are all strangers coming together with a singular goal of creating music. Often this experience is indescribable. There simply is not language that communicates what is communicated in a rehearsal or live choral performance. 

I have crossed paths with Lee Nelson a number of times and have always enjoyed the rehearsals, sessions, and performances I have experienced with him at the helm. Lee and I share an Alma Mater, Concordia College in Moorhead. Lee was there at time of transition from the long time leadership of Paul J. Christiansen to the then young, new conductor RenĂ© Clausen. I studied conducting and sang under Dr. Clausen in my time at Concordia. Lee and I have both come to an understanding of love of the Lutheran College Choir heritage, but we also both understand some of the issues that arise in voicing, seating, and programing in that system. Today the Lutheran colleges all have excellent choirs, but, as is exampled by Lee's leadership, the homogeneous approach to choral tone varies in many more ways than with past generations of choirs. 

I am so pleased to have seen some of my own experiences with choirs discussed on Saturday.
Lee had an image of sound on the whiteboard that I have used and received from Axel Theimer, director of choral activities at St. John's College in Minnesota. I served as Associate Artistic Director of the Boy's choir. During my tenure there this image and the concepts surrounding voicing, color, and healthy vocal productions were paramount in my experience. Lee's close connection with Axel, having served as Director of Choral activities at St. Cloud State just down the road, shows just how connected the community of choral musicians and director's is in this country.
If you have ever wondered how director's decide where every one should sit or stand for rehearsals and performances, Dr. Nelson, discussed that it is a mystery. Hopefully it's not so much of a mystery that it is unnecessary. But in my experience where a single singer is seated can change the entire sound of choir. Currently, LCA is sitting in what is known as orchestral seating. This means from the perspective of the conductor the Sopranos are to the left, Altos are at the center left, Tenors are at the center right, and the basses are at the right. This means there are 3-4 of each voice part in every row and we are currently using a 3 rows. 

What this brings me to is an announcement for our own Community singing event. 

On April 30, come to the "In Choir" Event and sit in with the Lincoln Choral Artists as we prepare for our spring concert on May 15.

Choral singing has the power to draw diverse communities together in a common musical experience. This program enables participants to get acquainted with great choral music by singing side-by-side with members of the Lincoln Choral Artists at a working rehearsal.
More than simply a rehearsal, "In Choir" events are stimulating, engaging choral experiences designed to illuminate music and text while revealing the historical and cultural influences that shaped their creation. Deliberately blurring the line between artists and spectators, "In Choir" creates opportunities for participants, at any level of musical ability, to get inside the rehearsal process. Hosted and conducted by Artistic Director Jason M. Horner,  "In Choir"  participants experience close-up and first-hand the gratifying work that culminates in polished performances. 

All "In Choir" Events are free and open to the public. Scores are available 30 minutes prior to the beginning of rehearsal. 

So come to the "In Choir" event on April 30 at 7:30 pm.
Nebraska Wesleyan University
Rogers Fine Arts, Second Floor Choral Rehearsal Room
Lincoln, NE 68504