Wednesday, March 11, 2020

A blog post about Church Choirs

I posted a blog for the Nebraska Choral Directors' Association today as part of my duties of serving on the board as Music in Worship Repertoire and Resources Chair. Below is that blog. I reference ACDA which is the national level of the Association, the American Choral Director's Association.


Church Choirs and Church Choir Directors
Blog post by Jason Horner, NCDA Music in Worship R&R



I have a full-time job as a church musician. This is becoming  more and more rare and within the world of ACDA there are less and less church musicians seeing the value in membership. Why is that? I think there are lots of factors; time, money, not understanding  or knowing about the value of the organization... the list goes on. But another factor is the nature of the beast. Being a church musician is different from teaching K-12, college/ university, or even leading a community ensemble. (I also direct at a college and have a community ensemble.) For some church musicians the job is primarily leading the choir, but this is increasingly rare. More than likely, whether the gig is supposed to be focused on music-making, it usually involves a lot more music organizing: choosing music for worship that doesn’t include choir, developing relationships with parishioners, meeting with your pastor to figure what we are going to do about the Corona virus (ok, that’s hopefully not an ongoing thing). For the part-time church musician you might get to spend 1-2 hours rehearsing your choir and having them sing 3-4 times a month for worship. But honestly, you move furniture, check emails, call less reliable singers to remind them about daylight savings (again, hopefully you already navigated that one) and so on.

So as a musician organizing singers and worship, finding the value in an organization primarily focused on furthering education of conductors and teachers may not totally fit the bill. What I have come to understand, however, is that as a conductor the richness of a deeper understanding of the choral arts is a necessity for me as a well-rounded musician. It helps me to remember the goals and develop my sense of a choral tone by experiencing excellent choirs under great colleagues and mentors. Yet I can also bring my experience as a Church musician to this organization.

The skills used in leading singing and directing multiple ensembles transfers readily in the choral art. Now this blog is going out to a group of dedicated ACDA/NCDA members, many of which have church gigs. So yes, I’m preaching to the choir (directors!) What’s the point of this discussion? I think, for me, I need to get out of the organization as much as I can. But that’s really up to me and how I approach the ideas and concepts that come from participating.



I was in Milwaukee last week for the regional convention, I organized the NCDA Church Choir festival (with lots of help) a few weeks ago here in Nebraska. And so my mind is still in the haze of those closely tied experiences. I had singers in all my groups say something along the lines of “bring us back some great knowledge to impart” when I was headed for Milwaukee. I hope that that has happened. The joy of singing, my joy in directing, my experience as a worship leader, and my heart will also continue to guide me as I lift up singers and ensembles. I truly wish for other leaders to have those experiences and maybe be encouraged to join us, the “nerdiest” of directors, in our mission.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Let's Go to the Movies: March 1 Cinematopia Concert




Every season we try to invigorate the fundraiser concert (formally called the gala). We have done music inspired by Downton Abbey, 80s and other pop music, a Musical Theater Review... 











This year we are going to the movies!!!

We have also invited special guests, the UNL Jazz Singers under the direction of David von Kampen. 

The evening will begin with music to set the mood with some silent film from classics like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton to classic horror films. During this hour we invite guests to bid on our silent auction items and participate in our basket drawings. There are lots of cool "Movie Inspired" baskets and auction items planned! This is one our biggest fundraising events and we appreciate so much all the support we receive with you donations. 

The second hour will include the LCA choir performing music from Star Wars, Harriet (2019), 80s classics, and lots of solos and small group performances of famous movie songs. 

The final portion of the evening will include a special performance from the UNL Jazz Singers. 

We hope you can join us on this cool journey through the music of Cinema. 
Sunday, March 1, 4pm at the Royal Grove in Lincoln, NE.
Tickets are just $35 and include food and beverage!


Thursday, January 23, 2020

A Podcast and Article for Inquiring Minds

Today I'm sharing a link to a great episode of a great Podcast "Choralosophy" hosted by Chris Munce.
Often articles and podcasts about choral music a directed towards Choir Directors. This episode, to me, seems to reach beyond directors to singers and even to audiences.

Episode 28: Can Pitches be Perfect?

This is a FASCINATING discussion with Donald Brinegar, author of the recently published “Pitch Perfect: a Theory and Practice of Choral Intonation.” Donald and I discuss the sometimes misunderstood concepts related to intonation and what makes something “in tune” or “out of tune.” Is it possible that we our education related to this topic has been lacking? I think it has been lacking for many, which is why I think this episode is so important. The conversation runs mostly along two tracks. The common misconceptions surrounding the mathematics of intonation as well as practical ways to bring concepts of intonation into rehearsals with singers of all levels.

I hope you enjoy this article and episode.
NEXT WEEK: LCA is doing STAR WARS? Yes, yes we are...

Monday, January 13, 2020

I love it when choir members share their online finds!

So today I didn't even need to search out or think up any ideas. Below is an article that was sent to me by a member of my church choir. Enjoy!


Your Brain and Singing: Why Singing in a Choir Makes You Happier
By Jaime Babbitt


Any of us who have sung in choirs know all too well the joy it brings not just the audiences, but also the choir members themselves. And why wouldn’t it? When we raise our voices with lots of other gorgeous voices in a big, beautiful space, it feels like we’re altering molecules. The power, the mojo that this (relatively) small time commitment offers…how is it possible? Well, according to various scientific reports, we are altering molecules…inside our brains, with different changes occurring whether listening to music, singing, or singing with others.

In Stacy Horn’s wonderful book, Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness While Singing with Others, we get a first-hand account of how music uplifts and empowers, with various scientific evidence cited. Horn has been singing with The Choral Society of Grace Church (in New York City’s Greenwich Village) since 1982; she evocatively describes her own experience while explaining how science is finally catching up with what vocalists have known since the dawn of time: singing heals.

Choirs are known for singing about somber topics, including death. Requiem masses by Mozart, Haydn, Verdi and Berlioz are extremely popular selections for choirs worldwide. Yet, even though the content isn’t necessarily joyful or soothing, endorphins — hormones produced by the central nervous system — release and interact with opiate receptors in the brain, diminishing pain and triggering an almost analgesic feeling in the body. Our brains get an endorphin “rush”, which apparently feels a lot like taking morphine. Singing (both listening to it and doing it) can also release dopamine, a chemical that works to help regulate the brain’s pleasure and reward centers. Music has also been found to release serotonin, a neurotransmitter found mostly in the digestive tract that helps regulate our moods, social behaviors and appetite; other studies have shown that cortisol levels can be lower when listening to music and singing. In addition, Dr. David Huron, a music professor at OSU, postulates that singing may increase prolactin production; prolactin is found both in tears and in nursing mammals, and it helps regulate the immune system.

Other forms of happiness await us via singing as we age. Neuroscientists have shown that musical memories engage broader neural pathways than other types of memories – that’s why hearing an old song can flood one with very specific emotions and visual cues. When dementia and Alzheimer’s patients are encouraged to sing along songs from their youth, they sometimes respond with wide-eyed wonder and exhilaration, and sing out in a way that surprises not only those around them, but themselves as well; it’s a beautiful phenomenon to witness. Additionally, doctors are now finding that singers have more circuit connections between the right and left sides of their brains than non-singers. Memorizing words (left brain function) and music (right brain function) could keep those nerve cells and synapses in excellent working order.

Dr. Gene D. Cohen of George Washington University kept track of a senior singers’ chorale in Arlington, Virginia. The singers’ average age was 80 (65 the youngest, 96 the eldest). Findings showed that the singers suffered depression less frequently, made fewer doctor’s visits each year, needed less medication, and increased their other activities. I can attest that some of my greatest memories are of forming and leading a choir at an assisted living facility and seeing with my own eyes how the songs from my elders’ era affected them; they laughed, cried and told stories about first hearing that song performed.

But, as Horn will agree, the most remarkable phenomenon that a choir vocalist experiences are the many “take your breath away” moments that come as a result of being one of many voices coming together in harmony. I’m sure many of you reading this have had your own version of these types of experiences: goosebumps on your arms, hair standing up on the back of your neck, bursting into tears (that would be me), and more. A 2004 study by Dr. Gunter Kreutz showed that singing in a choir–as opposed to simply listening to choral music–increases SIgA production (antibodies in saliva that help immune function) and other positive physical responses.

The even better news is that while we always strive to be the best choristers we can be, our voices don’t have to be “professional strength” to derive these myriad health benefits. Horn cites a 2005 study that showed that singing even at an amateur level was beneficial to people’s emotional, physical, and cognitive well-being. Before moving back to New York, I joined Nashville in Harmony, a talented and love-filled group of largely non-professional singers in Nashville, Tennessee. Being one of 150 voices banding together for the common good has brought me exhilaration I’d not felt in all my years of singing…and that’s a lot of years. Back when we recorded to tape.

Here we are at a 2016 rehearsal. The exhilaration is palpable: https://bit.ly/2HdNbfS

So please, sing. Sing a song. Sing out loud. Sing out strong. (See what I did there? C’mon, who remembers Sesame Street? The Carpenters? Sigh.)



Link to original posting: http://www.dailygood.org/more.php?n=8319 

Special thanks to Greg Schuerman for sending me this article!

A choir is made up of many voices, including yours and mine. If, one by one all go silent then all that will be left are the soloists. Don't let a loud few determine the nature of the sound. It makes for poor harmony and diminishes the song.
- Vera Nazarian -