Category Archives: Choral Music

Tips on keeping boys singing in choirs

Members of the Vienna Boys Choir in a concert from Minneapolis (Judy Griesedieck | Classical MPR)
Members of the Vienna Boys Choir in a concert from Minneapolis (Judy Griesedieck | Classical MPR)

For many school choral programs, keeping boys singing in choir as they get older can at times be problematic.

In a recent essay for the National Association for Music Education, Doreen Fryling — a public school music teacher for 20 years — notes that there are two important ways in which a teacher can change that trend:

1. Helping them learn to sing well.

And just as importantly,

2. Helping them believe that they can sing well.

Fryling points out that there are many ways to accomplish both of these goals.  For goal number one, those include:
• Selecting repertoire that allows them to use their voice in a range that’s comfortable for them.
• In terms of vocal parts, remain flexible. Let a boy sing tenor on one piece, and bass on another. Remember, as the author notes, “every day can be a new voice for a changing boy.”
• Find repertoire that the boys in your program actually enjoy singing. Even if they don’t like a piece immediately, chances are they will grow to like it if it’s a work they can sing well.

In connection with the second goal, some ways to achieve that include:
• Help them remember that their voice change is temporary, and they won’t sound like this forever.
• Record them so they can hear themselves now and then, and realize how their voices are transitioning.
• As their voices change, reassure them that this is all normal. Create a ‘band of brothers’ in your choir.

Read Fryling’s entire essay over at the NAfME website.

Think you can’t sing? Keep at it!

Studies show that singing well is a skill that can be developed (Getty Images).
Studies show that singing well is a skill that can be developed (Getty Images).

A recent study from Northwestern University suggests that singing accurately is a skill that can be learned, and if not used, can decline over time.

The research was led by Steven M. Demorest, a professor of music education at Northwestern’s Bienen School of Music. Three age groups were studied — kindergarteners, sixth-graders, and college-aged adults — and scored based on their singing accuracy. Each participant was asked to listen to a pitch (or an interval) and then sing it back.

The study showed vast improvement in accuracy from kindergarten to later elementary school, likely due to the fact that most children are receiving regular music instruction at that age. But the adults performed at a level closer to the kindergarten group in two of three of the tasks. These findings imply that, while singing on key might be easier for some people rather than others, it’s also something that can be nurtured and developed.

“No one expects a beginner on violin to sound good right away, ” Demorest noted in a press release. “It takes practice, but everyone is supposed to be able to sing. When people are unsuccessful they take it very personally, but we think if you sing more, you’ll get better.”

The study indicates that only 34% of U.S. children choose to participate in music classes past the eighth grade. This fact, combined with evidence that many children are made to believe that they’re “tone deaf,” signifies to researchers that kids are quitting music education classes because they believe they’re no good — which is a huge part of the problem.

“It’s a skill that can be taught and developed, and much of it has to do with using the voice regularly,” Demorest explains. “Our study suggests that adults who may have performed better as children lost the ability when they stopped singing.”

A choral reflection for Delta State University

Delta State University campus
Delta State University campus (courtesy Delta State University via Flickr; CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Although I am in Duluth for meetings and performances, I was thinking about the Delta State University shooting yesterday. I contacted my childhood friend from Memphis, Dr. Nicholaus B. Cummins, the former Director of Choral Activities of Delta State University (he just took a new job at Northwestern State University in Louisiana this summer), and he sent the message below. Delta State University, located in Cleveland, Miss., is only 115 miles south of Memphis, my hometown.

Dr. Nicholaus Cummins
Dr. Nicholaus Cummins (Northwestern State University Photo Services/Gary Hardamon)
Here is Dr. Cummins statement:

“For the previous four years, I had the privilege of conducting the choirs at Delta State University in Cleveland, Miss. I was selected to take a new position at a school in Louisiana, but was thrilled that Dr. Adam Potter was chosen as the new Director of Choral Activities at Delta State University. He has already done marvelous work with all the students at DSU. Today I was stunned at this campus shooting that occurred at DSU. Cleveland is a small college town that loves to support all aspects of campus life. Dr. Potter is locked into his office and the students are huddled in classrooms waiting for safety [Update: Delta State University has announced the lockdown has been lifted]. I pray that Cleveland and Delta State University are safe and peace is found soon. I hope this setting of Eriks Ešenvalds’ O Salutaris Hostia by the 2013 Delta State University Chorale will serve as a signal of peace in this tragic time.”

My heart immediately melted after listening to DSU sing the opening minute and change. That soaring, piercingly beautiful treble duet will hopefully help touch the hearts of those affected by this unfathomable atrocity.

Here is the translation of the very appropriate text.

O saving Victim, opening wide
The gate of Heaven to us below;
Our foes press hard on every side;
Thine aid supply; thy strength bestow.
To thy great name be endless praise,
Immortal Godhead, One in Three.
O grant us endless length of days,
In our true native land with thee.

Check out this impromptu choir at the State Fair

Today was the third day of my sing-alongs at the Minnesota State Fair. When we began at 9 a.m., the numbers were low (just two); probably the fear of a rainout kept people away at first. We treated this morning’s sing more like a “choir practice” since it was more of an intimate setting without piano. We worked on tone quality, support, consonant energy and harmonizing during the first set of songs, a selection of patriotic music. We ran it through once, and then walked out to the street to recruit new members for our choir.

The singers retained a lot of information given during “choir practice,” and for a group of strangers to come together — that only started with two — and become a solid choir of about 15 members to deliver a performance with poise and confidence like they did … I would call it a total home run! Check out the video below to see this fantastic group in action:

Kudos to the participants in this morning’s sing! I hope to see many more people come sing with us tomorrow and Monday.

Pentatonix explore the evolution of Michael Jackson

Texas-based vocal ensemble Pentatonix have released a performance video on YouTube in which they explore the evolution of Michael Jackson’s music.

Many of Jackson’s greatest songs — including tunes from his blockbuster album, Thriller — were produced and co-written by Quincy Jones. It’s worth noting Jones studied with the vastly influential Nadia Boulanger, who called Jones one of her favorite students.

Here’s the video by Pentatonix — keep in mind this is an a cappella performance:

Hear VocalEssence sing with the Rolling Stones

Earlier this week, Philip Brunelle of VocalEssence was unable to reveal how many and which Rolling Stones songs the local choir would perform on Wednesday night, but speculation was rife that VocalEssence would perform at least one song, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

That speculation proved correct.

Twin Cities arts blog Cake in 15 released this video of VocalEssence performing with the Rolling Stones:

Although the video quality is not necessarily the best, the audio is quite good for how and where the video was shot. The different choral parts are audible, plus the staging makes clear why Brunelle and VocalEssence associate conductor Phillip Shoultz were both asked to direct.

One can also see a rare turn on guitar by Stones frontman Mick Jagger.

You can find a a complete review of the concert, written by MPR’s Andrea Swensson, on the Local Current blog.

h/t Dan Nass

A different kind of ‘water music’

When kids stay at a hotel, often the best part for them is getting to swim in the hotel pool. When those kids are also talented members of a high school choir, the fun goes even further.

The members of the Stillwater Area High School Concert Choir proved just how far the fun can go when they discovered the acoustics of the indoor pool at their hotel in Ames, Iowa, were ideally suited for a performance of “O Day Full of Grace” by F. Melius Christiansen. Many choral-music fans seem to agree; as of this report, the resulting YouTube video has been viewed nearly 1.4 million times. Here’s the video of the performance:

h/t John Birge

A choir makes a couple’s special moment more memorable

Cantanti Singers of Angelica Cantanti Youth Choirs (photo by Mark Riddle)
Cantanti Singers of Angelica Cantanti Youth Choirs (photo by Mark Riddle)
A serendipitously scheduled break for a choir led to an even more memorable proposal for a Minnesota couple. It’s the kind of magic that can happen in the Land of 10,000 Choirs.

The most contrived and uncomfortable moment at a Major League Baseball game isn’t an intentional walk; it’s the Jumbotron proposal that seems to happen during nearly every seventh-inning stretch.

Contrary to that, we have the recent engagement of Alicia Enstad and Joshua Lehrer in St. Paul’s Rice Park. The Angelica Cantanti Youth Choirs, on break from a rehearsal at the adjacent Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, took it upon themselves to serenade the couple with a choral arrangement of Israel Kamakawiwoʻole’s setting of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Mark Riddle captured the music on video and posted it to Angelica Cantanti’s YouTube channel:

It’s a special moment made even more special, and the kind of thing that might only be possible in the Land of 10,000 Choirs.

Norwegian choir goes viral with farm video

Group photo of Pikekoret IVAR
Pikekoret IVAR (courtesy the artists)
After publishing a video as part of an online debate about the future of agriculture in Norway, a choir called Pikekoret IVAR have found themselves Internet sensations, BBC Trending has reported.

Composed of university women, Pikeoret IVAR is known for its lively performances and its use of floral themes in its costuming and concerts. Here is an example of a choral performance by Pikekoret IVAR:

But as Norway is embroiled in a political debate over pending legislation that may affect farm subsidies and the ownership of farmland, Pikekoret IVAR created a song and video in which they do dance routines with shovels and rakes in hand while singing: “Several generations have looked after the farm, but government reforms destroy the norms. Could we have a new government in this country, please?”

The video has been viewed more than 260,000 times since its publication on March 27. The treatment is much more in line with pop music than with traditional choral songs, but it’s indicative of the group’s creativity:

A look at its YouTube channel shows that this group is unafraid to push boundaries (and for those who speak Norwegian — I don’t — there is obviously much more to be appreciated in the lyrics).

Those who speak Norwegian can learn more about Pikekoret IVAR on its website, and music appreciators of all linguistic backgrounds will likely enjoy the group’s choral treatment, in Norwegian, of “Dream a Little Dream”:

Why ‘Carousel’ makes many think of soccer

Shankly Gates
The Shankly Gates at Anfield, the home ground of Liverpool FC, feature “You’ll Never Walk Alone” (Andy Nugent)

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ‘Carousel’, which the Minnesota Orchestra will perform this weekend, contains a song that stirs passion in the hearts of soccer fans far and wide.

When the Minnesota Orchestra performs Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel this weekend, it’s fair to say many in attendance won’t be aware of Carousel’s soccer connections. And this Sunday afternoon in the North West of England, when Liverpool kick off against Manchester United, many of the Liverpool fans singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” may not be aware of the song’s Rodgers and Hammerstein roots.

Let’s call it a nil-nil draw.

In the second act of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, Nettie Fowler sings “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, and the song is reprised in the final scene.

Rodgers and Hammerstein released their musical in 1945. Fast-forward to the early 1960s, and a Liverpool band (no, not that one), Gerry and the Pacemakers, released a cover version of “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Although the song failed to chart in the U.S., it became a number-one hit in the U.K. for 1963.

It didn’t take long for fans to begin singing along with the recorded track at Anfield, the home stadium of Liverpool FC. “With the whole Merseybeat thing happening, and all these incredible songs coming out of Liverpool, it was inevitable that people would want to sing along with the local bands,” says MPR News Arts Reporter Euan Kerr. “And ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ by Gerry and the Pacemakers took off.”

The song has remained the anthem for Liverpool fans ever since. Such is the embrace of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” at Liverpool that the phrase is incorporated into the team’s crest and is hewn in iron above the Shankly Gates at Anfield.

“You’ll Never Walk Alone” has so much emotion and appeal, it’s also become the anthem for fans of Glasgow’s Celtic FC, as well as by the supporters of other clubs on mainland Europe.

So why the enduring power of “You’ll Never Walk Alone”?

“The whole question of community is really, really important to soccer supporters in the U.K., and in Europe,” Kerr says. “There’s a marvelous thing about belonging, and the song really underlines that and brings people together.”

Although the precision and beauty of an onstage performance of the song by trained singers cannot be understated, there is an unmatched power that is achieved by a stadium filled with passionate fans.

“Imagine 50,000 people singing in unison,” Kerr says. “It lifts you off your feet. It is just remarkable. The power of a huge crowd singing together cannot be underestimated. And it is a magical experience.”