Car Thoughts Live: What is Expertise in Choral Music?

Expertise Cannot Be Earned as a student. We must test our academic ideas in the real world.

I recently had a lot of time to think and reflect while driving home from the convention circuit, so I went LIVE in the Choralsophers FB group to discuss some reactions to audience feedback from the Success Rubrics episode. One of the ideas that drew the most attention, is that the primacy of the “degree” as a success marker may not be the best way for us to structure our professional spaces and organizations. So, with comments coming in to the chat while driving, (do not try this at home, I am a trained professional) I reflected further on this issue. As always, let’s keep the conversation going!
Listen to Part 1
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Reimagining the Rubric For “Success” In Choral Careers

Who is in the Choral Cool Kids Club?

Our current rubric is based almost entirely on two factors. What degree do you have? And what level of choir do you direct? That’s not enough.

One of the hot items of choral discussion recently has been “Choral Elitism.” I have done episodes on the show about it, Chris Maunu has written some great blogs, and countless comments in Facebook groups deriding it as a problem. This post is intended to approach the topic from a different angle. I think one of the most dysfunctional aspects of Choral Culture is HOW we decide who the “stars” are in our profession. Who gets asked to present, who gets asked to direct the honor choir, and recently, who can muster large movements of the culture via social media buzz. Having a hierarchy in this way is normal and natural, but the rubric with which we choose our “cool kids club” matters. So let’s play a little game and see if we can’t reimagine the rubric.
  1. Consistent excellence in the final musical product. An important caveat here is that we CANNOT reserve ourselves to basing this on the concert. To understand who is doing GREAT work in this area, we need “before and after” recordings or eye witness. This matters because we don’t all have the same singers, feeders, admins etc. So, to me success in “musical excellence” should be available to elementary to professional choirs. Show me how far your singers can come under your leadership!
  2. Consistent management of choral programs that flourish. Do people want to sing for this person consistently and over years? To me, this says volumes about what is going on in that rehearsal space. I know something’s being done masterfully.
  3. Does the director have a track record of better and better music making? The beauty of this one is that it requires a synthesis of #1 and 2. You can’t make steady improvement in the music unless you have a steady stream of excited and eager singers coming into the program.
  4. Is the director an innovator in one or more areas of their teaching practice? Are they dreaming up, implementing and perfecting NEW ways to deliver the choral art form and all of its nuts and bolts to new generations of singers?
  5. Is the director contributing to the body of scholarship? This could take the form of research within academia, the creation of definitive recordings, or even by curating new discussions on various aspects of scholarship for conventions etc.
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The Essential PD Library: Starting Your School Year With Momentum

For the Midsummer installment of the show, I am encouraging you to take a professional development break from your summer fun, not to “do work,” but to begin thinking ahead. To start hoping, dreaming, and scheming for your BEST academic year yet. In fact, I believe that in order to be a a”professional educator,” the summer must include this type of reflection AND planning. I know we’re off the clock, but if your goal is to be the absolute best for your students and singers, this time spent is crucial. Trust me, I am all for unplugging and unwinding, in fact, I am doing that right now as I type this drinking coffee in a cabin in the Black Hills.

In this post, I have curated several discussions from the last 2 and half years, and almost 110 Choralosophy Podcast episodes that I think can contribute to every choral director’s professional development and improvement for next year. The foundation of what we do every day rests upon our mastery of the fundamentals, and our ability to convey these concepts to our students. Please browse the library below, and enjoy your summer!
Summer PD Library!

Understanding the Science

An important part of what we do IS science. Don Brinegar and I had an eye opening discussion about how tuning systems work, and how to teach this concept to our choirs in a way that improves their ear, AND their understanding of how tuning systems vary around the world. Amanda Quist joined me for another tangential, and mind blowing conversation about teaching concepts of resonance.

Another really important conversation regarding the science of our job is the vocal ped conversation. Choir directors are often thought to have an insufficient education in this area, often times leading to some assumptions and oversimplifications being taught to students in a choral setting. For this conversation, I will point you toward a session delivered at the Choralosophy Convention in Atlanta back in April. This session by Beth Munce, my FAVORITE voice teacher specializing in introducing adolescent voices to classical technique, was revolutionary for those in attendance, and we had a lot of great conversations about “Things Choir Teachers Shouldn’t Say” about the voice. The full session can be accessed on the Choralosophy Patreon feed for subscribers only. (normal episodes are always free.)

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Beth Munce at Choralosophy Con 2021 in Atlanta discussing vocal tips that might work for some bodies and not others. Avoid bandaids

In Episode 44, Dr. Andrew Crane and Dr. Jami Rhodes joined me for another voice science and pedagogy conversation that is a MUST listen for any director wanting to avoid the pitfall of teaching a diverse group of voice types and body shapes etc by using “one size fits all bandaids.”

Most recently, I did a short “Car Thoughts” video with some easy to try tips related to achieving resonance from young singers WITHOUT asking them to “sing louder.”

Literacy Starts on the First Day of School

Students at any place along the learning curve CAN be taught to read music, and can be taught to do it WITHOUT notes being played simultaneously. This begins of course, with rote training. They must have an aural picture in their mind for pitch relationships, and they must have at least a beginning level of confidence making noises. This can be developed AND connected to literacy concepts on the first day of school. From there, it’s just about consistency, and holding students accountable with logical, growth oriented grading systems. ALL students can learn to be literate.

I recommend listening in the following order: 1. Episode 18Episode 21Episode 52. These are all connected to each other and should be very cohesive. Then, follow up with Episode 69 and “Growth vs. Achievement.”

See Below for a list of Literacy and grading episodes. The podcast players below will contain all of the audio for free!

You can listen from the widgets below which will take you to Apple or Castbox to finish listening, or you can find the show on Google Play, Spotify, Youtube or Stitcher!

Episode 74: Is the Choral Ecosystem a Political Monolith? With Reginal Wright

Over the past year, I began to notice a breath of fresh air in the online choral discourse in the form of Reginal Wright. Like many of you, I have used Facebook to network with other choral directors that I don’t know in real life. This has benefits for me as a Podcast host, but can be a challenge on a personal level. Reginal, however, stood out to me because of his frequent posts inviting polite disagreement and creating a platform for multiple views to be expressed and treated with respect. So, I had to speak with a kindred spirit. In the course of this conversation, he and I talk about our approach to political discussions within professional spaces, in our classrooms, as well as the need to put our differences as choral directors aside in order to support each other, advocate for each other and build each other up.

Episode 74
Reginal Wright

Reginal Wright was born in Henderson, Texas. His life as a musician began in his middle school band as a trombonist. As a 20 year educator, Reginal has earned many awards including Outstanding Teacher, Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers, and a nomination for the UIL Sponsor Excellence Award. Reginal also earned the 2018 Educator of the Year Award for the Mansfield School District.​Reginal has performed music in Vienna and Salzburg, Austria as well as Munich, Germany and throughout the United States. As a conductor, he is a sought after clinician in both Gospel and Classical genres. He has enjoyed the opportunity to conduct Honor Choirs for many school districts throughout the United States.

He also serves as a clinician in many Texas All State Choir camps and All State Choirs.Reginal is also an aspiring composer, writing music that caters to school and church choirs.Reginal received both his Bachelor and Masters of Music Education Degrees from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. He is currently the head choral director at Mansfield High School. His choirs are consistent sweepstakes winners in both concert and sight reading contests.

Choirs under his direction also earn “Outstanding in Class” awards at National Music Festivals. In 2012 the Mansfield High School A Cappella Women’s choir was honored as SWACDA honor choir. In 2018 the Mansfield Varsity Men’s Choir performed at the prestigious Texas Music Educators Association Convention in San Antonio. He is a member of Texas Music Educators Association, Texas Music Adjudicators Association, Texas Choral Directors Association, American Choral Directors Association and served as Vocal Chair for TMEA Region 5 from 2014-2017. Reginal resides in Arlington with his wife Renetta, son Gabrien, daughter Reece and Yorkie Cooper