Chris Reads from the Audience Mailbag and Joins the Cast of a NEW Podcast

In this episode, I read some recent reviews from the Apple Podcasts App, as well as some questions that came in through the website. Then, I have clipped out a portion of episode one of Reconstructing the Dialogue. A new podcast on which I am but one voice of many. Journalist Mónica Guzman, Professor Erec Smith and author and frequent Newsweek columnist Angel Eduardo and I offer our thoughts on ways to mend the broken race discourse. I won’t other you often with this show, but I wanted to let you know I was doing it! I hope you will subscribe!
The Audience Mailbag
Be sure to subscribe to the new show on your favorite app or at

Car Thoughts: Elite without elitism, merit without meritocracy

We can expect “Excellence” and be inclusive of all ability levels at the same time!

That’s it. That’s the Blog.
Car Thoughts on the topic

Just kidding. There’s more.

On the Choralosophy Podcast over the last several years, I have presented my thoughts on choral music curriculum in several episodes. From grading policies, to literacy instruction, as well a the philosophy of grading on growth rather than arbitrary standards based grading. I believe that a school choir program can be BOTH incredibly rigorous and open to beginners at the same time. A high school choir CAN achieve college level or beyond literacy skills, a professional rehearsal atmosphere that is fun and engaging, all while remaining productive and continuously striving for excellence. One can accept that “perfection” in all human endeavors does not exist, without abandoning the constant march towards it. Below is an example from the beginning of last school year, where our prior literacy, independence and rigor saved our school year due to the challenges presented by masks, social distancing, and reduced rehearsal time. (Scroll to the bottom for episodes on my literacy method.)

An example of an “advanced” rehearsal in my program. Demonstrating the power of high levels of literacy training prior to 11th-12th grade.

What is Excellence? Who gets to define it?

I do. For my classroom. You do for yours. It’s pretty simple really. The line in the sand that I draw is that everyone has to have some definition of this word, or people will not take the choir seriously. It does not matter if excellence is centered around concepts of intonation, rhythmic precision, resonance and expressive line like mine is, or centered around facial expression, choreography, story telling like a great show choir. The priorities can be completely different and they could both be excellent. Maybe your definition of excellence is centered around the way humans FEEL in your rehearsals. Centered around an informal rubric of community, acceptance and love. That’s ok too. You are an excellent choir when you achieve your choir’s goals. This doesn’t have to be an argument. The tent of choral music is large enough for an infinite number of “Excellence models” but you must choose a definition and strive for it relentlessly.

Grading on Growth

This concept is important in my program because it demonstrates the possible duality between “rigor” and “inclusivity.” I believe that rigorous curricula can be inclusive of all levels of learner if we grade on growth. Put simply, “I don’t care where you start. You can get better, and that’s how you will earn an A.” We have a difficult balance to maintain in school music. We must be a “real class” in the eyes of the community and administration while also accepting students into our programs with WIDELY ranging levels of prior knowledge and skill. I outline my attempt at this balance in the two episodes below.

Episodes 18, 52 and 69 will get you started on a new literacy journey! For episode 69 I highly recommend the video version so you can watch the individual sight singing assessments happen!
Example of work with Sight Reading Factory with 10th grade students. We call this our “intermediate” level class.

Episode 79: Is Grad School Right For Me?! André Thomas, Jennaya Robison and Giselle Wyers

Panel discussion featuring three insightful Professors

In this week’s special panel conversation, I am finally responding to what has been a frequent listener suggestion for a podcast topic. A “no BS” discussion on the Choral Grad School decision that weighs so heavily on many of us, sometimes more than once in our careers. So, I invited a group of experts on the topic. Each with experience working with graduate programs as both a student, and as a professor. Doctors André Thomas, Jennaya Robison and Giselle Wyers each gave graciously of their time to this important discussion.

“Why graduate school?”

“Is it right for me?”

“Is it worth the money”

“What do I look for in a grad school, and what will they be looking for in me?”

“What kind of musical chops do I need to have?”

We don’t always give enough credit to people who teach for 30 years in Middle School. So, is there a way to prop those people up where they are, rather than entice them into leaving their job to go get another degree? Listen to the end to hear Dr. Thomas’s thoughts on this. Dr. Wyers and Dr. Robison also give insightful pieces of advice about balancing motherhood and graduate school.
Episode 79

Episode 78: The Only White Guy in the Room with Maria and Chris

This special episode is something a bit different, in that it is a recap of a shared experience. All the way back on Episode 17, Marques Garrett challenged me to intentionally find an opportunity to be an “only” in the room. I had reflected in that conversation that, as a white guy, I don’t think I’ve ever been the “only one” in a room. “I don’t know what that feels like.” Marques suggested that he thought that might be good for me to experience. I agreed. Then Covid happened and the “live on air” challenge had to be tabled for a bit.

Episode 78

Enter my friend Maria Ellis to the rescue. (Find Maria’s past episode 29 pt. 2) I had seen Maria’s great videos about her church, and thought that as a musician, there was no better way to experience a cultural growth moment than in Maria’s music rich church in St. Louis. So, we set it up! Off to St. Louis I went, and wow did I have a great time. I learned so much! While I can’t know everything there is to know about Maria’s cultural experience in one day, I now have a frame of reference. I real life, shared experience that can put future interactions in a perspective that I did not have before.
Episode 78

Episode 77: Singing Without Fear with Dr. J.D. Frizzell

Removing Barriers To Honest and Emotional Singing

J. D. Frizzell

J.D. Frizzell is a standout educator and clinician. In this episode, we discuss Dr. Frizzell’s successful approach to getting his singers to come out of their shells! We all want our ensembles to sing with passion, honesty, and expression, but how do we achieve this in an objective, measurable way? While group discussions of poetic meaning can be helpful, they will not create the kind of transformative performance that will change lives. We must dive deeper into ways we can empower our singers with the skills and preparation to approach the literature without fear—fear of tessitura, vocal faults, note and rhythm accuracy, and more. This will be a helpful, practical discussion in which we identify and rectify common issues that prevent emotional singing.
Episode 77

J.D. Frizzell is the Director of Fine Arts and Director of Vocal Music at Briarcrest Christian School in Memphis, TN. He earned his Doctor of Musical Arts Degree in Choral Conducting from The University of Kentucky. Dr. Frizzell earned the double Master’s in Music Theory/Composition and Conducting from The University of Southern Mississippi, where he also earned the bachelor’s degree in Music History and Literature.Dr. Frizzell, winner of the 2007 Intégrales Composition Contest, writes music for choir, orchestra, symphonic band, voice, handbells, chamber ensembles, and solo instruments. With music published by many major publishing houses, he has had best sellers throughout the world. Frizzell was chosen by the board of the Tennessee Music Educators Association as the 2011 Outstanding Young Music Educator. Additionally, he was awarded the Dr. Clair E. Cox Award for Teaching Excellence.As the Director of Fine Arts at Briarcrest, Dr. Frizzell leads a faculty of twelve full time faculty-artists and is responsible for coordinating curriculum, instruction, and budgets for all of the fine arts programs (K2-12th grade). He also serves as an advocate and school liaison for all of the visual art, instrumental music, vocal music, dance, theatre, and technical production programs. As the Director of Vocal Music, he teaches the Concert Choir, Advanced Women’s Choir, and OneVoice. Additionally, Dr. Frizzell works with the middle and elementary school choirs when needed.

A leader in the contemporary a cappella movement, he is the co-founder and President of The A Cappella Education Association, a nonprofit dedicated to helping groups around the world. He also serves on the board of the nonprofit June Vocal Music, which is dedicated to the creation of new professional a cappella groups and development of opportunities for diverse and otherwise underrepresented student populations. His high school a cappella group, OneVoice, is a SONY Recording Artist. They were the winners of the Macy’s A Cappella Challenge judged by Pentatonix, contestants on America’s Got Talent, performers at The Emmys, and collaborators with The Swingles. Dr. Frizzell co-authored the books “A Cappella Warm Ups for Pop and Jazz Choirs” and Teaching Music Through Performance in Contemporary A Cappella.Dr. Frizzell is active as a presenter, adjudicator, clinician, and guest conductor. As an active member of TNMEA, NATS, ACDA, and WTVMEA, he has served in multiple volunteer capacities, including two-time Chairperson of All-West Honor Choir Auditions and Performances and Choral Festival.

He has served as the Southern Division ACDA R & S Chair for Men’s Choirs. The board of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation named him one of “Memphis’ Finest” for his philanthropic efforts. He lives in Memphis, TN with his wife, Emily, son, Henry, and dogs, Sally and Ari.For commission, conducting, workshop, or other booking information, please visit JD Frizzell is the Director of Fine Arts and Director of Vocal Music at Briarcrest Christian School in Memphis, TN, where he is responsible for coordinating all Fine Arts programs (K2-12th grade). As the Director of Vocal Music, he teaches the Concert Choir, Advanced Women’s Choir, Mens Choir, and internationally-acclaimed a cappella group OneVoice. His ensembles have performed at regional, national, and international conventions. Winner of the Integrales Composition Contest, Dr. Frizzell has had many best-selling compositions and arrangements. He also co-authored “A Cappella Warm Ups” with Deke Sharon. Dr. Frizzell is the President of the A Cappella Education Association and the founder of the National A Cappella Convention.