Episode 100: Sing Softer, You’re Off Key with Beth Munce

This episode is a milestone. The 100th full length episode of the podcast. Since my wife Beth was the FIRST guest on the show, I thought it would be good to go full circle, and bring her on again!

Being a music teacher is an important job. It is, or should be about SO MUCH more than the “collection and curation of musicians who are already good.” But how often is that our quickest route to career success? In this episode Beth and I take the gloves off and dive into the topic of the ways in which choir directors of all levels, with all of the best intentions, can often say or do things that either do not help singers become better, or even make the singer worse. “Raise the soft palette” when the problem is actually tongue tension. “Blend!
when the result is actually just removing resonance so you can no longer hear the problem. “Open your mouth to the size of the 3 Oreos” when every mouth is a different size, and much more.

Beth Munce

We also go a bit hard on the problems with ranking, or rating competitions for beginning singers. The systems, often governed by the same organization that governs basketball games in many places, can actually disincentivize quality feedback for singers.

Episode 100

The Unique Nature of Singing by Beth Munce

While many of my singing and teaching of singing philosophies and approaches have shifted or changed…some I would completely redo differently if I had the chance…one that hasn’t (and this is a hill that I will die on) is that there is a place in music for EVERYONE.

Sorry Trevor

The unique nature of singing is that 1) we all have a different instrument: everyone’s lung capacity, torso length, pharyngeal shape, tongue size, etc…are all different!! So there is not a one size fits all approach to singing. It is different for everyone. And everyone learns differently! Add that into the mix. Plus every person has to learn how to coordinate their muscles, where to feel resonance, how to learn to resonate effectively and efficiently, and how to adjust this approach when their bodies and hormones are changing. It’s a lot! Plus, 2) unlike starting piano or band where the first time you pick up an instrument is with your teacher (where they can tell you “put this hand here, this finger here…”) in choir, EVERY kid has prior experience in singing/phonation whether that be with the radio, with mom, in another choir, etc…some of these habits are good, some detrimental (don’t get me started on some of the bad singing examples on the radio!). The point being, you are having to redirect those already insulated neural pathways. Retrain those muscles. And this takes time and concerted effort. Some kids give up and don’t want to put forth the effort. I tell my students that learning to sing is like you are renovating a home as opposed to building one from scratch. And some houses need more work than others! 

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Some of my proudest moments in teaching have been the kid whose mom thought he was “tone deaf” and he ended up being able to perform a solo successfully and make concert choir to be with his buddies…the girl who was the only one of her peers who auditioned for an honor choir her sophomore year and didn’t make it, who went on to make All-State choir her senior year…the boy who was so awkward and shy and could barely make a peep who went on to get a full ride scholarship in vocal performance and has had an active adult performance career. Those stories of hard work and perseverance are my favorite. The kid that didn’t think they could or was the underdog who worked their butt off and ended up excelling!!

Beth’s previous appearances on the Podcast

Episode 1: Health Happiness and Balance for the Choral Director

Episode 8: Renovating the Voice

Episode 25: Loving by Letting Go with Jaclyn Johnson (Beth as Co Host)

Episode 99: The World Imagined with Gabriel Jackson

Part of the Oxford Series on the Choralosophy Podcast

Dig into the mind of Gabriel Jackson, one of my FAVORITE composers. His ability to mix the modern with the ancient really makes my “Spidey Sense” tingle! We discuss his music, and journey to composition, as well his feelings about Orchestral musicians seeming to live in a different strata from us lowly Choral musicians. Spoiler alert, we are both annoyed by this…We also touch on what the pandemic was like for him as composer, and the age old themes in music and poetry that retain their resonance today, and possibly in a new way.

You can’t write really difficult music and then complain that nobody performs it.

Gabriel Jackson

If you are in the US, check out Gabriel’s upcoming musical exploits! The US Premiere of The World Imagined! Concert in Elgin, Illinois. Find Gabriel’s catalog on his site!

Upcoming events involving Gabriel’s compositions. https://www.variantsix.com/new-suns

Enter choralosophy at checkout to get 5% off choir folders, robes and other essential choral gear.
Gabriel Jackson-Photo credit: Reinis Hofmanis
Episode 99: Gabriel Jackson
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Episode 98: You Are Your Story with Brent Morden, Michelle Pollino and Angel Eduardo

A New Initiative from a New Organization: FAIR in the Arts is a program from the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism

We have to think about group identity and immutable characteristics, and how they shape our experience as humans in the world. We can’t ignore those things. But they are not the only things. We need to have a conversation about what we LEAD with in these conversations. Do we lead with the things we can’t choose about ourselves, or do lead with our common humanity. To me, it’s a question of seeing the human across from in our classrooms, our teacher’s lounges, or even on social media as complex and deeper than their appearance. My recent ChoralNet blog goes addresses this as well.

It is not enough to attack injustice. We have to cultivate justice. This STARTS with patience, humility and grace.

Episode 98

On the Choralosophy Podcast I have spent a good deal of time and energy discussing the topic of “identity” in the arts, through a special category called “Choral Music: A Human Art Form” and how differing philosophies impact how the topic is discussed. In my view, there are major problems in the world stemming from philosophical illiteracy. Namely, what seems to be a lack of awareness that there are different ways to discuss societal problems, and how to move competently between them. As leaders of diverse groups, I see this is a non-optional skill for choral directors. We need to recognize that the centering of one’s immutable characteristics as the primary feature of one’s identity, is but one of many philosophies of finding or describing the “self.” Some find identity most strongly with their culture, nationality, religion, profession, school of thought, or even with the rejection of group identity itself. And that’s ok.