In this episode I draw on a few sources, including audience comments to present an advocacy conversation. To make the case for Choral Music classrooms, infrastructure support, and educational priorities. You will see or hear a video I made all the way back in 2012 in response to the popular TV show “Glee,” as well as a video I made in late summer 2020 arguing that my choral classroom was an essential service to my students. You also hear portions of a livestream I did recently in the Choralosophers FB page as well as some audience thoughts about the question, “What IS Choral Music?”
From “So, You’re a Choir Teacher?”
“I may teach the broadest curriculum of any academic subject in school. We study languages, diction, history, music theory, cultural interactions and on and on…You can get a PhD in Choral Music. You can’t get a PhD in football.”
We also spend a bit of time keeping you up to speed on excited things happening on Choralosophy! Tune in, and as always, let us know what you think!
Stephen Cox has the honor of being the FIRST band director and educator to appear on the show! His perspective on music education brings some different insights to the big picture so to speak. This created a very productive conversation about the pros and cons of our traditional models of music delivery in schools.
“There should never be a false dichotomy that pits Western European Classical music traditions and literature against literally every other form of music making.And yet, many organizations, schools, colleges, and musical institutions see other forms of music making as a threat while defending the “supremacy” of Western European Classical music.When jazz programs entered schools some people fought back arguing that it would ruin music education. The same with Mariachi programs, and now the same with popular music programs. When will we learn?”
In this episode we discuss the nuances of the large ensemble model common in the United States as the “default” for music education. Can it be simultaneously true that this model is crucial and valuable, but also we don’t give enough institutional space for other systems and curricula? We also discuss the problems with conflating “classical” and “western” with choirs, bands and orchestras. In other words, is it still true that a choir can only sing music from narrow genres? Of course not! Tune in to the end!
Stephen T. Cox is the director of bands at the Advanced Learning Academy, Fox Tech, and Cast Tech Schools in San Antonio, TX as of fall 2022. For the previous decade he served as the director of bands at Eastland High School in Eastland, TX A graduate of Howard Payne University, Mr. Cox has been featured in the School Band and Orchestra Magazine’s 50 Directors who make a difference and is the winner of the 2022 Grammy Music Educator Award.
As a speaker he has given clinics on the topics of educational technology, community engagement, small school education and preparing students for majoring in music at the Texas Music Educators Association Convention, Texas Bandmasters Association Convention, the Technology Institute for Music Education, Minnesota Bandmasters Association, and the Midwest Clinic. In his time at Eastland, the high school band has been a consistent UIL sweepstakes band, advanced to state marching contest, won multiple State OPS concert band titles, and performed as a demo group for the Midwest clinic and Texas Bandmasters Association conventions.
Core to his teaching philosophy, Mr. Cox believes that fine arts programs should be integral to their communities, that students should have as much control as possible, and that our ultimate goal is to give students the skills they need to chart their own path in life. Mr. Cox is married to Stephanie Cox, visual art teacher at Thomas Jefferson High School in San Antonio, TX. They have three amazing children, Aubree, Chuck, and Caesar as well as the worlds most stubborn dog, Nellie.
When you perform, it’s your job to go out there and save a life.
This week, I welcome the “Father of Contemporary A Cappella,” Deke Sharon onto the show. We discuss the origins of the modern “A Cappella” genre as well as the “family tree” of other types of A Cappella vocal music genres and their crucial connections with each other. We also get to hear the story of how the actors in Pitch Perfect learned to sing from scratch in a month! We covered the importance of commercial viability in our art forms as well as the incredible power of group music making to heal political divides, and encourage cooperation. Deke is a compelling story teller, so I KNOW you will want to listen to the end!
Born and still living in San Francisco, California, Deke Sharon has been performing professionally since the age of 8. As a child he toured North America and shared the stage performing in operas with the likes of Pavarotti. Heralded as “The Father of Contemporary A Cappella” this performer, arranger, music producer, author, producer and coach is credited by many as being responsible for the current sound of modern a cappella. While at college, he pioneered the dense vocal-instrumental sound that we today take for granted as the sound of contemporary a cappella.
Deke founded the Contemporary A Cappella Society while in college, and is responsible for creating many seminal a cappella programs, including the CARAs (Contemporary A Cappella Recording Awards), the ICCAs (International Championship of College A Cappella), the BOCAs (Best of College A Cappella Compilations), the first contemporary a cappella conference (the A Cappella Summit), the Contemporary A Cappella League, several professional ensembles including DCappella, as well as the educational residential program Camp A Cappella. He’s a frequent emcee at events, and gives corporate speeches on business lessons from vocal harmony to companies like Google and Facebook.
As the founder, director and arranger for the House Jacks for almost 25 years, the original “Rock Band Without Instruments,” Deke shared the stage around the world with countless music legends, including Ray Charles, James Brown, Crosby Stills and Nash, Run DMC, The Temptations, LL Cool J and the Four Tops, and even a performance of the “Monday Night Football Theme” with Hank Williams Jr. in 2011. He is also the vocal orchestrator for and a producer of the Broadway’s first a cappella musical: In Transit (2016), as well as the opening number of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Unmasked (2019).
Deke has produced dozens of award winning a cappella albums (including Straight No Chaser, Committed, Nota, Street Corner Symphony and the Tufts Beelzebubs), created a cappella groups for Disneyland and Disneyworld, and frequently tours the world teaching a variety of topics to students and professional singers. His voice can be heard in commercials and video games, including “Just Dance Kids 2.” He is one of only 20 honorary members of the Barbershop Harmony Society since 1938, as well as an honorary member of BYU Vocal Point, and has received CASA’s lifetime achievement award in 2016 and the PT Barnum Award for Excellence from Tufts University in 2017.
Deke has also helped popularize a cappella in the mainstream. He vocally produced five seasons of The Sing Off for NBC in the US as well as international versions in the Netherlands, South Africa and China, and served as music director for Disney+ Best in Snow. He was arranger, on-site music director and vocal producer for all three of Universal’s hit films in the Pitch Perfect franchise. He was featured on camera in Lifetime Television’s Pitch Slapped, coaching the group Stay Tuned and on BBC1’s Pitch Battle as music director and guest judge. 2022 saw him working on two television shows: “Pitch Perfect: Bumper in Berlin” (Peacock) and “Best in Snow” (Disney+).
A Cappella guru Rob Dietz joins me this week to tell his story of passion for the “Pop A Cappella” genre of ensemble vocal music. Rob is well known in this sub-genre of choral music for his work on “The Sing Off” and collaborations with groups as wide ranging as Pentatonix, to Flo Rida and Incubus. In this conversation, we explore the common threads of “A Cappella” and “Traditional” choral ensembles as well as what makes the small pop vocal groups special to Rob and the genre’s growing number of practitioners. We also discuss how choral directors, like me and many others who are NOT well versed in this style can effectively begin to expose our students to this outlet. Tune in and stay at least for the beatboxing demo! 😉
Rob Dietz is a multiple CARA winning singer and vocal percussionist who has been arranging, composing, teaching, and performing contemporary a cappella music for over twenty years. Based in Los Angeles, Rob is best known for his work as an arranger and group coach for NBC’s The Sing-Off. Through his work on the show, Rob has had the pleasure of collaborating with some of the top talent in the vocal music world, including Pentatonix, Peter Hollens, The Filharmonic, Voiceplay, and many more. He has been a contributing arranger for performances by world renowned artists including Smokey Robinson, Flo Rida, Sara Bareilles, Incubus, and Pat Benatar. His arrangements have been featured on several TV shows, including America’s Got Talent (NBC), To All The Boys: P.S I Still Love You (Netflix), and Pitch Slapped (Lifetime).
A native of Ithaca, NY, Rob got his start singing in high school as a member of the a cappella quintet, Ascending Height, with whom he wrote and produced the first ever album of all original music at the high school level. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in music and an outside field in business. While at Ithaca, Rob had the honor of directing the all male-identified group, Ithacappella, with whom he twice advanced to the finals of the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella. He was also a member of both the Ithaca College Chorus and the Ithaca College Choir -the college’s select, touring vocal ensemble.
As a performer, Rob is an award-winning vocal percussionist, and his distinctive sound has been featured on several TV shows, including FOX’s Glee and The Late Late Show with James Corden. Rob was the founding vocal percussionist for both The Funx and Level, groups that gave him the opportunity to work with legendary performers including Jay Leno and Demi Lovato.
Rob has a deep passion for a cappella education, and is a founding co-director (along with Ben Bram and Avi Kaplan) of A Cappella Academy. In addition to his work with Academy, Rob is also the director of Legacy: an auditioned, community youth a cappella group based in Los Angeles. Since the group’s inception, Legacy has performed twice at Carnegie Hall, and has won the Los Angeles A Cappella Festival’s Scholastic Competition, the Southwest semifinal round of the Varsity Vocals A Cappella Open, and the Finals of the International Championship of High School A Cappella at Lincoln Center. Rob is a sought after presenter and clinician who has led vocal music workshops at events such as the National A Cappella Convention and the ACDA National convention. He is the author of “A Cappella 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Contemporary A Cappella Singing” available from Hal Leonard.
Alongside his work in contemporary a cappella music, Rob is also an avid choral composer, with work published by Alfred Music Publishing and GIA Publications. In 2021 his piece “The Gift” received a jury commendation as part of the King’s Singers New Music Prize competition. His pieces continue to be performed by choirs from all over the world.