some thoughts about competition in the choral world.
Some recent posts on social media in the choir circles that I frequent have sparked some internal debate in my head. I’m going to use this blog post as simply a means to try articulating that debate. The debate revolves around the necessity, or rather, the value of competition in the choral world.
Primarily, there are two schools of thought (at least in my brain) regarding engagement or distancing from competition. On the one hand, the value or identity of my choral ensembles or myself as the director should not be defined by others. There are many commendable aspects of just making music for music’s sake and enjoying the experience together. “We are as good as we are, and that’s good enough.” There’s contentment in that statement and that is appealing to me sometimes. I struggle with the issue of contentment. Whether or not you ascribe to this school of thought depends largely on the mission of your ensemble or that of your own personal goals. Through reflection, I’ve concluded that I’m not built that way.
Competition is also uncomfortable. If you feel comfortable...you're probably not growing.
On the other hand, competition is healthy – or so I tell myself. I’m a competitive person and I’ll posit that we are all competitive in some form as human beings. There are many types of competition. Most of the time, I’m competing with myself. I’m trying to be better than a previous version of myself or even the present version of myself. I’m always hoping to improve my skills as a conductor, a rehearsal technician, and a teacher. I’m reading source material, conducting texts, and articles. I love digging into score study and unveiling new things in a work. Mostly, I enjoy watching other conductors and listening to other choirs. I love talking with others about choral music and I love listening to others’ ideas. I make constant assessments of where I am and where I’d like to be. I have short-term and long-term goals and plans. I establish a mental-aural image of how I want my ensembles to sound. In these ways, I am constantly comparing myself and my choral ensembles to others in a sort of competition. I don’t think I grow as a musician unless I have informed myself of the realm of possibilities based on others’ accomplishments. Competition is also uncomfortable. If you feel comfortable with where you are in your journey or in how your choir sounds, you’re probably not growing.
Quality in choral music and art is subjective, but subjectivity is no excuse for mediocrity.
I find a lesson in every performance that I hear. Let me encourage you. Compete with other individuals or choirs and compete with yourself. It’s fine to keep a jealous eye on those choirs and conductors that you find are doing things well. Let it motivate you to discover what they are doing right and how they are doing it. Reach out to them and pick their brains. Your choir will never sound like their choir because frankly, yours is a completely different choir. However, you can certainly reach a threshold of artistry. Quality in choral music and art is subjective, but subjectivity is no excuse for mediocrity. Strive, compete, improve, do hard stuff and reach the apex of performance. Then, realize the next pinnacle awaits in the distance.
Jeffery Wall, conductor & Artistic Director
Here we are at the last day of 2017 and just 10 days ago, Vox Solaris Chamber Choir performed the 2nd concert of our inaugural season. I thought this a perfect time to reflect on the journey as the world ushers in a new year. It has indeed been a joyous ride!
As you may know, we operate on a biannual concert model: one in the summer and one in the winter. This works best for our many singers who are music educators, music professionals, and college music students. We had our summer concert (our first ever) on July 1st and our winter concert was December 21st. Our winter concert was appropriately held on the winter solstice.
From the last blog entry, you might recall that I had an initial aversion to performing Christmas music. Those of us that are music educators have been preparing holiday music of some kind since probably September. I felt that myself, the singers, and the audience would be quite tired of Christmas music. Boy, was I wrong and glad for it. It was the perfect way to welcome in the season leading up to the final days before many in our community celebrated with their families. It seemed to really put everyone in the holiday spirit – myself included. The camaraderie and feeling of working together at a high level towards this common goal brought out what the season is all about.
Everything we performed wasn’t explicitly Christmas or holiday themed. We had a few wintery, seasonal songs as well. This concert was titled “Winter Walk” after a piece we performed by composer, Tim Takach by the same name. We sang everything from a 15th-century Spanish carol to a multi-sectioned, tongue-in-cheek selection about different kinds of pie. It was a great time.
We gathered this time at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church in Broken Arrow. The Rev. Shelby Scott, Parish Administrator, Suzanne Shepherd, and Choir Director, Lyn Bromiley were all so accommodating leading up to the performance and for our actual rehearsal and performance meeting. The venue was just right and I am so grateful that we have been invited back to host our summer 2018 concert at St. Patrick’s.
I didn’t run a physical postcard mailing this time due to cost constraints. I relied solely on electronic means of advertising, promotion, and communication. We were also charging admission for the first time. Our summer concert was free so that we could build our audience and because we hadn’t yet received rights to charge. I was again afraid that we wouldn’t have an audience (much akin to my fears before our first concert). I was proved wrong a second time. The audience was so lovely and welcoming. We had a very decent crowd and they were really kind. Following the concert, it seemed that everyone had an enjoyable time.
If you’ve been following this journey, you know that it hasn’t all been rainbows and sunshine. A lot of work, time, energy, focus, and anxiety has been expended to get this little chamber choir off the ground. From the initial singer invitations, to programming, music preparation, to marketing, to incorporating, applying for non-profit status, opening a checking account, applying for fund-raising permission from the state, and securing venue – it has been taxing at times! Now, I feel like we have sufficiently left the ground and we’re off! This go-round, we formed committees and self-nominated for service on those committees. We now have an Executive Council, Publicity/Marketing Committee, Fundraising Committee, Membership Committee, Finance Committee, Programming Committee, and Audience Care/Logistics Committee. We discussed further a future scholarship program for college vocal music students. I told the singers this during preparations for the summer concert and for this concert as well: “I will continue to do this as long as you guys are on-board and it remains fun.” In the end – among the struggles, it WAS fun!
If you’re reading this and whether you support financially with tax-deductible contributions, taking ad space in our programs, attending concerts, following us online, or sharing our story, we are extremely grateful for you as we enter this new year. We will strive to continue bringing great arts programming to make our community a better place to live and doing our part to further the future of the choral art that we love so much. Happy New Year from Vox Solaris Chamber Choir to you and your family.
Jeff Wall, conductor & co-founder.
I am about to leave to give a presentation at the College Music Society’s national conference in San Antonio about social media and how blogs are the “tip of the spear” in content marketing for music event promotion and recruiting. I realized that I haven’t really kept up here with this blog. It’s been busy!!! I figured I had better practice what I preach, so here we go.
As you can read in our last blog entry, we had a fantastic inaugural performance in July. Since that was just a trial run, I didn’t know what to expect, but everyone was enthusiastic about giving this a “go” as a real, organized choral ensemble. Several of the singers are music educators in the public schools. They operate on the academic calendar year. I do as well in higher education. Therefore, our performance model revolves around a biannual performance schedule – one in the summer and one in the winter.
I am fully committed to making this happen as long as the singers want to continue. I did, however, need to put “Vox” on the back-burner for a while as I focused on my day job. I had to get back into the swing of things as our fall semester was ramping up at NSU. I tried to do a little bit of work on Vox Solaris stuff when I got a moment here or there in between my other duties. I finally got around to putting out the call for participation and commitment for this 2nd concert in the winter. I was pleasantly surprised that we had a few more singers interested than even last time. Not a whole lot more, but a few. Some singers are returning and some are newbies.
Now that I knew what voice parts I could feasibly cover, I had to somehow find the time to select music. When I finally had a free weekend, I spent it culling through huge stacks of music. Selecting appropriate repertoire is the largest part of any choral director’s job. In the summer, I told the singers that I really didn’t want to do a holiday themed concert. I knew our concert would be in December, but I had a strong feeling at the time that everyone else would be doing holiday music. Why would anyone want to come to another holiday concert that we were performing? I just surrendered to the fact that we would do “regular” repertoire. Then, I listened to a few music and choral podcasts as I normally do on my commute (I know. I’m a choir nerd). The podcaster and person being interviewed brought up a good point. The person being interviewed was someone well-respected in the choral community. He mentioned going down the same path of thinking that I was about not wanting to do a holiday concert during the holidays. But, then he was convinced otherwise through conversations that a non-holiday concert during the holidays seems out of place. People actually do want to hear holiday music during the holidays. I thought long and hard about that and finally concluded that I agreed. So, long story long, I opted to go with holiday selections for the concert after all. I put all of the music packets together with rehearsal notes and part assignments and sent them out to the singers.
Now that the singers were committed and music was selected, I need to get to work on our 501(c)(3) non-profit status. We have an ad hoc board, but again, all on the board are educators and wrapped up in our own day jobs teaching students. It is very difficult – no…IMPOSSIBLE to get together during the semester – or communicate AT ALL. I can’t speak for anyone else, but when I’m done with a day, I crash. I’m not sure the general population understands how much of a life-suck being a musician is. Don’t get me wrong – I love it, but we put so much of our soul into our craft that it is physically and emotionally draining. We devote so much more time to it than any sane, normal person would in a different discipline. I digress. So, I’ve been trying to do some research about registering a non-profit on my own in my vast amounts of free time (*sarcasm). As a musician, we all have to have somewhat of an entrepreneurial spirit. After all, we are always designing t-shirts, concert posters, cultivating donors, stakeholders, promoting on social media, selling tickets, etc. However, I have never personally been very good at paper work. Oh my God – the paperwork. State level, federal level, charitable organization registration, articles of incorporation, by-laws, EIN registration, signatures, Secretaries of State, bank accounts, etc….I have no knowledge of these things. I just want to get together with this great group of people and make music!
It is currently impacting all levels of forward motion on this little chamber choir we have going here. It costs money to put on a concert, but we can’t ask for tax exempt donations until this stuff is done. We can’t sell ads in our program until we have our status granted. We can’t SELL TICKETS until status is granted. If we can’t do these things, then we can’t pay for licensing. (Did you know that anytime you hear music in concert or hear it at a restaurant, or on an elevator, or at a football stadium, a license must be in place?). There are several other expenses and we’re currently still in the hole a bit. I’m the kind of person that will commit do doing something and then figure out how to make it happen. I’m still figuring out how to make it happen. Yeah, I’m at that stage.
The silver lining? I thought we were doomed when our original venue fell through. After making many phone calls and emails, we were very fortunate that St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church in Broken Arrow has agreed to host us. I’m so looking forward to working with these beautiful humans again and we hope you will join us on this journey at our next concert. Come hell or high water, we will figure this out and our concert will be December 21st. In the meantime, if you know more than I do about incorporation, registering EINs, 501(c)(3) status, etc., and would be willing to help, please (PLEASE) contact me. I’d be glad for the help.
Visit Falchion Publications Directly at: www.falchionpub.com
It has been a week since our inaugural concert as Vox Solaris Chamber Choir. I have to admit – I was skeptical that this concert would even happen. Towards the end of the process leading into rehearsal and concert weekend, I was afraid we wouldn’t have the numbers or vocal balance to achieve the music that was programmed. Actually, I had lots of fears. Among the fears was that after all this work of preparation, the committed singers present would hate the process. I feared that the efforts to generate an audience were futile and that nobody would show up. I’m so glad my fears were all wrong.
There was one thing for which I had complete inner peace. I mentioned it to the singers at the beginning of the process and also just before we went on to perform. Though I wanted THIS performance to go really well, I had no expectation for future collaborations. Of course, if it was a possibility, I had to bill this concert as if continuing would be a foregone conclusion. However, I was at peace whether this was a “one-and-done” situation or something that everyone wanted to do again.
We rehearsed Thursday evening for a little while, getting to know each other’s personalities and voices. The personalities were beautiful, but musical progress was quite rough and I was again afraid it wouldn’t come together. I didn’t sleep much that night, but I could still tell something was there under the surface. The next morning, our humble 15 voices met for only the second time ever. (By the way, some of our singers had never met one another before our first rehearsal.) We split for some sectional work. By the end of that sectional rehearsal, I think everyone was feeling much more secure with the music. After good lunch conversation, we reconvened to rehearse combined in the performance space. We experimented with lots of different standing arrangements to find just the right sound and balance. By the end of Friday night (the 2nd day of rehearsal), things were sounding really good and I felt a sense of relaxation. Everything was going to be okay! When we met for our final “touch-up” rehearsal on Saturday morning for a couple of hours, it was clear that we had something really special here. It is amazing to me that a group of complete strangers can come together and put together a concert of great choral music and do it very well in only 2 days.
On Saturday morning, we had a later call time. I think that allowed everyone’s very fatigued voices to rest a bit. We brushed up on a few things and got logistics down so that everybody knew order, our many different standing arrangements, how to get there seamlessly, etc. We broke for lunch and wouldn’t reconvene until just before concert time. We all met in the church choir room before performance and I posed the question. “I’m fine either way. Do we want to do this again?” It was an overwhelming affirmation from the choir that they indeed wanted to have this experience again. Me too. It wasn’t just about the concert. It was about the fellowship and music-making the whole weekend that sealed the deal for me. I think we all just had a really great time. The concert was just the icing on the cake.
I peeked out and my fears about not having an audience went away. We had an awesome audience that was very receptive and enjoyed the experience with us. We visited with folks afterwards and everyone really enjoyed the concert. It was over and I thought I would be sad that it was over. I wasn’t. There’s so much potential here for the future. In our short talks between rehearsing, we talked about the possibilities, dates, incorporating, applying for non-profit 501(c)3 status, mission, educational outreach, scholarships for high school students going to study music at university, and music selection. It was clear that we had just begun. Will YOU join us on this next step of our journey? Donate, sponsor our goals, attend our winter concert, and help us spread the word. Vox Solaris Chamber Choir is here.
the nitty-gritty details
First United Methodist Church
112 E College St
Broken Arrow OK 74012
Our July 1st venue
So, back to my initial point…How did I get myself into this? How did I get us into this? I am really feeling that panicked sentiment now, less than a month before our inaugural concert as a newly formed professional-level chamber choir. There are a lot of “what ifs?” At first, my interest in co-founding this choir was to serve the singers. I wanted to make great music with people that were hungry to make great music. But, that’s not enough. It won’t sustain us. Sure, we could get together for a few rehearsals and sing great music, but then what? I’m not sure even the singers would find lasting pleasure in that. No, it needs to culminate in performance. We need an audience. No, wait…First, we need to actually have a CHOIR!
The call went out to all of our friends via social media and email, complete with a commitment understanding and a Google Form registration. Music educators, music industry professionals, former students, current students, and just anyone with singing and music reading chops were sent the call and we had a pretty decent response. There were those ready and willing to sing. Many wanted to, but had conflicts – desiring to possibly commit for a subsequent performance. We landed with 21 solid singers. The commitment is basically to learn the music on your own, be ready, rehearse together for 2 days prior to performance, and perform. That’s it. Right?
Okay, here we go. Repertoire selection; music purchase; part assignments; rehearsal notes; postage & packaging for music mailing; what do we even call the group? Secure a pianist; part learning files; venue; marketing/PR; printing; meals for rehearsals; water; paper plates; flatware; coffee; website; social media presence; alrighty! We need a budget! – Underwriting. Promo photos; secure a fiddler for Norwegian piece; printed programs; program notes; postcards; mailing lists; email invitations; personal invitations…These things scratch the surface of preparations. The most important thing was missing. The “what” was there, but the “why” hadn’t been quite nailed down yet. The “why” was right there in front of us the whole time. It was embedded in the passions of most of our singers.
Most of our committed singers are firstly committed music educators. Our primary MISSION is to educate and inspire young musicians. This can take on many forms of educational outreach, but it’s at the heart of our membership. This new professional level chamber choir must exist as a natural extension of our innate passion to pass along music education to young artists. as exemplars. That is the long game. As a secondary result, we get to gather, rehearse and perform great music for our community. That fact alone helps bring our community together and fosters growth of the performing arts in the greater northeastern Oklahoma region. We truly believe that beauty lies in the human voice and the communal act of singing connects us deeply in the soul of both singer and listener alike. Why should YOU care? Consider these words below from Karl Paulnack as he addressed incoming music major freshmen to the Boston Conservatory of Music. He was previously speaking about music being present in the Nazi concentration camps and how music was immediately present following 9/11 in NYC. How, when life is devoid of everything else, does music and art arise? Because it is a part of our humanity. I hope to see you at our concert on July 1st.
conductor & co-founder
“If there is a future wave of wellness on this planet, of harmony, of peace, of an end to war, of mutual understanding, of equality, of fairness, I don't expect it will come from a government, a military force or a corporation. I no longer even expect it to come from the religions of the world, which together seem to have brought us as much war as they have peace. If there is a future of peace for humankind, if there is to be an understanding of how these invisible, internal things should fit together, I expect it will come from the artists, because that's what we do. As in the concentration camp and the evening of 9/11, the artists are the ones who might be able to help us with our internal, invisible lives."
- Karl Paulnack
An idea spawned.
How did I get myself into this? How did I get us into this? Bear with me: I'm scatter-brained. Since arriving in Oklahoma in 2013, I've been looking for a need in the Tulsa/Broken Arrow area that I could fill. I'm not good at a lot of things, but I can "do" choir. There are all kinds of choirs, though - children's choirs, community choirs, educational choirs, church choirs, barbershop choirs, men's choirs, women's choirs, new music choirs, masterworks choirs - you name it. There's a choir for that. So, I waited and watched to see where I could best plug into a need. Partially, my thought-process was self-serving. I have this seemingly unquenchable desire to be as busy as I can possibly be. I developed some relationships with local area music educators organically through my job at the university. I enjoy it and it's my bread & butter. It's how I recruit singers for my university choirs. I feel like I have developed a pretty good rapport with our area school choral directors.
I was at the 2017 annual conference for Oklahoma music educators and I noticed something that I have always known. Musicians work VERY hard. From the exhibitors in the music industry in the exhibit hall, to the tireless work that our music educators do teaching kids to sing or play an instrument - It's some of the hardest work out there. I was at one of the many evening concert sessions, listening to several middle school, high school, and university choirs. It's the ultimate stress to be a conductor preparing your students to sing for probably the most discerning audience you or they will ever perform for - an audience of professional musicians. I witnessed the students having wonderful, mountain-top musical moments. It's the kind of thing that nobody can tell you about if you haven't experienced it, so I won't try here. I have had those moments as a conductor and as a singer. I am blessed to work with great university students that "get it." The thing about teaching students to sing is that you always have to know more than them. You're always trying to get them to their mountain-top moment for their particular ability, age, skill-set. I do scan the choirs as I listen to live performance, but more often, I watch the conductors. It dawned on me. Many of these conductors had been in the trenches teaching their students, trying to pull them up. I scanned the audience made up of my choral colleagues and music industry professionals. They were all doing what they were doing likely because they have had those fleeting mountain-top moments and want to pass it on. What a gift! Me too! However, I can just as soon get my students to where they are singing at a very proficient level consistently and guess what? They graduate. Fleeting moments. Oh, if only I had the opportunity to work on music and with people at a proficient level consistently beyond the university setting. The crop was ripe. So many of us "in the trenches" no longer get the opportunity to sing at a high-level with a higher percentage chance to make excellent music excellently. I sing with the Ken Davis Chorale from time to time, headquartered in Dallas. Ken is a mentor of mine and my first undergraduate choral director when I was a student. I know how important it has been for me as a conductor to get back on the risers and sing as a chorister. I've also had conversations with some of my former students that have graduated and are either now working in music or some other field. Inevitably, as I knew they would, they miss singing at a high level.
Anyway, after the concert at this conference, I was talking with Justin Rosser. He has a good finger on the pulse of the Broken Arrow community as the BAHS choir director and his high school program is really top-notch. I also respect his musicianship, having worked with his kids several times before. I know that Tulsa has several varied arts organizations, but I hadn't seen much in Broken Arrow. (Paraphrasing) I said, "Do you think there's a need in Broken Arrow..." Then, something happened. He basically finished my thought for me. He said "...for a professional-level chamber choir." YAAAASS! The stars aligned, the earth shook, there was a beam of light connecting our foreheads...Well, okay. It wasn't that dramatic, but we were at least thinking on the same page. I said, "Let's do it together." Thus, the spawning of Vox Solaris. If I've grossly misrepresented the story, I hope Justin will jump in here on the comments. Now, we have former students, current students, concert promoters, music educators, and more coming from the immediate area and from as far as Florida and south Texas to sing with us. It's an amazing thing. I'll maybe get into some more details next time of how it has materialized since then, but there you go. Sometimes, it's just an idea through observation.
Conductor & Co-Founder
(Images from the Jan 2017 OkMEA conference. Credit to Oklahoma Music, a publication of the Oklahoma Music Educators Association)