Choir on Tap
Author: Jeffery Wall, Artistic Director & Conductor
I’m a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu brown belt. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s a grappling/wrestling martial art that specializes in fighting from the ground with finishing submissions like blood chokes, joint locks, etc. Our training usually occurs in gyms or jiu-jitsu academies. A local academy @balancedbodiesbjj, led by Black Belt, Thomas Williams (and an affiliate of @tritonfightcenter where I train) was hosting a seminar event. The seminar consisted of multiple guest black belts showing techniques and the attendees would drill the techniques. The unique thing about this particular seminar was that it was held in a local craft brewery and they called it “Chokes & Barley”. Mats were placed in the brew room and afterward, everyone enjoyed camaraderie, libations from the tap room, and local fare from a food truck. It got me thinking and rekindled an idea I had abandoned a few years ago. I had never thought of marrying these two things and it was a successful event that checked all the boxes of why I love training jiu-jitsu: the intensive, cerebral, physically and mentally demanding art of jiu-jitsu with the social aspect – the brother and sisterhood – the human connection of enjoying one another’s company over a shared beverage and/or meal.
One thing you should know about me is that I get bored easily with the same thing year in, year out – “squirrel!” I need some sort of new project or innovation going on in my life about every 3 years to scratch that itch and keep things interesting. Vox Solaris came about in that way, though I hate to describe it as an “itch.” It was a communal need, but I needed it maybe more than anyone else. I direct my university choirs and act as chair of our Department of Music. Those duties were keeping me plenty busy and I love working with my students, but something was missing. I was missing the camaraderie of making music just because I wanted to, not because I had to connected with a university course. Vox Solaris was born and we’ve been going strong, making new friends, and making great music since June 2017. We’re not quite at 3 years, but close enough…let’s change things up a bit.
I am also guilty of this dissatisfaction with pattern in my “day job” at the university. For several years, I ran an annual concert that I called, “Music in the Rough.” I love the idea of taking traditional choral music and placing it in non-traditional spaces. The first year, the University Singers performed in the service bay garage of a local Ford dealership. The next year, we performed in a vacant area of a shopping mall, next to a closed down Sear’s department store. The final year, we performed in a community center recreation gym. These concerts were well attended and a lot of fun. After 3 of them, I abandoned the idea and started pursuing other things for my university groups like trips, tours, and conference performances. After this recent bjj seminar and the rekindling of this idea, I think it’s time to spin it and try it with Vox Solaris.
I love the unknown and want to try new and risky things. I have this fascination with where I think classical music is going (choral music included in that). I’m sorry, but I don’t think it is the concert hall, though that still has its place. I think classical musicians have to stop being so stuffy, expecting audiences to come to them. I am all about going and finding our audience. I hope the audience we have built will come along for the journey, but I also hope we can “tap” a new audience base and introduce the choral art to a whole different crop of people by bringing the music to them. With all of that said and with the blessing of the Vox Solaris Chamber Choir Society and Board, I am happy to announce our Summer 2019 concert venue will be: @welltownbrewing 114 W. Archer St., Tulsa in the @bradyartsdistrict - Their brew space will be the perfectly unusual place for a traditional choir concert on June 28th at 7:30 p.m. Come join us for some music and have a beer with us afterwards. All ages are welcome to the concert. We’re also looking for sponsors. If you’d like to discuss a monetary sponsorship or have some goods/services that might be of use in-kind, contact me at info(at)voxsolaris.net – I’d be glad to chat with you about it. We would use your branding on all of our media in reciprocation.
P.S. – I have to say a quick thank you to @stpatsba for hosting us these past 3 concerts in BA. Broken Arrow will always be our headquarters and if they’ll have us, I’m sure we’ll be back to St. Patrick’s. Thanks Revs. Shelby Scott & Spencer Brown, choir director & organist, Nick Wilson, their Parish Administrator, Suzanne Shepherd, and all the staff and parishioners for all the hospitality and warmth.
Season 2: great expectations
We have launched! So how do we keep this thing in the air?
As we round the bend into our second season, starting with this upcoming summer concert, that IS the question. How do we keep this thing going? The answer isn’t simple. We leapt with faith into our inaugural summer concert nearly a year ago. The singers and I had so much fun. We felt like we demonstrated that to the audience as well. We did it a second time in the winter and it was even MORE fun! So, with the full support of the ensemble and seemingly our audience, we now embark on our second season.
You can expect some great music at this first concert. It has a little bit of something for everyone. We will sing French chanson, German Romantic art song, American folk song, musical theater in a jazz style, and even some light-hearted fun pieces! Join us!
Now fully incorporated, with non-profit status, and a clear mission, we go to work! We submitted our first ever grant proposal. Having never done that, it was a learning process. We intend to submit a few more, but we’ll see how this one goes and try to get some feedback from our first try. If you have some experience with that and would like to give us some pointers, we welcome the direction.
Once operating costs are covered, we would like to start a scholarship program. We have a few university music students on our singer roster from Northeastern State University and the University of Tulsa. The goal is to have them continue to sing with us and to help them out a little with their education. The hope is to pass along experience to these students, working side-by-side with music professionals in a high-caliber ensemble. If you’d like to help out with this endeavor, feel free to contact us or donate at our website. www.voxsolaris.net
We have some great ideas for the future. There are many possibilities depending on our resources. The folks at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church in Broken Arrow have been so hospitable about donating their space for our concerts. It is a beautiful church and the people are just as beautiful. I encourage you to go visit them if you are looking for a place of worship. We could do so many wonderful things with music selection, artist fees, instrumental accompaniment, expanded marketing, print collateral, choral collaborations, etc. with more resources. Honestly, it’s tough. We ask for your help. Set back a few bucks that you might normally spend on coffee or a daily soda and support us as we bring the arts to our community. If you like what we’re doing or can empathize with our mission, I encourage you to attend our concerts, buy a ticket, donate as you are able, follow us on social media, share our posts, and help us to continue this special journey. Help us connect souls through singing and enlighten the human condition.
Just a side note: support your local teachers with your vote. Elect legislators that will support education and the arts. Many of our singers are public and private school music teachers. Give them the tools they need to educate our children while making a decent living wage commensurate with their skills and education. Help teachers to have the resources necessary to teach kids HOW to think, be creative, and be successful humans in this complicated world.
Artistic Director & Trustee
Iron Sharpens Iron
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.
Reflections in the sunset
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.
The harvest moon before A winter walk
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.
Conductor, Co-Founders, Singers, and other stakeholders as guests.