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.
Reflection in the Fire
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.
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)
Conductor, Co-Founders, Singers, and other stakeholders as guests.