Dec 142005

Well, it’s December, and before the queries start rolling in, let me state for the record: I will try over the holidays to come up with a simple song for the 2006 Mutual theme.

โ€œArise and shine forth, that thy light may be a standard for the nationsโ€

Most of the requests I get refer to the Mutual theme as the “YW Theme.” Hmmm. Could it be that our young women’s organizations use more music than our young men’s organizations do? Naahhhh….

I’ll give it my best shot. However, I try to listen to the Spirit when writing music, and sometimes the Lord sends me in a different direction than I expect. Though He is very good to me, inspiration isn’t always available on demand.

A couple of years ago the Church music office asked if I would write a song addressing a certain theme. I spent a week struggling with it, and finally came to the realization that this just wasn’t my song to write. I felt guilty telling them so–I like to be useful–but they understood perfectly.

I have sometimes worked to address certain themes or phrases, and found them absolutely intractable. After abandoning them for years, I have revisited them with much greater success, which makes me believe that the time simply wasn’t right the first time around. One example of this is the recent release, “And His Name Shall Be Called Wonderful.” The chorus languished in the “My Documents” file on my M: drive (yes, I have an “M” drive) for years and only this season made itself useful.

Fortunately, though inspiration isn’t always available on demand, it has been my experience that it’s always available when it should be, and I have never yet had reason to doubt the Lord’s timing.


–Football: My hubby and I are heading to the Las Vegas Bowl next week to watch BYU play Cal. Hopefully our presence won’t jinx the team for a change. I asked my brother, “What is there to do there for non-drinking, non-gambling prudes like me?” He had some good ideas. It’s nice to have brothers who are kindred spirits.

–Food: Top Secret Recipes has an amazingly good recipe for a clone of Starbucks Pumpkin Scones. I’ve never had the original, so I can’t compare the two, but the clone is way yummy, and easy enough even for me.

–For Local Folks: Our Easter Cantata for 2006 will be a combined venture–CSNS and CSS. Should be fun. We’re doing one presentation in the Lexington Chapel and one in the Broadmoor Chapel (which has very bad acoustics and the most horrible old pipe organ–pray for angels!) on Easter weekend. More details available in January.

–For Everyone: I wish you a Christmas filled with happiness, the love of our Heavenly Father and the grace of his beloved Son, Jesus Christ.

Aug 092005

Well, it’s been awhile since I wrote here… in June I began my latest oddyssey in a new assignment as an early morning Seminary teacher. The advance preparation has been very time-consuming, and the day-to-day preparation will undoubtedly be just as demanding. I’m still chuckling over it… obviously nobody peeled back the covers at 5 a.m. and took a look at me before giving me this assignment!

It’s never seemed very important to me to tell how I got started in this musical hobby of mine, or why I chose the internet rather than conventional methods of distribution. However, over the past year or so I’ve noticed that to fill the void caused by my reluctance to tell my own story, a few others have ventured to do it for me, and as Emma Woodhouse said, they do it very ill.

So for you faithful friends who suffer through the ramblings on this blog, here’s the scoop from beginning to end. This will be long. You may want to bail right now.

The first song I ever wrote was horrendous. It was a love-hate ballad aimed at a high-school boyfriend and even my uncritical mother couldn’t find much good to say about it. I seemed to sense some hesitation in her “Um… very nice, dear,” and destroyed it forthwith. So the boyfriend never got to hear it. Pity.

Over the next few years I dabbled in writing, but always with the curious intention of becoming a rock star. When I wrote a song as a high school senior and a few months later John Denver released a new single with the same melody, I think I began to realize that rock and pop might not be my forte.

Several years later, I began to write again. I had married, had two children, and grown in my love for the gospel, my Heavenly Father and my Savior. These things found their way into lyrics and I began setting them to music.

My first “real” song was “It Was for Me.” A friend encouraged me to “send it in.” “Send it in where?” was my ungrammatical response. She provided me with an LDS publisher’s name and address. The publisher accepted the song, had it typeset, sent it to me for approval, and then… sat on it. It was hard to understand why at the time, but from my later perspective I can see that he was inspired. Eventually I requested that my copyright be returned to me, and the publisher was very kind and accommodating.

Several years went by, and I continued to write. I enjoy the process. Composing is, for me, a combination of therapy, testimony, relaxation, creativity and recreation. In my makeup there was no driving need to share my compositions with the rest of the world, only to write them and occasionally sing them for my mom (usually over the phone). I feel closer to the Lord while writing songs in His praise than at any other time, and that was enough. I was content.

I entered a few Church music competitions and that was fun. Friends and acquaintances seemed to like the music, so a few copies were in circulation, but not many. Imagine my surprise then, when out of the blue one of my musical heroes called to tell me in no uncertain terms that I should and must publish. He had asked a publisher friend to contact me, which subsequently happened. I sent several things to him, and… waited. I heard nothing for what I felt was a very long time. (He tells me that, for publishers, it was not a long time. I still disagree. ๐Ÿ™‚ ) Meanwhile, another publisher had also contacted me (they must have some sort of ESP network or something) and offered to publish the material as well.

So, my dilemma was this: one publisher, it seemed, didn’t want the material; I didn’t feel right about the other; and yet I had been given direction that the music should and must be published. What to do?

The answer came in the form of my youngest brother. He sent me to look at the website he had designed all by himself. I thought, “If my baby brother can do this, I can do it.” Designing a web site myself wasn’t something I had considered, but with John’s help it was surprisingly easy. The hard part was putting the music into a format that was readable by all internet users. I searched high and low for others who were distributing music online, but I searched in vain, and eventually had to conclude that this was uncharted territory. PDF seemed the most likely, so I experimented with converting the music to that format. (A frustrating experience… Adobe’s help desk wondered why in the world anyone would want to do that, and Personal Composer, though intrigued and as helpful as could be, had no clue.)

Eventually it clicked. I posted my original web site to the (gasp… choke…) Geocities server. The idea was to give it a try at no expense and see if the idea would fly. It flew. Within a couple of weeks, I had exchanged e-mail with people from all over the world, helped a couple of others set up similar sites, and felt an overwhelming confirmation that this was the right avenue to follow. It was gratifying to be able to share so easily, and to provide for many choirs and musicians music they were otherwise unable to afford.

My only regrets came a short time later. Publisher #1 called to say he liked the material I had sent him. I gave him my URL. He visited it even as we spoke on the phone, and his comment was “Oh, we can’t have that.” So here was a decision for me. I could pull down my site and go with the commercial publisher, or abandon the commercial route and continue to distribute online. Well, you know how that decision went. I regretted wasting his time, I regretted disappointing him (he really was very kind through it all), I regretted not being willing or able to give in to his further entreaties over the next month or two, but I have never regretted my decision to do it this way.

Now. Let me clear up a few misconceptions. First, I do not feel that all musicians everywhere should be doing what I do. I fill a need. They fill other needs. This was simply the right method for me, and there’s no need to inflict it on anyone else, or to make comparisons. Second, I do not intend to pull a bait and switch on anyone. I have heard it rumored that I intend to make this music available free now, but charge for later materials. Nothing could be further from my mind. If some tragedy struck my family such that extra income was necessary, I would have to reconsider. However, in my current blessed circumstances, the Lord expects me to share, so share I will.

This musical/technological journey has been a great blessing to me and my family. I am so thankful for the wonderful friends I have found through our love of the Lord and music that praises Him. I am grateful that my Heavenly Father has provided me the means to contribute in some small way to His great work.

Jan 202005

Well, good morning. It’s too early to think rationally, but there’s more to fill my hours today than there are hours to fill, so I’m starting around 4:30. Ah, for the good old days when I was a young adult and thought I was the busiest person on earth… ๐Ÿ˜‰

Today I’m culling suggestions from a book called “Beyond the Downbeat” by Sandra Willetts.

  • Breath control and capacity can be improved with good physical conditioning. Singing is a physical activity much like an athletic event.
  • Better diction will produce a better sound quality.
  • If your choir needs to improve rhythmic unity, work to intensify consonants.
  • “diphthong” is pronounced “diff-thong” not “dip-thong.” (Perhaps this doesn’t make much practical difference, but you don’t want to offend your English majors.)
  • Always voice an “r” when it begins a word or appears between two vowels (unless the second is silent as in “here”). Never voice an “r” when it appears at the end of a word, comes before another consonant or appears before a silent vowel. Never roll an “r” except for extreme dramatic effect.
  • When singing legato, words should be “linked” (that is, the end consonants abut the following syllable) unless doing so causes new words to be formed that obscure the text. Example: “Gladly the cross I’d bear” should not become “Gladly the cross-eyed bear.”
  • Many words begin with “be” or “de” (as in “believe” and “deliver”) but these are often correctly pronounced using a “bih” or “dih” sound. If unsure, look it up in a dictionary.
  • Singers tend to be flat when they are insecure on notes or rythms.
  • Singers tend to be flat when repeating a note three or more times. Watch for it and make the singers aware if they’re flatting repeated notes.

These are all the suggestions I’m going to distill for now. There are plenty more in these and other books, but I’m using these as a handout for the choir directors I work with and I wanted to keep things short and basic–and not overload them with too much information at once!

One book I picked up at Amazon that I really like is called “Conducting Technique for Beginners and Professionals” by Brock McElheran. It’s hard to find these days, but it’s worth looking. This book is a bit too technical to offer much in the way of one-liners, but it’s one of the best short works I’ve found for improving conducting technique. He’s clear, concise, and everything he says just makes sense. Good stuff.

Jan 172005

I’m still going through choral conducting books to find short snippets of good advice for my handouts. Here’s the next batch–notes taken from “The Wednesday Workout” by Richard Devinney:

  • You should spend a great deal of time studying the text of a hymn or anthem, as the text is usually what gives it a place in the worship service.
  • As you study your score, mark it up… but use a pencil so you can change your mind!
  • The size of your arm movements should indicate dynamics, but should also be proportional to the size of your group. Larger arm movements will be required for a congregation than for a 16-voice choir.
  • Good sound starts with good posture. The choir is likely to emulate the director’s posture.
  • A major element of effective conducting is eye contact. Learn your score, and look at your choir. You can’t expect them to look at you if you’re not looking at them.
  • Do not sing while conducting. Listen instead.
  • We talk too much and sing too little.
  • Humor will be one of your best tools. Laughter relaxes the singer, which makes the sound better.
  • When the choir needs to work on learning notes for extended periods of time, break into sections. You’ll get twice as much accomplished and avoid boring the idle sections to tears.
  • It’s impossible to blend voices unless the vowel sounds are sung uniformly by everyone in the group.
  • Words should be sung as they are spoken, but we don’t all speak them correctly in the first place. The authority on pronunciation is the dictionary.
  • Choose music that you love. You will be more successful in directing music you love because you will have more enthusiasm for it.
  • Ask choir members to rate their enjoyment of a song after they have presented it. Find out if it is a selection they feel is worth repeating in the future. Note the response for reference.
  • To recruit new choir members, an announcement in the bulletin or newsletter will do little more than to let a few people know that you would welcome new members. Personal contact by the director is the best option for recruiting.

Some of these may be duplicates of previous (or future!) entries. I’ll weed out duplicates as I combine them for my handouts, but it’s too much work to do here. ๐Ÿ™‚ Yeah, I’m lazy.

Jan 142005

Since I’m preparing information for a stake music workshop and I have to consolidate several books worth of information, I might as well do it here. The following tips are from an old conducting textbook I had on the shelf… the author wasn’t specified and it was in so well-loved a state that there was no publication date to be found. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • One pitfall for new conductors is using a beat pattern that is too rounded… or not definite enough. Too much motion.
  • Use of a baton is largely a matter of personal taste.
  • Conducting in front of a mirror will help you develop better conducting skills. (I do this quite often… it’s amazing the bad habits you can pick up without knowing it.)
  • In addition to metronome markings, a thorough study of the mood of the text will help determine an appropriate tempo for each selection.
  • Overuse of the left hand (i.e., keeping the beat with both hands) makes it relatively ineffective for special situations (i.e., attacks, releases, crescendos, etc.).
  • When singing, “Mary” should still be pronounced “Meh-ree,” not “May-ree.” “Angel” is “ayn-jehl” not “ayn-juhl.” There’s quite a long list of similar mispronunciations.
  • Spoken instructions, remarks, etc., should be kept to a minimum during a rehearsal. Sing, sing, sing.
  • Choir members need to be reminded (perhaps repeatedly) never to sing so loudly that they cannot hear the individuals and parts around them.
  • To avoid too much dependence on the piano (or other accompaniment) passages should occasionally be rehearsed a cappella.
  • Simply saying “Let’s sing it again,” doesn’t accomplish much. There should be a purpose for the repetition, and the choir members should know and understand the goal of the repetition.
  • Singers become fatigued by singing too long in a sitting position. Occasionally have the choir stand to rehearse.
  • If the singers have their “noses in their books” (and are therefore not watching for cues), instead of telling them verbally to watch you, try conducting the passage erratically–speed up or slow down at will, and use fermatas where none are noted. It becomes a sort of game, and teaches them to watch the conductor.

That’s probably all I’ll use from this volume. I have four more in the to-be-read stack…