Posts Tagged 'musicians'

Explore the Work of Black Musicians & Composers

As Sheet Music Plus stands in solidarity with those around the world advocating for change, we’d like to ask you to join us today in listening to Black voices. Here we recognize organizations that support and promote Black musicians and music education:

We also share, in addition to the legacies left by brilliant but underappreciated Black classical composers like Scott Joplin, William Grant Still, Florence Price, William Dawson, and Nathaniel Dett, a directory of living Black composers maintained by Music by Black Composers (MBC):

https://www.musicbyblackcomposers.org/resources/living-composers-directory/

We recognize that these lists cannot be enough. Our institutions of classical music have spent too long being part of the system that marginalizes and dismisses Black voices, while our popular music industry has profited immensely from Black art, oftentimes at the expense of the ingenious Black artists who have created and catalyzed every major popular music movement for well over a century.

As we take this time to process, reflect and plot out our path forward, we recognize that we must also listen.

If you have additional resources relating to these matters that you would like to share with us or with our community of teachers and choir directors, please email us. Our platform and our community welcome you.

Tips on Practicing Music in the Time of COVID-19

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Dan Leeman

Guest post by Dan Leeman, a music educator and software consultant from Fargo, North Dakota. He taught middle school band and went on to found the Davies High School band program in 2011. Dan’s new site, notestem.com, combines his love of music, education, and technology. While the site is in its infancy, it will be home to music tools and resources that will be released in the coming months.

 

 

The impacts of Coronavirus and social distancing are being felt all around the world. Music teachers and students alike are wrestling with the effects on the music-making process, both logistically and emotionally.

One of the greatest opportunities during this phase of social distancing is to establish strong practice routines. Here are some tips to help make the most of your practice time.

Connect with Your Emotions

We often find ourselves in “hurry-up” mode. We’re practicing for an upcoming concert, recital, or audition, and we find ourselves in preparation for an event ahead of us. While that can be motivating, we may lose focus on the music itself.

Music and artistry have long been used to help people express pain, anxiety, and grief during periods of war and hardship.

Olivier Messiaen composed Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time) as a prisoner of war in Nazi Germany during WWII. The piece was performed alongside three of his fellow prisoners outside on a freezing night in front of a crowded audience of prisoners and guards alike. “Never have I been listened to with such attention and such understanding,” Messiaen recalled.

Music can be a powerful tool: take time to compose, listen, practice, improvise or otherwise interact with your music in a way that allows you to express yourself emotionally.

Develop a Routine

It can be easy to fall into a bit of disarray when world events rock our sense of normalcy.

While our instinct may be to shed all of our daily routines in favor of bingeing Netflix in our pajamas, research shows that routines can be positive for our productivity and mental health.

Routine can be found in both the structure of our practice session: when, where, how long, and how frequent, as well as what our practice consists of.

By building practice into your daily routine, you’ll also keep your skills sharp for when we’re able to re-enter communal music-making.

Be Aware of Boundaries

While practicing our instruments may bring us joy and comfort, loud sounds in shared environments can be taxing for others.

If you live with your family or roommates, make sure to discuss shared expectations for when and where would be a good time to practice that is least disturbing to others.

Especially during this period of home confinement, people are scrambling to set up Zoom meetings, work, and learn remotely,

By offering to practice during a time that is most beneficial for everyone, you’re helping problem-solve while identifying your musical routine as something of importance to you.

Play Something You Enjoy

Depending on where you’re at on your musical journey, you may feel like your practice sessions are controlled by your circumstances.

Sometimes in high school and college I felt like I was always preparing for one audition or another.

Long tones, breathing exercises, lyrical etude, technical exercise… It was important, but it felt monotonous.

There are so many scenarios that require prescriptive practice. But given that nearly all concerts and public performances have been canceled or put on hold, this is your time to practice something purely for fun!

So whether it’s a favorite Disney classic, improv over some funky chord changes, transcribing a chart you heard on the radio, or simply pulling out a comforting piece from years past, this is your time.

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Pepper Choplin: Once upon a Morning – From Resurrection to Pentecost

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Pepper Choplin

Guest post by composer Pepper Choplin introducing his new cantata, Once upon a Morning: From Resurrection to Pentecost. Choplin is known as one of the most creative writers in church music today. With a diverse musical background, Choplin incorporates varied styles such as folk, Gospel, classical, and jazz. His published works include over 300 anthems for church and school choir with 20 church cantatas and two books of piano arrangements, and over 120 groups have commissioned him to write original works for them. Since 1991, his choral music has sold several million copies. Choplin has conducted eight New York concerts of his music at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center with 250 voices and full orchestra. In his hometown of Raleigh, he has conducted eight mass performances of his cantatas at Meymandi Auditorium (home to the NC Symphony) with over two hundred voices and orchestra. In 2019, he conducted Handel’s Messiah (Christmas portion) with the 150-voice Cary Community Choir with orchestra. He also visits many schools, churches and conferences to conduct and to entertain. 

 

OnceUponAMorningI always wanted to write this cantata. Then a church in Pennsylvania commissioned me to write a spring cantata outside of the typical Easter work. For a year, I surveyed directors and singers about different potential subjects. This idea got them most excited.

I loved writing this cantata. These wonderful stories don’t receive much attention in church music. Yet, they contain so much drama and passion.

Just before I began, I saw the musical Hamilton. While there is not a word of rap here, Hamilton gave me courage to write with more fire, using plenty of text and rhythm.

“Once Upon a Morning” (Easter) — This musical sunrise leads us to celebrate the Resurrection: “When the stone was rolled away surely death had lost its prey to the miracle of life!” Note the pairing of the main theme with the “Easter Hymn.” There is just enough here to lead the congregation to sing the hymn afterward.

“Why Do You Seek the Living Among the Dead?” (Easter) — This piece drives to capture the excitement of this powerful question. It also says, “Go and tell the others that Jesus is alive,” and quotes the “Easter Hymn.”

“Didn’t Our Hearts Burn Within Us?” (after Easter) — I’ve always thought this was the most powerful quote from the Emmaus road. This ballad tells the story, then encourages the listener to let the word live within us all. It is very inspiring with a hint of gospel to move the heart.

“Thomas Believes” (after Easter) — This dramatic musical dialogue leads through Thomas’s transition from doubt to full belief. Sung with one or two soloists, the choir takes on the role of the disciples. It concludes with a great celebration of faith.

“Blessed Are the Ones Who Believe” (appropriate anytime) — This simple statement by Christ is a profound expression of encouragement. After the drama of the previous piece, it has a comforting chorale feel: “Blessed are the ones…who live their lives with faith and follow in my way; who dare to believe in the Resurrection and the Life.”

“Cast Your Nets” (appropriate anytime) — “Try something that you haven’t tried. Cast your nets on the other side.” I’ve already heard from people in the studio and churches where I’ve sung this hearty call. They remark at how they were inspired to listen to Christ’s words and take a chance on a new direction. Many of our churches need to cast their nets on the other side.

“He Is Lifted Up” (appropriate anytime) — This boisterous fanfare proclaims the text with rapid-fire rhythm. I don’t see many anthems focusing on the powerful event of the Ascension. It uses a Hebrews passage to celebrate the Lordship of Christ. The anthem drives to the end with a final celebration carried by the tune used most commonly for “Like a River Glorious.” It is so triumphant that it could be used as the finale with Day of Pentecost being sung at another time.

“Day of Pentecost” — Through the high energy rhythm you can visualize the rushing wind and the tongues of fire. It leads to Peter’s bold sermon, quoting Joel, “Your sons and daughters will rise. They will boldly prophesy.” The “Easter Hymn” tune appears again to carry the Spirit text. The congregation is encouraged to sing, “Holy Spirit, come today. Alleluia! Through Your power, we will say, ‘Alleluia.’”

Watch Pepper Choplin in the studio conducting the orchestra during the recording of Once Upon a Morning:

Sky Macklay: The Process & Joy of Subversive Humor

ManyManyCadencesOver the summer we found some time to connect over Skype with composer, oboist, installation artist and professor Sky Macklay, who was in the middle of what sounded like a truly magnificent residency at Civitella Ranieri in Umbertide, Italy. Macklay’s work, especially her chamber music and intermedia pieces, has been receiving more and more attention recently, especially in light of her 2017 Grammy nomination for “Many Many Cadences,” a chamber piece written for Spektral Quartet and appearing on their 2016 album, Serious Business.

The measured but sincerely eager thoughtfulness that Macklay employs in conversation about her art is also a key component of her work, which simultaneously revels in playfulness and freedom. The themes and concepts covered by her oeuvre, whether sociopolitical or linguistic or purely sonic, are almost as expansive as the tools she employs to explore them and convey her perspective on them. Her curiosity seems to be matched only by her omnivorous gravitational pull on the world around her: everything is on the table to explore via every means she can get her hands on. And the results are surprising, head-turning, eye-opening — and continuously exciting.

Leonard Bernstein, in his February 1959 Young People’s Concert titled “Humor in Music,” deemed surprise and shock to be the crucial element in all humor, including musical humor. This allows humor to strip the daunting sacred pillars of society and culture of their power and bring them back to reality. This sort of humor is at the heart of Macklay’s work, which simultaneously subverts the established traditions and insists on saying something new through her own strong voice.

Macklay’s website is loaded with fantastic videos of her work, and watching those is, of course, a much better introduction to what promises to be an incredible and lauded career than any words we can use to describe it. We have, however, included a transcript of our interview (edited for content) so that you can also get to know her through her own words.

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Sky Macklay

Sheet Music Plus (SMP): How would you describe yourself as a composer?

Sky Macklay (SM): I see myself as a composer in the experimental contemporary Western art music tradition. I write music for all kinds of different ensembles — chamber ensembles, orchestras, choirs, theatrical music, and intermedia music that combines different art forms like video and electronics. More often I write chamber music because I enjoy working with individuals who are my friends. We can have deep collaborations and try new things.

Some of the topics that my music often touches on or the musical interest that my music deals with are oftentimes process. I’m a very process-oriented composer. I want the listener to hear transparently — hear what’s going on the piece, that is, hear a sound go through a transformation that they can follow over the course of the piece. I often use tonality in more experimental or surreal ways combining different tonal systems or blurring tonal harmony in a way that is reminiscent but yet new. I often incorporate humor and theatricality and extremes into my music.

SMP: You’re talking about chamber music and what sounds like almost a collaborative process between you as a composer and the instrumentalists. How does your experience as an instrumentalist inform that, and what do you find productive about the dialogic element?

SM: Being a performer myself is, of course, insightful. I just finished a piece for saxophone and electronics. It’s actually for sopranino sex and bari sax (but with only one sax player who starts on sopranino and switches to bari) and with electronics. It’s for my friend and collaborator, Ryan Muncy, who’s a saxophonist with International Contemporary Ensemble. We’ve known each other for several years, so I’ve heard him play a lot and heard him improvise and heard the intense and extreme sounds that he is gravitating towards. That gives me inspiration and opens up new ideas that maybe I wouldn’t have thought of entirely on my own.

In that particular case, I was exploring a psychoacoustic phenomenon called difference tones. If you have one frequency that is 2000Hz coming from one sound source and another one that’s, say, 1500Hz coming from a different sound source, theoretically you’ll hear another tone that’s 500Hz (the difference between the two frequencies). If you use certain conditions that are really good for hearing difference tones, it sounds very localized in the ear. I wanted to create these particular patterns with difference tones, but I needed to test it and see if it actually worked. I tested it with my oboe and with the electronics. With an oboe, I could get a similar range to the sopranino saxophone, and from doing that it just evolved. I ended up like playing it on the oboe so much that I realized I could also make an oboe version of the piece. I actually think that’s what I’m going to do because through the experimentation process I realized it works really well.

Another example is a piece I recently wrote for andPlay, which is a violin/viola duo. It was very connected to the biographies of the particular individuals and to their friendship. It has a video part on YouTube that has little avatars for each of them, and they go around on maps to different parts of New York City. It’s based on the places that they really go in real life, but if you zoom out, it’s also about the bigger picture, talking about public transportation, in general, and how we measure time, and how it feels different based on whether you’re stuck in traffic or on the subway or waiting when the train is delayed. It’s a very individual story, a very specific personal story, but hopefully with resonance to anyone because there are bigger themes involved.

SMP: I’m interested in how you approach music as a medium. It seems like it’s just a piece of the puzzle for you. For instance, with the “Harmonibots” installation, the entire piece is interactive: the music is a piece of it, but then there is a physical interaction with the installation, as well as a visual-spatial-architectural element. Then with the piece you describe earlier, there’s the personal narrative and the video piece in addition to the music. How do you see music interacting with these other artistic media?

SM: I’m a very conceptual composer, and sometimes that manifests in purely a psych concept, but sometimes it spreads beyond the bounds of sound like in the cases of my installations “Harmonibots” and “MEGA-ORGAN,” my piece with video maps of friendship, and, for example, some pieces include text or are intermedia in that they’re semantically engaging with language. “Lessina Levlin Levite Lavora,” for instance, is about different birth control methods, and it uses reactions from different people online talking about the different side effects.

In the case of “Harmonibots,” it started as a sonic idea, but it’s intimately related with how that sound is produced. With instruments, a composer is always thinking about how the sound is produced physically. With harmonicas the sound is produced by just blowing through the reeds. You don’t need to have a special embouchure. I was inspired for those pieces by seeing the wacky, arm-waving tube people advertising car dealerships, and I was thinking about whether the air blowing through them would be enough to make a harmonica vibrate.

Robotic instruments are also an interesting concept. Is there any advantage to have robots playing an instrument versus humans. For particular musical situations there are advantages if you want an instrument to do something that humans can’t do (like hundreds of harmonicas playing at the same time for an hour straight). I thought of that as creating this instrument doing something that humans can’t do, and it evolved into this interactive space where anyone could come in and improvise and play any instrument by squishing the sculptures instead of how you traditionally play a harmonica.

When I have an idea, sometimes it needs to grow beyond the bounds of only sound and be an intermedia piece, meaning different kinds of media are integral to the whole.

SMP: Between the advertising tube men and experiences with birth control you mentioned earlier, as well as the different sounds of language that you explore in “Alabama Gala,” for instance, it seems like you’re drawing inspiration from all of these different sources around you. How does that process happen for you?

SM: I usually have a moment of inspiration that gives me a tiny, little seed of an idea, and then I have to work it out and think it through and develop it. I think I am lucky that sometimes I do get inspired out of the blue by some idea, and it can come from things I encounter in life or personal experience. No composer or artist is in a vacuum. You have a lot of influences coming at you. But then, of course, turning an idea into a piece is the hard part because it’s all in the craftspersonship and executing it well. To me it’s really important to have a strong concept and a strong execution.

And then if I need to write a piece and I don’t have an idea already, sometimes I’ll write the instruments down on staff paper and meditate on the instruments themselves and whether those particular instruments want to say anything to each other.

Sometimes I have to write proposals for pieces before I’ve even written the pieces, then I’ll go back to it later and have to figure out how to use that in the piece. You come up with ideas, and then you’re not really sure what will end up making it into the piece, but some stuff does make it into the piece.

SMP: How does the proposal process affect your composing? There’s something very natural about sound and how pitch and rhythm are physiologically innate to the human experience, but then putting those concepts into language is tough because it’s already a level of abstraction away from that. And then once a proposal is accepted, you have to return to that language to ensure that you’re fulfilling that proposal with the sounds you create. Does that mediation of language have any effect on your process and the work that results from it?

SM: I’m a very verbal person, and when I’m first brainstorming ideas for a piece, I write down words and sentences describing what I want to do so I don’t forget what I’m thinking of. Those words might mean nothing if someone else read them because I write in my own language so that I know what I’m talking about.

In general, I think that, being a composer, it’s good to be able to describe your music to other people, and I’m very grateful that other people are interested in my music and want to know more about it. I think I’ve become better at talking about it and explaining it in words. Trying to continually find the language to explain my music is helpful because if I can describe it to someone else, I can identify my own habits, values, and musical techniques and also the materials that I’m drawn to that make my music personal. It’s helpful to be self-reflective and know what makes my music me. Then I can build on those things and hopefully further hone my own voice. I think being able to put it into words helps me hone my own voice.

SMP: When you say you’re “process-oriented,” can you define what that means to you?

SM: When I think about process music or process-oriented composers, in general, I think of Arvo Pärt, who goes through a certain number of repetitions, and he has a very clear formula for the way a piece progresses. Maybe the duration of notes is doubled or halved. Steve Reich is another process-oriented composer.

To me the most important thing is setting up rules for the piece and then following through with them in a way that is predictable. Some composers do that in a way that is not necessarily that audible to the listener, but I like to do that in a way that the listener can hopefully hear and follow.

FastLowHighSlow

For example, I have a violin and piano piece called “FastLowHighSlow.” The concept of the piece is that it’s four different modules that are each sixty or ninety seconds long, and they’re extremes of the instruments and the extremes in speed. There’s a module that’s high and fast in the piano and high and slow in the violin, and then there’s one that’s low and slow in the piano and low and fast in the violin. So those four modules can all go together, and the process of the piece is that it cycles through all of the possible combinations of those modules to create the different movements. I hope that by the end the listeners realize that they had heard those parts before but in different movements, and now they’re together. That’s what I’m hoping for: a moment of clarity and discovery when the audience hears my process. And I’m hoping that the process also results in beautiful sounds and gestures that work on the micro level but also have this satisfying formal arc because of the process.

SMP: On one hand, you delve into social justice issues, and then on the other hand, there’s a certain playfulness in your work, whether it’s in your installations or in your different explorations of sound. In one way or another, both of those take on the “establishment,” whether you’re confronting it from a social perspective or you’re devising ways to take on and play with the pillars of creation dictated by the institution. It’s a sort of border or outsider perspective because if you are “the institution,” you can’t play with the dictates of the institution. Can you talk about where that comes from, and how you think of these different power dynamics?

SM: I think that’s a keen observation because it’s totally true.

I feel part of a whole community that does outsider critique of more conservative mainstream classical music and the canon of Western art music. I and most of my friends and colleagues love Western art music and classical music, but it also has a lot of baggage in being a hegemonic canon that excludes so much music and new voices and other people. It just doesn’t include so much of humanity. I think I and a lot of my colleagues, by playing very experimental music and very free, expressive things, are expressing what we want to hear and play.

It’s also subversive because it’s putting into action these rebellious practices and sounds. I see myself in that vein being a little rebellious and a little trickstery. It comes very naturally to me.

In my teaching and in my music, I try to expand the world that I’m part of and get more perspectives and more people involved. For me personally in my voice, it oftentimes comes through as juxtaposing humor and serious topics.

SMP: When you say that it comes naturally to you, why do you think that is?

SM: First of all, I’m a very open person. I’m ok with sharing personal stuff with people I don’t know that well. Part of being a composer, I think, is that you’ve got to be comfortable sharing your hard-created ideas with other people and being open to criticism. To me that’s not just notes and sounds. It extends to more broad information and ideas about myself.

One of the ways that I really engage with art and with the world is through humor. I find it very powerful. The art that I’m attracted to is often humorous in a smart way and weirdly humorous. One of my favorite performers I’ve found over the past few years is the comedian Maria Bamford. She tells extremely uncomfortable personal truths about mental illness, but her humor is also very avant-garde and performative. That’s the sort of media that really speaks to me.

SMP: Are there people in the music sphere that inspire you like that?

SM: My musical inspirations are very diverse. Some of the people who also deal with humor, theatricality and intermedia work come to mind like Rick Burkhardt and Kate Soper. And the storytelling songs. I’ve been really gravitating toward Dolly Parton songs lately. I also just heard an orchestra piece by Jay Schwartz that was amazing and mind-blowing but really different from what I do.

SMP: What are some of the most important lessons that you’ve learned from your students?

SM: When I taught at [The] Walden [School, a summer composition camp in New Hampshire], I had some very young students, like 10, 11, 12 years old. One thing I learned from them is to be true to your natural voice. Of course I always would challenge them and have them do new techniques, but letting them be their unvarnished selves in their music was extremely powerful. At that age they’re so raw and creative and unpolished in a beautiful way. That inspired me to, in a more mature, adult-appropriate way, be a little raw and true to my own inner child.

I remember a student who wrote a piece called “The Voice of a Whale” for voice and cello from the perspective of a whale that was adopted by humans. This whale remembered some of her native whale language but not all of it, so when she was speaking English, she put the words out of order because she was applying whale grammar to English words. That sounds like kind of a funny concept, but the piece was very heart-wrenching. Even though it was ten years ago, I can still sing that piece to you now because this composer, Claire, was following her idea. She had a good idea, and she went with it. She committed to it.

I think that’s the biggest takeaway from working with my students. If you have a good idea, just go with it, and don’t think twice about committing to a concept.

SMP: What’s in store in the future for you? What are some projects that you want to tackle or some areas that you’re interested in exploring?

SM: I’m very much in a good place now. I have lots of upcoming pieces. Right now I’m working on a large ensemble piece for the Green Umbrella Series for the LA Phil Chamber Music Series. I’m also working on my second string quartet. Next year I’ll be doing a big women’s choir piece.

I definitely want to do another harmonic installation in the next few years, but I haven’t found the right venue or timeframe yet. I have a different visual aesthetic in mind this time. I want it to have totally clear plastic and much more clean lines and high columns that expand upward very linearly so you can really see the harmonicas vibrating very clearly.

I also want to do some sort of big theatrical project, but I don’t have a super clear vision of that yet. It’ll come into clear focus soon, I’m sure.

5 Handy Tips for New Piano Lesson Enquiries

Guest post by Dr. Sally Cathcart of The Curious Piano Teachers. View the original on The Curious Piano Teachers blog HERE.

CuriousPianoTeachersLogoHave you had many new piano lesson enquiries recently? Do you ever find yourself caught ‘off-guard’ by phone calls? I know I certainly do! When this happens I can end up babbling on and feeling that I am not representing my work and worth to the best of my ability.

The next three months are probably the peak season for receiving phone calls or emails from potential students. Here’s some top tips from some of the highly organised Curious Piano Teachers members.

#1 KNOW WHAT KIND OF TEACHER YOU ARE

Do you know what kind of teacher you are? What is your teaching philosophy and approach? Discussions with potential clients are so much easier if you have made up your own mind about the following:

  • What do you teach?
  • How do you teach?
  • What ages do you teach?
  • What standard do you teach up to?
  • Is an instrument needed at home and if so what sort?
  • What do you charge?
  • Do you ever give discounts?
  • Are your teaching hours fixed or flexible?
  • What support do you expect from parents?
  • What availability slots do you have?

Once you have thought through these questions turn them into a one page cheatsheet and keep it close by for future phone calls.

It’s worth spending an hour or so getting this all pinned down. Check out our video below.

#2 HAVE A PHONE CALL — ON YOUR TERMS

Young entrepreneur at her workplace using laptop and phone.

As a rule of thumb let any unknown callers to your mobile go to the answer phone. Then, if they leave a message, this gives you the opportunity to listen through and consider your response. You’ll want to phone them back as quickly as you can so rehearse what you will say and aim to call them back within 24 hours.

During the phone call work down your cheatsheet (that’s assuming you have spaces and are actively looking for new students). If the answers correspond with your expectations offer a consultation/interview where both parties will have a chance to meet in person.

At this early stage don’t be too prepared to compromise on your core teaching approaches. For example, if you are only willing to take on younger children with the parents attending to lessons then stick to it!

#3 SAVE TIME WITH EMAIL ENQUIRIES

If you have a studio website or Facebook page you might find that some new piano lesson enquiries come in by email.

Responding to each one individually takes time so a useful approach is to create a standard template response. Set aside 30 minutes or so of your time to do this and once again use the one page cheatsheet as your starting point.

When a new enquiry arrives in your inbox simply copy and paste the main body of the template into your reply, adding whatever personal responses you want to.

#4 CREATE A FAQ PAGE

FAQBoardThe fourth tip on how to deal with new piano lesson enquiries is to turn your cheatsheet into a Frequently Asked Questions sheet.

This can be used on your website as well as being a really useful document to send to parents whether you’ve spoken on the phone or corresponded by email.

#5 FIND YOURSELF SOME TIME

Has all this been ringing a bell and you have found yourself caught ‘off-guard’ ? Then you need to find some time to sit down, grab a coffee, watch our video and think through what kind of teacher you are.

I really wish I had done this a long, long time ago as being communicating clearly what you offer prevents misunderstandings and frustration later on.

A big shout-out to all the piano teachers who contributed to this blog post for all their brilliant suggestions.

 

SallyCathcart

Dr. Sally Cathcart, Co-Founder and Director of The Curious Piano Teachers, has many years of teaching experience both as a piano teacher and as a classroom music teacher. After her travels as a Winston Churchill Fellow, Sally founded the Oxford Piano Group as a place for pianists and teachers to collaborate and share experiences. She was awarded a PhD from the Institute of Education at University College London in 2013 upon completing the first comprehensive study of UK piano teachers, exploring common practices, expertise, values, attitudes and motivation to teaching. She is a Principal Tutor on the Piano Teachers’ Course (UK), a trained Kodály practitioner and a senior musicianship practitioner of The Voices Foundation. Sally is an examiner for ABRSM and is on the ABRSM Music Education Advisory Committee. She is a Fellow Member of the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM).

A Chat with Lloyd Larson

Guest post from Jubilate Music Group

Lloyd Larson has become one of today’s most published and performed church music writers. A frequently called-upon clinic and conference resource, Larson has been a singer, keyboard player, and arranger.

Having earned his B.A. from Anderson University, Anderson, IN, Lloyd next completed his M.C.M. at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), Louisville, KY, and undertook additional graduate work at SBTS and Ohio State University.

Larson’s extensive background in arranging and composing includes arranging music for an internationally broadcast radio program. Also, in 1989, he completed an editorial assignment for a new hymnal, Worship the Lord, for the Church of God, and co-edited the accompanying Hymnal Companion. In addition, Larson contributed to the Complete Library of Christian Worship, edited by Dr. Robert Webber. He has served as a church music director for decades (a role he continues to this day), which has inevitably informed his artful and well-crafted yet practical original compositions and arrangements.

Recently, Larson sat down with Mark Cabaniss, President and CEO of Jubilate Music Group, to discuss his work and to help us all get to know him a bit better.

Mark Cabaniss, President and CEO of Jubilate Music Group (MC): What and when was your first published piece of music? How did it feel to see your music and name in print for the first time?

Lloyd Larson (LL): My very first publication was a two-part Advent anthem titled Love Will Be Born. It was published by Beckenhorst Press in 1982 and was a collaborative project with lyricist Mary Kay Beall. Mary Kay and her husband, composer John Carter, lived in Columbus, Ohio, where I was living and serving on a church staff at that time. I had the opportunity to meet John and Mary Kay and study with John for a few years. At the time, John was doing adjunct editorial work for Beckenhorst. He introduced me to the legendary composer John Ness Beck, one of the co-founders and president of Beckenhorst. It was an amazing experience to see that first piece come into print! Though I had been involved with choirs using published music from my teen years, I had little knowledge of the sequence of steps involved from “idea to publication.” I’m forever indebted to John and Mary Kay for their influence as they guided me through the process and introduced me to numerous people who have been instrumental in encouraging me on my journey as a composer.

MC: What do you enjoy most about the compositional process?

LL: For me each piece involves its own unique journey. I try to avoid thinking, “I want this piece to sound like….” That’s especially true with sacred choral anthems. Though I’m a composer and love to find a melody, harmonic structure, and rhythmic framework that work, the reason we sing in the context of worship is because of the lyric. As a result, it is essential when I sit down to create music to go with a text that I build a distinctive vehicle (music) that will underscore and create a path by which that lyric is heard in fresh and meaningful ways. I love discovering new ways to express the profound truths of our faith. I love unearthing new treatments to familiar hymn melodies. I love finding a distinctive marriage between a familiar hymn text with a new or different hymn tune than what is typically associated with it. When these moments happen for me in my studio and they impact me in a new way, I’ve come to believe they will have a similar impact on others as well.

MC: Who have been the most influential people in your writing career?

LL: I’ve already mentioned the impact that composer John Carter and his wife, lyricist Mary Kay Beall, had on my early writing career. But there have been many others along the way. I would call them the “giants along my path.” The late John Ness Beck and Fred Bock were also strong encouragers in the early years of my career. George and Bill Shorney, Lew Kirby, Jack Schrader, Larry Pugh, Gilbert Martin, and Jean Anne Shafferman along with numerous others have been profound influences in my writing with their input and encouragement. They have seen potential in my work and often pushed me outside of my own comfort zones to try some things I would never have considered. But I would be remiss if I didn’t go back and recall the early influence of my mother (my first piano teacher) and my high school and college teachers who encouraged me to explore my interests in writing, even providing me platforms to try out some of my earliest writing endeavors. Writing for “real live singers and instrumentalists” in college and church settings helped me to discover quickly what worked and what didn’t work. I’ve continued to be involved in church work over the years (now 40+ years) which has been essential in shaping my approach as a composer of church music.

MC: With the changing tides of church music styles over the last few decades, what encouragement can you give to choir directors of today’s church?

LL: I will always be an advocate for church choirs. I strongly believe in them! (And it is not just because I depend on them for my livelihood.) They provide such a unique opportunity for ministry in the local church. The church choir I’ve directed for the last 25 years is a very tight community. The pastoral staff in our church calls the choir our “largest small group.” And I think they’re right. We are a community for 40+ people who typically gather a couple of times a week to rehearse and sing in worship. In the process of working on music together, we develop our musicianship while at the same time studying together the truths of our faith through the words that we sing. We are a multi-generation ensemble ranging in age from teens to my eldest bass who is 93 (and the most faithful member I have in the choir!). We regularly pray, cry, and laugh together. We celebrate life achievements, and we mourn losses together. We sing every style of music imaginable from the classics to beloved gospel songs with harmonica. (Yes, I have an outstanding harmonica player in my church…so why not?!?!?!) There are few, if any, settings in the life of the church where you can live life and faith in such a community. When the day comes that I’m no longer writing choral music or directing choirs, I anticipate singing in a choir. That’s how much I believe in them!

MC: You have a new cantata out this year (with Mark Hayes) titled Seekers of the Light. What is the thrust of this work?

SeekersOfTheLight

LL: “Light” is a metaphor for goodness and God’s presence throughout scripture. As people of faith, we are always on this journey to experience more of the “light of Christ” as we seek out His will and presence in our daily living. And this was true for the earliest followers of Christ, even those who first saw and recognized Him as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. They were guided by light (bright angelic hosts and celestial stars) to the Promised Child. We are all seekers of light when it comes to understanding our faith or life in general. And it is an ongoing journey. We will never “arrive” until we reach our final destination, our heavenly home. As a result, Seekers of the Light is an appropriate title and thrust, it seems to me, for recalling the pilgrimages of the earliest worshipers of Christ while at the same time uniting us with those worshipers in our own journeys as we seek to understand and know this One who called Himself the “light of the world” (John 8:12). It was a pleasure to collaborate with my longtime friend and colleague, Mark Hayes, on this project. I’ve been a fan of Mark’s music over the years, having used a ton of his music in my own ministry. So to partner with him on a project like this is a special treat for me. It is certainly my prayer that this cantata will impact and encourage directors, choirs, and congregations as they prepare and present it in the coming months!

MC: Is there a writing project you have yet to tackle or hope to accomplish?

LL: I always have an ongoing list of projects which I hope to tackle at some point down the road. The list is longer than I’ll ever get done in this lifetime (kind of like my “to-do” list of home projects that I’m wanting to tackle!). It is a grass-catcher list of ideas that has been spawned by a line in a sermon, or a passage of scripture, or a brief idea that has surfaced from a hymn text. I probably won’t divulge too much of that here. (I mean I don’t want Joe Martin, Mark Hayes, or Mary McDonald stealing my ideas! Ha!) One of the areas I’d love to pursue a bit more is to occasionally do a musical project outside of Christmas or Easter themes. As much as I love doing extended work on those themes, it is nice to have the opportunity to develop an extended work in other thematic directions. The reality, though, is that we who are church composers don’t get that opportunity too often simply because of the nature of our core market. I did recently have an opportunity to do a large commission project based on a group of Psalms which was truly a challenging and gratifying experience.

MC: Do you have a story of something you’ve written?

LL: On December 14, 2012, I happened to be working on a lyric by Susan Boersma. Susan is a fabulous lyricist and had created a lyric based on Revelation 22:5 that I had asked her to consider. That particular day – a Friday – was the day a lone gunman burst into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut and senselessly took the lives of twenty young children and six adult staff members in a matter of minutes. On that day, the words I was setting became deeply personal and hopeful in what was a very dark moment for many in that community and beyond:

“Into the valley of shadows, under the veil of gray, God calls the good and faithful, then guides us on the way. Through the valley of shadows, lost in the dark of night, our God goes before us to lead us to the light. There will be no more night! No need for lamp or ray of sun, the Lamb will be the light. There will be no more night! No need to fast, to watch, to weep around the throne so bright.”

That anthem, Dwell in the Light Forevermore, holds a special place in my heart because of the circumstances which surrounded its creation.

MC: “Getting to Know…Lloyd Larson” — Our “Lightning Round” of quick questions and answers:

1. What is on your summer reading list?

LL: The Next Person You Meet in Heaven (Mitch Albom), Unshakable Hope (Max Lucado), The Reckoning (John Grisham), Vanishing Grace (Philip Yancey)

2. What types of music do you listen to most?

LL: I try to listen to a little bit of everything, from the classics to outstanding (and current) choral writers. I love jazz and big band sounds. My wife and I just this week went to an outdoor drum and bugle competition (DCI) in a nearby community, something we enjoy doing when the opportunity affords itself. I’m a big John Williams fan with some of his classic movie themes. As a teenager, I was a big “Chicago” fan, and many of those melodies are rooted deep in my memory. I’m not sure I have a favorite genre, per se. I’m pretty eclectic in my tastes.

3. What is your favorite vacation spot?

LL: As a kid growing up in central Illinois, my family often vacationed on a lake in northern Wisconsin. I fell in love with the northwoods in those years. And I still love them! Most summers will find my wife, Marci, and I carving out a few days between summer travel commitments to spend some time on a northern Minnesota lake somewhere enjoying some quiet time. That’s on our schedule for later this summer. It is often a small “mom & pop” resort of modest cabin somewhere where the biggest agenda of the day may be “Should we grill out, or drive into town and find a restaurant for dinner this evening?” We enjoy the quiet beautiful scenery, some fishing, reading, and a lot of down time. It is a wonderful way to recharge!

4. What is your favorite summertime frozen treat?

LL: One of my biggest disappointments in recent years is that it appears that every DQ [Dairy Queen] in the upper Midwest has discontinued the Snickers Blizzard. This was my favorite for years! But I must have been in the minority. So I’ve been exploring other chocolate-influenced Blizzard options. I haven’t landed on a new favorite as of yet. But I’m working on it. Stay tuned!

MC: Thank you, Lloyd, for spending some time with us so our readers can get to know you a bit better. Your contributions to church music are immeasurable, and your music not only enriches lives, but most importantly, is building God’s Kingdom. Blessings to you in the years ahead, and we look forward to more exciting music creations from you!


Jubilate Music Group is dedicated to publishing a broad range of resources stylistically suited to meet the diverse needs of churches and schools. The Jubilate Music catalog is comprised of choral, piano, organ, handbell, vocal, and instrumental publications ranging from adult choral anthems, extended works and folios to music for children’s choir and praise teams.

Series Spotlight: Teaching Music through Performance

Teaching Music through Performance is a best-selling series of books and CDs that are theoretical, practical, and analytical. Written, researched, and compiled by scholars with a wealth of teaching and conducting experience, this series enables conductors,  educators, and students to move beyond the printed page toward full musical awareness. Sheet Music Plus had the opportunity to learn from the publisher what inspired the creation of the series.

1. When was the Teaching Music through Performance series developed?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first edition of Volume 1 was for band and was released at the Midwest Clinic in 1997. This year, 2017 is the 20th anniversary of the series.  The Teaching Music through Performance series now includes 26 volumes, 16 for band, three for jazz, three for orchestra, and four for choir. In addition, each volume has accompanying CDs.

Continue reading ‘Series Spotlight: Teaching Music through Performance’

Fitness for Musicians

As a musician, you know how important technique and theory are to musical mastery. But in between all of the practicing, auditioning, and gigging, it’s also important to pay attention to your overall health!

Think about it: as a vocalist, can you remember the last time you ran of out breath while singing a long phrase? Pianists, woodwind, and brass players, have you ever felt sore after a long practice session? Here’s where staying fit and healthy comes into play.

If fitness isn’t already part of your routine, take some tips from the infographic below about the best exercises and stretches for musicians, courtesy of TakeLessons.com.

10-essential-fitness-exercises-for-musicians

Resources For Music Teachers

By Brendan Lai-Tong

Life as a music teacher can be an exceptionally fun and rewarding experience. The ability to share the knowledge of music with clarity and a twist of fun is a great gift. Unfortunately, music teachers seldom receive credit for helping students build upon and utilize their interpersonal, time-management and teamwork skills through the act of music making. Students learn these lessons and many more that can be transferred to all aspects of life by being involved in music.

I’m sure you all know that being a well informed and Continue reading ‘Resources For Music Teachers’

Welcome to the official Sheet Music Plus Blog!

By Sheet Music Plus

Greetings music teachers, students and performers. Welcome to the official Sheet Music Plus blog!

We strive to bring you the most helpful, informative, and thought provoking articles written by musicians for musicians.Upcoming articles will feature composers, arrangers, and community ensembles, giving you insight into Continue reading ‘Welcome to the official Sheet Music Plus Blog!’


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