About Me

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Atlanta, GA, United States
When I suffered a lip injury that ended my career as a classical trombonist, I thought my life as a musician was finished, but I fell in love with music all over again when Santa gave me a guitar for Christmas in 2003. Even as I was struggling with my first chords, I was planning a new performance career. As a trombonist, I performed with the Heritage of America Band at Langley Air Force Base, the Ohio Light Opera, and in pick-up bands for touring acts that included Rosemary Clooney, George Burns, and the Manhattan Transfer. Reborn as a jazz guitarist, I sing and play my own solo arrangements of jazz classics, am half of the Godfrey and Guy duo, and hold the guitar chair in the Sentimental Journey Orchestra. I have been a freelance music copyist since 1995 and have been music director at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation since 2011.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Goodbye Treehouse, Hello Hobbit Hole

I've lost track of how long I've lived in my apartment, which I affectionately called the treehouse. This has been my favorite apartment. It's small, but I don't need much room. It's above a garage, which is mine to use for storage. It's surrounded by trees. There are a few windows that make me feel like I'm in the canopy when I look outside. It's cozy and suits my needs. I was prepared to hunker down in my little treehouse for many years to come, but the landlady is going to put the house on the market.

Although my landlady isn't planning on putting the house on the market until four months from now, I decided to start looking around for a new apartment. I would rather take my time and find a good place than wait for months and then start scrambling.

As luck would have it, I found a nice little place after only a few days of searching. I had been poking around and sending out some feelers. I posted a message on the Oakhurst Facebook group. Only one person responded, but it was the right person. He was showing an apartment the next day. I made an appointment, took a look, and fell in love with it. Several others were also looking at the apartment. I filled out the rental application and crossed my fingers. The next day, he texted to let me know that I could come over and sign the lease if I still wanted it.

If my current apartment is a treehouse, my next one is a hobbit hole. It's a basement apartment, but it doesn't feel like a basement. The house is on a slope, so the ceiling is high and there is a lot of light. The place is fixed up to feel like a home and not just someone's basement. It looks like there may be a little less floor space than the treehouse, but the hobbit hole has a very open floor plan, so I may actually have more flexibility in where I put my furniture.

I hate moving, but I like the possibilities that a new setting can bring up. While I'll miss the treehouse, the hobbit hole has new advantages.

  • It'll put me about 5 minutes away from Oakhurst, where I do most of my teaching.
  • It's quieter. The treehouse is close to a busy street, not far from a fire station. The hobbit hole is in the back of a house that is on the dead end of a quiet street.
  • My knees. Yes, my knees. To get to the treehouse, I have to climb a flight of stairs. My heart and muscles are strong and healthy. My knees? Not so much. My aching knees are the reason I don't run anymore, and I have to be careful when I climb stairs. I don't have to climb any stairs to get to the hobbit hole.
  • Walking! I enjoy walking, but the treehouse is not in a walkable area. The hobbit hole is in a quiet neighborhood with lots of streets for walking. I'm looking forward to putting on my walking shoes and hitting the road again.
I move to the hobbit hole in less than a month. I'm looking forward to settling into my new digs, and I'm excited about new possibilities.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Remembering Bob Shaw

It seems like there have been a lot of celebrity deaths in 2016. While I'm sad for their loved ones, celebrity deaths don't affect me that much. I may have listened to their music or watched them on the silver screen, but I didn't know them personally. A death that has affected me is the passing of my former guitar teacher, Bob Shaw. Although he passed away about a year ago, I only learned the news recently. You can read Bob's obituary here, but I'd like to share how he affected my life for the good.

I met Bob Shaw in 2004 after recently moving to Atlanta. I had been playing guitar for maybe four months, and I wanted to find a teacher. After an online search, I reached out to Bob. At the time, I was more interested in folk music, while Bob was a jazz guitarist. Still, I decided to contact him. I figured that anyone who had been teaching for 30 years might have a thing or two to show me. Boy, was I right about that!

In our first lessons, it became apparent that Bob was the right teacher for me. If I sucked, he told me. If I sounded great, he told me. He had a wonderful sense of humor, and I think he must have enjoyed teaching me, because our 30-minute lessons often extended to 60 minutes. We started off with the folk songs I wanted to learn. With my professional music background, I learned folk tunes quickly. In some ways, I was probably a challenging student. I had the fingers of the beginner but the experience and theoretical knowledge of a professional. Sometime during those first months of lessons, Bob played a chord/melody arrangement of a jazz standard, and I was blown away. I hadn't heard anything like that. Before long, we were working through the Mel Bay Rhythm Guitar Chord System and I was learning to play jazz standards. Then Bob encouraged me to start writing my own solo jazz guitar arrangements. I tackled this challenge enthusiastically. Since my guitar chord knowledge was still limited, it took an excruciatingly long time to write arrangements, and it took even longer to learn how to play what I wrote, but I kept at it. Misty was my first solo guitar arrangement, and to this day I often use it as an opener when I'm performing alone. Other arrangements followed. Arranging was (and is) a perfect way for me to explore the possibilities of the guitar. I eventually got faster at arranging, and I've even gotten to the point where I can often make up arrangements on the spot if needed.

Bob not only steered me toward jazz guitar, but he helped me find playing opportunities, two of which immediately come to mind. The first was subbing with the ASO – the Atlanta Swing Orchestra, that is, not the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Their regular guitarist, a former student of Bob's, was traveling more often, and they needed someone to sit in on rehearsals and sub for gigs when he was out. Through playing with the ASO, I eventually was called to sub for the SJO – the Sentimental Journey Orchestra. Thanks to Bob's teaching, I was able to sight-read the SJO guitar book pretty well. I became their first call sub, and then I became their regular guitar player after the previous guitar player moved.

Bob also steered me toward my first small group jazz experience. Someone was hosting a small group jazz jam on Thursday nights. This wasn't for performing. It was more for fun and practice. Bob told me about the opportunity, and soon I was jamming on Thursday nights. This helped me gain confidence, and from that experience, I either joined or started a series of groups. Now I'm performing with Godfrey and Guy once a week and playing solo guitar twice a week. Godfrey and Guy recorded our first album recently, and we have plans for more.

Whether I'm playing in big bands or small groups, I can trace my beginnings back to Bob Shaw. His influence helped set me on the path.

Not only did Bob help me find places to get started playing, but he also had a profound impact on my musical style. Bob played with elegance. He had a way of making everything sound easy, even if it was difficult. I tend to gravitate toward medium tempo, tasty music, and so Bob's style rubbed off on me. More than once, warming up before a rehearsal or a gig, someone has said to me, "Have you ever heard of Bob Shaw? You sound just like him." I was always delighted to hear this, and I'm sure Bob would have been pleased as well.

Bob may be gone, but his musical spirit and influence will live on through me and his other students. Even though I received the news one year too late, I hope he's had time to look down from wherever he is and check in my gigs from time to time.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

2017 Goals

I don't celebrate the major holidays or my birthday, but I do take time at the turning of the year to sit down and think about the things I'd like to accomplish in the year ahead. You might call them resolutions, but I call them goals. The word resolution sounds intimidating to me, but a goal sounds doable. It's important to understand that even if you don't quite meet your goals, you're doing something positive just by working toward them.

Each year, I review the previous year's goals, and then I write up a new list and stick them on the fridge. I had four ambitious goals for 2016. I only met one of them, but I made a lot progress toward the other three.

2016 Goals
  • Weigh 190 pounds. I bit the bullet and stepped on the scale early last year. 270 pounds. Gulp! This wasn't nearly the 324 pounds I used to weigh, but it was still about 80 pounds too much. I got to work, being more careful with my diet and exercising regularly. I currently weigh 215. I haven't met this goal yet, but I'm well on my way.
  • Record Godfrey and Guy's first album. Goal achieved! We recorded our first Godfrey and Guy album, You and the Night, and we're very proud of it. It's a collection of night-themed jazz songs. We added horns, bass, and drums to our voice/guitar duo, and it turned out just as I had hoped. Lori Guy's vocals are sublime, I'm happy with my guitar playing on the recording, and my horn arrangements turned out nicely. And yes, this album is for sale. You can order yours at www.godfreyandguy.com!
  • Increase my private student roster to 25. This didn't work out, but for all the right reasons. At the time I wrote this goal, I was teaching at Tessitura, a music studio in Decatur, GA. The owner, Lynnette, had been looking for renters for times the studio wasn't being used. Luckily for her, someone approached her about renting her space full time to open a personal training gym. She couldn't pass up an opportunity like that. She gave me two months notice, which was plenty of time to figure out what to do about my teaching situation. Since most of my students live in or around the same neighborhood, I decided to travel to each student's home to teach. This worked out really well! I'm paying much less in gas than I was in renting the studio. I had to space the students further apart to allow for travel time, which meant that I didn't have time to teach 25 students. My roster increased from 12 to 18 students, and I'm earning more money per lesson than I did teaching at Tessitura. As far as private teaching is concerned, this year turned out just fine.
  • Memorize a total of 120 Godfrey and Guy songs. Not quite. The previous year, I had memorized 60 Godfrey and Guy songs. I thought I could memorize another 60 this year, but that was pushing it. Many of the songs I memorized in 2015 were low hanging fruit – songs that were either mostly memorized or pretty easy to memorize. The remaining songs are more challenging. That being said, I memorized 47 more Godfrey and Guy songs this year, for a total of 107.
Suitable for framing
(or sticking on the fridge)
2017 Goals
  • Finish guitar method book. I've been pecking away at this project for a little while, but I haven't made any meaningful progress. It's time to get to work and make this happen. With my music education background and experience, I feel I can write a better guitar method than what is already available. I've been using my holiday downtime to get started on this. I'd like to finish it this year and start using it with my students in 2018.
  • Record a Godfrey and Guy Christmas album. Now that we have our first recording under our belts, we'd like to record a Christmas album. Our plan is to take older Christmas songs and jazz them up. Why older Christmas songs? Because many of them are public domain, and we won't have to pay for licensing! But also because there are some great songs out there. We're already working on a playlist.
  • Weigh 190-195. I dropped 55 pounds in 2016. With 20-25 pounds to go, I feel confident that I can hit the 190-195 mark in the coming year. My Air Force weight was 185, but that was with a super strict diet and lots of running. My aching knees don't allow me to run anymore, and I refuse to diet as strictly as I did in the Air Force. It's hard to say exactly where my weight will eventually settle, but 190-195 seems reasonable.
  • Submit choral music to publishers or self publish. I've written a lot of music for my choir at Northwest UU Congregation. I plan to go through the music I've written for my choir and bookmark those that I think are publishable. Some may require revisions, and some may be perfect as they are. Then I'll have to decide whether to submit them to publishers or self-publish. I'm leaning toward self-publishing. With my background as a professional music engraver, I can create a great looking musical score. And with digital technology, I can easily create PDF scores for customers to download.
  • Memorize a total of 130 Godfrey and Guy songs. I have memorized 107 Godfrey and Guy songs, so I only have to memorize 23 to meet this goal. Some of the songs that remain unmemorized are tricky, and I have to constantly play through the 107 memorized songs so I don't forget them. With that in mind, I think that memorizing 23 songs is a reasonable goal.
I'm excited about the upcoming year. So what are your goals?

Monday, December 26, 2016

Grand Pause

December is awkward for me. When someone asks about my Christmas plans, I tell them that I'm not doing anything. After a brief silence, the other person doesn't quite know what to say, and even worse, they may invite me to their house for Christmas. I don't celebrate Christmas or any of the other major holidays that cluster around this time of year. I've regretted the few times that I've taken someone up on their offer to spend a Christmas day with them. After about 30 minutes of sitting around trying to act festive, I begin thinking about all the guitar practice time I'm missing. I'm no Grinch. I don't want to ruin anyone else's Christmas, and I'm happy for those who love the holidays. Birthdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, New Year's Day – to me, these are all regular days. While I don't celebrate these holidays, I very much look forward to the time between Christmas and New Year's Day.

"Grand Pause" is a musical term. Written over a rest, a "G.P" indicates that all the musicians stop playing at once.

I like to think of the week between Christmas and New Year's Day as a Grand Pause. Work is often on hold. People are traveling or staying home and resting. I love this week. Lessons are canceled, no rehearsals are scheduled, and gigs are sparse. For this one glorious week, my calendar is blank.

I'm filling my own Grand Pause with projects. I've been practicing Christmas music for a month, and now it's time to brush up on my regular repertoire again. I'm arranging music for a January performance. I've started writing a guitar method book. This is all time consuming, but with the Grand Pause and a clear calendar, I still have plenty of time for movies, naps, and books. By the end of this week, I'll feel refreshed and ready to tackle the coming year.

Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, I hope you have a time for your own Grand Pause before everything starts up again.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Half Century

Today I turned 50 years old. The big 5-0. A half century.

I don't really celebrate birthdays. If others are offended that I forget theirs, maybe they'll find it reassuring that I often don't remember that it's my own birthday until half the day has passed. Thanks to Facebook, I'm now reminded of each birthday as soon as I fire up the computer.

If you had asked my 20 year old self what my 50 year old self would be up to, he would have predicted that:

  • I would be firmly established as a band director in a major high school or in a college.
  • Along with that high profile high school or college band directing job would be a family and a nice house. I'm not big into white picket fences, but I love porches. That house would have a big wraparound porch.
  • I would be playing trombone in a local group, either a jazz band, concert band, or chamber ensemble like a brass quintet.
Well, 20 year old self, the joke's on you. None of that happened. Instead, I am a freelance musician doing the following:
  • Holding the part time Director of Music position at Northwest UU Congregation.
  • Performing as a freelance jazz guitarist and singer.
  • Teaching guitar, ukulele, and piano lessons.
  • Working as a freelance music engraver.
How did I end up here? Who cares? I love what I do. I don't have that one steady job or a nuclear family, but in spite of some nasty twists and turns, I've managed to create a life filled with music. I'm unable to play the trombone anymore, but I'm having a blast with jazz guitar, which is an endless puzzle to be solved. I love all my students, and in my NWUUC music director job, I'm surrounded by caring people and a supportive staff.

So here's to 50 more years! As for today, I'm going to celebrate by going about my regular day with a lighter heart.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Ready for More

It's August – back to school time for many. For me, August means it's time to gear up for another year at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation, where I serve as Director of Music. This is a part time position, and I have two months off every summer. Around this time last year, I was feeling burned out despite my summer break. It's not a good sign to feel this way before the new church year even begins! It got worse, too. I thought that I would maybe feel more enthusiastic once I was back in the swing of things, but I kept feeling more and more burned out as the year progressed.

I don't know why I felt this way, but I have a couple guesses. We were going into the new year with the intention of trying new things, including a more informal Sunday service called Worship Café, which we scheduled every couple months, and the Join-In Choir, which was a new initiative of mine. Both of these ideas involved some extra effort on my part, particularly the Join-In Choir, for which I wrote all the arrangements. Going into the new church year, I knew I was going to have some more work to do in a schedule that was already pushing up against the limits of my 15 hour position.

Mostly, though, I think I was feeling burned out because I was going into my fifth year, making this the longest time I've stayed at any job. Aside from my four years in the Air Force, I've always been a freelancer, working at home and taking on projects as a music engraver, performer, and teacher. I don't know if there is any such thing as a "five year itch" in the world of work, but if there is, I was feeling it.

This year I feel so much different. I'm excited to come back and start working at NWUUC again. Some of it is just a general feeling of enthusiasm that seems to have come on, and some of this is deliberate on my part. I've taken some personal steps to help me put this year in perspective, including:

  1. Deciding to even out my NWUUC work schedule. The Director of Music is a 15 hour position, but I have rarely worked exactly 15 hours in any given week. If I'm doing a lot of arranging, I have often put in 20-25 hours in a week in addition to performing, teaching lessons, personal practice time, etc. Other weeks, I might work as few as 8 hours. Each staff member kept track of their hours last year, and my hours miraculously averaged out to almost exactly 15 hours, but the roller coaster ride of longer and shorter hours took its toll. This year, I'm taking steps to even out my hours.
  2. Putting in some "preseason" work. This relates to my first decision to find a way to even out my hours. During the summer, I've been logging some hours, organizing a choir retreat, doing a bit of library work, and copying new music for the Band. I've been doing this on my own time, without the pressure of any deadlines. As the year progresses, I'll be factoring in these hours. If I start to feel guilty that I've put in a few 12-hour weeks in a row, I'll remind myself of the significant number of hours I've worked and recorded this summer.
  3. Learning to love my work. I listened to an interview featuring Mike Rowe, the host of Dirty Jobs. Mike Rowe observed that many of the people who perform some of the nastiest, dirtiest, smelliest jobs actually seem enjoy what they do. He said that they have learned to love their work. Listening to that interview and comparing Dirty Jobs to my Director of Music job, how could I not love my work? Are there things I don't like about it? Of course! But there is so much more to love about it. I work with a supportive staff. I give amateur singers and instrumentalists an opportunity to make music. My piano accompanist is ridiculously talented and easy to work with. I have to work within an overall framework, but I have quite a bit of autonomy. I pick all the band and choir music. Although the minister usually has the final say in hymn selection, she selects from a list of hymns that I suggest each week. I get to fiddle around with a sound system. And I get paid for all this.
So, as I begin my sixth year at NWUUC, I'm recharged and ready to go. It's going to be a good year.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

2016 UUMN Conference Highlights

I just returned from my fourth UUMN Conference. This year's conference was held in Madison, WI at the First Unitarian Society of Madison. As usual, I had a great time and learned a lot. I'm extremely introverted – practically off the charts in every personality test I've ever taken. In spite of that, I've gradually been getting to know some of these lovely UUMN folks as I continue returning to the conference and seeing many of the same faces each year.

Here are some highlights, observations, and lessons learned from the past week:

  • The flight out and back. I considered it a good omen when my seat on the flight out was upgraded to the "almost first class" section. That's the first time I've had leg room on a flight. A young boy across the aisle was on his first flight. As the plane lifted off, he shouted, "Woo hoooo!" I live in Atlanta now, but I grew up in the Midwest. As we approached Madison, I felt a sense of homecoming as we few over fields of corn and soybeans. Alas, my seat wasn't upgraded on the flight back, but it sure felt nice to touch down in Atlanta and feel the familiar oven-like heat of home.
  • Practicing in public. With plenty of wait time, I practiced guitar in the airport. During the convention, I practiced guitar in a hallway in the hotel so I wouldn't wake up my roommate, who probably wouldn't appreciate hearing scales and arpeggios at 5:30 a.m. I used to feel self conscious practicing in public, but between my Noosh and L'Thai gigs, I play so much background music that practicing in public spaces actually feels normal.
  • Plenary sessions with Marcia McFee. In addition to leading each morning's service, Marcia led two sessions entitled Think Like a Filmmaker: Sensory-Rich Worship Design for Unforgettable Messages. Marcia gave us a lot to take in. Essentially, her premise is that she considers filmmakers to be the preeminent storytellers of our time, and that the main reason for this is that film offers a blend of elements, including visual and musical components. When all the components work together properly, they combine to form an experience that sticks with you. Leading by example, Marcia's services and workshops layered a number of stimuli at the same time. Sometimes music was used to underscore spoken word. There was a theme throughout the conference based on the refrain from a hymn: "There are numerous strings in your lute. Let me add my own among them." There was a visual component of actual "strings" at the front of the auditorium (actually, long, colorful ropes) that were used in different ways from service to service. One of Marcia's main themes was planning services so that you move seamlessly from one event to the next. At Northwest UU Congregation, I think we do a fairly good job of transitioning from one thing to the next in services, but there is always room for improvement.
  • Too much of a good thing. While I agree with most of Marcia McFee's ideas, I feel that an overemphasis on the seamless transitions and layering of visual elements, spoken word, and music can be too much of a good thing. I may be in the minority among the attendees, but I felt that the services sometimes crossed the line and came across as productions. To me, it felt like we were being led by the nose through services. As a layperson, if I were visiting a church that went to such extremes to put on a sensory rich experience, I wouldn't come back. Along the same line, in her workshops, Marcia will often stop and tell everyone to talk to the person sitting next to them about a topic that she just covered. As an extreme introvert who needs to sit and think about things, this was incredibly off-putting to me. I came to dread the "let's discuss" moments. I would have appreciated a "let's sit quietly and think about this" moment, and then I may have been more open to the "let's discuss" moments. Again, I'm probably in the minority, but in discussing the workshops with others, I'm not the only one who felt this way. As the conference went on, I started sitting as far away from others as I could and put out the "don't talk to me vibe" when we were asked to "discuss amongst ourselves."
  • Lots of playing. Last year, I was a little disappointed that I didn't get to play for any services or workshops despite throwing my hat in the ring. Well, I wasn't disappointed this year! I had the privilege of playing for two morning services, a friend's workshop, and in my own workshop. Aside from the joy of playing the guitar, it's important for me to play with others at these conferences. I'm extremely shy about meeting people, but if I'm holding a guitar, I feel very comfortable interacting with those around me. Once I've met and worked with someone in a musical setting, I begin to feel more comfortable speaking with them in non-musical settings like lunch, the bus, between workshops, and in the hotel lobby.
  • We Like to Move It, Move It! This was a fun workshop with Sarah Billerbeck, focusing on music and movement activities for children. First of all, it was just plain fun and silly, plus Sarah was working with a room of real, live kids, so there was a lot of energy in the room. I played guitar for Sarah on a few of the songs. That was fun, and it allowed me to some room for improvisation as I was accompanying the children's movements. And even though I don't work often with children in my church job, I still learned a few songs that I could teach to my choir as warm-ups or even use for congregational singing.
  • Repertoire! I learned several songs that I plan on introducing to Northwest UU Congregation. I was introduced to several terrific new choir pieces in the choral reading sessions. The music for the conference choir was, for once, easy enough to introduce to an average church choir. I'm excited about bringing some new songs to the Northwest Band, and I picked up a few songs that could serve for congregational singing or material for Join-In Choir.
  • How to Get Asked Back. Led by Joyce Poley, Aaron McEmrys, and my good friend Sarah Dan Jones, this session was for the "troubadours" – those musicians who travel around to offer workshops, special services, concerts, etc. This is not something I've done as a Unitarian Universalist music professional, but it's something I've been thinking about off and on. This panel discussion gave me a few ideas for the kinds of things that someone with my unique skill set could offer, and the panelists gave some good practical advice about nuts and bolts issues like marketing and pricing.
  • Building the Band. For the first time, I presented a workshop of my own, called Building the Band. I talked about lessons learned from starting a band, finding music, spicing up hymns with a band, and rehearsal techniques. This was the last workshop slot on the last day, so there were fewer attendees than there probably would have been if I had presented this workshop on an earlier day. Still, it felt like the people who attended got something out of it, and I had fun putting this together and presenting it. Each of my main topics could have been an entire workshop topic, especially the section on rehearsal tips. Learning from that, if I have the opportunity to present a workshop again (and I hope I do!), I'll choose just one or two big topics next time so we can go into greater depth. Aside from that self-criticism, I felt very good about this presentation and consider it a success, especially considering it was my first time. I was pleasantly surprised at the number of questions, both during the workshop and after, when people approached me in the hotel to talk some more. On top of that, one person described me as relaxed and open to questions, and another described me as inspiring. So, pat on the back for myself before I start picking away at where I need to improve.
  • Meeting the Band. One of the best parts about putting together my workshop was throwing together a band to play some musical examples. I was unable to find a time and place for everyone to meet at once for a rehearsal, so I rehearsed the music with one or two musicians at a time, and then we all played together for the first time at my workshop. Although I didn't expect to have to rehearse this way, it worked out really well. Aside from playing with some terrific musicians, I had a lot of fun working with everyone. Kudos to Susanne Maziarz (bass), Tristan Strelitzer (drums), Scott Roewe (alto sax), and Jed Levine (piano). We want to play together again next year! I don't know in what capacity we'll play. I don't care if we play a workshop, a service, or we just end up playing together at the hotel. I just hope we can all play together again.
  • Meeting an Old Friend.  Most years, I find that the workshop is being held near an old friend. This year, I had a chance to meet up with Jon Becker. I first knew Jon when I was an undergraduate trombone player at the University of Illinois. Jon was a trombone player studying for a his Master's Degree in music education. Several years later, I worked with Jon as part of the Collins project. I engraved the entire body of work of the American composer Edward Joseph Collins. This was a LOT of work! We're talking several large orchestral works, some involving choir, concerti, numerous piano and chamber works, and even an opera. Overall, this was about 10 years worth of work. Jon wore many hats in this project, including editor, so we were often in touch about the progress of each project, fixing errata, and other music engraving matters. Although Jon and I were in touch frequently during this period of time, we hadn't seen each other in person since I graduated from the U of I in 1988. It was really nice to meet Jon face to face and catch up in person.
  • Choral Workshop. Emily Ellsworth, the conductor of the children's choir at this conference, presented an absolutely superb workshop. Nominally, it was about working with children's voices, but as Emily herself said, it was really about working with voices of all ages. She focused mainly on choral warm-ups. As I took notes at this year's conference, I would often use a highlighter so that my attention would be drawn to especially salient points when I went over them later. Looking at my notes now, I highlighted most of the page. As an instrumentalist who isn't as comfortable working with voices as a trained choral conductor, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I'm doing a lot of things right. That doesn't mean that I didn't learn a lot from this session. I learned a few things I could tweak to make my choral warm-ups more effective. I learned a physical warm-up that will get the choir laughing – not that it takes much to get my choir laughing. I also have decided that I need to take voice lessons. It's something I've been thinking about, but Emily just came out and said it. She recognizes that many music directors (including me) who direct choirs are trained as instrumentalists. The best way we can learn how to teach vocal techniques effectively is to take voice lessons. I'll be looking into that. I learned a good way to describe a dynamic range to a choir. Number 1-10. Number 1 is the softest dynamic that will still project to the congregation. Number 10 is the loudest you can healthfully sing without shouting. I'll start using this number system with my choir. I remember learning about a similar number system back when I was a high school trombonist playing in all-state band. It was good to be reminded of this. I'm grateful for Emily's workshop. This single session was worth the trip.
  • Call and Response, Zipper Songs, and Rounds. I would like to learn more songs that a congregation can learn to sing quickly. Fortunately, my friend Sarah Dan Jones is a living library of these types of songs. I got to talking with Sarah Dan in the hotel lobby, asking her if she could recommend a book or other source for learning call and response, zipper songs, and rounds. At this point, Sarah Dan's repertoire lives mostly in her head, and the songs bubble up as they're needed. Sarah Dan mentioned that she sometimes thinks about writing them down, but she hasn't gotten around to it. Well, I'm the king of "writing things down." I offered to engrave them for her if she'll sing them to me. We're going to set up a Skype call and get all this started. Who knows? Maybe this will turn into a future publication. At the very least, I'll learn a lot of fun songs.
All in all, this conference was a wonderful experience. It always is. I learned a lot, deepened some friendships, and have a sense that I'm beginning to find my niche within the UUMN community.

Next year's conference is in Arlington, VA. I'll be there!