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.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Join-In Choir

We tried something new at Northwest UUC last Sunday. Instead of a traditional, rehearsed choir, we held the first ever Northwest Join-In Choir. Singers of all ages were invited. No one needed to know how to read music. The join-in singers joined in with the regular Northwest Choir, and they were accompanied by the Northwest Band. I taught them the music in one rehearsal, and they sang in the service.

Join-In Choir was a hit! I had been hyping the Join-In Choir for at least two months. My nagging fear was that, after all the articles, emails, special announcements, and one-on-one conversations, nobody would show up. I was pleasantly surprised when ten new singers appeared. Four singers had confirmed they were coming, so I was expecting at least that many. It was terrific to see six others stroll in, including two that had left the regular choir a couple years ago because they could no longer make the time commitment.

Rehearsal was lots of fun. It was a powerful experience to hear my small choir beefed up with ten more voices. I actually had trouble singing the first two songs in the service; I was so moved by the sound of the Join-In Choir that I was choking up a little. As I was looking around the congregation, I was pleased to see non-choir people enjoying the music. I think they were as surprised as I was by the power of the extra voices, and I saw some big, big smiles on the faces of some visitors.

One thing I learned is that even though my regular choir is fairly small (around 18 members), several people in our congregation have a desire to be part of Northwest's music making. There will probably be even more singers next time. Two join-in singers were out of town but will sing next time. Two more young singers will probably join next month. Our minister plans to sing with us, and there may be some others who join us next time after seeing us have so much fun the first time.

Now that we have successfully launched Join-In Choir, we'll offer it once a month. Five years ago, a typical monthly music schedule at Northwest was alternating one Sunday of piano music with one Sunday of traditional choir music. Here's what our schedule looks like now:

  • 1st Sunday: Northwest Band
  • 2nd Sunday: Northwest Choir
  • 3rd Sunday: Northwest Band and Join-In Choir (includes regular choir)
  • 4th Sunday: Piano
Aside from a relentless marketing campaign, there were some other factors that contributed to a successful launch of Join-In Choir.
  • Easy Music – The music was easy enough that I could teach it to the join-in singers in one rehearsal. For example, we sang "Blowin' in the Wind." I sang the verses while the choir hummed, and the choir sang the chorus. In our rehearsal, we spent a few minutes repeating the chorus over and over so the singers could find harmony lines. I stressed that someone needed to sing the melody, so it was not a big deal if they couldn't find harmony notes. Also, the hymns for the day involved a lot of call and response. For example, I led the congregation in singing "This Little Light of Mine," and the choir echoed each phrase.
  • Regular Choir Musical Support – Although I could have easily waited until Join-In Choir day to teach this music to the regular choir, we rehearsed the Join-In music lightly in the couple weeks leading up to Join-In Choir day. The Join-In singers were surrounded by people who were already confident in the music, so if they weren't quite sure what to do, they just had to listen to whoever was standing next to them.
  • A Welcoming Choir – I knew the regular choir would be friendly and welcoming, but I also wanted to make sure the Join-In singers felt they had a place in the choir – literally. We made sure that the regular choir members left empty chairs. The last thing I wanted was for the regular choir to be bunched around the center while the Join-In singers sat on the periphery. 
  • The Band – Although the Join-In Choir was in the spotlight, the band was a huge part of Sunday's success. The Northwest Band had already rehearsed their parts, so on Sunday, I was able to focus nearly all my attention on teaching the music to the singers.
It took me a while to warm up to this Join-In Choir idea. I first heard about it a couple years ago when I was talking with someone at the UUMN Conference in Dallas. It seemed like an interesting idea, but I didn't do anything with it. Still, the idea was rattling around in my brain. One of my own choir members brought up the idea not long after that conference. I still didn't do anything with the idea. Finally, I heard that another Atlanta UU congregation had started a Join-In Choir, and that it was a lot of fun. Why did I wait so long to offer this opportunity? If this past Sunday was any indication, this is going to be a popular and permanent addition to Northwest's music program.

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