Catching Up

1958372_10101432305575119_262272049425363395_n It’s been a while since I’ve posted. I figured that I should play catch up with what’s been happening, although to be honest, it’s not really all that exciting.

Apollo Men’s Chorus wrapped their two-week recording project. They spend the last four days of class working really hard, recording a bunch of their music from the last two semesters. It was great to see them all enduring to the end of the semester. It also happened to be my last time rehearsing with them as I’m not conducting them next year. Working with the men’s chorus at USC has been a great experience. They’ve worked so much and absolutely buoyed me up. I’m so proud of everything they have done. I’m going to miss working with them.

I finished my second year as a DMA student at USC. The last two weeks were pretty brutal, on top of all the other stuff to do during study days and finals week. I finished but didn’t feel much closure or satisfaction. I guess that’s how it works right? Right? On top of that, I’ve started summer classes. Not much of a break there. Oh well.

During all that, I used some frequent flyer miles to go up to Portland (the city of bridges) and hear a performance of “Pure Imagination” by BYU Singers. It was a really magical performance with lots of heart and testimony. It was also great to be able to take a bit of time off to visit with some of my best friends and explore Portland. I’ve been tremendously blessed.

10322793_10101432316952319_6422399334597777167_nMy parents came out to visit with my grandma and my aunts and uncles. They came and visited Santa Monica pier where we saw dolphins. Then we had lunch up in Palisades Park looking over the ocean. It was pretty awesome!

I flew out to Pittsburgh (also the city of bridges) to attend the wedding of another one of my best friends. It was my first time in Pennsylvania and everyone was so kind to me. The wedding was really special and touching. It was my first time in the wedding party as a groomsman. Lots of fun!

A friend invited me to Disneyland this last weekend. It was my first time in over 10 years! I forgot how much fun it is. I’m very much the person who can’t help but think about the corporation of Disney behind the whole theme park and media empire. It can sometimes ruin the experience. I tried to ignore that walking around and just let my imagination open up again. It kinda felt like being a little kid again. I’m pretty sure that I have that maturity level anyway, so it all worked out.

I’m working on some new commissions right now. Once I finish things up I’ll post them here. I’ve got about five pieces I’m working on right now, but having a difficult time finishing. Maybe if I just focus on one, the others will follow like dominos? Anyway, more to come.10374968_10101432305400469_2885089119599785029_n


Workshop in Oregon

I had a really wonderful experience this last weekend. I was invited by Carol Stenson from South Salem High School to visit and give a clinic to her choir. They were singing “Everyone Sang” getting ready for State and wanted my help in performing it. One of my friends from Portland told me that this high school was well known in the area for its choir. Fly to Oregon and work with a great high school choir on “Everyone Sang?” Yes please!

I love Oregon, but had only been to Ashland for the Shakespeare Festival and hadn’t been to Portland or Salem. Driving through the area reminded me a lot of Ireland and took me back there instantly. The green, the weather, the scenery, the hills and the Portland waterfront; It all brought back great memories.

As far as the actual workshop/clinic is concerned, I had a BLAST! To be honest, it was my first clinic so I was nervous and not sure how it would turn out, but Carol Stenson was such a gracious host and very welcoming. The students were well-prepared, flexible, and very willing to work. They were all engaged, bright-eyed, and hard-working. Every time I challenged them, they answered back with lots of energy and excitement. IMG_2928We worked on “Everyone Sang” for almost two hours and didn’t even feel fatigued. Such exciting work!

After lunch we worked on “Os justi” by Anton Bruckner. That was exciting! We got to talk about Bruckner, his life and music, the Cecilian Society, the mode, the golden mean, as well as the meaning behind the text. It was greatly rewarding to work on such incredible music with this choir!

Incredibly grateful for this experience and wish South Salem High the best of luck at State very soon! My only complaint is that it was much too short.

“Pure Imagination” to be Published!

Okay! Contract signed, I can talk about it now! After working on getting it published for a year and a half, my arrangement of “Pure Imagination” is going to be published with Santa Barbara Music….sometime…soon (Update: “Pure Imagination” will be available August 2014). I’m actually not sure about when yet, but I’ll try and stay up to date. Once I find out, I’ll post it.

This week, both the USC Chamber Singers and the BYU Singers will be performing this piece in their respective concerts this coming weekend. USC at St. Matthew’s Church, Pacific Palasades, Friday, March 28th @ 7:30 PM; BYU Singers at the de Jong Concert Hall, Provo, Friday, March 28th @ 7:30 PM. Simultaneous concert premieres!

I’ve been enjoying my spring break away from Los Angeles, but that will be coming to an end soon as I drive back tomorrow.  All the best for now.

“Pure Imagination” Concert Premieres + Tours

Okay, I can finally talk about it now! This spring, both BYU Singers and the USC Chamber Singers will be performing “Pure Imagination” in concert. In addition, both of these ensembles will be taking this piece on their tours this year, BYU Singers to the northwest, and USC Chamber Singers to China and South Korea.

This is super exciting for me! Two world-class ensembles singing this on their tours is more than I could ask for. More news to come on this particular arrangement for sure. In the mean time, to celebrate, here’s YouTube clip of Benedict Cumberbatch singing a small snippet of “Pure Imagination.”

What I’m Learning: Listening


A few weeks ago, The Hilliard Ensemble visited us here at USC (but the early music department didn’t tell anyone about it till 10 PM the night before their workshop the next morning…that was an episode). They shared a lot of great things about performing and answered questions with refreshing honestly, humor, and pragmatism. It was so great to hear sensible, straightforward answers from such a renowned ensemble. One of my favorites had to do with their opinion of “authentic/historical” pronunciations. The answer essentially was “Listen, when those Flemish chaps got their hands on the latest and greatest new motet from Rome they didn’t say, ‘Hey, let’s sing this like we’re a bunch of Italians!’…I’m not promoting ignorance, but I don’t give a !@#$.”

They said one thing that really stuck with me. I don’t remember who said it, but essentially told the ensemble they were workshopping that they needed to listen to each other more. He went on to say, “You think you’re listening to each other, but I promise, you’re not. People rarely ever, ever, ever actually listen.” This is SO true.

I had the opportunity to study sound recording technology as part of my Bachelors of Music, and will forever be grateful. I wish that more people actually went through that program or at least took audio and sound classes before pursing a career in choral music or as a conductor. The biggest reason I believe this is because the whole idea behind those classes and that degree was to learn to listen.

Think about it for just a second, how many classes have we taken to learn to read? How many classes have we taken to learn to write? Have you also taken classes on public speaking or debate or where presenting has been a large part of the class? Now how many classes have you taken on how to listen? If you studied music in college you’ve probably taken some ear training or dictation classes and that’s a good start.

audio-recording-equipmentOne of the first things I learned in my first class is that there are basically two different branches of listening: critical and analytical. Critical listening is all about the quality of the sound or tone. Many questions that come with this branch of listening include: “Is that the best mic for that sound? Is that the best mic placement for that sound? Is there noise in that sound? Is that pitch in tune, flat or sharp? Is that vowel unified?” It’s about getting the best sound.

Analytical listening on the other hand is all about the meaning of the sound or the emotional context of the sound. Questions about analytical listening can include, “Is this instrumentation too spare for this song? Does that line have enough feeling? Is this break/space too long here? Is this sound too assertive for this song? Do I believe the singer(s)?” It’s all about getting the best performance.

And of course, both of these branches of listening contain worlds of different aspects of that particular part of listening. The more I studied sound recording, questions were brought up, and many times that answer was (besides “it depends”), “What are you hearing?” The further I got into my studies, the more I realized my own deficiencies in my listening and how much I just don’t capture and sometimes ignore. It included a difficult trip to the audiologists to get a hearing test and seeing what frequencies I hear better or worse in each ear. Thankfully, I was made aware of what my listening lacks and how I can continue to make up for it.

Sadly, I’ve met a number of people who only listen one of these ways, and even a few who don’t really hear either way. Their brains receive the information their ears pick up, but fail to really discern the quality or the meaning of the sound. I’ve seen this happen in choral rehearsals from both sides of the podium, conductors who fail to hear what’s really happening in the room. I’ve even seen conductors pretend to hear things that AREN’T happening to cover that they’re not really hearing anything at all; They’d rather pretend that they’re hearing things and make stuff up (and end up chastising the choir).

I’m not saying I’m perfect at hearing what’s honestly happening in the room, several of my recordings tell me the truth about stuff I’m not hearing. One thing a mentor taught me was to record (but not videotape) a rehearsal and see what I miss in the moment, but catch later on. First time I did it, I was shocked by what I wasn’t catching during the actual rehearsal, but grateful that I was able to notice these errors another way.

One of the most rewarding experiences I have is to sing next to a friend, listen to their voice, and then adjust my own voice to complement their voice and then notice our sound get better. The best part is when that friend returns the favor and begins to listen and adjust to complement my voice. I have a few friends who I know can do this day or night, rain or shine, without even being asked. When Gabriel Crouch (former King’s Singer) did a Q&A with us at BYU, he told us about his experience auditioning for the King’s Singers. As he rehearsed with them, he said that it was like having 5 sets of ears riveted to sound of his voice. He said he had never experienced anything like it before and that it was one of the most moving experiences he’d ever had.

Listening is a big deal, and we rarely ever do it. We should fix that.

New Hymn for My Hymnology Class

Yes, it’s a real subject and yes, it’s a real class. Our assignment was to write a hymn tune to an existing text or widely used meter. I chose this text because I despise the music written by Rousseau in the LDS hymnal. Sadly, I only noticed later that my melody was all too similar to his.

Also, I had to harmonize it. I just couldn’t leave it alone. Seriously, how do you expect me to write a hymn tune without harmonizing it? If you like it, you can print it and use it freely. Just give credit, it is still copyrighted.

Lord, Dismiss Us with Thy Blessing

What I’m learning

acdalogoblackI’m now halfway through the coursework for my doctoral program here at USC. It’s been a very interesting experience and I’ve been learning quite a few things about choral music, teaching, and myself. It’s been a dramatically different experience than the one I had at BYU, where I also learned a lot, and it’s been interesting to see the differences.

One of my mentors told me that I should write down the things that I’m learning outside of classes. The instruction in the classroom does teach you a lot, but there are some lessons you only learn outside of the classroom. I wanted to start a new series on my blog about what I’m learning and write it down like my mentor told me told. We had a visit by the Hilliard Ensemble, and I can’t wait to share some of the things I learned from them!

I don’t suppose this will interest many of you, but if it does, please feel free to comment about anything you might have learned in the process. I’m sure there are even more things to learn about choral music that I haven’t encountered here at SC or at BYU. I suppose that’s why we have conferences.

Speaking of conferences, Western division of ACDA will be coming up here in Santa Barbara next week! Looking forward to seeing some old friends again!