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Summary - 2010 Liederkranz

Liederkranz met November 5, 6, and 7, 2010 at Menucha Retreat Center in Corbett, Oregon...about 30 miles east of Portland on Historic Hightway 30, overlooking the west end of the Columbia Gorge.

Our 2010 presenter was Vance George of San Francisco. george-meharg

Several member of the group provided personal summaries of the event.

Steve Demorest
The business of modifying vowels above and below the staff is something I am eager to try to see if it can work. The careful attention to how words like "the" are spoken reminded me of some of the work I did at Westminster where Joe (Flummerfelt) was very careful about unstressed syllables.

Neil Lieurance
It was Bruce Browne at Liederkranz several years ago who inspired me to pay more attention the use of “small vowels” or “shadow vowels” in addition to vowel modification, syllabic emphasis, dynamics, etc. as a means to make texts sound more natural and musical. I greatly appreciated seeing Vance George put this concept into practice with the student demo choirs as well as with the Liederkranz participants. It was also good to be reminded that “less is more” in most conducting situations, particularly to avoid overemphasizing the intended effect.

Tpacific youth choirhroughout the weekend I jotted down some phrases that Vance espoused. Not all were new to me, but it was good to be reminded of some expressions worth reviving…
• Sing, conduct, invite sonority.
• We are in process, and life is not fair.
• Puppy-dog tone
• “Gee, I’m sorry I wrecked the car last night!” (I believe he credited Paul Salamunovich for this phrase.)
• Gloria – sometimes pronounce like “Claudia”.
• Athletes have a body stance (intention) that prepares for the arrival of energy & structure.
• Don’t spend too much time showing your passport as you cross over into Canada.

I also appreciated several of the breathing, stretching and warm-up exercises.

I must not close without emphasizing that the ideas, wisdom, knowledge and expressions of friendship gleaned from the Liederkranz membership and guests continue to be the greatest gift of all. Thanks, everyone!

Morna Edmundson
Vance’s presentation style was relaxed and deeply felt.  I got the sense throughout the weekend that there were no barriers between him and us, and that made room for us to also be very open to sharing and learning. 

george2In the course of several sessions, it was clear what his personal priorities are for his choirs: attention to details of diction in service to the composers’ intentions.  Also, constant reminders of posture and vocal production.  Both of these areas make sense especially in the context of a large symphonic choir trying to speak over an orchestra. 

I would love to have watched him work in a regular weekly rehearsal with his choir.  I felt the workshop with “live” choirs was a good idea although a bit lacking in direction as the afternoon wore on.  Although I didn’t agree with everything in Vance’s priorities, it was great to spend time hearing from someone with a lifetime in American choral music.  The perspectives on Shaw and Waring were especially interesting.

As for things I picked up from colleagues, I used Gary’s “thumbs up / thumbs down” trick last night at my rehearsal and the choir understood right away that it was a quick and accountable way to have the singers focus on balance with those on their left and right.  I’ll definitely use that again. 

Excited to hear about Sarah doing solo songs with her choirs as I also did that with Elektra last year to great success.  Fun to spend a few minutes talking repertoire with Gary and Margaret (so much music, so little time!). 

I really appreciate the balance of structured and unstructured time in the weekend and the group’s openness to move without ego between being teachers and learners at all times.  The drive home was grueling… (note to self: get Nexus card before next November!).  I think that’s it from this side of the border.  Thanks and admiration to everyone who makes this group happen.

Judy Herrington
I'm very grateful and appreciative of the opportunity to be part of this group and for time together this weekend.   I have wanted to hear Vance's ideas and watch him teach for a long time.  I was struck that many of the concepts he was addressing was a result of preparing chorus' to sing with symphonies which I found very hharrison-branton-conlonelpful.  His teaching and conducting from the vocal principles was important for all of us.  Gave wonderful new concepts and new explanations for vocal concepts that I would like to use this week!

I especially valued his comments on 'big picture' ideas--we are all pretty goal oriented and driven and it was helpful to have that question posed and given time and space to reflect on it.

It is always valuable to talk with colleagues and to appreciate the many levels and layers of their work and study.  I can point to some very specific curriculum changes I have made that came out of conversation from Liederkranz sessions.

If I was to express a concern it would be to be sure we are all clear as to what the criteria of membership includes:  professionally and personal.  Both of which is important but I think it would be helpful to name it (ie. generosity of spirit, desire to learn, interested in others, etc.) 

I am grateful that the reading session format will be clarified--I think it was fine this weekend but as a newcomer I wasn't sure if I was required to bring something and what was appropriate. 

David York
One simple philosophical statement that Vance made in passicanbyng was particularly galvanizing for me.  Perhaps it's stating the obvious, but was something that I had both taken for granted and to honest, forgotten.  The reason that we come together as Liederkranz is to be with people who understand us in ways that don't occur in our usual range of daily activities - beyond the support of our families, our choristers, and our work colleagues.  We learn things, yes; but more importantly, we relax into the safety of 'our own kind' and recharge, rethink, and revitalize.

Vance also opened our ears to listen for more natural and authentic use of language, specifically vowel choices on deemphasized syllables.  In many cases, simply making them smaller (U for the 2nd syllable of 'Jesus' <vs. JezAHs>; I for the 2nd syllable of 'blessed'; a small-mouthed schwa for 'the'; and a brighter e <verging on i> for 'benedictus').  This made the language more understandable and relatable, and in the case of sustained vowels, improved the vertical alignment of the overtones resulting in better intonation.

Inviting a lab choir was fun - something that might be of interest in future years.  One choir would have been sufficient (permitting Liederkranz singers to join in), and attracting more-skilled directors should be a priority, or instead leave the directing for the clinician and/or Liederkranz participants.

Bernd Kuehn (2010 visitor)
Generally, we have a pretty good idea of why we do what we do for a living.  It was a useful exercise to ask us to reflect on that and become fairly specific. Vance also caused me to seriously reconsider the quality of vowels in the choral setting.

Connie Branton
Other than totally enjoying the companionship of all who attended this year, I will share two ideas that stood out for me.

1.  I must continue to hound my church choir about accented and unaccented syllables.  Unaccented syllables in the text can be modified even more than I have asked for in the past.

2.  The concept of a purpose for my life is something that I should reconsider more often.  I am no longer defined by my work, but much more by my family interactions.  My work is part of me, but certainly not the centerpiece of my life.  I learned to be comfortable in my own skin about 10 years ago and not rely on anybody but me for my happiness.  Now I must also make sure that I continue to serve a higher purpose in my life as a retiree.  I still want to feel that my existence makes a difference to others as I always felt when I was teaching.

Howard Meharg
I, for one, was jarred into realizing that my strict attention to a proper and correct vowel for every syllable of every word may have been just a bit misplaced. That vowel modification to a more natural approach, especially on unaccented parts of words…and the reminder that such modification, when above the staff for sopranos and tenors, is totally acceptable as well desirable. I’m sure my singers will thank Vance for this, also.

His comments about Fred Waring were wonderful. I attending a Fred Waring workshop in the bay area not many years before he died. He put in a brief appearance and demonstrated the approach to diction that so many of the Shawnee Press publications of the era had…with the vowels and consonants written out under the main text (that caused an occasional question from a student asking “what language is this under the English?”).

We learn so much from such things and from our colleagues that we can’t always identify how we came to practice what we do in preparing a choir. Offhand I’d say that Paul Christiansen’s emphasis on the concept of unison as a guideline and Waring’s approach to vowels and consonants have both been important to me. But I’ll also be thinking more often now of freeing up my singers with a more natural approach to the unaccented syllable (the “uh” or schwa) and stressing the need for register changes, especially as they move to the higher notes of a phrase. GREAT stuff for us all. I'm grateful to Vance for the inspiration as well as all this practical information.green-ploeger

Green and Ploeger become Liederkranz members
Margaret Green, who conducts Belle Voci, a professional level women's ensemble in the Portland area, the women's chorus at Lewis and Clark University, and who teaches at the Vancouver School of Arts and Academics in Vancouver, WA become one of two new members in Liederkranz in 2010.

Kristina Ploeger, director of choral music at Eastern Washington University in Cheney as well as conductor of the Spokane Area Children's Choir was the second member added this year.

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