Friday, March 16, 2018

PODIUM 2018 Choir Blog series: Dr. Nicholle Andrews

After a much needed hiatus, I am so happy to be back writing! I am officially starting off my 2018 blogging with a blog series devoted to the Spotlight and performing choirs for #PODIUM2018 !
Today's post is the first of many interview previews of performing choirs for PODIUM ON THE EDGE taking place from June 28 - July 3, 2018 in St. John's NL!

...and what better way to begin the previews with none other than Newfoundland-born conductor and educator, Dr. Nicholle Andrews of the University of Redlands Chapel Singers!  

The University of Redlands Chapel Singers is an advanced 27-voice chamber choir composed of undergraduate and graduate students. Founded in 1965, the ensemble has a long tradition of musical excellence. The Chapel Singers regularly perform concerts, church services, and educational workshops in Southern California. The ensemble performed on the hit TV series, "Glee" as well as sung with Pete Townshend, Billy Idol and Alfie Boe in their performance of The Who’s Quadrophenia in Los Angeles. The ensemble has toured extensively in the United States and internationally. Under the direction of Nicholle Andrews, Chapel Singers performed at the Sixth National Collegiate Choral Organization National convention in Portland, Oregon, 2016 California All-State Music Education Conference in San Jose and is looking forward to performing at Canada’s Biannual National Convention – Podium in July of 2018.




What do you feel makes your choir unique from other choirs? 

NA: I believe that we are the only choir form the USA that is performing in Podium this year. Also, I am a Newfoundlander, so to bring our students to my home province is very exciting!

     What are some recent highlights you have had with your choir? 

NA: In September 2017, we sang with Pete Townshend, Alfi Boe and Billy Idol in their performance of Quadrophenia at the Greek Theatre in LA. We also are singing with The King’s Singers in April 2018. We have also performed performed at the Sixth National Collegiate Choral Organization National convention in Portland, Oregon, the 2016 California All-State Music Education Conference in San Jose, CA.

What is the importance of fostering choral singing for your choir?

NA: The Chapel Singers is a University ensemble consisting of both undergraduate and graduate students. Founded in 1965, the ensemble has a long tradition of musical excellence. Chapel Singers regularly performs concerts, church services, and educational workshops in Southern California. This group performs an incredible wide range of repertoire from sacred to contemporary secular. This speaks to the diversity of both the members of the ensemble, and the University of Redlands at large.

     What challenges do you see working with the voices in your choir? 

NA: As we are a university ensemble, the members change every year. Though we have wonderfully talented students, without consistency, we are challenged to essentially start fresh every September. That can be invigorating, but also challenging!

     Where do you begin when you start building a programme list coming to Podium

NA: My first step was to commission Canadian composer, Stephen Eisenhauer to arrange a piece for us. I wanted to introduce traditional Newfoundland music to my students. The next step was finding repertoire that would work with the commission. I believe that we have found a great set that will inspire both the choir and the audience!

     What can audiences hope to see from your choir at Podium

NA: The University of Redlands Chapel Singers will inspire and entertain audiences with a wide variety of repertoire. We will be singing Compline at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, A Capella repertoire at our Cameo performance and challenging 20th century choral music at our Spotlight concert!

     What role do you see Podium having in the world of Canadian Choral music? 

NA: I see Podium serving the same role as ACDA in the USA. When attending national conferences, it allows ensembles and individual musicians to be introduced to a world of music that they may have never experienced. It also creates a national community and identity, and with a country the size of Canada, having so many unite in one location can be life changing for all involved! It is a time to be challenged, inspired and create lifelong friendships.

     How important is it for choirs to promote the works of contemporary Canadian composers? 

NA: As a Canadian living in the USA, I program Canadian composers every year, and my doctoral dissertation at McGill University was the music of R. Murray Schafer and Imant Raminsh.

When you are looking to commission a work for your choir, what are the considerations you keep in mind when choosing the right Composer for the job? 

NA: I believe that the composer must know the conductor and the ensemble. For me, there has to be a human emotional bond before there can be a musical bond.

     What do you consider when you’re preparing to introduce a new work to present to          your choir? 

NA: I am always so excited! I make sure that I have worked with the composer to come up with a piece that will inspire the ensemble.

     What are the challenges when you are looking at repertoire to program for?

NA: As I mentioned earlier, because we are a university ensemble, programming works a year in advance is challenging because of not know who will be in the ensemble.

     Explain your musical upbringing and what eventually drew you to choral music? 

NA: I am a Newfoundlander, and singing is as natural to our people as breathing. I come from a very musical family, my brother and sister also have their doctorate in music. Our parents supported us on every front, and even though we are all instrumentalists, we also sing. I completed a B.Mus in oboe performance,  and B.Mus.Ed at MUN. At the time, I had no idea I wanted to be a choral conductor, but upon graduation, I took my first teaching position at a K-12 school in rural Newfoundland, and within weeks, I knew. I went back to my mentor, Dr. Doug Dunsmore, and informed him I wanted to become a choral conductor. He said that he knew all along, and that it was just a matter of time before I came to the realization! I completed the year teaching, and moved back into St John’s to study with both Dr Dunsmore and Susan Quinn to prepare for a masters audition in Choral Conducting. I was accepted at McGill, where I completed my masters with Dr. John Baboukis and Professor Iwan Edwards, and my doctorate with Dr. Julian Wachner.

     What are some future goals of the choir? 

NA: The sky is the limit for the University of Redlands! We have an administration that supports my ideas and dreams, and the students are always excited to go along for a wild ride! I would like to have Chapel Singers perform at ACDA, as well as other international festivals.

     What do you hope the conference and festival attendees will take away from the experience? 

NA: I want our students to experience the Canadian culture through music. Having 27 students be part of a large Canadian Choral Community will be life changing for many of them. I also want to introduce them to continuing their studies in Canada!

Originally from Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, Nicholle Andrews is Director of Choral Studies at the University of Redlands. Under her direction, the choral ensembles at Redlands have been invited to performed at festivals and conferences such as the National Collegiate Choral Organization (NCCO) Convention, California Music Educators Association (CMEA) Convention, California All State Music Educators Conference (CASMEC), and Festival 500 Sharing the Voices. She is in high demand across North America as a conductor, adjudicator, and clinician.

Andrews is currently training as a body mapping clinician (Andover Educator). Her areas of research include the study of performance anxiety in musicians, pitch perception, and awareness of the body through conducting. Her publications can be found in sources such as the Journal of Research in Music Education. 

In January 2013, Andrews created the University of Redlands Youth Choir as a training program for both children from surrounding communities, and music education students at the university. The program, now in its fourth year has grown in numbers allowing the creation of a Training Chorus (ages 5-8) as a feeder ensemble for the Youth Choir (ages 9-16).

Having completed her doctorate and master’s in choral conducting at McGill University, Andrews studied with Professor Iwan Edwards, Dr. John Baboukis, and Dr. Julian Wachner. While at McGill University she taught musicianship, instrumental conducting and choral conducting. She completed a Bachelors of Music in Oboe Performance and a Bachelors of Music Education at Memorial University of Newfoundland where she studied conducting with Dr. Douglas Dunsmore.

Andrews has also taught music (kindergarten to grade 12) in several public schools throughout Canada and England.

Thank you so much, Dr. Andrews!

The University of Redlands Chapel Singers perform on Monday, July 2nd 11:30am-12:30pm at the Cochrane Street United Church as a Spotlight Choir for #Podium2018.

You can follow Dr. Andrews and the Chapel Singers on social media and Soundcloud:

- Blonde in the Choir

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Anxiety and Choir: My Struggle

I woke up this morning in the worst of moods.
"Why did I keep screwing up silly things I've practiced at rehearsal last night?" 
"Why do I deserve this solo?" 
"I keep getting looks from the conductor. Oh no."
"Why am I so cranky when I should be happy to be singing and surrounded by friends?" 
"Stop apologizing all the time, it's annoying!"

"Why am I such a failure?" 

After being diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, I've been struggling with a strong bout of it lately and realized how it affects my singing/managing abilities in rehearsal and in a social setting. 

I love my choir fam and I work hard to make sure their choral experience is optimal. As a choir manager, occasional soloist, arts administrator, and friend, the responsibility often weighs heavy on me and my brain forces me to over-analyse my behaviour in rehearsal and in interacting with others. 

Here's an example:

In May 2016, I got a huge solo in Paul Mealor's Stabat Mater. Being a mezzo-soprano and an alto in the choir, completely switching gears to solo-mode with high A's stressed the crap out of me.

It's not that I couldn't do it - it was because I was petrified of disappointing myself and my peers because of my role and responsibility in this choir. 

I worked my butt off, took lessons, and received many compliments. However, my mind was stuck on the "negative" aspects of my performance. 

I listened to the recording and just cringed at any point where I "may" have been off-key or not in line with the orchestra. I felt defeated despite everyone telling me it was great. 

Fast forward to January 2017: I'm chatting with my artistic director over wine and explained to him how I was feeling and apologized profusely for any actions that may have made the performance less-than-perfect. He was so surprised to know how this affected me for so long and reassured me on how much he enjoyed the performance and the positive feedback he received from everyone. 

But why is my anger on my performance STILL in a constant loop? Why can't I just let it go? What am I so afraid of?
We are all guilty of knowing this feeling of being our own worst critics. But with anxiety, I've noticed it trickle into my criticism towards other singers. I hate it. 

These are my friends and I make it my goal to cheer and encourage them as much as I can. But lately, I don't have the energy because I'm so exhausted from my self-deprecating thoughts on my own choir "flaws". 

This devilish inner monologue distracts me and causes a negative reaction when a fellow singer supposedly "can't get their shit together" in rehearsal:

"Just chill out. It's ok, Amy just - OMG WE'VE DONE THIS BEFORE WHY CAN'T YOU GET THE RIGHT NOTE!"
"Calm down. This is not a big deal. Remember why you're here and why you love choir." 
I go home. I go to bed. I kick myself for being so critical, hoping no one noticed and judged me. 

Most days are good and then there's days like today where I feel like calling my friends to apologize for being so cranky and critical of myself and others in rehearsal. 

So how do I overcome this? 

To be frank, I'm still working on it. In the meantime here's what I got for my mental first aid kit (in no particular order of importance):

1 - Working out: My personal trainer is aware of my GAD and is very supportive when I am having a bad day. After a workout, I feel calm, alert, and proud I did something for me. I also sleep better! 

2 - Understanding my anxiety and calling it out on its crap: I have to separate the anxiety as something that's other than me. This separation keeps the demons at bay.

3 - ALL OF THE BIG BREATHS! Yoga helps too. Namaste, friends. 

4 - Vocalizing my anxiety with someone I trust: Isolation is my go-to so I try to do the opposite and talk to someone who's opinion I value. Even just being around people laughing and enjoying the evening without talking about my anxiety really helps. 

5 - In busy "pull my hair out" times, I focus on gratitude instead of anxiety: 

“If you feel like you are a servant to your calendar then I think you’re going to be stressed out,” he says. Instead, try “to feel like: I do a lot of things and feel good about them and I have a really full life.” - Ryan Howes, PhD. 
This is 100% accurate for my love and appreciation of all the choral projects happening in my life. 

6 - Step back, take a breather and binge-watch mindless movies/shows: I completely steer clear of high-intensity or stress inducing thrillers because it triggers my anxiety at times. I tend to watch a comedy or light drama that doesn't require much thinking. It allows me to turn my brain off and finally relax on the couch. Hello Buffy and Spike showmance!

All this being said , this is definitely learning experience for me and I know I will overcome the life chores that are laid out for me. 

I love you all and thanks for hearing me out. This post wasn't easy to write but knowing I poured this information out there, I can finally breathe this morning. Namaste. 

- Blonde in the Choir  

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

My Current Music Projects

As I embarked on a new season of singing endeavours this past September, picking it back up after a very short-lived two-week summer break was as if I never stop rehearsing! 

I am busy. So damn busy that I couldn't write this post, planned in September, until December but hey, choir chores! 

So here is a little update to my current music projects and goals I plan to meet this for 2016-2017 season:

Newly-formed Aella Choir

I've never sung in a full fledged women's choir but joining this brand-spanking-new group was a great decision from the beginning. What started as a simple July 1st gig, turned into something incredibly special between these wonderful, talented women. 
We have SO much fun rehearsing and putting out new ideas for repertoire and concerts (including video game themes!). It really is the epitome of community with this 13-voice group. 

Under the direction of founder, Jennifer Berntson, we often rehearse without a conductor, forcing us to move and communicate as one. We also often switch voice parts to spice things up!
Want to learn more? Check out our recent Aella blog  and browse our concert season!

The ever-growing Capital Chamber Choir

My primary focus this year is CCC - who has a big season of choral projects lying ahead, including the recording of our first all-Canadian choral album that wrapped up in October! This season, we are pushing the envelope with even more complex yet incredible repertoire from Baltic and Scandinavian composers such as Tormis, Rautavaara, Praulins, Esenvalds, and also exploring more works by our favourites: Whitacre, Lauridsen, Paulus, and Gjeilo. 

We are also revamping the CCC website and broadening our exposure by collaborating in projects with other local choirs to enrich our little community, here in the 613! 

Check out our 2016-2017 season and projects!

Join in Canada's 150th festivities with "Sing Ottawa en choeur":

I have the pleasure of Chairing the Planning Committee for this new choral festival celebrating Ottawa 150th birthday through song. Cantata Singers of Ottawa have teamed up with Capital Chamber ChoirOttawa Regional Youth Choir, and Ottawa Children's Choir to bring you a full fledged weekend festival programme highlighting many works by Canadian composers, including many local composers from Ottawa: 

This new choral festival will cover selected Canadian music across all provinces including music of Nouvelle-France as well as some insightful panel discussions with prolific choral composers, conductors, and arts administrators!
The website will be fully launched in the new year with program and ticket information so keep an eye open! 

Exploring with Jazz Lines Vocal Quartet:

We've may been on a break this fall but we will be using most of our 2017 winter exploring new jazz arrangements of our favourite songs and experimenting with more choreography and solo work! 

Music searching...always

There's never been a such a time where I was so passionate and more curious about choral music than now. So much that my Netflix Fridays have now turned into OMG-WHAT-IS-THIS-PIECE/COMPOSER-IT'S-SO-GOOD Fridays...and I am okay with that. 

I've always loved going out to choral concerts and exploring new repertoire however it's as if Podium Choral Conference (Edmonton, May 2016) sparked something in me that craves a need to go to more concerts and Friday night music searching. Nothing like a win-win situation to soothe the soul. 

'Guess it's safe to say I live and breathe choral music.  

I found this comment on Youtube via Eriks Esenvalds "Only In Sleep" and couldn't have describe my love for choral music any better:

To me, a capella choral music is the purest, most organic and beautiful form of music. No instruments, not technologies, nothing but the hearts, ears and voices we were born with. -ltyr2001 1

- Blonde in the Choir 

Monday, November 14, 2016

Choral Connections and Social Media

"Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell." - Seth Godin

I've always loved the use of social media connections and only noticed until recently its absolute power to unite the choral community as a whole. You may have heard of the campaign called "22 Push up challenge" this summer that raised awareness of suicide and mental health among soldiers, veterans, and their families. It had essentially gone viral on the internet - much like the Ice Bucket Challenge a few summers ago. 

To join the campaign, Ottawa's newly formed women's choir Aella Choir first uploaded a video of all members doing push ups to support a fellow member taking part in the challenge. What was only a simple video to upload to our Facebook page turned into a full fledged string of nominated choirs across Canada to participate reaching all the way to Vancouver, BC! 

Choirs such as Capital Chamber Choir (Ottawa, ON), Christ Church Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys (Ottawa, ON), Pro Coro Canada (Edmonton, AB), Vancouver Chamber Choir (Vancouver, BC) already kept the stream going!

The Christ Church Cathedral Ottawa Choir of Men and Boys's video is here!
Aella's video is here!
Pro Coro Canada's upload is here! 
Capital Chamber Choir's upload is here!

This is just a small token of how social media can truly connect us all to the community that's out there - especially for choirs!

For someone who manages six (YES SIX!) social media accounts for choirs in Ottawa and other choral organizations, I'd like to give you some tips for more exposure on social media platforms:

1 - First determine your communications plan with the executive board/marketing committee and decide how you will promote and market your brand and concert season. 

2 - Assign one or two social media savvy members who can devote time to taking photos, videos, weekly posting, and creating concert events on behalf of the choir to keep your followers updated on the choir's activities. You can keep it simple with only a Facebook page and Twitter account dedicated to the choir and assign admins to post content. Instagram is also becoming another popular platform for choirs. 

3 - Make sure you've written out a media-release form for your singers to sign, giving you the right to post content on them with their consent, even if it's a simple photo where they're in the background!

4 -  Go on a social media following binge and "like" or "follow" as many choirs or choral-related blogs, pages, and local organizations. It's pretty amazing to find neat choir content from choirs all over the world!

5 - In your social media posts, always "tag" pages that are connected to the content you are posting. Example: "X Choir is recording works by "Y" composer (insert @ with their username)". Don't shy away from using hashtags such as #choirlife #ChoirRehearsals etc. This almost guarantees that "Y" will see your mention and pass the word along! 

6 - If you're a choir manager like me, don't forget to add in a small email blurb to your singers encouraging them to share your recent social media posts with their friends and family! 

7 -  Regularly post Youtube videos or short video teasers to show off your choir's talent and/or to promote an upcoming concert! While you can have a stellar social media plan, your followers do expect you to deliver on the caliber you claim to have in your content. 

8 - Updated photo-shoots every season is not a bad idea to showcase new members! It's also very useful for website/blog content! 

9 - Setting up a Mailchimp account is very useful for email communications to your contacts. 

10 - Get in touch with local marketers and blogs for exposure and building relationships! I've recently discovered Amyin613 and I just love what she does in promoting and blogging about local events, products, and giveaways! This is a perfect opportunity to reach out to these bloggers/promoters to help market your event. Capital Chamber Choir will certainly be reaching out to her for our upcoming CD launch party in the winter and offer her a season ticket pass! 

One of our newer choristers approached me this weekend and said they found us on social media which motivated her to audition for us! It's good to know this social media "thing" is working its magic! 

- Blonde in the Choir