Inspiring the Next Generation of Singers

YMCF.HillmanMore than 100 young men recently gathered in Providence, Rhode Island, not to compete in a sport or debate in a tournament, but to sing.

Under the leadership of Jamie Hillman, assistant professor of music, and a group of Gordon music students, the singers participated in the 2014 Young Men’s  Choral Festival sponsored by the Providence Singers. Hillman, along with student conductor Alessio Tranchell, lead the Gordon College Men’s Choir in songs such as Festival Sanctus  (John Leavitt);  My Lord, What a Morning   (arr. R. Lee Gilliam); and Geographical Fugue  (Ernst Toch). Hillman was invited because of his extensive background and expertise in choral conducting, and also conducted the Young Men’s Choir Festival final concert with songs such as: Cripple Creek   (arr. Ken Berg); Dirait-on   (arr. Morten Lauridsen) and No Ne Li Domi   (arr. Jester Hairston). To watch a short video of the event, click here.

Learning to Sing by the Book

Susan Brooks

After twenty three years of teaching voice at Gordon, Susan Brooks, professor of music, knows a thing or two about singing. That’s why she and her husband, Thomas Brooks, also a professor of music as well as a renowned choral director, have written How To Teach Teens to Sing: Voice Lessons and More, a new book for young singers and music educators alike. To be published this year, How to Teach Teens to Sing includes interactive components, CDs, photos and exercises. With another book underway for choral conductors, here’s how the Brooks describe How To Teach Teens to Sing:

“Practically all students enrolled in their high school choirs do not know how to sing. Unlike instrumentalists who by high school age have taken many  lessons on their instruments, most high school singers have had no instruction on how to properly use and improve their voices. Most of them have no skills for or experience with healthy singing. In fact nearly all teens have only been exposed to ‘pop’ singing, which in general does not foster good singing and in fact often leads to vocal problems and the deterioration of voices. It is our view that teenagers have difficulty learning to sing well, developing musical and artistic skills, and therefore contributing positively to their choruses without some solid vocal instruction. This book—a sequential set of 14 guided lessons—is designed to introduce and reinforce  the basic fundamentals of proper vocal technique to high school singers and those who teach them.

Readers of  How to Teach Teens to Sing learn the basics of vocal production and how to set up a sensible system of  learning to sing based on a sequential weekly lesson format. They’ll see real progress take place as the student (and teacher) work to improve and strengthen the voice, and improve their understanding of vocal problems and have some diagnostic tools in place to begin to correct them. Finally, they’ll experience a higher degree of expertise and feel more confident as individual voices and skills improve.

The book also includes access to a website for students and teachers containing more in-depth voice information with links to even more sources including video clips and interactive models, pictures, and graphics; an anthology of songs (hard copy); a CD of recorded piano song accompaniments, and a teacher’s DVD presenting fourteen 10-minute sample lessons which correspond to the fourteen lessons found in the text book. Teachers can watch a lesson being taught to a high school student using the actual concepts from the textbook. In other words, we wanted this to be a practical and easy-to-use resource, one we know is really needed out there, and we think it accomplishes that!”

Voting and Coolness, Lectures and Leadership

Faculty contributions beyond the classroom have been many during the past few weeks. Here’s a sampling:

On election day, Paul Brink, associate professor of political science, was a featured guest on the “John Hall and Kathy Eamons Show” at 5 o’clock p.m. for the Salem Network Radio affiliate in Pittsburgh, PA, to discuss a Christian approach to voting.

Jonathan Gerber, assistant professor of psychology, published the results of his study, “Measuring the existence of cool using an extended Social Relations Model” in the current edition of peer reviewed online journal Psychnology. Gerber was also recently interviewed about his study by a reporter for the Boston Globe for a story that was published in the print and online editions, Thursday, Nov. 8.

Judith Oleson, associate professor of social work, has been asked to lead a pre-conference session at the American Academy of Religion’s Annual meeting Nov. 16th in Chicago for evangelical theologians/scholars involved in the Postcolonial Theological Network. The session entitled, “Enhancing and Equalizing the Roundtable in Postcolonial Theological Dialogue” will explore themes such as the power of dialogue, and power dynamics within dialogue across culture, traditions and historical contexts.

Dwight Tshudy, associate professor of chemistry, was the invited speaker for the Fourth Annual Sigma Xi (Northshore chapter) Lecture in October. Dwight’s lecture on green chemistry and sustainability was delivered to an audience of students and faculty from Endicott College, Gordon College and Salem State University.

Peter Iltis, professor of kinesiology and horn, gave a talk entitled, “Musician’s Dystonia: What do we know, and what can be done?” on October 24th at the New England Conservatory. Attendees included students, faculty, several clinicians and medical people who work with dystonia patients, and at least one patient suffering from dystonia as a violinist.

During the last weekend of October, Joel Boyd, associate professor of chemistry, lead a group of nine students to Boston’s Museum of Science where they facilitated the museum’s outreach activities. The Museum’s annual event during National Chemistry Week brings hundreds of visitors to participate in hands-on activities.

Sean Clark, associate professor of  kinesiology, gave a lecture entitled, “Exercises for Balance and Mobility: From Fitness to Fall-Prevention” at the Massachusetts Clinical Exercise Physiologist 2012 fall meeting. Clark’s talk included a practical, learning by doing component where attendees performed various progressive exercises similar to those in our program at the Center for Balance, Mobility and Wellness.

Summer Scholar: The Muscles of Music Performance

Peter Iltis, second from left, with Jeff Nelson, second from right, and colleagues at the Fearless Performance Advisory Group in July.

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of stories exploring what Gordon professors are up to in between semesters.

Most people might not think about the intricate muscles around a musician’s mouth as he or she plays the trumpet or French horn. But when those muscles—known as the embouchure—aren’t working the way they’re supposed to, well, suddenly music takes on a scientific and medical dimension.

Enter Peter W. Iltis, professor of kinesiology and horn, who in February 2012 published an article on music performance anxiety for the journal of the International Horn Society (IHS). Based on research he’s done over the past several years around movement and muscle disorders in musicians, Iltis (who is also the medical and scientific editor for IHS’s The Horn Call) connected his findings to the level of anxiety musicians often face when they perform. The result?  Iltis got a call from world renowned horn player and ‘fearless’ performance coach, Jeff Nelsen, who is also a full professor at the prestigious Jacob School of Music at Indiana University and speaker at the TED Talks in July 2011.

Nelson read  Iltis‘s article, invited him to Indiana for a week in July, and the two—along with a select group of colleagues—discussed how they might work together, bringing science to the art of musical performance. Now  Iltis will serve as a consultant to Nelson for future coaching sessions, a video series and possible workshops. Below is the article he wrote for the February 2012 edition of The Horn Call:

Music Performance Anxiety: The Science behind the Problem”

By Peter W. Iltis

Many musicians struggle with music performance anxiety (MPA), including horn players.  Through the years in The Horn Call, we have heard from many professionals about their own individual approaches to dealing with it.  However, a review of the scientific literature on this topic has not been published in our journal to date. In her recent review of psychological approaches for treating MPA, Dr. Julie Nagel [1]observes that organic medical conditions and the symptoms they evoke may be exacerbated by psychological factors, complicating both treatment and recovery.  She suggests that therapeutic strategies for treating many disorders require acknowledging this, and developing a more holistic approach that includes psychological approaches.  While my focus in this article is on MPA itself, in a recent article on embouchure dystonia, I commented on its apparent association with anxiety.  Though the scientific community is reticent to attribute anxiety as a cause for dystonia, the association has been made [2, 3], and an understanding of factors related to and methods for dealing with MPA is warranted.  It is beyond the scope of this article to fully explore the anxiety/dystonia connection.  However, examining MPA separately has application for all musicians.  This article describes the nature of MPA, and examines samplings from the current literature to provide some general principles for understanding and coping with this condition.

The sympathetic nervous system and music performance anxiety

When we are placed in circumstances we perceive as threatening, we have a built-in mechanism for coping.  It is a branch of our autonomic (automatic) nervous system known as the sympathetic nervous system.  This is that part of our body’s automatic control system that prepares us to “fight or flee”.  Our heart beats faster and stronger, the pupils of our eyes dilate, our airways become more open, our muscles tense, and even our salivary glands begin to secrete more viscous saliva that can give us that dreaded dry mouth feeling.  While these are changes that prepare us to deal effectively with physical threats, they are counter-productive to the performing artist attempting to play a musical instrument.  The fact is, our sympathetic nervous system has responded to something that poses no real physical threat to us with physiologic adaptations that are not helpful.  Why? Continue reading

Summer Scholar: Salzburg Symposium & Program Explores Dynamics of Sacrifice in European Culture

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of stories exploring what Gordon professors are up to in between semesters. 

Tom Brooks

Gregor Thuswaldner

Five Gordon professors will return to Austria July 9-August 13 for the second annual symposium of the Salzburg Institute of Gordon College with the University of Salzburg. Co-directors of the Institute, Thomas Brooks, professor of music, and Gregor Thuswaldner, associate professor of German and linguistics, along with Susan Brooks, professor of music, Jim Zingarelli, professor of art, and Pamela Thuswaldner, adjunct professor of German, will also teach in the summer school program, which includes classes, tours and the international symposium. Here’s how Thuswaldner and his team of organizers described their call for papers:

Making Sacrifices: Visions of Sacrifice in European Culture                                                                       University of Salzburg, Austria; July 31, 2012

Much like Italian premier Mario Monti did at the beginning of December, politicians are increasingly calling on citizens to make sacrifices for the future of their countries. Such public invocations of sacrifice place politicians and their constituents in a state of tension at least partly because of the difficult and often contradictory connotations of sacrifice. Sacrifice, a concept of religious provenance deeply embedded in European culture, can mean to offer for destruction and to make amends, to hurt and to heal, make whole, or sacred. Such oppositions at the heart of sacrifice make it a dangerous and much-fraught concept, as well as a fruitful and powerful one in numerous spheres of culture.

This year’s symposium of the Salzburg Institute of Gordon College is dedicated to investigating notions of sacrifice as they appear at important junctures of European culture, past and present. The following questions, among others, will be considered: Continue reading

Doneski: Music ‘Teacher’s Teacher’

Twelve years ago, Sandy Doneski wanted to give children on Boston’s North Shore an opportunity to grow as musicians. But she felt it was equally important to provide music education majors the chance to develop as teachers and conductors.  So she started the Gordon College Children’s Choir, and its young members have since performed countless times under Doneski’s leadership as the artistic director.

The children’s choir is one of dozens of contributions Doneski has made to foster musical development and to advance music education throughout Massachusetts. Now Doneski— who is an associate professor of music and the director of graduate programs in music education at Gordon—will be honored as the 2012 recipient of the Distinguished Service Award by the Massachusetts Music Educators Association (MMEA) during its annual state-wide conference in Boston March 1, 2012. She is recognized as an innovative leader and ‘teacher’s teacher’ within the state association.

(Click here to read the press release.)


More than a Song: Music Learning Helps Across Disciplines

Music classes in school offer much more than learning how to hum a few bars. That’s why Oxford University Press decided to summarize the forefront of music education research and stress the intricacies of human musical learning across disciplines in two new volumes for the Music Educators National Conference (MENC) Handbook of Research on Music Learning. Released in the fall of 2011, Volume 1 focuses on strategies, and Volume 2 explores the application.  Sandra Doneski, associate professor, award-winning music educator and chair of Gordon’s music education program (pictured here, right), co-authored (with Kenneth H. Phillips) a chapter for Volume 2, entitled, “Research on Elementary and Secondary School Singing.”

Doneski said that, “Our chapter strives to bridge the gap between research and practice with special attention to the developmental acquisition of singing skills for students in elementary and secondary schools. We looked at everything from the use of accompaniment, assessment, social and cultural attitudes about singing, and audiation, that is, what it means to comprehend sound through musical syntax and context, to instruction, female and male voice changes, pyschomotor coordination, song acquisition, song literature, rehearsal strategies and techniques, sight singing, and teacher preparation. Each contributes in some way to a student’s overall success.”