Inspiration for Teachers

I’m thrilled to tell you that I am the incoming director of Inspiration for Teachers–the teacher education component of Singspiration, the award-winning choral camp for youth (grades 4 to 12) at Concordia University of Edmonton.

Participants at Inspiration for Teachers will have many opportunities to observe and work with master conductors Elise Bradley (Junior Choir) and Dr. Graeme Langager (Youth Choir). There are many other amazing presenters through the week, including  Catherine Glaser-Climie (Director of the Cantaré Children’s Choir Program in Calgary), the extremely versatile percussionist Dwayne Hrynkiw, and Alyssa Paterson (Manager of  the Youth Orchestra of Northern Alberta/YONA-Sistema), among an incredible roster of presenters and clinicians.

There’s also an Adult Summer Choir under conductor Graeme Langager (Artistic Director of Vancouver’s award-winning Phoenix Chamber Choir).

Get more information about Inspiration for Teachers and consider joining us for a wonderful week of professional development and singing!

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deanna’s got talent. or not.

I recently had breakfast with a dear friend. Someone I’ve know for many years. He’s made an incredible career for himself, particularly as a playwright and an actor, with a gorgeous singing voice to boot. At breakfast, I told him how through college, I envied him his talent–he seemed to get involved in so many things. A whole bunch of opportunities seemed to fall in his lap. But as I watched him develop as an artist, I quickly realized that while, yes, he is a gifted performer, he works his ass off. He seeks opportunity. He creates opportunities for himself. As I recounted this at breakfast, I thought I was being generous in noticing that his work ethic  equaled or exceeded his already considerable talent.

My friend’s response? “I don’t believe in talent.”

He went on to say that the idea of talent is a trap: talent suggests something innate. That those who are declared not to have talent should, or do, give up. Those who are deemed talented either get complacent or have the weight of producing genius every time they create. Nobody benefits from decrees of talent.

huh.

Then today I was in a wonderful vocal improvisation workshop led by David Hatfield–a warm and wonderful teacher from Vancouver here in Edmonton for the weekend. And I found myself remembering when I was first introduced to this style of improvisation (based on the work of Bobby McFerrin). Back then, I was shy, anxious, yet eagre to be seen and heard and found worthy. I didn’t know how to start an improvisation, didn’t know how to make interesting sounds, how to join in. I was afraid of, on the one hand, sounding terrible (possibly the worst outcome for a singer). But on the other hand, I was afraid I would attempt to show off and my vocal contribution would be ego-filled, not in service of the music emerging in the group. Even though I did really really want people to think I had something special, something extraordinary, I didn’t want people to think that I thought that. That would be gauche.

Welcome to the jumble of anxieties that filled my mind back then. Yeah, vocal improv was rife with anxiety, my brain running rampant over my creative and embodied impulses.

Today, I kept thinking about that introduction to vocal improv so long ago because today was so very different. I am much more comfortable improvising. I am comfortable in my own skin–largely because I like myself now. Through my work with Fides, I know my body and voice, and I’ve got tools now to help me enter into music, to listen, to follow my body’s physical gesture, or open my mouth and see what sound comes out and follow that. I kept exploring vocal improv over the last ten years, and learned to let go of trying to be a genius in favour of trying to be curious.  Also, I am also a better musician now from all of my conducting training, my performance experience, and my graduate studies. In short: I’m a better musician because of all the work I’ve done, and continue to do. My musical lines today were more complicated, more interesting. But at the same time, I’m totally happy to be a fool. To sound bad, sing wrong notes and stumble along. I’ve discovered that while singing made-up music feels so terribly risky, it turns out that nothing terribly bad happens when I sing a wrong note. I just keep singing until I sing my way into some more interesting notes.

Throughout the entire day, I felt grounded, present with others but not losing myself either. I wasn’t perfect by any means, and there were far more accomplished singers and bigger risk-takers in the group. But that fact was a gift rather than an insult: what an honour to learn from each singer, who came with varying levels of experience and who each gave something uniquely of themselves.

And now I really know, I KNOW, my friend’s point. Talent is a shallow way to think about how we engage in the arts. It suggests the start and end point are the same. “Talented” renders artistic practice into a Yoda-like tautology–you either are or you are not. But this is a false way of thinking that splits the world into artistic winners and losers.

In fact, artistic practice is about engaging in exploration, risk-taking, curiosity, and willingness to make something bad. Artistic practice is work, it is continual growth. Throughout today, I didn’t care whether I was talented. I only cared to sing and follow musical impulses. To sing in community. To learn from others. To find times to stand out and find times to support the musical excellence of others. Above all, to sing in service of the music.

Thanks, friend.

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you may now call me dr. dee

I defended my thesis at the end of August, and handed in the final document a week later.

I think that, technically, I’m not a doctor until my convocation in November, but unofficially:

I AM A DOCTOR!!

And I am a doctor who now lives in Edmonton, Alberta.

I just had my childhood piano delivered from my parents’ house to mine today. My new studio needs work, but it’s looking promising:

picture of Deanna's studio (full of boxes)

Not quiiiiite homey yet, but with a little love and a lot of work, I think this will make a fine studio.

I also have plans in the works, including group classes, a vocal playlab, and mulling over the possibility of a no-commitment pop choir. I’m also beginning work on a solo interdisciplinary performance piece/research project.

I’m very excited for what’s to come.

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westward ho!

Big changes in my studio. I will be defending my ph.d. in August this summer, and then relocating to Edmonton, Alberta (apparently the most up-and-coming city in Canada).

I will continue to teach privately through my studio in Toronto until early August, and will likely re-open my studio in Edmonton once we are settled, teaching in person and via skype, while also continuing my academic and artistic work.

Feel free to contact me for more information or to stay in touch.

Have a great summer!

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Concert: ‘My Mother is the Ocean Sea’ May 10 @ 3pm

Poster for May concert of Echo Women's ChoirEcho Women’s Choir is performing a concert on Mother’s Day afternoon, with Ukrainian singers Mark Marczyk and Marichka Kudriavtseva of Lemon Bucket Orkestra. I am not conducting in this concert, but am singing with a full heart!

Come join us!

Sunday May 10, 2015 @ 3:00 pm
Church of the Holy Trinity
(10 Trinity Square, next to the Eaton Centre)
Tickets: $15 advance/ $20 door/ $10 seniors, children, underwaged

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Reflections on RIME

As you might know, I am finishing my PhD in Music Education at the University of Toronto. So last week I attended the international conference known as RIME: Research in Music Education in the beautiful University of Exeter in England. This was the view from my bedroom window:

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Besides the tremendous views, I also got a lot out of the conference itself. Now that I am back in Toronto, I find I am left both excited and troubled about the state of music education world-wide.

Excited because I saw many presentations that examined a wide array of music teaching and learning scenarios that wandered well beyond school-based choirs and bands: music education was constructed very broadly to include all ages, and many contexts, from underground rock music in Iran to music as a form of participatory culture to drama-oriented teaching strategies. And I also saw research about what I think of as traditional approaches to music education: school-based ensembles. And here too, I was excited to see how this research grappled with how to create culturally relevant pedagogies, and how to work with students more fully. In short, most of the research I saw considered music as embedded in, and constituted through, social relations rather than something that is separate from the politics of our daily lives.

I also walked away quite troubled. Music education around the globe appears to be diminishing: governments everywhere are simultaneously requiring post-secondary institutions to measure and quantify results, and demonstrate courses and programs in terms of market employability. Funding to music programs has been cut drastically. I’m not sure where I stand on this: I don’t want to suggest that music programs shouldn’t be accountable, or that we shouldn’t be thinking about what happens when students graduate, but the steady and constant erosion of music programs is alarmingly consistent and pervasive in many countries around the world. Add to that the erosion of stable faculty in post-secondary education, and it feels quite desperate indeed. I presented on a panel about the state of tenure in post-secondary music programs in Canada, and our research team painted yet another bleak picture for several reasons, not least of which being the shocking decline of tenure-track positions in Canada. Hiring freezes have been in place for…well, decades, in some situations, and tenure positions are disappearing.

Yet I am left feeling hopeful. Not about the state of music education in higher education, but about the capacity of music education scholars and practitioners to meet the challenge. These academics, from Norway, England, Ireland, Australia, Brazil, America, Poland, Canada, and so many other countries, are thoughtful, reflective, creative, and striving to make the world more just as best as we know how. Their passion ignites my own and I am newly excited to think and practice music.

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Concert: Moonlit City (Sat March 28)

5th Annual Earth Hour Celebration and Fundraiser for Echo Women’s Choir  poster for Moonlit City concert
Featuring Annabelle Chvostek
Saturday, March 28, 2015 7 pm
Church of the Holy Trinity, 10 Trinity Square (by Toronto Eaton Centre)
Tickets: $35

This Saturday evening, Echo Women’s Choir is hosting a fundraiser concert that also celebrates Earth Hour. Here are three reasons to join us:

1) The concert is lit by candles in the 150-year old Holy Trinity Church in downtown Toronto. This is an utterly magical setting to listen to Echo Women’s Choir sing pieces by Malcolm Daglish, Tom Chapin, and others in honour of Earth Hour.

2) free wine tastings and food

3) Our very special guest artist is Annabelle Chvostek, juno-nominated singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, former member of the Wailin’ Jennies, and an incredible performer. I love her politics and I love her music. I think you will, too.

Please join us!

A little taste of Annabelle’s music, to tide you over until Saturday:

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the politics of music, the music of politics; aka I’m on strike

Strike! Strike! Strike! Strike!

I am (finally, really, truly) close to finishing my ph.d. at the University of Toronto, but as a Teaching Assistant, that means I’ve been a part of the highly publicized CUPE 3902 Unit 1 strike. I have lots of political opinions but perhaps will share those in another post. What I will say here is that I’m pretty sure being on the picket line is the opposite of writing a dissertation in every satisfying way–lots of people, lots of walking (albeit in circles), being blunt clear about the message.

Perhaps what I’ve most loved about being on strike (yes, that’s right) is deciding what side I’m on and putting my body and voice out there to stand my ground (or walk my circle).  It’s really a remarkable thing to walk on a road and block traffic  in solidarity with your fellow workers/students. It’s more incredible to yell and sing. To take up sonic space as much as physical space. There was a moment in a large rally where the entire crowd sang ‘Solidarity Forever’ and while I can never sing that song without sounding quite terrible, I shout-warbled my way through the chorus, understanding solidarity in a whole new way. And music’s role in that.

I’m not sure how this strike will end, but I’m pretty sure it’s changed me.

And for your listening pleasure, two songs:

1) The CUPE Union Picketeers (Audio only) written and performed by the Picketeers, with apologies to Stan Rogers, for this strike:
“God damn them all! We won’t sign for 8K under the poverty line!”

 

2) but maybe you’re not a folkie. Maybe funk is more your style. How’s about this old gem that someone shared with me today by Union, called ‘Strike’:

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Concert: The Divine Feminine

I get to work with the wonderful Echo Women’s Choir this semester, and am conducting a set at their concert on December 7 in downtown Toronto. I’m loving the repertoire this season: a couple challenging Ave Maria kinds of pieces (unusual for Echo); a ladino lullaby; some Georgian crazy-harmony pieces; a gospel piece. I think it’s going to be a fantastic concert.

poster for The Divine Femine Concert

Here are the details:
Sunday, December 7, 2014
7:30 pm
Church of the Holy Trinity (next to Eaton Centre on West side)
$15 advance/$20 at the door/$10 seniors, students, underwaged

To reserve tix: 416-779-5554

for more info: www.echowomenschoir.ca

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Join my mass choir at the Ontario Science Centre next week!

Next week, I’m leading a music lab at the Ontario Science Centre as part of their ‘Science of Rock’ special exhibit. Come join in the fun! The music labs last about 40 minutes and you have three chances to participate in the week:

Tuesday, Aug 19 at 12 pm and again at 2pm

Thurs, Aug 21 at 12 pm only

I’d love to stack the audience with some singers, so please join in! Feel free to tell others too! I’ll be touching on some physiology of the singing voice as well as some acoustic principles. Everyone will then learn a vocal arrangement of ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams, complete with some body percussion!

Also, FYI, these music labs have been running all through the summer, organized by Topher Stott of League of Rock , and they are all fantastic. I saw ‘Be the Producer’ today that had kids controlling the volume of individual instruments in a live band (most of whom were from Big Wreck!) (the band, not the kids). Check out the complete schedule on the Ontario Science Centre web site.

Hope to see you there!

 

 

 

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