Archive for the ‘teaching’ Category

Moving to Wilfrid Laurier University

Wednesday, June 21st, 2017

So thrilled to announce that I’ve accepted an appointment to join the music faculty at Wilfrid Laurier University. Here’s the official announcement. I’ll be helping build the undergraduate program in community music, the first of its kind in Canada, and I think perhaps also across North America. I am so excited to be a part of this!

instagram photo of Maureen Forrester recital hall at WLU from 2012

This was my first Instagram post in 2012, of Maureen Forrester Recital Hall at WLU.  This was also my first music conference early in my PhD studies. Looking back, that seems like an auspicious start!

 

 

 

 

 

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new adventures in music classes

Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

I am thrilled to announce that I’ve begun working with Sing for Life, an Edmonton-based organization that provides performing arts opportunities to marginalized communities. Sing for Life operates a choir and music lessons at a federal prison, as well as a choir for men who are socially and economically disadvantaged.

I’m going to be piloting a new program: family music classes for moms in conflict with the law. The classes will be for moms and their children aged 6 and under, and we’ll sing name songs, action songs, and songs for eating and sleeping and bathing. Our hope is that these classes will provide a repertoire of songs to moms that they can sing with their children and weave through their daily activities. And have fun together!

I’m piloting the first set of classes in early April, with a second set of classes to follow shortly after. I’m so excited to work on this program and to be a part of the wonderful work of Sing for Life.

By the way, Sing for Life is a charitable organization that can issue tax receipts. Check out their web site at www.singforlife.ca for a link to make a donation.

 

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taking the risk in vocal improv

Sunday, October 23rd, 2016

I was in Kananaskis at the Fine Arts Council conference of the Alberta Teachers’ Association. I gave two workshops on vocal and movement improv, and we had a grand time. In the first session, I introduced participants to the fundamentals of circle-singing–the improvisation technique of Bobby McFerrin (here’s my favourite Bobby McFerrin video about the pentatonic scale). My group of music and drama teachers were so amazing! No one had sung in this style before, and by the end of the session, we were free-form grooving and experimenting, with one participant improvising a whole song!

In the second session, I led a group through a series of voice and movement improvisation techniques to use with students in grads 4-8, to help them explore a wide range of sounds, and to help shy students feel more comfortable using their voices. We imitated soundscapes and we made machines. We also went for a sound walk around the glorious property of the conference centre, set in the heart of the Rockies. We reassembled and created a soundscape of the sounds that we heard. And we brainstormed ways that we could move these sounds into composition, and integrate creative exploration into the music curriculum.  Such generative ideas!

I’m keen to explore the possibilities of creative sound exploration and improvised music in classrooms. If you do work like this, let me know! What works? What have been challenges? I’m so excited to continue singing and exploring the possibilities for vocal improv in music classrooms and in my own practice. Special shout-out to Karen Porkka, who leads the Vocal Improv Network of Edmonton, a group that I’m now singing with regularly, and loving. Feels so great to get back to vocal improv, and to challenge myself and grow my practice and my pedagogy more.

 

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you may now call me dr. dee

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

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!

Monday, July 6th, 2015

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

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

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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Drop-in Summer Singing Class

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

I’m launching a series of 4 drop-in group singing classes on Wednesdays, July 23 to August 20. Affordably priced at $10/session, but you must register!

I also currently have a few spots left throughout the summer for private lessons on Monday afternoons.

For information on both, see upcoming.

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Pete Seeger: The Man of a Million Small, Powerful Actions

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

So Pete Seeger passed away on Monday at the age of 94. I, like so many millions of people, have been deeply affected and influenced by his music and his commitment to building a more just world through music. I never met him, but I have had the pleasure of singing and teaching his music. I frankly don’t have much to say that could add to the many amazing tributes that have been published, from the New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, and the CBC, to name just a few.

There’s a fantastic documentary on CBC’s program Ideas that lets you savour Pete Seeger’s music and ideas through his own voice. Definitely worth spending an hour to listen, if you are at all interested or curious about the man’s music and his ideas and experiences.

In 1993, Pete published a booked called “Where Have All the Flowers Gone: A Singalong Memoir.” This book has been deeply influential to me in my teaching, my repertoire, and my thinking about the social embeddedness of music. While he doesn’t explicitly focus on pedagogy, I’ve learned a lot about teaching through this book: how to piece together songs, how to contextualize songs through a wonderful combination of history, social, cultural and economic analysis, and personal connection. I love how, all through the book and the song transcriptions, he gives tips on how to involve everyone in singing. I can get behind anything that inspires a culture of singing.

I leave you with this story, as told by Pete in the Ideas documentary. It’s also in the book, but I love this particular version. It’s a story about the power of many people doing many little things. He doesn’t say here, but I know, from his other writings, that singing together is one of those small, mighty acts:

“I’m convinced that if there’s a human race here in a hundred years, it’s going to be millions upon millions of little things that save us. There’s a story I tell: imagine a seesaw and one end of the seesaw is on the ground because it’s got a big basket half-full of rocks. The other end of the seesaw is up in the air: it’s got a basket one-quarter full of sand. Some of us got teaspoons and we’re trying to fill that basket of sand. Most people are kind of laughing at us, scoffing, “yah, people like you have been trying for thousands of years but it’s leaking out of the basket as fast as you’re putting it in. You’re wasting your time.”

But we say no, we’re looking close. It was a little less than a quarter full and now it’s a little more than a quarter full, and we think that one of these days, that basket is going to be more than half full. We’re watching it closely, and that whole seesaw will go zzzoooooop! In the other direction, and all around the world, they’ll say “gee, how did it happen so suddenly?” Us and all our little teaspoons.

[…] These small little things…the powers that be can break up any big thing that they want. They can attack it from the outside, they can infiltrate it and corrupt it from the inside, they can co-opt it. But what are they going to do about ten million little things? They don’t know where to start. Break up three of them, four more like it start up.”

Thanks Pete, for doing millions of little things and encouraging us to do our own little things to make the world better.

ADDENDUM: Someone pointed out to me a great article from Canada’s online news site rabble.ca about Pete Seeger, focusing on his participatory approach to music performance. Dig this lovely quote from Pete: “I guess it’s kind of a religion with me. Participation. That’s what’s going to save the human race.” Read the full article here.

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beginning and beginning again: six strategies in starting with a new voice teacher

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

I went back to school this week to begin the 3rd year of my Ph.D. in Music Education, and I was often cheerfully greeted with “Happy New Year!” In this corner of the world, September feels like the real start of the year. Whether you are in school, have kids in school, or have simply been conditioned through previous years of school, we approach September with the fresh optimism of beginners, even with a longing for a summer that has slipped by.

This beginnings-time-of-year was underlined for me this week: I had several new voice students begin at my voice studio. And they remind me that beginning (again) is a frightful and amazing place to be. Some students are true beginners, having never taken a voice lesson, and one or two have rarely ever sung. But some are merely beginning with me, having sung lots before, studying with other teachers. Whether you are beginning or beginning again, embarking on singing lessons with a new teacher means navigating a new relationship that is both a practical skills-building endeavour, as well as an incredibly intimate and intensely personal journey. Singing often feels vulnerable. Students are trusting their voices, and in a way, their whole being, to another human being in a one-on-one setting.

Navigating a new singing relationship often takes some time find an equilibrium and know whether the fit works for you. Here are a few suggestions for you if you are embarking on singing lessons in a new voice studio:

  1. Find out your teacher’s philosophy and pedagogy. Have a conversation in advance of the lesson to get to know your teacher to find out their philosophical and pedagogical approaches, as well as their experience if that’s important to you. I like to have this conversation in the first lesson, but not all teachers do, so make sure to find out so you get a sense of how your values might match up. These values form the foundation of the working relationship.
  2. Know what you want to get out of taking lessons. Are you looking to improve your upper passaggio? Are you looking to extend your breath? Are you hoping to explore and find your singing voice? Are you hoping simply to make sounds that you feel happy with? Whether you have precise technical goals, or general hopes, know what they are and discuss them with your teacher. This will help your teacher guide your lessons and it will also help you both figure out the fit between you. Also know that your goals often change as you study singing, which is ok. But knowing why you’re starting is important.
  3. Adopt a stance of curiosity. Curiosity allows you to embark on the adventure of singing with a new teacher and trust them to take you to new places. Curiosity also allows you to ask questions of what’s happening and articulate to your teacher how his or her approach might be different from what you’ve experienced before. Curiosity invites questions without judgement, which can be quite productive and help you bridge previous experiences with this one.
  4. Voice your discomfort. If you are feeling physically or emotionally uncomfortable in any part of the lesson, talk about it. If your teacher is experienced enough, he or she will either adapt the exercise to fit you better or help you work through it so that you feel capable of taking this on. Feelings of discomfort are normal in singing lessons, so most teachers have worked through this with students and have strategies to help you. You don’t need to be a suffering artist, unless you want to be!
  5. Suspend your suspicions enough to go along for the ride. Sometimes a teacher will take you on a journey that, at the start, looks weird or wrong or even scary. But sometimes, these moments require some faith and courage to go along for the ride and see where you end up. More often than not, you’ll be surprised and excited at the destination. If you’re not, extend your faith just a little more to try again. If you’re continuously disappointed or anxious though, you might need to find another teacher.
  6. Pay attention to how you feel during and after your lessons.  Does your body feel more open? Do you feel lighter and more open in spirit? Do you feel like your voice is changing in ways that make you happy? You won’t always walk away from a lesson feeling good. Vocal journeys have plateaus and even some dark places, but often those hard lessons occur just before a major break-through. However, if you’re feeling conflicted, confused, and unsatisfied over the course of several lessons, you may need to find a teacher that’s a better fit for you.
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it’s like falling off a cliff, over and over

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

The vocal pedagogy that I practice and teach mostly draws from the work of Fides Krucker. I just got back from a lesson with Fides, and through my vocal and pedagogical training with her, I’ve come to understand singing as an integration of contradictions that demands the quiet but complete bravery of leaping off a cliff.

In one of my first singing lessons with Fides, back in 2003, she was coaching me through a vocal slide, trying to get me to find air flow without pushing or straining the muscles around the vocal folds. She told me “it’s like you’re falling off a cliff, over and over, all the way through the slide. Feel yourself fall off a cliff about 3 times on the slide up.” That’s Fides for you. Don’t just fall once but THREE times. And singing with Fides IS like falling off a cliff over and over: scary, exhilarating, and continuously challenging no matter how much “progress” I make in my vocal work. There’s always something else to let go of.

Fides has developed a unique and to my mind highly effective vocal pedagogy that draws from two seemingly opposite traditions with results that far exceed the mere sum of both. First, she draws from the Roy Hart school of extended voice technique, primarily through the work of Richard Armstrong. This technique offers what Fides calls cathartic work. A kind of vocal exploration of voice that follows emotional and physical threads rather than seeking perfection and beauty in every note. Her particular version of extended voice technique invites in the cracks, frays, burrs, growls, skips, yells, whispers, and tremors. Further, students are encouraged to follow our bodies, let our intellects (along with our self-judgements) to take a back-seat and approach singing as though we’re not quite in control of the whole thing. How extraordinary to begin singing from a place of curiosity and exploration of the voice, rather than judging which sounds are ‘good’ and which are ‘bad.’ To figure out how my body naturally breathes, and learning to follow what my body already knows rather that what my brain thinks is smart or right or good.

At the same time, Fides has integrated core principles of bel canto technique, which, contradictory to what I just said, demands precision and a kind of mental acuity and control in vocal production. Bel canto, literally “beautiful voice,” is of the Italian tradition that underpins most operatic singing, and while the technique varies widely, it’s characterized by a pure, beautiful sound that balances the lower and upper registers in the human voice (Wikipedia offers a pretty decent overview of bel canto, as a starting place, if you’re interested). For Fides, bel canto technique offers the technical grounding to the extended vocal work, containing singers’ cathartic experiences within technical precision and sound research on vocology (how the voice works in the body). So while students might experience something like a psychological purge through extended vocal technique (and trust me, I have purged an awful lot through our lessons), our wild explorations are always put to service of vocal technique. We remain attentive to our bodies as instruments AND as homes of our hearts and minds.

This blend of two divergent singing traditions informs Fides’ work, yet her work exceeds a simple integration of previous disciplines. Fides demands singers (including herself) to engage contradictions in the embodied here-and-now of singing: technical precision and emotional intuition; mental acuity with body knowledge; learning to control with learning to let go. A kind of embodied dialectics. A clear confusion. A wild precision.

At my lesson today, Fides brought me back to that cliff metaphor. But this time instead of falling, I’m leaping off the cliff, making adjustments as I fall. I’ve given up control while controlling what I can. It’s been a big sustained jump, verging on a continuous freefall. At moments, it almost feels like flight.

Fides wouldn’t encourage students to take leaps that she herself wouldn’t take, figuratively and literally. Here’s a short film called “Opening Night” by Julie Trimingham from 2001 starring Fides with Richard Armstrong. The text on youtube describes the film as “an explosion and exploration of the moment –the breath taken– before the first note of an opening night performance is sung.” The film is a decade old, and Fides, true to her own form, has continued to deepen her own vocal and pedagogical practice by keeping herself on the edge of her own experience and knowledge through her practice and pedagogy, navigating that paradoxical line of heart and mind, life and art.

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