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Articles from NW ACDA members

Some of our members were asked the question, "What brought you into choral music and what keeps you in choral music now?" (Stacy Winn, Leesa Kuhlmann, Michael Frasier)

Stacy Winn, Vancouver, Washington

I have always loved to sing. Music has been something in my life that allows me to express myself while providing unique opportunities for travel, friends and other amazing experiences.

As a college student and voice major, I gave private voice lessons during the summers in my hometown. I had a young, shy student with clearly low self-esteem. Her parents were in the middle of a nasty divorce and she was definitely having a hard time with it. All summer she was my hardest worker and I was amazed at how much she grew vocally because of her diligence. By the end of the summer, she performed in our small recital and did a great job. Her father came up to me after the recital and his eyes were filled with tears. He thanked me profusely for working with his daughter and it was clear he was bursting with pride. The next summer, this little girl came back so full of spunk and energy I almost didnt recognize her! She had joined her school choir and made tons  of new friends. I had a taste of what music could do for young people and I wanted more!

From that young voice student to my school choir students, I am constantly surprised and impressed at how music changes lives each year. This is the fuel I need to endure long meetings and piles of paperwork in order to bring the best I can to my students. I enjoy the endless possibilities and ongoing study available in music.

I always have a blast at conventions and networking with other directors. Being more involved with ACDA has opened a new door for increasing my circle of friends/resources and improving my teaching and managing skills.

In my short 7-year career, I have landed at my third school. After fighting with district executives and principals about the importance of music, I have finally found my heaven in team-teaching. This new experience has given me renewed energy and hope for the great work that can be done with adolescents in music. I keep coming back for more young people, more diverse music, and more lives impacted.

I put my heart and soul into my students and always marvel at what they give back. I can't imagine having a job that doesn't change peoples lives. It just wouldn't be worth it!

Stacy E. Winn, NBCT
NW ACDA Ethnic & Multicultural Music R & S Chair NW ACDA 2008 Convention MS Honor Choir Chair

"If music be the food of love... SING ON!"

Leesa Kuhlmann, President, Wyoming ACDA

I've been thinking about this a lot lately, and I know my inspiration was a fantastic choir director that I had in high school, Joe Pinney. He consistently had superior ratings at festivals, and was an incredible director. He had high expectations for his choirs, and they in turn rose to them.

As his accompanist, I watched carefully how he directed and heard what he heard in front of the choir, not just in my own section. He spent hours with me helping me to be sensitive to the choir, teaching me valuable pointers about accompanying as well as conducting. He was so positive with us, but, at the same time, you wanted to please him. He demanded respect, but was lots of fun as well. I have tried to emulate him with my own choirs. It is a challenge to have those delicate balances. He always was learning, too, attending conventions and gleaning information from workshops and other conductors. He said that he could always learn from someone else, and I find that he was right.

I think what keeps me coming back is that I enjoy what I do. No other job would let me be a ham in front of a group of lively students and do the crazy things that I do. They are wonderful young adults that are like vessels that we fill with knowledge. Then they take that knowledge and put it together to form a cohesive choir that blends, balances, has uniform tone quality, and works together to make beautiful harmony.

Since I only teach electives, most of the students want to be there, and it shows. There are always a few who are along for the socialization, but even they find the excitement contagious as we learn to put the music together and take what's on the page and make it our own. Even though Joe has long ago retired, I still keep in touch with him as well as his daughters, both of whom are also music teachers. I know of at least three other people that are in the profession because of him, all teaching in Wyoming. Thank you, Joe. Your legacy lives on in Wyoming as your students carry on your ideas and enthusiasm!

Leesa Kuhlmann, Wyoming ACDA President

Michael Frasier, LaGrande, Oregon

The Angels Choir

When I am asked what brought me to choral music, and why I remain excited about this profession, my answer always requires a story. So here goes.

I grew up in a musical family. My mother was an accomplished singer, pianist, and arranger and directed an award winning Sweet Adeline’s Chorus. She always seemed to be happiest when music was involved. I remember tagging along as she conducted rehearsals, performed, and organized the activities of the groups she directed. I watched her and learned how she guided singers to produce the sound she wanted. I learned concepts of sound, terminology and how to “wave” my arms so that the singers would follow and respond. Adults thought it was cute and that I was precocious. I thought it was cool. She saw a spark in me and encouraged my interest in choral music. She answered all my musical questions and never let on about any reservations she had about my musical interest. This was the start of my lifetime love of music. What happened next accelerated the process.

I was ten years old when I was asked to direct the Sunday School children’s choir. I sang in the choir every year and we always had an adult lead us. This year was different. The performance was coming up and the adult leaders felt a child director would be more appropriate and might improve the choir’s performance. My great Auntie Sis was our Sunday School teacher and one day she asked if I would give up my spot in the choir and become the DIRECTOR of the “Angels’ Choir”. I was overwhelmed with joy and jumped at the opportunity to apply all I had learned from watching my mother. I was sure my aunt recognized in me the same abilities that my mother possessed. During the rehearsals, I utilized all the tools that I had observed my mother using with her choir. The performance brought me a tremendous thrill, as I conducted my friends in Hark The Herald Angels Sing, Oh Little Town of Bethlehem, and Silent Night. I can still remember the excitement, joy and amazing power the Vancouver Wesleyan Methodist Church Sunday School “Angels Choir” had under my leadership. Our presentation of the Story of Christmas both entertained and emotionally lifted up the congregation. The choir was excited and overjoyed by their performance, and I was exhilarated and proud of our collaborative efforts. Auntie Sis had made a great choice in choosing me to lead the choir, but the story doesn’t end there.

I spent my high school and college years working hard at the craft of choral music and performance, preparing myself for a career in choral music.  Whenever anyone asks why I wanted to be a choral director I always share the story of my first “Angels’ Choir” conducting experience, the impact my mother had, and the decision my aunt made in asking me to conduct. That first glimpse of being a choral conductor propelled me toward my profession and life-long passion. The classes I took in school, the groups and activities I became involved in, and the mentors I sought out all helped prepare me to be a choir director. I always think back to the love of music my mother had instilled in me and how she was always happy when she was conducting and performing. I remember the power choral music has on an audience; the joy that performing brings to the choir, and the exhilaration and pride that comes with being the person who “directs” it all.

The feelings from my youthful music experiences are the same ones that are with me today. My former students and colleagues would probably tell you that throughout my career I have been inspired by and preached the importance of the same things that inspired me. The same feelings of love, joy, excitement, pride, exhilaration, collaboration and passion are what continue to inspire me and infuse my work as a choral conductor today.

Now, back to my story and Auntie Sis. When I was finishing my junior year of college I went to visit her at her home. She was not in good health, and I didn’t know if and when I would see her again. During our visit, I mentioned what an impact she had had in my life and how my decision to be a choral director had a lot to do with my experience leading the Sunday School “Angels’ Choir”. She then asked a question that caught me off guard. “Mike”, she said, “I have a question to ask. Do you know why we asked you to conduct the Angels’ Choir?”  “Well Auntie,” I said, “I figured that you saw in me the musicianship, leadership and skills that would make a good conductor. I thought that you were encouraging a spark that you saw in me.” She sat still for a moment and then said, “Mike, we did see something in you, but that is not why we asked you to conduct. It was because you sang so loudly, so out of tune and with so much enthusiasm, that you were bringing the choir down. We didn’t want to hurt your feelings, so we thought if you were the director you could be a part of the group and not spoil the singing.”  I thanked her for not telling me this story earlier, as it probably would have derailed my pursuit of a life in Choral Music.

This story explains who I am as a choral director, why I still love what I do, and why I try to encourage musicians of all ages and abilities. It is not about talent. It is about the love of the art of choral music. It is about the hard work and the life-long learning. It is about the passion, the excitement, joy and exhilaration of performance. It is about the collaborative process and the pride I feel when my singers put forth a performance infused with all of the emotions that first inspired me, when as a child, I directed the “Angels’ Choir”.

Michael Frasier
Vice President
Eastern Oregon University





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