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Interest & Literature Sessions

The following presentations have been selected as interest sessions for NCCO10, November 9 - 11, 2023, in Atlanta, Georgia.

Bach, Belt, & Beyonce: Awakening the Singer's Formant as a Common Thread to Realize a Non-Genre-Biased Pedagogical Path

Vocal knowledge is Vocal power. This presentation is drawn from a multi-year journey studying vocal science-based pedagogy, which connects scientific research with kinesthetic vocal exercises to enable a variety of vocal styles in a vocally healthy way. At Saint Mary’s College of California, we welcome singers from all traditions, and equip them to all learn to create a broad palate of sonorities, many of which employ the Singer’s Formant, to meet the multi-stylistic realities of the 21st Century musical world. For many, it is coming home to embrace styles that others have characterized as being unhealthy or limiting. For others, it is experiencing new-found freedom, and accessing new broader and exciting paths to artistry. This interactive, hands on, presentation connects the Singers Formant to specific anatomical conditions (identifies specifically what vocal gestures creates “ring” and resonance in the tone. Content explains how one can learn to isolate specific aspects of the vocal anatomy and then combine these aspects into six different stylistic recipes (Opera, Sob (“bel canto classical”), Belting, Twang (Musical Theatre), Falsetto, and Speech (a.k.a. “Chest Voice), and how I carry this pedagogy into the choral rehearsal. As a result of implementing this non-genrebiased pedagogy, our vocal-choral program now seamlessly engages students with diverse musical backgrounds (classical Indian music, Gospel, Mariachi, etc.) into a vocal-choral cohort in such a way that they deepen their own vocal awareness and broaden their sense of family and community. Many do feel as through they are coming home...some, for the first time. As we help students advance and strengthen the styles they’ve already learned AND equip them with new stylistic recipes, they leave the program equipped to perform in a wide variety of professional or vocational contexts, and to interact as better musical citizens.

SPEAKER: Dr. Julie Ford, Saint Mary's College of California


Dr. Julie Ford, Director of Vocal-Choral Arts at Saint Mary’s College of California, is a conductor, vocalist, and pianist who specializes in classical, early music, jazz, and pop vocal-choral styles. She directs the SMC Glee, Chamber & Jazz Singers, and holds a DMA (Choral Conducting-University of Oklahoma), a Masters in Conducting (Eastman School of Music), a Bachelor of Arts in Vocal Performance (San Jose State University), and certification as a Master Teacher in Estill Voice Training (EMT)

Discovering the Basque Country: Composers and Repertoire from Northern Spain

The unique cultural identity of the Basque Country in the north of Spain is rich with tradition that can be traced back to a time long before the Roman Empire. The music of the Basque people strongly contributes to this identity, although it is largely unknown outside of Spain and a few geographical areas of its diaspora. Intending to shed light on these unique people, their language, and their strong choral traditions, this session presents a brief overview of the history of music in the Basque Country and highlights the music catalog of three contemporary composers: Xabier Sarasola, Josu Elberdin, and Eva Ugalde. Various types of repertoire from each composer will be presented, providing examples in different languages (Basque, Spanish, and Latin), themes (sacred and secular), voicing, instrumentation, and levels of difficulty, ensuring that directors of choirs of all ages, types, and abilities will find something they can program with their singers.

Discovering new music can be difficult, especially in a language or style that is unfamiliar. Based on information gathered and personal experience gained from composer interviews and by working with Basque choirs and repertoire during a Fulbright Teaching Grant to Spain in the spring of 2022, this session shares first-hand knowledge of the vibrancy of this repertoire and of the Basque people, and their strong singing tradition. Discussions and information shared during this presentation will help familiarize us with current, popular, and prolific Basque choral composers, and show that the music of these men and women is accessible and varied, and a wonderful way to introduce a different culture to your choirs. Participants will leave this session with specific information about these three highlighted Basque composers as well as others for their continued research and discovery, how to access the repertoire for further research, pronunciation tips on Basque and Spanish texts, and an appreciation for the Basque culture and singing traditions. We will even experience this music together by singing several examples of this repertoire during the presentation, and a QR code will be provided that includes a handout and free digital music packet of repertoire.

Familiarity and knowledge breeds acceptance and understanding, and through this session we will expand our perspective by learning more about the Basque Country and the resilience of its people. The works of these talented composers will inspire you to consider their repertoire in your programming, to diversify your current libraries, and to present this music to your choirs and communities.

SPEAKER: Dr. Beth Gibbs, Florida Southern College


Beth Gibbs is Director of Choral Studies at Florida Southern College. In addition to choral direction, she teaches Conducting, Choral Pedagogy, Caribbean Music, and Music and Wellness. She earned a DMA in Choral Conducting from the University of Miami, MM degrees in Choral Conducting and Vocal Performance from East Carolina University, and a BME from Stetson University. In 2022, Dr. Gibbs became a Fulbright Scholar, teaching in the Basque Country and throughout Spain.

Feldenkrais Method and Mental Wellbeing in the Choral Room

According to the Center for Disease Control “In 2021, more than 4 in 10 (42%) students felt persistently sad or hopeless and nearly one-third (29%) experienced poor mental health. In 2021, more than 1 in 5 (22%) students seriously considered attempting suicide and 1 in 10 (10%) attempted suicide”. Mental health concerns have become more pronounced in the college environment in our post COVID world at exponentially higher rates. Although college and high school choral conductors are not mental health counselors, nor should we adopt practices that lean into professional diagnosis or treatment; we can acknowledge our ability to have a demonstratively positive (emotional and/or physical) impact on our choral members. Studies like the “Effects of Choir Singing on Mental Health: Results of an Online Cross-sectional Study” in the Journal of Voice, (July, 2022) examine the direct relationship that singing can have on mental health. The community building and health benefits of communal music making are anecdotal realties for many in the choral world. Feldenkrais is a body movement philosophy that like yoga is designed to increase self-awareness through movement. Feldenkrais for singers is a tool for freeing the voice and avoiding tension. The benefits of Feldenkrais in the choral environment are musical and physical advantages. The choir together can improve vocal tone, and similar to the music education theories of Émile Jaques-Dalcroze, access effective musical phrasing and expression. The other benefit is relaxation and physical release of tension. Thus, creating an intentionally calming space for college singers. I have had the experience of teaching yoga and Feldenkrais techniques to singers in the choral classroom and my private voice studio for more than ten years. I have found that it has directly aided in a demonstratively positive experience for the students as well as improved support and bodybreath connection. I will present justification through research on mental health, singing and the Feldenkrais method. I will demonstrate and facilitate exercises adopted for the choral room to support healthy singing and wellbeing.

SPEAKER: Dr. Merrin Guice Gill, Bethel University


Dr. Merrin Guice Gill is the Director of Choral Activities at Bethel University. She has led her choirs in receiving National and International awards and recognitions. Her scholarship has been presented at multiple conferences. As a trained soprano she has performed with several opera companies and in a variety of venues, most recently as a guest soloist for the Minnesota Singers performance of Damien Geter’s Cantata for a More Hopeful Tomorrow.

Gender Issues and A Brief Introduction of Choral Literature by Eastern Asian Female Composers

This research focuses on the introduction of choral literature by female composers in Eastern Asian musical cultures, including Japan, Korea, and China. This research study addresses the gender issue and bias toward female composers in Eastern Asian musical cultures by reviewing the current choral literature textbooks and scholarly publications on Eastern Asian choral literature. This study also argues that the underrepresentation of female composers and compositions in the Eastern Asian Choral Canon shares similarities in comparison to the gender issue in the Western European Classical Music Canon according to Marcia Citron’s research study “Gender, Professionalism, and the Musical Canon.” Composers and topics studied in this research include the choral tradition, choral literature, and choral organizations in Japan, Korea, and China.

Ten significant female composers presented in this research study are Nozomi Matsumoto 松本望, Makiko Kinoshita 木下牧子, Yuka Yamashita 山下祐加, Unsuk Chin 진은숙, Hyo-Won Woo 우효원, Sungji Hong 홍성지, Xixian Qü 瞿希贤, Ching-Ju Shih 石青如, Jenny H. Chou 周鑫泉, and Guanyü Cao 曹冠玉. Dedicated to recognizing the underrepresented Eastern Asian female composers and their choral masterpieces, this research aims to provide practical and valuable guidance for music educators and choral directors to study, program, and perform choral repertoire from the musical culture of Eastern Asia.

Audio and video examples will be shown during the presentation, perusal score of the showcasing musical excerpts will also be provided as handout for the audiences.

SPEAKER: Dr. Pingyi Song, Coker University


Pingyi Song is the Director of Choral Activities at Coker University. As an active conductor and clinician in the U.S. and China, Song is dedicated to promoting cultural exchange between Western and Eastern Asian Music. In Spring 2023, Song's research studies were presented at the National ACDA and the ACMI International Conferences. Pingyi Song holds a DMA degree from the University of North Carolina Greensboro, and other degrees and certificates from China, U.K. and U.S.

Leaders, Not Leftovers: Strategies for Building a Strong and Inclusive Treble Ensemble

Among student populations, treble choirs are often thought of as "the leftovers," the overflow of sopranos and altos not good enough to audition into the top mixed ensemble. Addressing this issue was a common topic of discussion about a decade ago, yet the problem still persists. While past authors on this subject offered ways to empower women and lists of treble repertoire from the Western European canon, these solutions are not always applicable to today's treble ensembles, especially if not all members identify as women and want to prioritize a more diverse body of repertoire. This presentation will examine the issues facing treble choirs today, both continuing the discussion of morale while offering updated and inclusive solutions that work.

SPEAKER: Dr. Hana Cai, Lehigh University


Hana J. Cai currently serves as the Associate Director of Choral Activities at Lehigh University. Prior to this appointment, she was an assistant professor of music performance at Ithaca College where she conducted the Ithaca College Treble Chorale and Chorus. Her Mandarin Chinese diction guide for choral conductors and vocalists is published in The Choral Scholar & American Choral Review. She is currently a Research Fellow with the Institute of Composer Diversity and the SA Repertoire and Research Chair for the ACDA Eastern Division. She holds degrees from University of Maryland, the Eastman School of Music, and Indiana University.

SPEAKER: Dr. Sean Linfors, Ithaca College


Dr. Sean Linfors is an Associate Professor of Choral Music Education at Ithaca College. He holds a Ph.D. in Choral Music Education from Florida State University, and is an active conductor, clinician, and educator, as well as being an advocate for access to music education. At Ithaca, Linfors has taught conducting, choral literature and rehearsal techniques, as well as choral ensembles. He is the Artistic Director of the Syracuse Chorale and the Cayuga Vocal Ensemble.

Preparing Students for Choral Leadership

In the past, the goal of a student studying choral music was to either teach in the public school system or get a tenure track job and rise in academia. Choral conductors now create their own experiences as professionals, often pairing their various academic work with other roles in community choirs that require them to have business and entrepreneurship skills. These skills are missing in most choral training programs. Exposing students to this growing part of the choral workforce will better prepare them for leadership and their future in the field, both in academia or in their community-based roles. The presenters will speak to some tips you can deploy right now to better prepare your students for their future as leaders in the field. This session will reflect the choral field of today and will help prepare students to make a home for themselves in the choral field of the future.

SPEAKER: Christie McKinney, Chorus America


Christie McKinney, the Director of Programs and Member Services, has a background in arts education and management. Christie loves a good strategic plan and enjoys building effective teams. Prior to her work at Chorus America, Christie taught middle school choral and general music. She is an alumni of Penn State University and American University and is a proud singer in the Essence of Joy Alumni Singers, a choir that performs music of the African and African American traditions.

Singing for a Sustainable Future: How the Choral Arts Can Help Address the Climate Crisis

“The effects of human-caused global warming are happening now, are irreversible for people alive today, and will worsen as long as humans add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.”

While it is difficult to summarize everything that is preventing swift and effective action in response to the climate crisis, it is evident that this pressing issue needs to be addressed immediately and with all of the tools at our disposal. And while science excels at producing data, it is difficult to be motivated by graphs and charts, not to mention the anxiety and fear that climate change statistics provoke. This is where art can be of service. Art excels at communication, inspiration, and engagement, all of which will play a role in further motivating people to become more invested in what is arguably the most pressing issue of our time. Choral singing especially can play a unique role in exploring how music can unite communities, promote curiosity, inspire creativity, and engage people at an emotional level. This session will explore trends in eco-choral repertoire, including large-scale works and smaller octavos, as well as ideas for creative collaborations at the collegiate level. Additionally, resources for eco-arts research, sustainable practices, and eco-music organizations will be shared.

SPEAKER: Dr. Kirsten Hedegaard, Loyola University Chicago


Kirsten Hedegaard has enjoyed a varied career as a singer and conductor. Currently Director of Choral and Vocal Activities at Loyola University Chicago, Hedegaard is also Artistic Director of Voices of Madonna and Bella Voce Camerata. As a singer, she has appeared with ensembles across the country. As co-founder of The EcoVoice Project and Artistic Director of the New Earth Ensemble, Hedegaard is dedicated to bringing together musicians to explore how the arts can support environmental action.

When "World Music" Hits Home: Choral Music in American Diasporic Communities

“Home” is a recent construct to those living and working in diasporic communities lodged in the Continental United States. In choral music, issues of displacement, community, and cultural ownership arise in the composition, rehearsal process, and performance of so-called world music when it originates within the United States. Session presenters representing African, Hawaiian/Pasifika, and Jewish diasporic communities will illustrate how appropriation and intercultural violence can be difficult to detect: they can manifest as phenomena rooted in caricature, tokenism, tunnel-vision, stereotyping, and code-switching; errors in conveyance of language, music, and/or elements of cultural or religious significance; and erasure of original contexts and intentions. The session will interrogate the current colonial contexts in which we have engaged with the musics of Blackness, Indigeneity, and Jewishness. It will provide participants with nuance, relevance and richness amongst these musical lineages that, in turn, provide a framework for how we can ethically approach (inter- and multi-) cultural ways of engaging with the musical “other.”

SPEAKER: Dr. Coreen Duffy, University of Montana


Coreen Duffy is director of choral activities at the University of Montana. Under her direction, UM Chamber Chorale performed at Marktoberdorf International Competition, U. of Saarbrücken, Cadogan Hall, NWACDA Conference, and MT Int'l Choral Festival. Duffy is a clinician/composer, published by Walton Music, ECS, and Pavane. A specialist in Jewish choral music, Duffy has presented nationally and internationally on repertoire and culture. Duffy is NWACDA President-Elect.

SPEAKER: Dr. M. Nicole Davis, University of Arizona


M. Nicole Davis is a dedicated music educator, conductor, and researcher. She earned her Ph.D. in Music Education - Choral Conducting from Florida State University. During her doctoral studies, she served as assistant conductor for University Singers, Choral Union, the Tallahassee Community Chorus, and the Festival Singers of Florida. Additionally, Davis was the Artistic Director of the Thomasville Singers, a community choir in Thomasville, GA, for seven years.

As an active researcher, Davis is a sought-after guest lecturer and panelist. Last year, she presented at numerous state, regional, and national conferences, including the National Association of Negro Musicians, Inc. (NANM) and the National Association for Music Education (NAfME). Her scholarly interests examine the intersectionality of social, racial, and economic factors with music education and performance. Also, Davis is active in multiple service roles for her profession.

This fall, Davis will join the Fred Fox School of Music at the University of Arizona as Assistant Professor of Music, Choral Conducting, and Choral Music Education.

SPEAKER: Dr. Jace Kaholokula Saplan, Director of Affinity Groups

Dr. Jace Kaholokula Saplan is the director of choral activities at Arizona State University where they oversee the graduate program in choral conducting. They also serve as artistic director of Nā Wai Chamber Choir, a professional vocal ensemble dedicated to Pasifika choral tradition. Their research interests include intersectionality, liberatory pedagogies, and decolonization.

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