5 Simple Ways to Communicate with Your Choir

5 Simple Ways to Communicate with Your Choir

Communication skills are such an important part of ministry: keeping people connected and engaged, and making them feel a part of the things that are going on, both in the music program and in the church as a whole. Clear, consistent communication is key to building and sustaining your music program and developing that core sense of community among all involved.

I’ve talked about building community before (see How to Build Community in Your Choir), but it’s worth saying again:

"I believe the heart of ministry is community - a sense of connectedness, fellowship, and unity; shared responsibility and ownership. If we aren't united in our mission and work together as a choir, what kind of ministry do we have?"

How do you unite everyone, in mission and work? You guessed it - communication.

It doesn’t have to be complicated; in fact, the simpler the communication is, the easier and more effective it will be most times. The important thing is that you keep communication lines open, that you regularly share updates, encouragement, news, and other reminders in a consistent way, and that you do your best to keep people involved and connected to the work you’re doing. 

Here are five simple ways to communicate regularly with your choir throughout the year:

How to Build Community in Your Choir

How to Build Community in Your Choir

Ministry is often defined as "spiritual work or service." As it says in 1 Peter 4:10, "As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace." But I think it's more than serving; I think ministry has a way of giving back and blessing us in return.

The key is, ministry is relational. It requires community, however big or small.

In fact, I believe the heart of ministry is community - a sense of connectedness, fellowship, and unity; shared responsibility and ownership. If we aren't united in our mission and work together as a choir, what kind of ministry do we have?

25 Ways for Youth to Participate in Worship

25 Ways for Youth to Participate in Worship

Several weeks ago, I wrote a post about ways for children to participate in worship. Not sit in the pews with a children's bulletin and a pack of crayons, but actively participate in meaningful ways. It's important to create a welcoming and inviting space for all who come to worship and plan experiences that include children and youth, as well as adults. This creates a worship environment that is inviting, inclusive, intergenerational, and inspiring. (For more about each of these points, read this post).

Youth participation in worship should not be limited to Youth Sunday.

From serving as worship leader to helping serve Communion, bringing Scripture readings to life or contributing to music ministry, many middle and high school students are capable of participating in and contributing to worship - often, they just need to be asked. 

Here are 25 ways for youth to actively participate in worship:

25 Ways for Children to Participate in Worship

25 Ways for Children to Participate in Worship

Children play an important role in the life of the church. And while I don't think every aspect of the worship service needs to be tailored to children, I do think it's important to create a welcoming and inviting space and plan experiences that include them. And I'm not talking worship bulletins and coloring pages.

I'm talking about real, tangible ways for children to actively participate in worship, as leaders. Here are four reasons why I believe this is an important ministry for the church:

Inviting. Welcoming children (and their parents) into the church and into worship is one of the greatest, most sincere ways to create a warm, inviting atmosphere.

Inclusive. Creating a place for children in worship and giving them opportunities to participate offers a message of inclusivity and acceptance and gives children responsibility, ownership, and a renewed sense of belonging. 

Intergenerational. Inviting children to participate in worship gives them a unique opportunity to serve alongside older teens, young adults, middle age members, and seniors, creating a new sense of community for all.

Inspiring. Watching children lead worship - through song, word, and action - is inspiring to all involved. Everyone benefits.

Let's Get Together (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah): The Art of Collaboration

Let's Get Together (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah): The Art of Collaboration

Hi from NYC!

SD and I are here for the Chamber Music America conference and Eastman's pre-conference day workshop - "How to Succeed in a Changing Musical World," which SD helped organize.

There's been a lot of talk so far about collaboration, relationship-building, and community - I love that! Today, I wanted to share my notes from a talk Darrell Grant gave on collaboration. Whether you're a chamber musician, church music director, teacher, or arts administrator, we all collaborate in one way or another. I hope you find these notes as encouraging and empowering as I did!

Musical Pairs: Mondnacht


Today, I'm excited to share with you two video recordings from our recent program, The Art of Song: Musical Pairs! Just to recap, Steve and I chose to perform two settings of "Mondnacht"–one by Schumann and one by Brahms.  There are several common musical features that suggest Brahms used Schumann's setting as a model:

1. Meter + perpetual motion. Both composers used 3/8 meter and sustained a sense of perpetual motion (suggested by the text) with constant sixteenth notes in the piano accompaniment.

2. Plagal "Amen" cadence. Both settings include a plagal or "Amen" cadence near the end, underscoring the last two words of the text - "nach Haus" (to home). This implies not only a sense of arrival and resolution but also a sense of rest (perhaps eternal rest, as suggested in the text).

3. Introductions. The introductions in both song settings are the same length (six measures), include a fragmented melody (stated twice), and end on a dominant, unresolved chord. This sense of suspension at the end of the introduction leaves the listener waiting for the vocal line.

Here is our performance of Schumann's setting:

And, for comparison, here is the Brahms setting (minus the final two chords because our camera died–so sorry!)

What do you think?  Do you hear the similarities between these two songs?  Did Brahms set this text as a tribute to the Schumanns or was he trying to compete with Robert?

Read more about this concert here, here, and here.

The Art of Song: Musical Pairs Recap


IMG_1696 The Art of Song: Musical Pairs was part of a community concert series at the First Presbyterian Church of Pittsford and we had a great time sharing this program with an enthusiastic audience of over 50 people this past Sunday afternoon.

Our inspiration for this program was the idea of musical pairs, specifically between art songs.  An art song is a musical setting of a poem, written for voice and accompaniment, which usually appears as part of a collection of songs. Finding connections between art songs–connections of composer, text, musical features, historical context, among other possibilities–provides insight into the compositional process of how these songs came to be.  These songs have stories to tell: stories that help us appreciate the wealth that this genre has to offer.


The concert program included the following:

"There's nae lark" and "The Daisies" (Samuel Barber) Christiana Reader, viola and Derek Remeš, piano

"Mondnacht" (Robert Schumann) and "Mondnacht" (Johannes Brahms) Steve Danyew, saxophone and Ashley Danyew, piano

"Bei dir ist es traut" (Alma Mahler) and "O ihr Zärtlichen" (Peter Lieberson) Caroline O'Dwyer, mezzo-soprano and Heather McEwen Goldman, piano

"Sure On This Shining Night" and "Nocturne" (Samuel Barber) Dr. Jared Chase, trumpet and Dr. James Douthit, piano


In between each duo, Steve and I led the audience in an interactive game of "Musical Memory"* using the board pictured above.  This was a fun way for everyone present to discover musical pairs, even across genres!  Thanks so much to the First Presbyterian Church of Pittsford for inviting us to share this concert program, to all of our friends who performed, and to all who attended and shared in the experience!

*Musical Memory was first seen at the Westminster Chamber Music Workshop in June 2011

Image Credit: personal

The Art of Song: Musical Pairs

Steve and I were thrilled to be asked to present a recital in our church's concert series this spring.  Some of you may recall our previous "Art of Song" recitals - see an overview here and here.  This time, we decided to invite a few friends to join us. In "The Art of Song: Musical Pairs," you'll hear from 4-5 duos, each performing a pair of art songs that have something in common.  This may be a thematic element, a common text or poet or composer, or something more musical and aesthetic.  The repertoire will be chosen by each duo.  Each art song pairing will include performance and a brief discussion about the songs, providing insight and context for the listener.  Steve and I will be performing and facilitating a fun, interactive activity so that you, too can make musical pairs!  If you're in the area, we'd love to have you join us!

Sunday, April 7, 3:00 p.m. First Presbyterian Church of Pittsford Pittsford, New York Suggested Donation: $5 | $10

Hymn Sing

Hymn Sing.png

There's something truly inspiring about community singing.  The act of bringing people of all ages and all professions together and singing something - in unison or in harmony - is a tradition rich in history and meaning.  Picture this scene from the early 20th century:

April 5, 1919

“At the first session of Farmers’ Week Mrs. Steele faced a packed house. 

There were the reserved farmer and his family, the classic self-conscious professor, the shy freshman, the all-wise sophomore and the learned upper-classman.  In addition, townspeople of all ages and professions were present. . . .With breathless suspense we waited to see what Mrs. Steele would do with this unusual gathering.  Was it possible to make this audience sing?  If Mrs. Steele had any trepidation or misgivings she did not betray them but stepped forward in her inimitable manner and said:

“First, I want everyone in this audience to know that he can sing.  Why, everyone can and everyone wants to sing.  It’s the simplest thing in the world.  All you have to do is to forget about yourself; it’s self-consciousness that prevents most persons from trying.  Can you sing?  Of course you can.  I know it.  We are going to sing the first verse of The Star-Spangled Banner.  Stand erect, hands straight down at your sides.  Now open your mouths and sing.” 

And with one movement of her baton the entire audience, led by the university band, the university glee club and the trained chorus of county agents, burst forth. . . .

"Don’t you see that you can all sing?” said Mrs. Steele. 

“People get confidence in themselves when they hear others who have no more training than they have singing along with them.  Now you know what Community Singing is. . . .It is the expression of the mass soul in song.  A singing of the people, for the people, by the people.”

Trosper, B.B. (1919). “Community Sings,” excerpt. The Country Gentleman, Vol. 84. Luther Tucker & Son (63-64).

Isn't that great?!  I especially love that last part: "Community singing. . . .is the expression of mass soul in song. . . .of the people, for the people, by the people."

Last Sunday, Steve and I walked to church for "Tent Sunday" - the one Sunday a year where choir members, pastors, and lay readers move outside the walls of the Sanctuary; where the organist plays a Casio keyboard; where the pages of the Bible on the altar flip back and forth in the wind; where the congregation sits in folding chairs and bulletins are used as fans. 

The service began with a good, old-fashioned hymn sing. 

For those of you who might not be familiar with the tradition, a hymn sing is a time when hymn favorites are called out by members of the choir and the congregation for all to sing.  Together, everyone turns to "#77," for instance and sings 1-2 verses.  Folks generally have their favorites ready to shout out at the conclusion of each hymn.  Hands go up, numbers are called out, and murmurs of, "Oh yes, I love that one," are heard above the fluttering of hymnal pages.  With a brief introduction, the crowd joins together with fullest voices, truly singing their hearts out.

Isn't this what it's all about?

Music is often considered an outward expression of the soul.  Creating music together - with children and babies and grandmas and youth; with those who read music and those who know the words by heart and those who are experiencing it for the first time  - that is the expression of all of our souls combined.  How great is that?! 

"Of the people, for the people, by the people" and how sweet it is.

WCMW: Why We Do What We Do

Image Credit: Nicholas Garofalo

I feel so fortunate for the opportunity to create, build, and dream up new ideas and bring them to fruition.  Steve and I truly love what we do and I’m so grateful for that.  When it comes to the Westminster Chamber Music Workshop (we’re halfway through our second season now!), many have asked how we got started and why all of our events are free to the public.  Together, Steve and I wrote a response on the WCMW blog last week and I thought I’d share some of our thoughts here, as well.  Since this is a joint post, Steve’s comments will be in blue.  Here we go!

We started the WCMW in 2011 (really, the fall of 2010) as a way to bring excellent musical experiences to Westminster and the surrounding communities.  Soon after relocating to Westminster, we realized there was a need for concerts right here for anyone and everyone that wanted to experience them.

Our original plan for the WCMW included a parallel track for singers and instrumentalists in the area who wanted to experience chamber music first-hand.  As such, our first season (June 20-25, 2011) featured a 16-person chamber choir, which rehearsed all week and performed our final concert.  We also organized six special events for the community, ranging from a voice and piano recital to a trombone duo to an interactive game of musical memory.

We knew from the beginning that we wanted all of our events to be free and open to the public – not because we think music should be free and not because the people we had coming in were willing to perform or teach for free.  Rather, because we wanted these musical experiences to be ACCESSIBLE to everyone, regardless of age, status, or ability to pay.  Through the generous support of cultural council grants, local businesses, individuals, and a special grant through Fitchburg State University, we raised enough money to cover our administrative costs (printing, marketing, website, music, etc.) and pay our faculty and guest artists (six total).

People ask us all the time why we don’t charge “a little something” or put out a donation plate.  Without expounding on this issue of whether free products/services devalue them (which is widely debated), let me say this – if one person attends an event of ours who wouldn’t have been able to pay admission, and what we do sparks an interest in them, moves them, makes an impact on them, then we have done our job.  That person will go out and explore music, share it with others, spend money in the musical economy, and more.

This year, we adjusted the model to include four larger-scale concerts featuring ten excellent musicians.  Our second season includes a different concert every weekend in May: a fiery jazz trio, our first-ever community sing, a dynamic saxophone quartet, and a classical string duo.  Once again, each and every event is completely FREE to those who want to come.  Yes, we’ve gotten some quizzical looks but we stand behind these words:

The mission of the WCMW is to provide opportunities for community members of all ages to come together and experience great music.

Once more, through the generosity and support of many friends, local businesses, and cultural councils, we are able to cover our costs and pay the musicians who are traveling in to present these concerts.  Those who attend will get to experience this great music, free of charge, with the hope that they’ll go out and support music somewhere else in the greater community.  It’s a gift that keeps on giving!  As they say, pay it forward!

In conclusion, get out there!  Perform more, attend concerts, be a good listener, support the arts, try new things, build relationships, create opportunities, and make music happen!

Ashley & Steve

See more: WCMW: Behind the Scenes Webinar: Making Concerts Happen Anywhere 2012 WCMW Schedule of Events