2017 Reading Session Picks: Adult Choir

2017 Reading Session Picks: Adult Choir

Happy 4th of July week, friends!

I hate to break it to you, but did you know there are only 21 Sundays until the First Sunday of Advent?! I know. It’s true.

If you’re like me, summer is a time of rest and relaxation, but also a time of planning and getting ready for the new church/choir year. I just got back from a wonderful week in North Carolina for the United Methodist Fellowship’s Music and Worship Arts Week. It was a busy few days of worship, rehearsals, seminars, reading sessions, and concerts - so much new music and teaching ideas to soak up!

Eric Nelson was the clinician for the adult choir this year and I loved observing him in rehearsal, watching him conduct, and gleaning his wisdom. One thing he said that really resonated with me was this:

“Our congregations don’t need to be reminded about the brokenness in the world. Instead, we need to remind them, as much as possible, about the beauty and harmony that are possible in the community of Christ.”

I love that.

At the Lake

Ashley Danyew | Lake Junaluska 2014

The air is fresh, sweet with the smell of roses. We've had fried chicken, collards, buttermilk cake (with chocolate frosting), and several tall glasses of sweet tea and my southern accent is already starting to come back. This can only mean one thing - it's Music Week!

Go-and-Do - Music & Worship Arts Week at Lake Junaluska.jpg

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that Music Week (held at the beautiful Lake Junaluska in NC) holds a special place in my heart (read more here and here). This year, I'm honored to be presenting a session and accompanying one of the choirs!

In my session this week, I spoke about ways to share music and ministry beyond the four walls of the church, with the people of your community. I'll post a full recap soon, but for now, here's a sneak peek!

Ashley Danyew | Junaluska_Seth Godin quote

I love this quote - such a great reminder of what matters and why we do what we do.

Hope y'all are having a wonderful week!

CMS Workshop / Knoxville, TN


Ashley Danyew | Meet the Community Earlier this spring, I had the privilege of presenting a workshop at the College Music Society (CMS) Southern/Mid-Atlantic Joint Regional Conference in Knoxville, TN.

Ashley Danyew | CMS

We had a little trouble getting there because of all the winter weather in Tennessee (the University of Tennessee cancelled classes the day before this picture was taken!) but everything worked out in the end.

Ashley Danyew | CMS

At the end of the first day, SD and I explored a little bit of downtown Knoxville - walking distance from our hotel. Such a historic city! I loved the old theater signs, lamp posts, and brick sidewalks. We had dinner at Tupelo Honey Cafe - southern food! The tangy BBQ, sweet tea cocktail, fried okra, and goat cheese grits were our favorites.

Ashley Danyew | Knoxville

One the last day of our trip, we spent the morning exploring the city a little further. We stopped in a few adorable boutiques and antique shops, a cute kitchen store, and a bookstore with a charming small-town feel.

We discovered Just Ripe on our walk up Union Avenue and decided to share an egg biscuit and glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice as a late breakfast. The shop was charming - a combination grocery and cafe. As we sat at our bistro table by the window, people came in to pick up a dozen eggs, a loaf of freshly-baked bread, or to order a bite to eat. The food was delicious! In fact, we liked it so much that we went back a little while later to pick up lunch to-go! Who can resist a homemade pimento cheese sandwich?

I hope we make it back to Knoxville sometime soon - perhaps for the International Biscuit Festival!

NCKP 2013: Part I

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending the National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy.  In this series, I'll share my notes and a few favorite quotes from the sessions I attended.  You can read more about NCKP here. Beauty and the Beast in the Piano Studio Marvin Blickenstaff


1.  "Beautiful music has the power to change human beings." 2.  "Beautiful music nurtures souls; it enriches lives." 3.  "Momentarily, our lives are changed by beautiful sound." 4.  The human being needs beauty more than bread. 5.  Teaching beauty should be our highest priority.

Here are a few assignments for piano teachers:

Monitor your use of the word "beautiful."  Limit your use to 2-3 times in any given lesson.  Use it with discrimination and discipline; use it sparingly, use it meaningfully.  Students need to hear a beautiful sound and know the standard of what you consider to be beautiful.

Avoid using these words: "Okay" - lacks meaning; be more specific with your responses "Little bit" - you'll get a better response from your students when you exaggerate rather than diminish "Sort of" or "Kind of" - like "little bit" "But" - use "and" as a transition from positive to constructive "Good" - lacks meaning; articulate specifics; document praise with your perspective as a teacher (you only hear the student's performance once a week; students hear their own performance every day of the week)

Improve your teaching vocabulary with adjectives that describe sound.

Start a file of beautiful pieces, things that nurture the "musical soul" of your students.  Here are a couple of examples: "Echoes of November" (Stephen Chapman) "The Lake" (Alec Rowley) "Northern Winter" (Lynn Olson)

Believe in modelingPlay for your students.  Your sound is worth a thousand words.

Play duets with your students"Duets are a pedagogical gold mine;" they teach rhythm, balance, ritards, accelerando, and diminuendo.  The teacher part guides the inflection of the piece and it's a great way to teach beauty.  Beauty, after all, is shaped sound.  "Our emotions are touched first and foremost by dynamic inflection."

When teaching a phrase, give students one thing to listen for, one hint for shaping the phrase.  Say something like, "In between phrases, we take a breath" and experience this in singing.

The Beast: Negative Teaching Attitudes

1.  Repertoire: a teaching year that is focused around only a few pieces

When repertoire is limited to only a few pieces, the student's reading skill is not developed, there is no excitement of new pieces, the narrow focus becomes boring and stagnant, and there is a loss of the student's sense of accomplishment.  Remember, "variety of repertoire is the spice of our musical lives" and "short-term accomplishment is tremendously encouraging to the student."  Instead, focus on building repertoire.  Try beginning one lesson each month with a mini recital of repertoire.

2.  Studio atmosphere that is strict, harsh, critical or unstructured

The "we're just here to have fun" mentality does not work for most students.  Also, type-casting (i.e. boys only like loud and fast pieces and girls only like soft and melodic pieces) does not promote learning or musical development.  "Music is the expression of the entire human condition, through organized sound."  Aim for a wide selection of repertoire for all students

3.  Musicianship skills: getting bogged down in analyzing every note and nit-picking technique

"Keep the magic of the piece alive in our students."

4.  Practice: not teaching the basics of successful practicing

"We don't practice enough with [our students] in the lesson."  Teaching effective practice should be a part of every lesson

5.  How we celebrate success:

Our students are desperate for affirmation; they need to know when they've done a job well.  Communicate this well and often.


Look for more of my notes from NCKP over the next few weeks!

Off to the Lake!


It's Lake Week!

We're off to North Carolina for a week of worship, seminars, reading sessions (I'm even accompanying this year!), and a little R&R (including our share of southern food).  This is my sixth time attending Music and Worship Arts Week and I learn something new each time.  It's a time of renewal, inspiration, and fellowship and I always feel refreshed when I leave.  Here's to a great week!

P.S. Read about last year's trip here.

Image Credit: unsplash

Music & Worship Arts Week


Last month, Steve and I flew down south for a week of music, inspiration, good company, good food, and a little R&R at Music & Worship Arts Week held at Lake Junaluska in NC. 

Music & Worship Arts Week is a time for church music directors, organists/keyboardists, choir members, instrumentalists, and more to bring their families and come together for daily worship, music-making, and inspiration.  I haven't been to Music Week in a few years and it was great to be back.

The days began with worship and then everyone split off into morning rehearsals (adult choir, chamber choir, young adult, youth, children, handbells, drama, instrumental, etc.).  Having participated in the Adult Choir and in the Chamber Choir in years past, I floated around this year so I could observe a different rehearsal each day. 

Everyone has a chance to go home for lunch before dividing up once more for afternoon activities: reading sessions, seminars, rehearsals, or a little R&R on the wide porches with rows of rocking chairs overlooking the lake.  After a break for dinner, there are concerts and other events in the evening.


There were so many offerings this year it was hard to get to everything!  I attended a reading session or seminar in every time slot all week long so I could soak up as much as possible. 

Reading sessions are a great way to hear new music and learn about emerging composers and we spent our late afternoons/evenings reviewing and sharing everything we had seen and heard during the day.  It was wonderful having a piano in the house where we were staying!


Favorite moments of the week? 

Learning about hymn harmonization in a seminar with Dean McIntyre, observing Mark Miller in rehearsal, learning a few new early childhood music activities, and soaking up this beautiful view every night with wonderful friends.


For more information on Music & Worship Arts Week, visit their website.