The power of Community

Recently, I wrote the power of choirs and the power of handbells which received lots of views. It seemed to be topics that resonated with many readers, and the reason I wrote them is because they resonated with me. In music, choirs and handbells bring things that not many other groups can bring. But if you really want to sum it up, it’s the power of community.

About 2 years ago, I received an e-mail from author and blogger Jon Acuff. I was on his e-mail list, and he sent out an e-mail asking for volunteers to go on an adventure. What came out of that adventure was a Facebook community called Dreamers and Builders. In Jon’s recent book “Do-Over” he mentioned all of us by name in the back of the book (one of many good reasons to pick up the book!). But this community was established and once it was, it organically took on a life of its own. Creative people, and people like me who had creativity inside of them, but didn’t know where to begin with it, came together and shared ideas. One of the most positive things that I saw in this group was the encouragement. There were many times personally, I wanted to give up my ideas, because I was frustrated, impatient, and not really seeing the progress that I thought I should be seeing. But, because of these encouragers, I kept at it. I kept learning, I kept working. I kept dreaming, and I kept praying. And the journey keeps going.

When it comes to choirs, be it handbell, vocal, or any other group, there is a community that is powerful. There is a connection and a strength that comes when people work together for a common goal. Community brings strength. Community brings connection. Community will not let people fall by the wayside. Community encourages and says “you can do it”.

But even more than a community in whatever group you are in, as a musician, you are part of a greater community. The community of musicians. And that is a vast resource to draw from. And that’s my heart and vision for www.harmannymusic.com. A place where musicians, of all abilities and whatever setting they are in, can come together and share ideas, resources, songs and struggles and joys. There is a great power in community. I’ve been blessed by being a struggling music director, reaching out to the greater community of directors for ideas and resources and encouragement. It is my hope and prayer that Harmanny Music be can that place for all musicians, specifically for you.

Community is powerful. We are created for community. We need that network of support around us. As musicians, we can make music on our own, but there is much more than can be done when you are in community.

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Falling Asleep to Music

One of the things I have found fascinating about children, especially my own, is the falling asleep to music. Many of us, even as adults, need some kind of white noise, be it an actual white noise machine, classical music, the TV, whatever the case. But my girls are interesting.

Ella, the oldest, who is  6, used to fall asleep to Bible songs. And she wouldn’t always fall asleep. She would sing and play for nearly an hour sometimes before settling and going to sleep. Next came the Tangled phase. She would listen and listen to her “princess songs” on repeat. Then we let her listen to the radio. It would either be KLove or Air1. Still playing, then sleep. Once she figured out how to change the station, we didn’t know what would be playing. Some nights, since we are in Texas, it would be Tejano music. Some nights, it would be the urban/hip-hop station. Some nights, the pop station, and still others, the country station. But now that we have her set up with an old IPod shuffle, it’s all about Frozen. Still, she will usually play, read and sing before settling and going to sleep.

Emily, who is 3, actually didn’t always fall asleep to music. Now that Ella has a new radio in her room, the old radio/CD player has been passed down. And now, Emily falls asleep to music as well. But she doesn’t play for long.

But one of the interesting things that I have noticed about our church’s preschool is that there is always music at naptime. Soft, soothing music. Isn’t that interesting? Even when we’re sleeping, music is still there! And that is so important to expose children to music. Whether that is lullabies, classical music, or whatever they happen to find on the radio, an exposure to a wide variety of music is absolutely essential!!

The power of handbells

My most recent post was about the power of choirs. This is about the power of handbells. There are many similarities between the two, but I will explain a few other reasons for the power of handbells. I started playing handbells in 5th grade, and have played in college, started and directed different handbell groups, and it is one of the things that I do that I love so much.

There is power in teamwork. Yes, this is similar to choir, however, it’s different in the fact that as a handbell ringer, you are responsible for 2 notes (and accidentals), and it’s not that you are a part of a section. It takes a special kind of teamwork to have a melody that goes between 3-4 ringers that is kept smooth and flowing and is played musically.

There is power in learning music! One of the selling points that I have used in starting handbell choirs and getting people involved in playing handbells is the idea that you don’t have to read music to play handbells, which is true. However, to be an excellent ringer, you have to be a sensitive and excellent musician. Of course, once I had people participating, I taught about notes, music theory and the essential things needed to make for an excellent musician.

There is power in handbell technique. With the voice, or many other instruments, you are limited in technique of the instrument. Since handbells are percussive instruments, there is a lot that you can do with stopped sounds, shaking, and other techniques that make for a unique sound. Plus, the visual of many of these techniques is fascinating to watch!

Finally, there is power is the musical sensitivity of a group. One of the first church handbell experiences I had was back when I was a roving organist in high school. They had a handbell choir that rehearsed between their services. It was not musical by any stretch. They asked me to play with them, and I tried to play as musically as I could in the context of their playing. It was rough. But, when the entire group is trained and focused on playing musically, there is a power and a beauty that comes from excellent playing.

What do you think? What other powers come from playing handbells? Comment with your thoughts.

The power of choirs

This has been a blog post a long time in the making. Let me explain. If you haven’t read many of my posts, let me give you a summary of my choral experiences. I sang all the time growing up. Church choir, school choir, you name it, I sang in it. Lead in the school musical in 5th grade. I sang in choir in high school, auditioned for the Madrigal choir my freshman year, was in it all 4 years, was in a vocal jazz choir for my junior and senior year, sang in church adult and men’s choir, even put together a barbershop quartet the summer between my junior and senior year of high school. I sang in college, was on scholarship for voice and graduated with a degree in vocal music education. I’ve directed high school choirs, adult choirs, children’s choirs. Pretty much anything relating to choirs, I’ve done it.

But there is so much, even after all of these years and experiences, that mesmerizes me when it comes to choirs. Not just the sound of an in tune SATB choir. Not just when everyone makes the correct vowel shape. Not just when everyone cuts a t off correctly. Those are good, yes, but there is much more about a choir that is powerful. This is my non exhaustive list of why I think choir is powerful. You may agree or disagree, but these are my thoughts:

Choir teaches teamwork. Yes, sports do as well. But you learn how to work well within your section, balancing your section against the other sections. You’re working together to achieve a goal, and when there is that commonality of getting to that goal, powerful things happen.

Choir teaches musicality. This is probably the most obvious one, but it still needs to be said. You learn how to be an excellent musician. You learn how to sing and sing well. You learn how to support your sound, make proper vowels and what those black circles on the page mean. Singing in a choir helps you to learn how to be a musician.

Choir is inclusive. You don’t have to be able to run fast, jump high or kick a ball to be in choir. In many cases, specifically church choirs, there is a desire to have people participate, so if you can somewhat match pitch a majority of the time, you’re encouraged to join! There is something to be said, though about how many different types of people are brought together in being in a choir.

Choir is social. Many times, as a director, the social opportunities can be a distraction, but we are social creatures. I have experienced in my church choirs specifically, that rehearsal time is for much more than just getting together and making music. It is for gathering together with others, getting encouragement, having fellowship and fun. It has a power to connect people together in so many ways.

Finally, choir is connecting. Not only socially, not only musically, but also historically and in many cases, spiritually. Music speaks to the depths of our souls. We can’t explain it, but in the midst of those moments, you have this feeling of connection. If you’ve sung in a choir, you will understand. When you sing a song by Bach, you’re connecting to that time period. When you sing a composition by Beethoven, you’re connecting to that time period. But it’s more than history. When you add lyrics to melody, harmonies and rhythm, there is a deeper and stronger power. Something that can’t be explained. Whether it is spiritually singing to or about God, or whether it’s singing about love or the beauty of the world around us, when a text is connected to beautiful music and harmonies, there is  a power there that cannot be expressed. One of the pieces that has stuck out to me in my choral experiences is the piece “Alleluia” by Randall Thompson. I sang it in high school. The entire piece is one word. Alleluia. But it is connected to such beautiful harmonies, and when you stop to think about singing that word Alleluia as praise to God……words cannot describe that feeling.

I asked a few of my friends for their thoughts. Specifically asking them why they thought choir was important. Here are some of their thoughts:

“We’re family. A way to connect with real people instead of electronically. We learn patience, tolerance and humility. And it is a great place to use our gifts and talents, as well as reap the physiological benefits of singing.”

It teaches theory. Stress reliever. Community. Teamwork.”

“My little 14 person select group is pure joy for me. I left it for a couple of years and missed it so bad it hurt. Seriously pure joy singing with these people. We share the gospel with our church and it really helps me grow closer to God.”

“The cool thing about music is that it’s a creative act that requires absolutely nothing but the voice. The voice is the first sound we hear when a child is born. And it is the first creative tool God uses in creation. Until day 6, it’s all He uses to cause the universe into existence.”

Just a few thoughts to try to attempt to describe the power of choral music. It’s what I keep coming back to over and over again and why I love what I do so much. When you experience it and you get it, it’s a feeling you want to come back to again and again. And you want others to experience it.

Do you think that there are other powers of choirs that I haven’t mentioned? Comment with them!

Storybots tap and sing

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One of the fun free apps that I have come across is called Storybots Tap and Sing. This is a great app because not only is it well designed, but it teaches well. As you can see on the screenshot, you have robots. They can either sing “Bum”, “La”, Solfege or the note names. This is great because it does help to introduce note names, as well as solfege. While that is great, there isn’t much reinforcement on the note names or solfege, so it doesn’t work as well to specifically teach those, but it is more for introducing.

The child can go through on their own and have the storybots sing on their own by touching them. When they are touched quickly, the app is extremely responsive, and the sound is short. And when they are pressed down, the storybot holds the note out for a long while, then the robot is out of breath. The app can also play songs. For the free version, it’s “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” and “This Old Man”. There is an autoplay option for the songs, so that the child can hear how the song should go. For each note, the robot lights up, and raises its hand. When the song is done, they all cheer.

This app does a great job of being visually interesting, smooth in performance, and fun for kids. It is a great introduction to songs, solfege and note names, but there isn’t much reinforcement. For younger children, this is a great app. It’s available for the IPad.

From Me to We

When it comes to a band, orchestra or choir, having talented musicians working together is at the heart of a good sound. Everyone working together, sharing the work and making a beautiful sound.

I started Harmanny Music initially in an effort to self publish my own compositions. It took lots of fits and starts and failed attempts to get to this point, but all along, my hope and prayer was that it could be an opportunity for collaboration and sharing, not just and me and what I do.

Recently, that hope and prayer was answered, when I received an email from Sherri Hansen, asking me if I would be willing to link to her compositions on Harmanny Music. My answer was yes. So, when you go to the compositions tab, you will see a little bit about her on he “composers” drop down menu, as well as see her compositions.

i would be happy and honored to help get information out about your compositions as well. Or if you would like to write a guest blog post or if you have resources and ideas that you would like to add. I’ve created forums on the website to be able to give opportunity for idea and resource sharing, bringing encouragement to those who need it. If you are interested, the ways to contact me are under “What is Harmanny Music”.

in life and in music going it on your can be good. However, it can be severely limiting. When you involve more, there is far more that can be done. I am very excited to see what new opportunities this creates!

The Beauty in music

What is it about music that makes it so beautiful? It is simply 7 musical notes (and accidentals) that are repeated. It is a hierarchy and structure of beat that usually equals 3 or 4 beats per measure. It is typically some type of overarching structure or form of music. Yet within all of this, there is beauty.

So what makes music beautiful?

Is it the lyrical content of the music?
Is it the musical ability of the musician?
Is it the creativity and genius of the composer?
Is it the context of the setting?
Is it the emotional feeling drawn out of the music?
Is the rhythmic accuracy of the player?
Is there more to it?

The answer to these questions is yes in proper context. What is it about music that stirs the soul when a choir of children sing a simple song only in the way that they can, just as much as when a trained choir sings the Hallelujah Chorus? That’s the beauty in music. It speaks to our souls in ways that simple words cannot express.

This is one of the big things I am being drawn back to in music. In making music as a job and encouraging others to make music, it can be easy to fall into the traps of not seeing the beauty and creativity in music. But music is beautiful in so many ways for so many reasons. We sometimes aren’t as conscious of it as we should be as we are always surrounded by it. But no matter how much we are surrounded by it, the beauty and creativity is still there. We just have to look for it and draw it out.

New Compositions Page

Check out the new compositions page at Harmanny Music! All compositions are for sale at www.sheetmusicplus.com. It’s quite a simple process. Each composition costs $10. But, for that $10, you have permission to make as many copies as you need for your group and can use it as many years as you would like! Completely budget friendly! More compositions for choir, handbells, piano and organ are in the works and many more should be coming in the next few months!

Also, if you have a text or a hymn tune that you would like arranged (it is preferable if it is in the public domain), that can be done for you! The cost is $25. Same deal as the other compositions. For the $25, you have permission to make as many copies as you would like for your group, you will have your commission notated on the composition. Again, very budget friendly!

The purpose of Harmanny Music is to provide compositions and resources that help and strengthen church music ministries, school music programs and help encourage and strengthen musicians. Please consider Harmanny Music if you have needs for music. And if you have any questions or want a composition arranged for you, e-mail me at harmannymusic@yahoo.com!