Sunday, February 6, 2011

Choral Interviews- Dr. Tim Sharp, pt. one

As the ACDA National Conference held here in Chicago approaches, I thought I would interview Dr. Tim Sharp, executive director of ACDA. And if you haven't already registered for what should be an amazing four very full days (March 9-12) of exciting music and fellowship, please visit this ACDA link for more info on the conference and registration info as well:

Tim Sharp (BM, MCM, DMA) is Executive Director of the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA), the national professional association for choral conductors, educators,scholars, students, and choral music industry representatives in the United States. He represents choral activity in the United States to the International Federation for Choral Music (IFCM).

Sharp, himself an active choral conductor, researcher, and writer, has varied his career with executive positions in higher education, recording, and publishing. Prior to his leadershipof ACDA, Sharp was Dean of Fine Arts at Rhodes College, Memphis, TN, and earlier, Director of Choral Activities at Belmont University, Nashville, TN. Tim’s research and writing focuses pedagogically in conducting and score analysis, and various published essays demonstrate his eclectic interests in regional music history, acoustics, creativity, innovation, and aesthetics.

PC: You are certainly a very high profile figure in the choral world today, not just in the US as executive director of ACDA but also in all your worldwide travels- but I'd like to start by asking you about some of your experiences before ACDA--

Can you tell us about your fellowship at Clare Hall, Cambridge University? What did you gain from that experience that you probably could not have gained in the US?

TS: The greatest part of living in Cambridge was experiencing first-hand the importance placed on choral music in that particular location and environment. And, I am choosing my words carefully when I say “important.” There was hardly a day at Clare that I didn’t have a discussion with someone from another discipline of study about something choral, and it would be a serious conversation. Some days it was which choral Evensong we would choose to attend on that day from the many available at the collegiate chapels; some days it was about an upcoming concert by one of the many stellar Cambridge choirs, or one of the world’s great professional choirs appearing in Cambridge; or, it could have been about a BBC choral program, or a new recording that was in preparation or being released. Choral music is very important in Cambridge, and I relished being in the middle of it, and in being at a place where our work obviously matters so much. On a very personal level, my daughter attended Kings College School, the prep school created for the boy choristers at Kings. She was able to sing with the boy choristers from Kings on a couple of concerts, and those experiences were precious and unforgettable

Cambridge also gave me access to one of the world’s great libraries, and proximity to the small town of Bedford where much of my Moravian research centered. My research there led to the discovery of the location and activity of Moravian composer, educator, and music collector Johannes Herbst during his years in the England Moravian community. I completed a critical edition of Herbst’s monumental collection Hymns to Be Sung at the Pianoforte. Steglein Publishing will publish this research in the coming year in their forthcoming Moravian series.

PC: You've written on such diverse subjects as "The German Songbook in the Nineteenth Century", and popular histories including "Memphis Music Before the Blues" and "Nashville Music Before Country". I'd love to know more about your Memphis and Nashville books and research- can you tell us about them?

TS: I consider Tennessee my spiritual and musical home, and have always delighted and marveled at the miracle that is the music that came from Tennessee. The birth of blues, country, bluegrass, gospel, rockabilly, and rock, are universally traced to Tennessee roots. However, any thinking individual has to ask “why Tennessee?” Many historians have enjoyed starting with the blues and country and rock to explain these roots, but my question has always been, “What was in place before the blues and country, that made the conditions right for those forms to take place?” This is what I explored in the two books you mention about Memphis and Nashville. And in both instances, the question led to fascinating discoveries that made Tennessee the home for these uniquely American popular forms of musical expression. I am also working on the third part in this series, "East Tennessee Music Before Bluegrass", but this one will take me a while to complete now that I am further away from source material.

PC: As Executive Director of ACDA you no longer hold a teaching position like you did at Belmont University and at Rhodes College. What do you miss the most in regard to university level teaching and daily choral leadership? And what do you miss the least?!

TS: The aspect of university teaching I miss the most is the construction, or reconstruction, of a course and a course syllabus. I loved inventing new courses of musical study, and I loved creating the experiences and readings that would take others down that path of learning. Of course, I loved being with the students, too, and I miss them very much, but my work with ACDA takes me regularly to students of all ages. In terms of what I don’t miss, while I completely understand and appreciate the conservative nature of higher education, I don’t miss the extremely slow pace in which higher education incorporates change and innovation.

PC: You've done such amazing work at ACDA in such a short amount of time. How do you keep the big picture in mind when you must have 100 detail items to cross off the list as you go?

TS: There are two ways I keep this tension in check: the first is that ACDA has a very strong national staff, and they are able to run much of what we depend on with skill, intelligence, and efficiency. While it is true that challenges arise regularly that need leadership and new strategies, a very capable staff handles many of the daily details. The second way I keep this tension in check is to intentionally make time every day to work on forward-looking initiatives and strategic imperatives I believe are necessary for a future ACDA. I believe part of my job is to do intentional thinking, and as I have always told my students, real thinking is difficult. For that reason, I make time to do critical thinking every day on forward-looking issues. I think that if you interviewed the national staff, they would tell you I am constantly balancing management with leadership along with “what if…” scenarios.

PC: What are the top ACDA initiatives for now and the near future? What tasks currently on the table will take the most effort to achieve?

TS: The most important immediate initiative for ACDA is our work on a comprehensive strategic planning process. The scope of the last ACDA strategic plan expired in 2010, and throughout last year, our Executive Committee has been in the “quiet phase” of a new strategic planning discussion. We will start taking this planning process public beginning with our upcoming Chicago National Conference. The second initiative is the priority of a new position at ACDA for education and communication. The former position of ACDA archivist has been redesigned to not only embrace the overseeing of the ACDA archives, but to also make available to our entire membership through digital distribution and viewing the vast educational and instructional holdings of ACDA.

Technological advancements remain a top priority for ACDA as I help move us to a digital and 21st century ACDA. This priority specifically includes our immediate website upgrade to Drupal 6.0, the ongoing integration of ChoralNet and its vast networking and informational assets into the ACDA website, the upgrading of the database and accounting system used for all State, Division, and National record keeping, and added layers of security protection as more and more of our financial, voting, and communication transfers to digital transactions. I am excited about leading us toward conference innovation and entrepreneurial thinking toward invigorating future workshops, seminars, master classes, and conferences. And finally, as ACDA looks to the future, research and publication into our field of work remains a priority for our Association. All of these initiatives have many built-in challenges, and require overlapping efforts. Fortunately, we have an association that is ready and willing to embrace these priorities.

PC: Can you describe how the Executive Director works with the elected president of ACDA? I believe you have already worked with Jerry McCoy, Mike Scheibe, and soon with Karen Fulmer. How do you personally need to adapt to the personalities and strengths of each president as they take office and make their goals for their term as ACDA president known to you?

I consider the opportunity to work with these individuals one of the greatest perks of my job. Each one of these exceptional leaders brings strength to our organization, along with personal skills and artistry that I personally want to learn from. We work to be a team, and I have a great deal of respect for the position that our presidents hold during their term of office. I believe they have the responsibility of being the president for the complete ACDA membership, and I see them as “ACDA citizen No. 1” when it comes to making certain our association serves the membership. I see it more of a “balance of ideas” than any sort of “balance of power”, and I get excited when I think that these outstanding individuals are committing so much of their expertise for the good of American choral music. I celebrate the goals and visions they bring to us, and it is invigorating to me to incorporate their ideas and passions into what I see as our needs and direction.

PC: I believe ACDA membership is on the rise, and I believe I have heard that the upcoming national conference in Chicago has already had a large number of people registered to attend -- what is ACDA's current model for membership growth? Also, is there a plan for bringing in more young teachers as members and perhaps expanding the number of (university) student chapters?

TS: Our largest area of growth in ACDA is at the level of student membership and young professionals. Our student membership base was 150 larger than this time last year, and due to the good work of our various state chapters, student membership is on the increase. This is good news for the future of choral music making, and certainly it is good news for ACDA. We have incentive programs in place for the creation of new student chapters, and for states to recruit first-time student members of ACDA. These programs have been embraced enthusiastically by many of our state chapters, and we see the results in our expanded student membership base. Our strategy is to grow our base from young professionals entering the field, and to grow our student membership base for future teachers, conductors, and leaders.

After a few years of flat growth across the association (new members replacing members that had dropped off the membership rolls, but the number remaining the same), in January of this year, ACDA’s membership has returned to the level it enjoyed in mid-2000. It was during that period that ACDA had moved into its new headquarters in Oklahoma City, and a time when our National Conference had expanded significantly to a multi-track event. And while the Great Recession starting in 2008 was sobering for all of us, we are now seeing the positive results of our renewed since of mission and purpose, along with stimulus work to bring new professionals, students, and others we are mentoring into their professional organization.

Coming up: Part two-- Tim discusses the global choral scene, how European and Asian choirs and directors view US choirs, and also his thoughts on the ACDA Brock commission and other composer issues- don't miss it!

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