Monday, January 21, 2013

Book Review: Conducting Women's Choirs, by Debra Spurgeon

Conducting Women's Choirs: Strategies for Success

Edited and compiled by Debra Spurgeon

 Published by GIA ISBN 978-1-57999-927-8, 340 pp. plus DVD, $43.95


Conducting Women's Choirs:Strategies for Success - Book and DVD

Editor : Debra Spurgeon     

© 2012 GIA Publications, Inc.

Chapter Authors: Hilary Apfelstadt • Lynne Gackle • Lori Hetzel • Mary Hopper • Iris Levine • Jeanette MacCallum • Nancy Menk • Janna Montgomery • Joelle Norris • Sandra Peter • Sandra Snow • Debra Spurgeon • Phillip Swan • Shelbie Wahl

Contributors: Elizabeth Alexander • Elizabeth Arnold • Carol Barnett • Abbie Betinis • Derrick Brookins • David Brunner • Paul Carey • Drew Collins • Eleanor Daley • Michael Ehrlich • Stephen Hatfield • Ron Jeffers • Sharon Paul • Rosephanye Powell • Kathleen Rodde • Rebecca Rottsolk • Mark Stamper • Z. Randall Stroope • Joan Szymko • Gwyneth Walker
Conducting Women’s Choirs: Strategies for Success is a pioneering yet practical book and DVD devoted to all aspects of the women’s choir—a groundbreaking contribution and a true collaborative effort from top professionals in the field. For the first time in a book, choral leaders bring together historical, philosophical, psychological, sociological, pedagogical, and real-world considerations to the women’s choir—information missing from most choral methods and conducting texts.
Areas of focus include:
  • working with beginning, high school, collegiate, and community women’s choirs
  • improving the sound of women’s choirs
  • suggested repertoire for women’s choirs
  • composing for women’s choirs
  • building community within the ensemble
  • warm-ups and rehearsal strategies
  • building excellence in women’s choirs
Sections also focus on mentoring, auditions, seating arrangements, historical women’s repertoire, healthy vocal development, gender issues, history, status of the women’s choir, and much more. This book features research, practical insights, and round-table discussions. The included DVD demonstrates choral techniques and teaching ideas with two women’s choirs: Aurora, from Luther College, conducted by Sandra Peter; and The University of Kentucky Women’s Choir, conducted by Lori Hetzel.

Conducting Women’s Choirs is, quite simply, essential for anyone who is involved in the women’s choir movement and the culmination of decades of experience and wisdom by leaders in the profession.

Debra Spurgeon is Associate Professor of Choral Music at the University of Mississippi (Oxford) where she conducts the Ole Miss Women’s Glee Club and teaches choral music education and conducting courses. She has served the American Choral Directors Association as Women’s Choir Repertoire and Standards National Chair (2007-2010) and as president of the Oklahoma Choral Directors Association. Her publications have been featured in the Choral Journal, Journal of Singing, Journal of Music Teacher Education, and Teaching Music

Debra Spurgeon

Debra Spurgeon has edited and compiled an amazing resource for directors of high school age and beyond women's choirs. Beginning with an historical overview of women's choirs and covering every conceivable topic, this book is a must-read for anyone in the field of women's choir music or about to enter into that world. The list of chapter authors is a who's who of the leaders in the field over the last twenty-five years, a period of growth which has been truly astounding. As women continue to outnumber men in college enrollment and also show more interest at most ages in singing choral music, the current explosion of new ideas about women and singing, new research on the female voice, and new music specifically written for women's voices by skilled composers will continue. Spurgeon's book not only tells the story of women choirs through history and tells us where we are now, both musically and philosophically, but also lays the groundwork for the next twenty-five years.

Within the various chapters each reader will find a number of subjects which interest them. Interested in the Venetian ospedali? Jeanette MacCallum's chapter on the subject, twenty-seven pages filled with concise information, will guide you through the history of that amazing period. Hoping to find a philosophy based upon the uniqueness of the women's choir and the shared experiences within them? Look to a brilliant chapter by Sandra Snow titled “We Sing Ourselves, an Essay about Teaching and Learning with Women”.

In a must-read chapter, Debra Spurgeon interviews Lynne Gackle, currently the leading authority on the changing adolescent female voice and author of the book which explores this and much more in the recent publication by Heritage Music Press, “Finding Ophelia's Voice, Opening Ophelia's Heart”. This chapter is full of great information and practical advice. Lynne, as always, graciously shares her deep knowledge on this subject.

Other valuable resources include the chapters “Mentoring the Women's Choir through Voicing, Labeling, and Seating” by Sandra Peter and “Warm-ups for the Women Choir” by Lori Hetzel. The information in these two chapters is also the focus of the DVD, with Peter's Aurora Ensemble from Luther College and Hetzel's University of Kentucky Women's Choir as demo groups.

I was honored to be interviewed for the chapter by Nancy Menk, entitled “Writing for Women's Voices: A Conversation with Composers”. Nancy drew up some very good questions and sent them to a number of composers who have written quality music for the genre, and she then compiled our answers to the various questions. This chapter makes for a good read; we agreed on a number of things, yet there were some areas where there were quite different answers by some of the composers. For me, this was great fun to read (and compare my thoughts with the others) when I received the book. The composers whose ideas are shared in this chapter are Elizabeth Alexander, Carol Barnett, Abbie Betinis, David Brunner, Paul Carey, Drew Collins, Eleanor Daley, Stephen Hatfield, Ron Jeffers, Rosephayne Powell, Z. Randall Stroope, Joan Szymko, and Gwyneth Walker.

In summation, Debra Spurgeon has created an amazing resource- at 340 pages there is so much within these pages to explore that it is truly amazing. I would imagine this book took hundreds of hours to create, but I think it was well worth it and I congratulate Debra on her achievement. She will present an interest session on topics from this book at the March 2013 ACDA National Conference in Dallas, with a panel of people who were chapter authors. If you are attending the Dallas ACDA Conference, don't miss this session.




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