The Making of Comprehensive Musicians

Inspiration from the Podium


The 2016 All-State Mixed Choir was fortunate to sing under the direction of Jing Ling-Tam from the University of Texas, Arlington. Students experienced repertoire from outside our region’s “typical” tradition, most notably taking them to the folk traditions of East Asia. Folk songs from China, Mongolia, and the Philippines were balanced with Mozart, Rachmaninoff, and a Real Group Jazz chart. Jing Ling-Tam was creative in her approach to teaching the different elements of these unique pieces, focusing in one moment on authentic vocal tone for the various traditions of the repertoire, and the next moment working to create a genuine understanding of the background and musical elements inherent in each piece.

Ling-Tam was a demanding rehearsalist, but also a captivating performer herself. When the energy was low or students were having a difficult time focusing in rehearsal she would interrupt herself with a “commercial break,” where she would sit down at the piano and improvise a song for the students. Her music making in these moments was uninhibited, using humor to redirect the students to a theme she wanted them to focus  on. It is in these commercials that the depth of her musicianship became incredibly clear to these students as she sang and played, oftentimes with hilarious results.

One theme that Jing Ling-Tam continued to circle back to throughout the week was the difficulty of really “loving oneself.” She told stories that explained her vulnerable struggle with this idea, and challenged the students to love themselves always. After a long rehearsal or a difficult run-through of a song, students would echo her in a goofy but touching self-affirmation ending with, “I love myself.” Our singers left camp touched by Jing Ling-Tam’s honest approach to music making and her rigorous pursuit of excellence.

Ben Henschel

Ben Henschel
The Blake School, Upper School
Tenor Section Coach

The 2016 Minnesota All-State Women’s Choir was fortunate to work with Sigrid Johnson during their weeklong camp this summer. Mrs. Johnson brought intense focus and musical clarity to the very first rehearsal with these 77 singers. She began the week asking students, “When listening to a choral ensemble, what is it that causes you to be distracted?” This led to her brilliant and efficient work with vocal blend focusing on specific desired tone qualities and pitch accuracy from each and every singer.

The goal of the first night was to “sing together well!” The students were challenged to memorize their music quickly in order to continue to build upon good vocal technique and interpretation, and to not get stuck in one sound (i.e. pop scoops, operatic vibrato, straight tone, etc.). Although students showed amazing perseverance and focus during the long hours of rehearsal, an encouraging phrase from Mrs. Johnson such as, “It’s the pickiness that creates art! Don’t be bugged by that!” was always helpful and led to smiles and nods from the singers.

In the midst of making beautiful music together, Sigrid left time for building character and confidence. One afternoon she asked the student, “What one quality would you like people to say about you? Not what they WOULD say about you, but what would you would LIKE them to say?” Each student came up with a word that they hoped described themselves such as “brave,” “ambitious,” “welcoming,” etc. “You see,” said Mrs. Johnson, “there is a good reason that God put your voice between your head and your heart.”

Angela Mitchell

Angela Mitchell
Stillwater High School
Alto 2 Section Coach, Team Leader

The 2016 MMEA All-State Men’s Choir was under the direction of Dr. Andrew Last from Luther College, Iowa, and they were fortunate to experience an exceptional week of singing, artistry, and personal growth. The repertoire selected by Dr. Last was a key ingredient in allowing for an inspirational week. One of Andrew’s criteria for literature selection is to choose music that he personally loves. In turn, the men loved each piece. The repertoire was stylistically varied and contrasting, and the men’s favorite piece was always the song they were presently rehearsing or performing. The music was a vehicle for tremendous growth in artistic understanding and expression. The musical line was sophisticated yet intuitively attainable when approached by open young men who were fully engaged intellectually, emotionally and physically. The commitment from each and every student in rehearsal and performance was palpable. The level of difficulty was challenging while allowing students to get far beyond the notes and rhythm and to find themselves lost in the flow of the work.

The literature included harmonic, rhythmic, dynamic, texture and melodic challenges that stretched the invested musicians. The vocal color palate was breathtakingly warm, light and lyrical with delicate pianissimo when required and vibrant and full elsewhere, always maintaining an honest execution, true to literature. Andrew brought his authentic self to camp. His humble and understated personality, intellectually stimulating exchanges, positive rehearsal psychology and depth of humanity guided his work and relationships. The rehearsal environment, enjoyed by all, was marked by continual growth in pursuit of musical excellence, engagement, supportive relationships, vulnerability, and a circle of trust. The men left the camp changed; they became better musicians and better people.

Jeff Dahl

Jeff Dahl
Wayzata High School
Bass Section Coach, Team Leader

Many thanks to our colleagues for these lovely reflections which capture the exceptional experience that the 2016-2017 All-State Conductors provided to their choirs this summer. They serve as a reminder of the impact of the work that we all do on the podium each year. May we find challenge in the wisdom and example of these fine conductors. Work to teach each singer beyond the music. Challenge their better selves. Draw connections to, in, and through the process of singing and the music. Listen to them, not just their singing. Help to inspire all of our singers to become comprehensive musicians.

Stephanie Trump

Stephanie Trump
Robbinsdale-Armstrong High School
MMEA Choral Vice President