Congratulations to our selected interest session presenters!

Immersion Day

A Year in the Life of the High Five Choir
Vicki Murphy & Susan Vaughan, presenters

High Five Choir is a group of students of all abilities coming together through music, building long-standing friendships, raising disability awareness, and serving as agents of change for our school, our community, and our world. The High Five Choir is currently in its fifteenth year at New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois, under the direction of their founding choral director, Susan Vaughan. Currently there are over 80 High Five Choir members from both general and special education populations ranging in age from 14 to 21. Susan Vaughan will share High Five Choir’s history and journey since its inception in 2005 for other choral directors and institutions to emulate across the country, followed by a live High Five Choir performance demonstration. 

Vicki Murphy, MHS, CCC-SLP, is a speech and language pathologist at New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois. She received her BS and MHS in Communication Disorders from Governors State University. Vicki has had the privilege of working with the High Five Choir since 2008. Susan Vaughan is currently in her twenty-seventh year as a choral music educator at New Trier High School, Winnetka, Illinois.  Susan, along with the High Five Choir, have presented and performed at the Illinois Music Education Conference in Peoria, Illinois (2009, 2014, & 2017), ILMEA TED-style Talk at North Central College (2018), and IL-ACDA Fall Conference (2019). Susan earned a Master of Arts degree in vocal performance from Northwestern University and a Bachelor of Science degree in Music Education from Eastern Michigan University. 

Joining Voices: Sharing the journey of a new composition for singers of all abilities/backgrounds and the inclusive culture that inspired it
Panelists: Robyn Starks Holcomb, Kyle Pederson, Randi Van Der Sloot, and John Parezo

The opening concert of the Joining Voices conference will include a program by the Roosevelt High School Concert Choir entitled Building Humanity… Together. The cornerstone of the program will be the premiere of a collaborative work by Kyle Pederson and the members of the choir. The composition, exploring ideas of inclusivity, connectedness, and unity, will be performed by the choir joining their voices together with invited guest singers of all abilities. In this session, Kyle and the Roosevelt team of directors will share the journey of this work from dream to stage through project documentation and open conversation. A portion of the discussion will also be dedicated to sharing the inclusive culture of Roosevelt High School that inspired this work.

Robyn Starks Holcomb, Randi Van Der Sloot and John Parezo make up the Roosevelt High School team of directors offering broad experience in balanced and inclusive programming to their department made of up 12 daily choirs reaching 600 singers. The sense of community pride in the program is equal in enthusiasm and support for the traditional choirs and show choirs that have made a national ACDA conference appearance, as well as two regional ACDA conference appearances, as it is for the unified show choir and the choirs that include singers of all abilities, backgrounds and languages. Kyle Pederson is a Minneapolis-based composer, equally at home as a pianist, lyricist and educator. Commissioned to partner with the Roosevelt High School Concert Choir, the common goal is to create a work to ignite thoughtful conversation about inclusivity and spark an attitude of action toward a future where everyone has a voice.

Inclusion, Access, and Equity: Together We Sing
G. Phillip Shoultz, III, presenter

As a part of its core vision, VocalEssence seeks to develop future singing generations in ways that are reflective of and responsive to diverse constituencies. VocalEssence consistently highlights the contributions of many cultures in its programming and recently began the journey towards developing intercultural competency through a commitment to Inclusion, Access, and Equity (IAE). While this focus on IAE is prevalent throughout the organization, perhaps the most vivid outgrowth of this commitment is the establishment of VocalEssence Singers Of This Age (VESOTA). This session will trace the development of VESOTA, exploring the impact of the ensemble on its members, VocalEssence as an organization, and various external constituencies. Session participants will also engage in dialogue about issues of IAE within the larger choral arts profession.

Known for fostering community and inspiring action among people of all ages and abilities, G. Phillip Shoultz, III, enjoys a multifaceted career in the arts, learning, and worship arenas. Phillip serves as Associate Conductor | Director of Learning and Engagement of VocalEssence and also oversees worship and music activities at Good Samaritan UMC. Phillip frequently conducts choirs and leads workshops across the United States and beyond. His teaching experiences include time at the University of St. Thomas, the University of Minnesota, and Georgia State University and his service in the public schools garnered multiple Teacher of the Year honors. The winner of the 2015 ACDA Graduate Conducting Competition and an International Conductors’ Exchange Program Participant, Phillip believes in the transformative power of shared singing experiences.
VocalEssence Singers of This Age (VESOTA) bio included on the Invited Choirs page


Agents of Change: Inclusion, Access, and Equity (Joining Voices Immersion Day Panel)
Panelists: Susan Vaughan, Phillip Shoultz, and Robyn Starks Holcomb

In this session, Immersion Day presenters will reflect on issues of inclusion, access, and equity, present in each of their individual presentations. Panelists will also engage in a synthesis of lessons learned in each of their respective choral organizations, applying these lessons to individual choral organizations as well as the choral profession in a broader context. Please see Immersion Day session descriptions.

Please see Immersion Day session bios.

Othering and Inclusion in the Choral Experience
Stephen Sieck, presenter

“The choir” is a symbolic culture that implies a community with clear purpose and cohesion. The members of a choir, however, are not homogenous instruments, but instead very different people, each bringing to the space their hopes and fears, histories and futures, and multiple intersecting identities. In this presentation, Dr. Sieck draws from his research and book Teaching with Respect: Inclusive Pedagogy for Choral Directors to help us see how our repertoire, ensemble structures, and classroom pedagogy can exclude some singers and make them to feel “other.” He then shares a tool-kit of resources and approaches to inclusive teaching that will support our collective endeavor to celebrate every voice.

Dr. Stephen Sieck serves as Co-Director of Choral Studies and Chair of the Voice Department at the Lawrence University Conservatory of Music in Appleton, WI, where he directs choirs and teaches conducting and choral rehearsal techniques. Steve also serves as the immediate-past-president of WCDA.

What’s Old Is New
Mary Hopper, presenter

Our culture likes things that are new and shiny. Even experienced teachers can get caught in the trap of only programming music that is currently popular. But are we forgetting the repertoire that has been the foundation of great choral singing through the centuries? Conductors, young and old, can be reminded of timeless music that deserves programming. In this session will share not an exhaustive or complete list, but a few pieces in each historical category that every high school teacher could include in their curriculum. I will include music for SA, TB and SATB voicings in Easy and Medium/Difficult categories. Many pieces are in public domain, and copies to sing through and discuss will be provided.

Mary Hopper, Professor of Choral Music and Director of Performance Studies at the Wheaton College Conservatory of Music, conducts the Wheaton College Men’s Glee Club and the Women’s Chorale.    Also, an active church musician, she presently serves as Minister of Music at Immanuel Presbyterian Church, Warrenville, IL. She was recently appointed the Artistic Director and Conductor of the Hinsdale Chorale. Dr. Hopper is currently National Past-President of the American Choral Directors Association and was conference chair for the ACDA 2015 National Conference in Salt Lake City.    In 2014 Illinois ACDA awarded Dr. Hopper the Harold A. Decker Award and in 2018 Dr. Hopper was given the Stace M. Stegman Award for service to the choral profession by Central Region ACDA.

Commissioning A New Piece 101: The Must-Know Basics for Conductors 
Dominick DiOrio, presenter

After hearing from people around the country about the critical need to provide more information to members about how to commission new music, I responded by authoring an article for the November 2018 Choral Journal titled “A (Somewhat) Brief Guide to Commissioning New Music.” This presentation will take the most important tidbits and best practices from that article and present them in an easy-to-understand session for conductors from all walks of life. I will provide answers to questions like: “How do you choose a composer?” “What goes into a commissioning contract?” “How much does it cost?” and more. Ample time will be provided at the end of the session to allow for additional questions, and all recipients will receive a handout to help them with their own commissioning projects.

Dominick DiOrio is a composer and conductor who has won widespread acclaim for his contributions to American music. He is associate professor on the conducting faculty at Indiana University, where he directs NOTUS, a new music chamber choir. DiOrio currently serves as Chair of ACDA’s Composition Initiatives Standing Committee.

The Choir Takes a Voice Lesson: Strategies for adapting concepts from the private voice studio into choral ensemble settings
Zachary Durlam and Tanya Kruse, presenters

In the private voice studio, an individual singer’s unique needs can be assessed and addressed. For many vocalists, however, their only voice lesson is choral rehearsal. How do we as choral directors successfully teach voice to a large number of students who possess vastly different vocal instruments and issues? In this session, Zack Durlam, Director of Choral Activities at UW Milwaukee, will join forces with Tanya Kruse, head of the voice area at UWM, to discuss fundamentals of singing that are commonly explored in private lessons and explain how to adapt these concepts to ensemble rehearsals for choirs of all ages.

As Director of Choral Activities at UW Milwaukee, Dr. Zachary Durlam leads multiple choirs and teaches undergraduate and graduate conducting and choral literature. Dr. Tanya Kruse is head of the voice area, where she teaches undergraduate and graduate voice lessons, voice pedagogy, diction, song literature, and opera.

World Music Pedagogy in the Choral Music Classroom  
Sarah Bartolome, presenter

This clinic will explore applications of World Music Pedagogy (WMP) to the choral music classroom. A brief overview of the five phases of WMP will be presented, and a rationale for WMP in choral music education will be forwarded. Each phase will be explored through participatory singing activities featuring musical traditions from Lithuania, Iraq, Japan, Southern India, South Africa, the United States, and New Zealand. Considerations for developing interdisciplinary connections, working with culture bearers, and using WMP as a means of getting “beyond the score” will also be offered. The session will conclude with suggestions for successful, sustainable WMP practice, offering useful strategies for choir directors at all levels who aim to teach a diverse body of repertoire in meaningful and ethically responsible ways.

Sarah Bartolome is Associate Professor of Music Education at Northwestern University and Associate Director of the Evanston Children’s Choir. She has completed research on choral music in Ghana, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Panama, and Lithuania and recently published World Music Pedagogy V: Choral Music Education (2019, Routledge).

Joining Voices, Shifting Perspectives, Changing Lives 
Panelists: Anton Armstrong, Therees Hibbard, Lynda Laird, Will Green, and other Joining Voices Festival Choir participants; Rhonda Fuelberth, moderator

Conductors/clinicians Anton Armstrong and Therees Hibbard, along with Joining Voices Festival Choir coordinators Lynda Laird and Will Green, will share perspectives on artistry, inclusivity, and empathy development through the lens of the Joining Voices Festival Choir. Specifically, presenters will share how inter-ability group singing opportunities, such as those provided in purposefully inclusive choirs, may provide a foundation for deeper, more meaningful connections to human experience and increased empathy development for all participants. During this session, participants will learn about various aspects of the Joining Voices Festival Choir experience, with particular emphasis on the benefits and challenges of inclusive practice from the perspectives of both conductors/clinicians, as well as participants with and without disabilities. See Joining Voices Festival Choir description.

Armstrong and Hibbard bios included in Honor Choir/Festival Choir docs


Them, Their, They: Navigating the Changing World of the Single-Gender Choir 
Panelists: Jennaya Robison and Maggie Burk

Never has there been a more surprisingly diverse ensemble than in the “single-gender” choir. Conductors need to think beyond heteronormative terms and be aware of the issues of sex, sexuality, gender, so we can be inclusive of all singers. How do we foster the most inclusive environment when women’s and men’s choirs are, by their very nature, exclusive of those singers who do not fit the gender binary? Is there a way to erase the gender lines of “women’s” and “men’s” choirs and still preserve their unique sense of community? The panel will discuss how to preserve the SSAA/TTBB choir while creating an equitable environment that addresses items such as attire, repertoire, voicing, and language, so that all singers feel valued and welcome.

Dr. Jennaya Robison is Associate Professor of Music at Luther College, where she conducts Aurora, Collegiate Chorale and Gospel Choir. Maggie Burk is pursuing her DMA in choral conducting at the University of Michigan, where she studies with Eugene Rogers and will act as Assistant Conductor of Women’s Glee.

Enhancing Ensemble Energy: Yoga, Mindfulness, and Breathing Strategies for Choirs – Lakeshore
Colleen McNickle, presenter 

In a competitive musical world that values performance and achievement, sometimes we as teachers need to step back and allow ourselves and our students to take a breath…and then use that breath to engage and energize our practice. Driven by the connection of breath in yoga and meditation to the breath of music and ensemble, participants will explore traditional choral and yogic breathing strategies and learn several short stretch and breath sequences appropriate for any music classroom. All techniques covered will account for the fact that most choir teachers want to spread wellness awareness to their students, but have limited budgets, space, and time with their students.  Using choral, yogic, and performing artist medical resources, we will discuss focuses, benefits, vocabulary, and practical application.

Colleen McNickle is a Music Education PhD student at Michigan State University, with a primary research interest of Musicians’ Health and Wellness. With a BA from Augustana College and an MME from the University of Illinois, Colleen taught secondary choirs, piano, and ukulele. She recently completed a 200Hr Yoga Certification.

Building Program Culture 
Stacie Blackmore, presenter

If you haven’t deliberately designed the culture of your program, you have built a culture by default. A positive program culture doesn’t just happen. How do you design a positive culture and how do you reach your goals? Whether you have a large or small program, work in a rural area or metropolitan area, serve high poverty students or are blessed with a well-funded program, you can be sure that culture starts at the top. This session will focus on how teachers and directors set up standards for culture, how to implement and maintain those standards, what challenges may interfere with sustaining a positive culture, and how to overcome challenges. Maintaining a growth mindset is key and forging positive relationships ensures a path to your goals.  

Stacie Blackmore is the choral director in Cozad, Nebraska. She earned her undergraduate degree from Northern Arizona University and Masters of Education from the University of Nebraska – Kearney. She serves as Director of Membership Programs for the Nebraska Music Education Association. She was the 2010 NCDA Outstanding Young Choral Director.

The Female Voice Change: A Practical Approach
Jessica McKiernan, presenter 

While many choral methods courses address the male voice change, fewer detail the female voice change. Citing the works of Gackle, Sweet, and Cooksey, this session will cover characteristics of the changing female voice; the key similarities and differences of the male and female changing voices; how to pick literature to meet the needs of adolescent singers; common misconceptions surrounding the female changing voice and how we can change those perceptions; and ways that we can educate and empower students with changing voices.

Jessica McKiernan is a Ph.D. student in Music Education with a choral cognate at Michigan State University, where she supervises student teachers; assists with undergraduate coursework; and serves as co-advisor for the NAfME student chapter. Her research interests include gender, identity development, and social justice in music education.

Diverse Music Programming: How to Avoid the Negative Effects of Tokenism
Hana J. Cai, presenter

This session is an exploration into how to program diverse repertoire without the negative effects of tokenism. Programming diverse repertoire is done with good intentions, but in an attempt to be more inclusive, we often end up inadvertently ostracizing the students and audiences that we want to include. In this session, appropriate for educators at any level, we will discuss approaches to teaching and talking about music from outside of the European musical tradition. Models and resources will be provided to help educators feel confident about programming these pieces and to assist in developing the skills needed to teach with cultural sensitivity. Also included are resources on repertoire, culture, and language pronunciation.

Hana J. Cai is a doctoral student at Indiana University. Her research focuses on the accessibility of Chinese choral music in the United States. She is currently writing a diction guide for Mandarin Chinese. In March, she was named the winner of the ACDA Graduate Student Conducting Competition.

Navigating Your Career: Finding success in the first five years
Zachariah Carlson, presenter 

Have you ever questioned if you are meant to be a choir director or if you will make it through the year? Expanding responsibilities paired with decreasing funding and resources can create a perfect storm of isolation and struggle for life-balance. A review of literature on choir director attrition with pro-tips from leaders in the field will act as the centerpiece of this session. Through small group discussion and group activities we will explore practical tips and tricks for finding your success in the first years of service as a choir director. We will explore mentorship, working smarter not harder, and efficient administrative work in the choral program. Join us for this important conversation about starting your career strong! 

Zachariah Carlson is currently vocal music director at Buffalo High School in Buffalo, Minnesota. He leads five curricular choirs, three extracurricular choirs, music directs the musicals, and co-teaches Music History and AP Music Theory. Previously, he taught in two rural districts in Iowa and Minnesota.   

Digging Deeper into Judeo-Spanish Choral Arrangements 
Sarah Riskind, presenter

Sephardic Jewish music reflects the interaction between Jewish and non-Jewish musicians in Mediterranean regions after the Spanish Expulsion in 1492. There is a substantial body of published choral arrangements available; these Hebrew and Ladino melodies have been arranged by Eleanor Epstein, Alice Parker, Joshua Jacobson, and others. In this session, we will listen to field recordings and sing arrangements of Judeo-Spanish music, discussing how musical elements can be highlighted in a choral context. We will emphasize the conductor’s and arranger’s roles in educating audiences and ways to teach singers about Sephardic culture. Resources on pronunciation, field recordings, and repertoire will be provided. By exploring the modes, rhythms, and ornamentation of Sephardic music, conductors can foster versatility in school and community choirs. 

Conductor and composer Sarah Riskind is the Director of Choral Activities at Eureka College in central Illinois. She holds a DMA from University of Washington, an MM from University of Wisconsin at Madison, and a BA from Williams College.

Teaching Jazz Concepts in the Vocal Jazz Ensemble Rehearsal,
Timothy Buchholz, presenter

This clinic will provide directors with strategies to efficiently incorporate important aspects of jazz styles—namely rhythmic feel, song form, vocal production, improvisation, and harmony—into the rehearsal by showing connections between these concepts and the literature the ensemble is learning. Doing so will improve student learning outcomes and result in more authentic ensemble performances. The material presented in this clinic is the combined result of research conducted during graduate studies at the master’s and doctoral level, and experience gained through conducting vocal jazz ensembles both at the college and high school levels. This will be an interactive clinic, encouraging attendees to sing and participate in written, aural, and improvisatory examples. Key issues will be discussed, and a variety of teaching techniques will be presented.

Dr. Timothy Buchholz is an Associate Professor of Music at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point at Wausau, where he directs two vocal jazz ensembles, concert choir, and teaches classes in ear training. He is a nationally recognized jazz singer, educator, and arranger. Learn more:

The Choir Audition: Drafting the Best Ensembles Without Bias
Jay Dougherty , presenter 

When auditioning your advanced ensembles, should you accept your most responsible student over someone that is more musically talented but not as reliable? Should you put someone in that has very supportive parents even if their musicianship skills are lacking? Is tone more important than literacy? Is part independence more important that tonal recall? How much should your past experience with a student factor into your final decision? This session will present a unique audition process that will help remove biases and, as a result, help draft the best overall ensemble.

Dr. Jay Dougherty is the Director of Choral Activities at Marietta College in Ohio, where he teaches all campus choral ensembles, choral methods, and beginning and advanced conducting. His area of research is in intonation, and overtone reinforcement. He lives in Vincent, Ohio, with his wife and five daughters. 

Beyond Drunken Sailors and Little Maids:  Finding and Teaching SA and TB Literature in the 21st Century
Bob Demaree, Jill Wilson, and Stephen Sieck

For decades, SSAA choirs have relied too often upon what Hilary Apfelstadt referred to in 1998 as “‘butterflies and rainbows’ music,” while TTBB choirs still often gravitate to sea chanteys and songs of brotherhood. Yet SSAA literature exists that is fast, humorous, challenging, and even bellicose. TTBB literature exists that demands nuance, tenderness, and reflection. This session will briefly review the historical perspective of treble and bass clef choirs in school settings; identify trends in nomenclature that are refining our understanding of gender identity; identify ongoing gender imbalances in choral programming; suggest philosophical constructs that combat these imbalances; and provide practical literature options that are appropriate for those working with SSAA or TTBB choir.

Dr. Jill Wilson is Assistant Professor at Luther College and serves as ICDA President. Dr. Stephen Sieck is Co-Director of Choral Studies at Lawrence University and past-president of WCDA. Dr. Bob Demaree is Director of Choral Activities at UW-Platteville and served as president of WCDA and NCACDA.


In Tune: How Group Vocal Technique affects Intonation
Erin Colwitz, presenter 

As a choral conductor, we fight many battles. One of the most obvious of these is intonation—a multifaceted and complex issue. Poor vocal production is often the cause. Additionally, extrinsic and intrinsic forces are also often working against us. More complicated things, such as blend (vowel) and balance problems can contribute greatly to tone quality and production issues, as well. In this session, we will ask “why.” I have found that if I can identify the “what” and the “why,” I am a better teacher and rehearsal technician. We are often aware of problems, but are unsure how to fix them. If one can think of solving intonation problems as part of the teaching and rehearsal process, things will work more efficiently. 

Erin Colwitz is the Director of Choral Activities at Northern Michigan University. Dr. Colwitz is a frequent guest conductor and choral clinician. She earned her M.M. and D.M.A. in choral music from the University of Southern California.

The Other Half of Our Life in Choral Music: Text is the Connection 
Beverly Taylor, presenter

We deal with text every day in rehearsal, but don’t always see all that textual awareness can do for our choirs and audiences.  In this session we’ll find new ways to use texts to teach concepts and awaken audiences, to help with interpretive questions, and double the inspiration we feel and project.  Specifics include:  1) Understanding and teaching poetic rhythms with their counterparts as inflected vocal texts, 2) Building programs based on text themes rather than musical genres, 3) Interpreting poetry and involving the audience in the process, 4) Finding answers when the music and poetry don’t match, and 5) Dealing with issues of inclusivity when presenting works of other cultures or ages past.

Professor Beverly Taylor is in her 25th year as Director of Choral Activities at UW – Madison and Conductor of the Madison Symphony Chorus. Previously she conducted choruses at Harvard University. She has guest conducted around the world, has authored articles on choral music, and recorded premieres.  

Voice-Charting Your Young Men: Why, How, and What to Listen For 
Dan Andersen, presenter

In this session we will discuss why voice-charting is imperative to a successful choral program. With the help of some young men, I will walk you through, step by step, how I voice chart the men in my classroom. You will be able to hear firsthand what to listen for as you are voice-charting the young men in your choir. You will also see how I use the chart as a tool to help your young singers advocate for themselves as musicians.

Dan Andersen is an active clinician, festival conductor, and judge throughout the Midwest. He has conducted the Indiana and Kentucky All-State Junior High Choirs and the Indiana All-State Jazz Choir. His book Warm-Ups For Changing Voices-Building Healthy Middle School Singers is available through Hal Leonard.