Tag: DCG

The Importance of Reflection by DCG president Mary Hill Gowing
2016.05.10 21:55:04


While I prepared for the DeKalb Choral Guild’s upcoming concert Mystics and Music (Sat May 14th 7:30pm at St. Bart’s Episcopal), the texts of the world-ranging mystical writers featured in the concert have challenged me to reevaluate how and how much I think about and reflect on things in my life. They’ve reminded me that, when I was a Girl Scout leader at Briarlake Elementary, one of the important lessons I learned in training and in practice is the importance of scheduling a time/space for us to reflect on the activities we work so hard to plan and then achieve. In my experience, the reflection component was THE hardest aspect of the “plan, act, reflect, celebrate” Girl Scout paradigm. One might expect it to be easy; just sit around and talk about what you worked on. But the impulse with the girls and with our entire culture, I think, is to rush through reflection to get to the exuberance of celebration or even to the excitement of more planning and action. What does reflection do for us? Why is it so important? And how can we incorporate more of it in our lives?


The act of reflection can help us in many different ways. By looking back on at what we plan and accomplish we can see if we actually have met our goals or if we somehow went astray.  Stephen Covey, in his 7 Habits book, shares the image of someone climbing a literal ladder of success only to find when she nears the top that she has been on the wrong wall the whole time. Reflection can help us see which wall we are on. The mystic writings of Kabir, Rumi, and Hildegard of Bingen featured in the DeKalb Choral Guild’s Mystics and Music concert highlight this aspect of reflection that perceives what is of real importance.


Another aspect of reflection is that it can help us allow ourselves to feel things that we may have overlooked or dampened in the rush of the moments of doing and acting. These can be both positive and negative feelings. Perhaps it is the potential threat of sensing unpleasant feelings that also causes us to want to avoid the act of reflecting. But avoiding feeling does not make what we are feeling go away. (Many believe that avoiding feelings just makes them more powerful and less in our conscious control and that recognizing them causes our feelings to be less frightening and a more accepted part of ourselves). The Navajo prayer Now I Walk in Beauty, composed into song by Gregg Smith (which will be heard at the Mystics and Music concert), is a mystic meditation which transports and guides the listener to FEELING the beauty ALL around us.


Finally, reflection can help us gain perspective. In our busyness we can lose sight of how events and experiences can have many different interpretations. Reflection gives us the opportunity to look at things from different angles, search for missed nuances, or find points of view that weren’t available before. This ability to step back and see the broader picture can lead some to even experience a sense of transcendence. This feeling of being a part of a much larger integrated whole is well expressed in the mystic poetry of the world such as Hafiz and Judah Al-Harizi, (who will be sung at our Mystics and Music concert).


So how do you go about incorporating more reflection in your life? One way is through art and music.  Art and music invites us to reflect on the work and ourselves, to feel things, and to search for meaning, knowing it will be one point of view among many. You can reflect on all these things at the DeKalb Choral Guild’s Mystics and Music concert this Saturday May 14, 2016 at 7:30pm at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church at 1790 LaVista Rd. Atlanta, GA. Tickets are $5 and are available at our website (www.dekalbchoralguild.org) or at the door. Hope to see you there.




Mary Gowing

DeKalb Choral Guild president

Tags: hildegard von bingen | Chris Owenby | Choral Concert | DCG | atlanta community chorus | DeKalb Choral Guild | Mystics and Music | Herrick | Hafiz | Rumi | mystics

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Hope, Peace, Joy and Love--a Holiday message from DCG president Mary Gowing
2015.12.15 23:23:25

Okay, take at least 3 big deep breaths. This season of time between Thanksgiving and New Year can get a bit hectic and crazy. So first off, take some big breaths.  Really, while you are reading this, start your deep breathing. You'll feel more relaxed just by letting in more air. It's something we in the choral biz know, and partly why singing feels so good. Are you still doing your breathing? Good, keep going while I wish you 4 things:

The first thing I wish you is Hope. I wish you the kind of Hope that sings in the midst of war and conflict as expressed in the song Prayer of the Children by Kurt Bestor which we sang last January in our Et in Terra Pax concert.You can listen to it here: https://soundcloud.com/mary-gowing-1/prayerofthechildrendcg/s-Wswv6. Whether that confict is international in scope,  in your community, in your family or in your own spirit I wish you the Hope that knows that there will be a better day.

Still taking those relaxing breaths? Good. The second wish I have for you is Peace. The kind of peace that a mother wishes and bestows on her chiild while holding her in her arms and singing her a lullaby. This wish for peace is expressed well by Iraqi Peace Song by Lori Tennenhouse which the DCG women and I sang in 2010. https://soundcloud.com/mary-gowing-1/iraqi-peace-song/s-Svffu. I wish you the kind of peace in that lullaby: of knowing you are loved and knowing you have a place in the world. Just deep breathing can help initiate a peaceful feeling. Try it when you aren't reading blogs and emails, perhaps in the maestrom of holiday chaos. 

Thirdly, I wish you Joy. The kind of joy I feel when singing with the DCG. I wish for you to be able to follow what you are passionate about and to be able to share your interests with others and inspire them to pursue their own Joy. I wish you the Joy that comes from being in the zone of relaxed focus while occupied in a meaningful endeavor. An example of this joy for me is singing Mozart's Missa Brevis with my favorite chorus, in particular the Gloria section. https://soundcloud.com/mary-gowing-1/missa-brevis-gloria. What joyful music that is. I wish you that!

Lastly, I wish you Love. Not so much the romantic kind, though if that is what you are interested in I wish you that too. I wish the kind that is within you and that is compassionate and patient and seeks the kindest way.I wish you a loving heart that is curious and open to other people, no matter how different, difficult or unlovable they are presently. I wish you a love that grows and radiates to others. I wish you a love that is action oriented because you feel kinship with the universe,  as in the song We Are that the DCG sang at Sure Stars Shining concert in 2014:https://soundcloud.com/mary-gowing-1/we-are-1/s-ic2uJ.

I wish you and the whole world Hope, Peace, Joy and Love this holiday. And I wish for you the relaxation that comes from lots a deep breaths whether while singing, meditating, or while not blowing up at Aunt Edna for whatever she just did that managed to push just the right buttons but somehow you did some deep breaths and the urge to garrote her passed.

Happy Holidays!

Mary Gowing

DeKalb Choral Guild, president

Tags: Avondale chorus | Decatur Community Chorus | Atlanta chorus | Joy | Love | Peace | Hope | Holiday | DCG

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Muse Sings by Mary E. Root, Music Director, DeKalb Choral Guild
2015.08.13 15:14:05

Muse Sings

Mary E. Root, Music Director, DeKalb Choral Guild


Joining a Chorus is Worth It


'Tis the season of community chorus auditions! Each year, as summer wanes, community choruses begin gearing up for rehearsal and performance season. Audition notices go out, and, thus, begins the scramble and competition for good, dedicated singers. I direct an auditioned community chorus, and I find that I do not want to harass and cajole singers to consider our chorus; I want singers to be drawn to our chorus because this is a good chorus that prepares and sings excellent and interesting repertoire and because of our mission to be a compassionate chorus.

Singing in our chorus, the DeKalb Choral Guild, chorus requires significant commitment: repertoire must be studied outside rehearsal; there are membership dues and required performance attire; weekly rehearsal attendance is required; members are often asked to assist with duties beyond singing and with fundraising. And then, there is the audition required of all new prospective singers. Some singers view the audition as a badge, a rite of passage. Singers will often describe the "war wounds" of auditioning. I've blogged about my thoughts on the process of auditioning (see http://www.dekalbchoralguild.org/blog/viewpost/296.html), so I will summarize by saying that I can learn all I need to know about a prospective singer from a well-prepared solo and a conversation. I refer to the DCG audition as "the kinder, gentler, compassionate audition."

To save everyone some time, I am forthright about the music we sing: this is not choral arrangements of pop tunes – we sing serious, relevant choral music that spans from ancient to contemporary. I try to choose music that is accessible to audiences and worthy of their listening. As a chorus we focus on beautiful, deliberate choral sound, and solid vocal technique. We also focus on meaningful interpretation.

I recently rediscovered a quote from musician Brian Eno; I share it with you now for your consideration because I think it speaks so well to what the DeKalb Choral Guild aspires:

"When you sing with a group of people, you learn how to subsume yourself into a group consciousness because a cappella [sic] singing is all about the immersion of the self into the community. That's one of the great feelings — to stop being me for a little while and to become us. That way lies empathy, the great social virtue."

So, if you are reading this, and you are a singer thinking of joining a community chorus in the Atlanta area, I hope you will consider our chorus, the DeKalb Choral Guild. I will be honored to hear you sing and discuss membership with you. To schedule your audition, please leave a message at 678-318-1362. Our audition coordinator will call you back in quick fashion. Come, be a part of our singing community!


Tags: DCG | Mary Root | Decatur Chorus | chorus | community chorus | choir | joining a singing group | auditions | DeKalb Choral Guild | Atlanta chorus

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Muse-Sings: Mindful Chorus
2014.10.07 20:00:11

October 7th,2014

MaryRoot landscapeMary Evelyn Root Mindfulness is all the buzz anymore. I try to live mindfully. I have come to cherish the spaces between thoughts. When I reject the fiendishly persistent illusion that multi-tasking is a great time-saver, I can find myself in a powerfully luminous and invigorating zone.

Lately, I have tried to be more mindful in my work as a choral conductor. At first glance, conducting a chorus might well be the epitome of multi-tasking. Conducting is an exercise in constant anticipation of the near future. How is it then, that I feel that same affirming energy of the luminous zone of mindfulness when I conduct? I think the answer lies in a broader view that, even though I have to be in a nearly incessant anticipatory state, I am present in that state. I suppose that any endeavor that takes us to that zone can be subdivided into many smaller tasks, and there can be an overarching focus that pulls these micro-tasks into single mindful flow.

I have realized another necessity in my efforts to conduct mindfully: I must be deliberately selfless. I have to remind myself that it is not about me. I used to profess it was all about the music and the composer’s intentions, but in all honesty, I kind of liked the attention and the control. Now, I think it is about the extraordinary and intimate community we become in joining to make choral music. I think of the chorus as an organism that works continuously in an intricately adapting sensitivity to each part and stimulus.   I cannot be unmoved, mollifying, supercilious, and self-justifying of my own decisions when I realize that some singers are uncomfortable with repertoire decisions or when my gesture does not elicit the response I want from the chorus.   I must communicate better what my vision is, and I must reflect on how my physical gesture embodies that vision.  

Currently, the DeKalb Choral Guild is rehearsing for a concert of literature that explores the themes of life and death in dialogue. We are preparing two of William Schuman’s Carols of Death, and because they are quite demanding technically, a disproportionate amount of time has been spent in rehearsal on these two pieces.   To the singers, I think the concert feels weighty because of the distribution of rehearsal time. Upon realizing this, I tried to describe my vision for this concert and encourage them to appreciate that the repertoire is far more balanced than their current perspective.   Yet, I cannot predicate mindfulness solely on the concert; the singers, our accompanist, and I experience the whole of this process.

Nine rehearsals, individual study time, and a dress rehearsal are, likewise, disproportionately more than the concert itself. As a community, have we tacitly agreed that the focus is the concert?   If so, does that end justify a means that is difficult and challenging? As I ponder this, I think an important aspect of the answer is this: the singers must also be mindful.




Tags: DeKalb Community Chorus | Chorus Atlanta | community chorus | Avondale chorus | DeKalb Choral Guild | DCG

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