Sing Your Heart Out… Now and in Retirement

pmeaReprinted from the Spring 2016 issue of PMEA News, the state journal of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association.

 

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Isn’t the Internet a wonderful place to validate something you have always known? After only a brief Google search, the research seems overwhelming! Here are my top five reasons all of us should participate in a choir… throughout our adult lives!

  1. Singing promotes a healthy immune system.

lungs-39980_1280If you’ve ever been in a choir, you’ve probably been told that the proper way to sing is from your belly.

The idea is to use your diaphragm – the large muscle that separates your chest and abdominal cavities – to push air out through your vocal cords.

Using your diaphragm to sing is a good way to promote a healthy lymphatic system, which in turn promotes a healthy immune system.

Dr. Ben Kim at http://drbenkim.com/articles-singing-for-health.htm.

  1. Singing soothes the savage beast… and makes you feel better!

relax-1183452_1920As the popularity of group singing grows, science has been hard at work trying to explain why it has such a calming yet energizing effect on people. What researchers are beginning to discover is that singing is like an infusion of the perfect tranquilizer, the kind that both soothes your nerves and elevates your spirits.

Group singing is cheaper than therapy, healthier than drinking, and certainly more fun than working out.  It is the one thing in life where feeling better is pretty much guaranteed.

Stacy Horn at http://ideas.time.com/2013/08/16/singing-changes-your-brain/

  1. Don’t you want to live longer? Singing is “heart healthy!”

aorta-151145_1280Regular exercising of the vocal cords can even prolong life, according to research done by leading vocal coach and singer Helen Astrid, from The Helen Astrid Singing Academy in London. “It’s a great way to keep in shape because you are exercising your lungs and heart.”

Singing… helps you live longer according to the findings of a joint Harvard and Yale study, which showed that choral singing increased the life expectancy of the population of New Haven, Connecticut. The report concluded that this was because singing promoted both a healthy heart and an enhanced mental state.

Heart Research UK at http://heartresearch.org.uk/fundraising/singing-good-you

  1. Think “karaoke!” Singing builds “connections” with each other and social confidence.

singer-84874_1920Colette Hiller, director of Sing The Nation, is convinced that singing builds social confidence by helping individuals connect to each other, and to their environment. “Think of a football stadium with everyone singing,” she says. “There’s an excitement, you feel part of it, singing bonds people and always has done. There’s a ‘goosebumpy’ feeling of connection.”

Chorus America, an organization of singing groups in the United States of America, conducted a survey a few years ago, and found that more people in the U.S. and Canada take part in choral singing more than in any other performing art, since they feel that singing in a chorus builds social confidence. Nikki Slade, who runs The Priory, a chanting and voice-work class, believes that the benefits of singing are linked to the primacy and power of the human voice – and that it is our basic instinct to use it. “People are naturally free and expressive,” she says, “but it’s something that has been lost on a day-to-day basis.” Singing can help restore that lost connection.

http://www.shankarmahadevanacademy.com/community/articles/view/6/

  1. Singing reduces stress and pain, and benefits “senior citizens” especially well.

stress-1277561_1920Studies have linked singing with a lower heart rate, decreased blood pressure, and reduced stress, according to Patricia Preston-Roberts, a board-certified music therapist in New York City. She uses song to help patients who suffer from a variety of psychological and physiological conditions.

“Some people who have been traumatized often want to leave the physical body, and using the voice helps ground them to their bodies,” Preston-Roberts says. “Singing also seems to block a lot of the neural pathways that pain travels through.”

Singing, particularly in a chorus, seems to benefit the elderly particularly well. As part of a three-year study examining how singing affects the health of those 55 and older, a Senior Singers Chorale was formed by the Levine School of Music in Washington, D.C.

choir-305535_1280The seniors involved in the chorale (as well as seniors involved in two separate arts groups involving writing and painting) showed significant health improvements compared to those in the control groups. Specifically, the arts groups reported an average of:

  • 30 fewer doctor visits
  • Fewer eyesight problems
  • Less incidence of depression
  • Less need for medication
  • Fewer falls and other injuries

The seniors themselves also noticed health improvements, said Jeanne Kelly, director of the Levine School of Music, Arlington Campus, who led the choral group. The seniors reported:

  • Feeling better both in daily life and while singing
  • Their everyday voice quality was better
  • The tone of their speaking voice did not seem to age as much
  • Easier breathing
  • Better posture

http://www.sixwise.com/newsletters/06/06/07/how_singing_improves_your_health_even_if_other_people_shouldnt_hear_you_singing.htm

female-1299085_1280Okay, besides that crack about “elderly” in that last article (we’re not “old,” yet!), the evidence seems conclusive! For our general health, feelings of well-being, improved social connections, and “just having fun,” we should all be motivated TODAY to go out and find a community choir and start singing regularly in a group. Enough said?

Similar to the “nearly comprehensive” instrumental ensemble listing published by PMEA retired members in the Fall 2015 issue of PMEA News, check out the recently released directory of Pennsylvania community choruses.  Sorted by ensemble’s name and also by location, these files of PA community bands/orchestras and choirs will be updated (new groups added) from time to time, and new revisions will be posted online under “focus areas” and “retired members” of the PMEA website: http://www.pmea.net/retired-members/. (If you have any corrections or additions, please send them to paulkfox.usc@gmail.com.)

choir-783666_1920For both the instrumental and choral groups, we are most thankful to the contributions of our “dream team” of PMEA researchers and editors (as of April 13, 2016): Jan Burkett, Craig Cannon, Jo Cauffman, Deborah Confredo, Susan Dieffenbach, Timothy Ellison, Paul Fox, Joshua Gibson, Rosemary Haber, Estelle Hartranft, Betty Hintenlang, Ada Jean Hoffman, Thomas Kittinger, Chuck Neidhardt, Sarah Riggenbach, Ron Rometo, Joanne Rutkowski, Marie Weber, Lee Wesner, and Terri Winger-Wittreich. We are especially grateful to the efforts of Director of Member Engagement Joshua Gibson who located the counties and e-mail addresses in the choir directory.

Now, what are you waiting for? Go out and… sing!

PKF

© 2016 Paul K. Fox

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Networking Niceties

The “How to Schmooze” Guide for Prospective Music Teachers

key-to-success-1307591Do you have a business card, e-portfolio, resume, and professional website?

There are three critical skills you need to foster searching for a school music position, marketing yourself, interviewing, and landing a job:

  • Personal branding (who are you, what makes you unique, and what do you have to offer?)
  • Story telling (anecdotes) of your positive attributes and personal brand, and
  • Networking (associating with other professionals and getting your stories “out there”).
In previous articles posted in this blog series, we have discussed the essential need for the development and constant revisions of a professional e-portfolio, resume, and website. If you have not read them, click on the following:

connected-people-1165937Merriam-Webster defines “networking” (noun) as “the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.”

The concept of networking is two-way communications. Just like collective sets of nerve synapses, two-way connections are expected to fire repeatedly in all directions. That’s actually the science behind memory. For professional networking, it is your “charge” to create multiple pathways to/from school administrators, HR managers and secretaries, music supervisors and department heads, and music teachers… and you – your skills, accomplishments, unique qualities, experience, education, and personality traits.

Business Cards – One of the Earliest Known Methods of Networking

Do you know the history of the business card? How long ago was it introduced?

You might have guessed it was first “kicked-off” in the 1980s, the decade that corporations expanded on the adoption of the 3.5 by 2-inch rectangle business card format we know today.

However, according to Design Float Blog [Source: “A Brief History of Business Cards” posted at http://www.designfloat.com/blog/2012/04/02/history-business-cards/], its origin can be traced back to 15th century China. They were first known as “visiting cards” and used to announce one’s intention of meeting with another individual.

king-louis-at-versailles-1553663During the 17th century, especially during the reign of Louis the 14th, the “calling card” made its heyday in Europe. “…An individual’s success or failure in society often depended on the strength of their personal promotion.”

Etiquette was involved in the deployment of “acquaintance cards” in the 17-18th century.

“…A strict protocol existed to ensure that calling cards were employed correctly. If a gentleman wished to call on a lady, he had a lot to think about. On making a first call, he had to make sure there is a separate card for each lady of the household. Alternatively, he could fold his card down the middle to indicate it was meant for all members of the household. Cards had to be left with the servant; admission to the house would only be permitted after the hostess had examined the card. Calling cards were to be collected on a small tray kept in the hallway, which would be presented by a servant on the palm of his left hand. While a gentleman may carry his cards loose in his pocket, a lady should use a card case. If the gentleman received no acknowledgement of his card, he had to accept that there would be no continuation of the acquaintance. And on no account was it ever acceptable to sneak a peak at cards that had been left by other callers.”

Later in the 17th century, London merchants used “trade cards.” At a time when street numbers were not in popular use, these cards were crucial in promoting the business and hands-3-hand-holding-a-card-1440323informing customers of its location and services available.

So how do you collect and distribute your business cards? What methods do you use to record and store the contacts you meet on a daily basis? How is your contact information given out to every professional you meet, especially at conferences, mass employment screenings, or job fairs?

Business Card Basics

Today’s professionals still exchange this “old-fashioned invention” called a business card as part of employment and business networking. (Who knows? Maybe someday we will be doing this electronically. Perhaps, our new “super-smart phones” will automatically talk to one another and seamlessly pass on our contact information.)

According to Ivan Misner, contributor to the online Entrepreneur website (http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/159492), “The business card is the most powerful single business tool – dollar for dollar – you can invest in. It’s compact, energy-efficient, low-cost, low-tech, and keeps working for you hours, weeks and even years after it leaves your hands!”

He outlines what it does in support of person-to-person networking:

  • The business card tells people your name and the name of your business.
  • It provides prospects a way to contact you.
  • business-card-1525590It gives others a taste of your work, style and personality.
  • It can be so unusual or attractive or strange or charming or funny that it tends to stick in the memory of the prospective employer like a great radio or television ad.
  • It can be reused, passes from person to person, giving the same message to each person who comes in contact with it.

What data should be shared  on a business card? The quick (and obvious) answer is your name, mailing address (street, city, state, zip), cell phone (and if you still have a landline telephone number), email address, and extremely important – a link to your professional website (and password if needed).

Your Personal Brand Displayed on a Piece of Cardboard

Huffington Post provides some insightful recommendations on the design of business cards (see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/12/designing-a-business-card_n_997449.html):

  1. Your card should look professional and project your image.
  2. Do not use clip art.
  3. Consider printing a QR code with direct access to your webpage.
  4. Resist a cluttered business card layout.
  5. Do not try to save money and buy cheap business cards.

Like it or not, your business card will convey (accurately or inaccurately) your image – possibly an instant snapshot of your professionalism, proficiency, and personality – to potential HR people and the decision-makers that hire future staff. What do you want to business-card-1237839display… traits of artistry, collaboration, commitment, discipline, even temperament, goal-minded, initiative, leadership, mastery of music and music education, organization, positive outlook, style, tact, and/or teamwork… or just the opposite?

Check out the unique examples and design elements (size, shape, color, style, materials, effects, printing methods, etc.) at http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/2010/06/how-to-design-your-business-card/. A wooden business card? How crazy do you want to be? Just remember, educational leaders are generally very “conservative” in the search for filling teaching positions in the public schools.

Readability and clarity are important (#4 above). After retirement, I had a lot of fun designing a new business card. Many retirees (myself included) lean towards putting more information than what is generally needed on their card. I was also guilty of printing a hodgepodge of all of my past school positions. Ironic, isn’t it? The business card is not really the device to archive past successes, especially for a retiree who is not trying to find PaulFox_Logoa new full-time job!

I even went as far as to hire a professional layout artist to create a new personal logo. Can you tell my focus areas and favorite composer from the image to the right?

The Act of Sharing

When you meet someone for the first time, the unspoken code/decorum of networking and professionalism directs you to flash your most charming smile, look the person in the eye, introduce yourself (“hi, my name is…”), and offer/give a firm handshake. Repeat his/her name (place it permanently in your memory), and use it to strike up a short conversation to familiarize/update each other about where he/she works, and where you have most recently graduated or been employed.

First impressions mean a lot. Experts say that early judgments about you are made in the business-man-modified-1241003first ten seconds, and after four minutes, it’s all over. For employment consideration, others have written that you are evaluated by 7% what you say, 38% by your vocal tone, and 55% by your facial expressions.

Be very positive and be sure to closely listen to the other professional, responding to his/her questions or topics. Be outgoing and energetic (but not pushy) and friendly (but not overly personal). My former superintendent commented on a music teacher interview he experienced that did not go very well. The potential candidate did not seem to show personal initiative or self-direction, and lacked any overt displays of excitement or energy. Administrators want to see that you are truly committed to making a music program successful (“will go that extra mile”), have creative ideas to help “grow the program,” and love to work with children.

Before you close your “network connection,” be sure to swap business cards (have yours handy – nothing slows things down more than fumbling in your wallet or coat pocket), and make a promise to touch base with him/her again.

Gathering Data from Your End

One of the most important concepts about networking is how you use the information you collect. You need to “tag” or catalog the names of individuals with whom you come in contact, to help sort and create an easy-access index of professional resources.

stocking-for-business-1240257After the opportunity presents itself to exchange business cards, you need to save and organize his/her data in a way to be able to place/find the acquaintance for future reference. Why was this professional important to you to remember his or her name? How, when, and where did you meet? Reference the subjects you may have discussed, school affiliation, title, and locality of the contact, so at some point, you can lay your fingers on the name in your file; just search on the “key” word or phrase like “choral director” or “XYZ School District.”

As soon as possible, copy the new contact’s name, information, and subject areas into your smartphone’s (and computer’s) contact app. If he/she was a potential administrator, department head, or teacher in the district, you are well within your rights to follow-up with an e-mail. “Do you know of any possible future music positions (or retirements) in your district?” “Should I send a letter to the superintendent for his consideration?”

Now Get Out There and “Meet and Greet!”

According to Devora Zack in her blog “Ten Tips for People Who Hate Networking” (a great read, see http://www.careerealism.com/hate-networking-tips/), “…Real networking is about establishing mutually beneficial, lasting connections, one person at a time… This new and improved definition of networking means being true to you, capitalizing on your strengths, and tossing aside ‘rules’ that don’t match your temperament.” She proposes several unique “rules for the road” for making positive peer connections from the book Networking for People Who Hate Networking (Berrett-Koehler 2010):

  1. Be true to you
  2. Realize less is more
  3. interview-607713_1920Plan your first impression
  4. Volunteer
  5. Get in line
  6. Set challenging yet achievable networking goals
  7. Show, don’t tell
  8. Research
  9. Listen
  10. Follow-up, or forget about it

Another good resource for quiet/unassuming personality types is the online article “Twelve Tips for Shy People” by Meredith Levinson: http://www.cio.com/article/2437488/relationship-building-networking/how-to-network–12-tips-for-shy-people.html.

Conclusion

Take advantage of any chance you have to present your personal brand, “sell yourself,” and connect with colleagues in the field of music education. Practice a few “schmoozing” techniques, but really try to be open, positive, true to yourself, and well-organized. The business card helps you to “call on” and make a lasting impression to potential employers. Good luck, and happy job hunting!

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Sources for this article and additional hints on the use of business cards and networking may be found at the following sites. Here’s YOUR homework for further reading!

PKF

© 2016 Paul K. Fox