My choral (and) conducting gurus

28 01 2020

Mark Hayes with me and Rev. Danette Kong in the pink lei

This past weekend I attended a three-day choral music workshop by well-known pianist-composer Mark Hayes. Keawalaʻi Congregational Church at Mākena, Maui, founded in 1832, was the venue.

My takeaway, literally, was a folio of sacred and secular music and a series of published articles on how to improvise at the piano. I later found all of the “Improv Notes” on the website. One can download them for free.

I am reminded of other times in Honolulu and at Cannon Beach, OR, when I was fortunate as a chorister to sing under the baton of Rodney Eichenberger who is associated with Florida State University. He has coined the motto “what they see is what they get.” I found a Facebook page named “The Rodney Eichenberger Cult.” Indeed, he has a following!

I mined the internet and found “The Life and Philosophy of Choral Conductor Rodney Eichenberger, Including a Detailed Analysis and Application of His Conductor-Singer Gestures” by Adam Jonathan Con. The preview of the book at is a fine description.

I’m now inspired to sing in a spring concert with my group, the Windward Choral Society, this February 9, at 4 pm, at St. John Vianney Parish in Kailua, Oahu. We will be singing African-American, spiritual, and gospel numbers. Susan McCreary Duprey directs.

The best part of the weekend on Maui was meeting up with my cousins Rev. Danette Kong, who is the music director at Keawalaʻi Congregational Church, and Steven Lum and Prince Steven who came from Oahu and joined us at this beautiful spot.

Looking toward East Maui from Mākena

Keawalaʻi Congregational Church

L to r: cousins Steven, Prince, Rebekah, and Danette

~ Rebekah

Enjoy Hawaiian choral music tonight

12 03 2016
Kawaiahao Church is on the corner of King and Punchbowl streets. A plaque describes its construction

Festival venue: Kawaiaha‘o Church, on the corner of King and Punchbowl streets.

Aloha studio fans!

I am excited to perform tonight in “Ke Ahe Lau Makani,” a festival of Hawaiian choral music with the Royal Hawaiian Band, and I invite to you come and enjoy. The downbeat is at 6 p.m. in the sanctuary of Kawaiaha‘o Church on King street across from city hall in Honolulu. There is no admission charge to attend.

I perform with Kawaiolaonāpūkanileo, the host choir. Usually a small a cappella ensemble, for tonight we invited other individual singers and groups to join in. They are:

The Hawaiian Chorus of the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, the Gioventu Musicale Ensemble of the Hawai‘i Youth Opera Chorus, and the Kawaiaha‘o Church Choir.

Indeed, it will be a joyous occasion to perform Hawaiian music written by famous composers of the past, namely Queen Lili‘uokalani, and contemporary composers and arrangers.

This year’s festival honors and celebrates Prince Jonah Kalaniana‘ole for his birthday, the late composer Haunani Bernardino who gifted the festival with its name, and the late Dr. Kekuni Blaisdell who was on the core committee that initiated the collection of Lili‘uokalani’s mele, culminated in the printing of The Queen’s Song Book.

When you come you will be treated to so much more story and translation of Hawai‘i’s past in a most historical setting. Please bring a friend with you to come and hear the music!

Hard-working festival personnel are: Phil Hidalgo, festival coordinator; Nola A. Nahulu, artistic director; Buddy Nalua‘i, organist; Wendy Chang, pianist; and Clarke Bright, band master of the Royal Hawaiian Band. Mahalo!

Greetings from Cannon Beach, Oregon!

3 08 2013
My choir sisters Susan (from left), Melissa, Anne-Marie, and me in pink under the iconic 235-foot Haystack Rock, Northern Oregon coast.

My choir sisters and new friends Susan (from left), Melissa, and Anne-Marie . . . and me in pink under the iconic 235-foot Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach, Northern Oregon coast.

For an update, please scroll to the end of the post.

Last night the Choral Conductors Workshop with Rod Eichenberger culminated in a concert in which I was one of 20 master class conductors. It was my conducting debut, and what a fabulous choir to direct for my very first time: about 130 choral directors and music educators from around the country.

They came to learn from the master, who’s perfected a method of “what they see is what you get” conducting. Generally speaking, the singer will mirror, with his/her vocal chords, the body movements of the conductor. It’s so fascinating to watch and hear, makes perfect sense.

I first met Rod Eichenberger in Honolulu at a similar workshop.

That experience gave me the idea that this was something I could learn to do and add to my skills set. It’s never too late to learn something new. As Rod told his class, he makes it a point to learn something new every day.

In class, Rod is looking for what he can correct in my conducting.

In class, Rod is looking for what he can correct in my conducting.

I decided to invest in the workshop and travel costs, treating myself to a change in scenery and a vacation to visit relatives at the same time. The people at the workshop were very supportive and responsive. I was so humbled by the combined talent and dedication of the whole group.

On the first day I selected from 180-plus pieces of music “Cherokee Amazing Grace,” arranged by James E. Green, to conduct. The melody is the same as the familiar hymn “Amazing Grace,” a tune I know. The lyrics were in Cherokee. I liked that they were native. Translated into English, they are:

“God’s Son paid for us. Then to Heaven He went after paying for us. But He said, when He rose. “I’ll come again” He said when He spoke. All the earth will end when He comes All will see Him all over the earth. All the good people living He will come after. Heaven always in peace they will live.”

This is the Cherokee national anthem.

According to the program notes:

“During the Trail of Tears in 1838-39, the Cherokee sang Christian hymns “Amazing Grace” and “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah” in their native language while incarcerated in stockades and while being marched westward. Over one third of the twelve thousand Cherokee died in the infamous Nunna dula Tsuny (Trail Where They Cried), or ‘Trail of Tears.’ During this terrible trek, families sang songs in the traditional language to locate their kin and to bring comfort to the grieving. The Cherokee language and songs held the people together. Cherokee people still sing these songs to acknowledge the experience of their ancestors during the Trail of Tears.”

Thank goodness for basses: my choir buddies on either side of me in the back row, Bert and Omaldo

Thank goodness for basses: my choir buddies on either side of me in the back row, Bert and Omaldo. We had assigned seating, with the voice parts SATB all mixed up. That’s my empty chair in the middle. I’m an alto.

Carol Rich, accompanist extraordinaire, at the Steinway

Carol Rich, accompanist extraordinaire, at the Steinway

Me, conducting the dress rehearsal on the day of performance with violin, percussionists, soloist, and choir. Half of the choir and the soloist are not pictured. Cannon Beach School Gymnasium, Oregon.

Me, conducting the dress rehearsal on the day of performance, with violinist, percussionists, vocalist, and choir. Half of the choir and the soloist are not pictured. Cannon Beach School Gymnasium, Oregon.

Please check back here at Rebekah’s Studio in a few days. As soon as the video of the concert is available, I will post a link. UPDATE:

Thank you everyone. I feel the love!

The Choral Conductors Professional Development Workshop with Rod Eichenberger is sponsored by George Fox University.

Copyright 2013 Rebekah Luke

Musical conducting from my dan tien

19 04 2011

Thanks for visiting again! I’ve been away from the studio a bit, doing some cool stuff. It’s never too late to learn something new!

As my Facebook friends already know, I went to a choral conductors workshop one weekend and a food forum with farmers and chefs the next.

Back in the studio I’m preparing for a visit from the Easter bunny, a group art show, a trip to Kohala to scout for a family reunion in 2012, and summer drawing classes for the neighborhood kids. Today’s story is …


A last-minute private plea to attend a choral conductors workshop appeared in my e-mailbox, saying only five conductors and four singers had signed up.

What a shame, because a delightful gentleman named Rodney Eichenberger was in Honolulu to show and teach how a choir director’s posture and hand movements produced a corresponding sound from a group of singers. A conductor’s conductor, the professor was now in his 80s; and who knows when he would come to the Islands again. Would I consider attending?

With 30 dollars I registered as a singer for two days (Conductors need singers!), with meals included. To me, this was a good deal, to learn from the best! I enjoy choral singing: school choirs, church choir, pit chorus, Honolulu Chorale, lunchtime choir, glee club, neighborhood Christmas carolers. If the opportunity presents itself and it feels right in my heart, I’m there.

Before teaching us his bag of tricks, Rod Eichenberger shared his rules for conductors:

No talking. Except to identify the title of the piece, line or measure. The time spent talking is put to better use singing.

No playing of individual voice parts. Just start right in and sing the piece start-to-finish two times. This encourages sight-reading, he said. For those singers who have personal issues with the music, they will resolve the issue by the end of the second time through. We had just one exception to this rule when the accompanist pointed out that the melody line was not being sung correctly.

Conduct from your energy power center, your dan tien, not any higher or lower. Dan tien is a Chinese tai chi term referring to the area of your body about the size of your fist, below your navel and toward the curve of your back. Described another way, when conducting keep your hand movements directly in front of you, about waist level and below while standing perfectly straight.

*Trust the singers. They are here to sing and will deliver.

Each conductor took a turn at conducting a new piece. Then Rod would explain and show how to make it better. A turn of the wrist here. A tiny pinch with the fingers there. He found something to improve in each conductor’s style. In a second rehearsal each conductor could review a challenging passage with the singers, and Professor Eichenberger would suggest further changes.

The workshop results were so remarkable, our teacher had all of us giggling! So easy, so much better, and so much fun! In the end, I recall, say, eight conductors each with just a few minutes of instruction, eight new pieces music, and three dozen singers learned remarkably simple and logical choral technique. With an amazing piano accompanist who was reading the music the first day for the first time herself, we performed a concert at 8 p.m. on the second day. We were good! I feel so lucky to be a part of this group experience.

Copyright 2011 Rebekah Luke

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