Diving into the Music within the Music

Diving into the Music within the Music

 An Interview with 2020 All-National Honor Ensemble
Mixed Choir Conductor Frances Fonza


This year the 2020 All-National Honor Ensemble (ANHE) Mixed Choir will perform alongside five other All-National Honor Ensembles in Orlando, Florida. Frances Fonza will lead the Mixed Choir. Learn more about Frances Fonza here. Here, Fonza shares some of her thoughts on music education, conducting, and the upcoming ANHE Mixed Choir.

Frances Fonza

When did you first fall in love with music?

I fell in love with music at church—singing and playing Gospel music. I also can remember hearing Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” and playing it over and over and over.

What inspired you to become a conductor? Describe the process in getting to where you are today.

I loved seeing my father direct his high school band. I watched each summer at band camp as he led his group. I wanted to do the same.

When I was 13 years old, I started teaching my church choir and playing for services. This gave me invaluable experience and confirmed that I wanted to teach music. 

2020 All-National Honor Ensembles conductors


What are some of the greatest accomplishments, and challenges, you face as a conductor of a large ensemble?

I love to connect with choir members, and that can be difficult when there are lots of people in the group. It’s very important to me that choir members feel welcome and feel as if they can talk to me.

What factors do you consider when programming music for a concert or honors ensemble? What are some of your favorite pieces of repertoire?

I like to have a nice variety of musical styles and languages represented if possible. I love Rosephayne Powell’s “To Sit and Dream.” I also love “Music, Give Voice” by Joel Raney and John Parker.

student ensemble with Frances Fonza
Photo courtesy of Frances Fonza

What excites you the most about the ANHE program? What do you hope your young musicians who attend will take away from their experience?

I love that these young musicians have another opportunity to make music. They’ll come together with other youth from across the country to share their gifts. I hope these young musicians will take advantage of the opportunity to not just sing notes on the page, but dive into the text meaning, the dynamics, the phrasing . . . the music within the music. I also hope they’ll make wonderful friendships. 

2019 ANHE mixed choir on stage
2019 All-National Honor Ensemble Mixed Choir, Orlando, Florida. Photo: Bob O’Lary


What advice would you share with young aspiring musicians?

Know the music you are presenting. Go beyond correct pitches and rhythms and search for how you can bring life to the music.

When auditioning—come with confidence [look the part (appropriate attire) and know your part (this includes dynamics, entrances, cutoffs, text)]. Then, see how you can develop the music . . . can you add word stress, phrasing? That’s the fun part!

choir with Frances Fonza
Photo courtesy of Frances Fonza

Why do you think music education is so important for all students?

Everyone needs music in their lives!

The deadline to apply for the NAfME All-National Honor Ensembles is May 15, 2020. Learn more and apply today.


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The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides a number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.

Catherina Hurlburt, Marketing Communications Manager. March 6, 2020. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)