Each year as soon as the North Dakota All-State Music Festival concludes, Michael Seil goes on a mission: find a great jazz choir director for the following year.
“If you ask too far ahead they don’t know their schedules. If you ask too late, you might not get the person you want,” the director of choral music at Bismarck High School said. Seil, the North Dakota Music Educators Association jazz chair, said he uses several methods. He talks with colleagues in the American Choral Directors Association, and with other contacts he has made on the university level.
“Some of it is word-of-mouth. I check out references. There are some great people out there. You just have to find a director that is a good fit,” he said.
The 2011 festival was March 20–22. This year’s jazz choir conductor was Michele Weir, a singer, arranger, pianist, and clinician, who teaches at the University of California–Los Angeles. Vocal groups including the Manhattan Transfer and Chanticleer have performed Weir’s arrangements. The Boston Pops, and the Buffalo and, Cincinnati, and Pacific Symphonies have performed her orchestral works.
Seil said many of the conductors he has worked with in the past are arrangers as well. “We like to have our students work with challenging original arrangements. They grow when they are given the opportunity to work with that kind of material.”
During a 2010 trip to Boston, Mike Seil conducted his students in “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Fenway Park.
He also looks for conductors who are flexible and can function well on a compressed rehearsal schedule. Since the all-state jazz ensemble and the all-state jazz choir perform the first concert of the festival, the conductor only has about 12 hours of rehearsal time to work with students.
Students covet spaces in the jazz choir.
The North Dakota MEA holds four live auditions around the state for the 16-voice all-state jazz choir. Many students, but not all, are in choral jazz programs at their schools. “It’s a difficult audition process,” he said. “The students chosen have earned it.” Students must perform a selected repertoire that includes a swing-style arrangement and must demonstrate good sight-reading.
At Bismarck High School Seil said he conducts a concert choir, a mixed choir, a select women’s choir in addition to a jazz choir. The MENC member is in his eighth year teaching at Bismarck High School.
During Jazz Appreciation Month this April check out MENC’s many jazz resources and consider attending the Jazz Academy Monday, June 27 and Tuesday, June 28 during MENC’s Music Education Week in Washington.
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—Roz Fehr, April 14, 2011. © MENC: The National Association for Music Education
Photo courtesy of Mike Seil