OVERVIEW & GOALS                    COMPOSITIONS                    STATUS                     CALENDAR

Will's 2009 Mini-Sabbatical:  Status (mini-blog)

1/25/09 1/31/09 2/5/09  3/2&3  3/6 am     3/16pm   3/31<-- last updated
Updates are color-coded to some extent (the dates shown above will match the text written on that date, or aggregated range of dates); every week or two, old text will go grey (still readable, but if you're looking for updates, you won't have to read everything again)


Instead of organizing by date, I've chosen to organize by topic thread, and add new text in its logical place, so the resulting page can be read topically, not chronologically (based on update/entry).
My goal for this page is to inform friends/family/parishioners/colleagues of my progress and direction. As most of you know, just the thought of blogging is so very repulsive for me, so I'm out of my comfort zone.
And, I do not like vanilla lattes!
Hopefully this can keep people in touch, while minimizing the email load with so many circles of contacts who might be interested.

GOAL PROGRESS SUMMARY (all-new table 3/16)

Topic Area Perfect Results would be... Status
Coaching sessions in line with my areas of interest; learn new tips; get homework to go work on Grade A+:
Two sessions yielded more than I could have ever expected. Great coaches who tuned right in to my requests and questions.
Now to make time to work on my homework!
Choral Composition Critique/ Coaching New directions, confidence-building, specific suggestions for pieces, homework, general advice & strategy Grade A+:
One of the best homework outcomes is the possibility of studying with Alice Parker in Oct 2009 in a week-long workshop for 4 people.
Choral Composition Creative Time Write several new pieces based on texts collected Grade D: (thus far)
Not much time available to spend; disappointed about being back to pen and paper technology.
Composition CAD Tools Find a way to streamline the process of capturing on a computer score: improvisation brainstorming and "current-pick" (best choice thus far) from various alternatives for a given phrase
Grade D (incomplete):
Some minor progress, then MULTIPLE computer problems stopped everything.
Choral Direction Techniques Attend rehearsals and have 1-1 coaching and discussions to improve my conducting and rehearsal techniques  
Organ Repertoire Practice Learn three major pieces Grade B+:
I've been able to stick with it and learn two pieces of the three. 3/16: One piece is ready for palm sunday prelude; hopefully part of the other is ready for Easter prelude
Concert Attendance Explore and attend local DC concerts Grade C:
Attended several concerts, which were all excellent. Just not enough time allocated (also there aren't that many free concerts, ticket prices are QUITE hefty)
Arts/Museum Attendance Explore various local DC venues to serve as a catalyst for creativity and new cross-combinations of ideas that might affect choral composition (cross-media) Grade C:
Visited a photography exhibition and several museums. Not enough time allocated.
Avoid Detractors Have no interruptions from my businesses Grade: F
Clients with lagging task needs continued to demand help - some of which I was able to sub contract to my colleagues covering for me, but a few major projects were critical to attend to. In addition, it's difficult to take a sabbatical for a part-time job - altho there's continued salary from that source, the remaining businesses dry up to almost nothing (billable hours), not to mention the loss of momentum and pipeline of sales(project) leads.
Review Choral Sample Scores Go thru large stack and select possible anthems Grade: F
However, I was able to collect quite an array of repertoire samples from various rehearsals and directors, a few of which we'll begin work on right away in April.
Personal Projects Various web-based projects Grade: F



I enjoyed my visits to A-S: several services, various choir rehearsals, and practicing on their Rieger pipe organ.

Even though the organist and director of music were both part time this year and thus had limited energies, I was able to connect with the Jubilee Singers gospel director (Lenard Starks), performed my sabbatical Bach piece in their Soulful Sundown annual service (and also accompanied one piece on piano), and tuned their sanctuary Baldwin grand for this concert. Lenard and I had lunch and really hit it off with many non-musical things in common: education in engineering/math, both runners (altho he has a bad knee at present), primary employment is not music-related. He was very complimentary for our Gospel CD, a genre for which he is a master!

Unfortunately A-S is hit with budget issues as we all are, and had to let go their Children's choir director, and put that choral effort on hold for a year or more.

Of particular note were a married couple, both blind, who sang, played piano, and led warm-ups in the various choirs. The husband, Gordon, was a jazz and gospel musician who was phenomenal - he sang commanding gospel solos and played amazing gospel piano accompaniments of many styles for the choirs. We also heard him perform at his weeknight gig, where he has integrated midi tracks with his singing, keyboard licks, and alto saxophone. He has an engaging, approachable manner that showed an absolute comfort with his abilities and his love of the music.  He is infectious in sharing his many different styles of music.   

We will want to take note of things learned at A-S: A downside of the part-time nature of organist & primary director of music(interim) this year was that  the positions seemed to require more than is possible for part-timers without having organizational/staff assistance plus understanding and volunteering from choir members.  Some unfortunate consequences were: new choir members were not welcomed/acknowledged (two never returned! (ouch)), service logistics/choreography (even for seasoned members) were not known (we were instructed during the service/on the spot when/where to sit, etc.), and choral music score management was a frequent distraction (time and focus). A common thread for all three directors' rehearsals was that it was often unclear where the director wanted everyone to start singing. Being in a chorister's chair (on that side of the fence) was indeed very eye-opening in many respects!

Some aspects we may want to model after A-S:

  • Singing down front more, even if it means moving to/from upstairs
  • Singing the introit from the center aisle (this is their standard fare, and integrates/welcomes with the congregation)
  • Consider more non-religious choral repertoire
  • Hymns accompanied by piano more often

One of the best results from the A-S connection was that of choral repertoire - I have many ideas for pieces that will be new to us and on the way soon to becoming congregational favorites.

Among the many ideas and tips that I return with is the fact that even though I always thought I was spending too much rehearsal time on diction and vowel production, in fact many/most of the (non-gospel) rehearsals I attended at A-S and elsewhere spent a full 50% or more of the instruction time just on vowels. Although it might seem obvious how to pronounce "ee",  it's human nature to forget and revert back to pedestrian/conversational pronunciation styles.

While there, I also consulted for repair of their organ console, which was ailing from age, as all of us do!

In summary, they have a great set of staff & facilities/instruments, a vibrant/growing/appreciative congregation, and the schedule of activities at the church is HUGE (10X that of 1st U).



I've identified a coach and am working on scheduling a first meeting the week of Mar 2 to meet/greet, compare notes, and set goals for the month. Improvisation focus will be on hymn tunes, since it's only a month and the broad field of improvisation is very expansive. Of course, improvisation and composition are close cousins, so this focus will be synergetic with my various choral composition endeavors for the month. Because I've never had coaching/training in the field of improvisation (just self-taught, and by observations), this will be a great opportunity to "fill in the gaps" and have new awarenesses for blindspots that i have. Many of you know that my motto is "Life is like a candy store" (so many flavors and textures), and improvisation is like a sandbox in a playground:  play in the sand without judgment or risk of injury!
I had my first coaching session yesterday, and it was incredibly fine. We took a whirlwind tour of styles, compositional devices, textures/treatments, etc. - an hour an a half using a single theme - the hymn tune "Italian Hymn". The session was efficient, and a highly customized discussion of philosophies/analogies/approaches.

I have had two incredibly good sessions with local coaches. There was enough homework to last several months! Lots of great ideas and techniques. Ideally study time would be across a longer period of time (other than just 1 month), and a follow-up check-in session could be scheduled to discuss progress and remind of things forgotten or missed.


I've identified a couple of possible contacts and am emailing to check on scheduling possibilities. I have one definite coach all set (just picking a date), and awaiting others' email replies.
I've been collecting some of my compositions to-date, and readying the scores (thanks to Jerry Bellows), exporting midi & PDFs, and finding MP3 from church service performances.
My hope is to meet and have the compositions critiqued and gain suggestions both for improvement for the existing pieces as well as brainstorming new directions for future works.
I am collecting texts (lyrics) and hope to make enough time to create several compositions (or at least sketches) while there.
Not that all this will result in the end-all composition, but it's a great creative outlet, and I'm wanting to develop my skills further.


I'm learning Finale (music typesetting software) and hoping to refine a workflow from synthesizer keyboard input (improvisational-brainstorming) to computer score and then choosing from the alternatives to edit those snippets into a workable composition. I hope that the mechanics of hardware and software won't detract from the creative process.
Jerry gave me a mentoring/demo session last week via phone and the marvels of the internet (he viewed and occasionally "drove" my desktop from his home's computer. It was a great jumpstart for some of the basics that weren't at all obvious to me (and I'm pretty familiar with software app GUIs (user interfaces)).
Being the tool-creator type (in addition to tool user) and general geek computer enthusiast (I'd better be! -- it's my livelihood), I'm searching for a methodology/workflow for composing (improvising/brainstorming) at the (synth) (midi) keyboard being captured in Finale realtime to capture several variants and then go back and pick a current-best-choice to work with, but have the alternative ideas to fall back on. I believe this will be much more efficient in the creative process to eliminate the laborious task of jotting down sketches (dots on staff paper with my favorite speedy pen for this very purpose!).
My dream workflow is to enter the text (spread out, syllabic, across many systems), leaving two or more sets of staves for brainstorming attempts/options. Then "dictate" my brainstorming via synthesizer keyboard to be recorded by Finale as notes on the staff. However, Finale was designed to be music typesetting/publishing software and not compositional software, thus it's not really set up to be so lax in just capturing notes for further massaging. I may end up down a dead end here and revert to (special) pen and paper and my trusty bottle of white out and correction tape and white labels (massive correction tape) and yellow stickies.
My new (used) keyboard (thanks to Marty Gilman for the CraigsList tip!) connects easily via midi to my PC, and I can transcribe okay, but still very awkwardly. The goal is to get the mechanisms out of the thought process so there can be direct-deposit from brain/fingers into the musical score. Neatness, spacing, exact note values, etc. can evolve later. It's an iterative/stepwise-refinement process like any art form creation or even software engineering.
Thus far on the web and in forums, I've not met with any support in this area. The common response is: just use pencil and paper! So we'll see.
A breakthrough for me happened when Bob Gordon (timpanist and audio engineer) noted that the (CD) audio editing software we use supports midi live rendering of music staff scores. I tried it and instantly had a great score. It's a little messy to then import the results into Finale for typesetting, but it's far easier than inputting manually into Finale. So I'll be pursuing this workflow to see how I can optimize it for multiple brainstorming variations from which to choose the current best snippets to be a part of the final composition, and to align it with the lyrics.
I've gotten yet another tool (this one much less expensive at $59) that may well be the easiest keyboard-to-score entry.
Because my system is down, all this is on hold, just as I had made a connection with another user (coincidentally in Massachusetts) who is willing to help me with strategy for usage in the mode that I'm after.
So I'm back to pen and paper. I hope my pen doesn't crash.


I have three large works I have always wanted to learn: Bach 542 Fantasy & Fugue in g minor; Bach 540: Toccata in F; Durufle: Prelude & Fugue on the Name of Alain. I have the notes for 542 almost at tempo albeit a little rocky. In addition, I have a stack of scores to read through and prioritize for future endeavors. This includes choral sample copies.
I have initial communications with one nearby church for practicing (and they have a wonderful instrument!). He's invited me to accompany or help if I should ever have any spare time (that term is not in my vocabulary this month!). If something should work out for a calendar match, it'd certainly be fun to participate/observe another rehearsal.
I have a second church to practice at, different days of the week, to share the load of my showing up everyday at the same place.
I'm continuing to work on finding additional venues to practice so I won't have one particular church staff all humming the Bach du jour I'm working on.
This is all assuming I'm able to fit in and stick with frequent practice times, which I think I will be. It's awfully convenient at home to hop up to the organ loft in our concert hall for a half hour between client meetings!
(Not that normally I'm able to practice all that much; January-February however do have my specific goal of pre-learning the pieces so that I can be part-way into the mastering of the scores upon arriving in DC - i.e., not spend the whole month just grinding out fingerings, etc.)
Practice Status Charts I've added this link to show progress of learning stages.
At the suggestion of a colleague, and remembering way back in childhood my mother suggesting this(!), I'm starting at the ends of each piece and working backwards, page at a time. The psychological benefit is that at the end of each practice session, I can "play to the end" and hear the final cadence as a finality of the practice session. We'll see how much of a difference it makes with speed or other aspects of learning.
Unfortunately I did not leave snow behind in New England, Washington area has had its largest snow of the winter (and additionally is breaking some overnight low temperature records). As a result, the nearest church where I'll be practicing most often is closed today(which is my first day scheduled to practice).
Truth be known, I had packed another 5 pieces on my wishlist to learn for "just in case" - well, those hopes are completed dashed.
Progress is good for two pieces, which i've scheduled one for Palm Sunday prelude, and one movement of the other for Easter prelude.


It's been perhaps 20 years since I embarked in the area of learning major repertoire - there just aren't enough hours in the day, and my concert tour days are definitely over in deference to attention to my businesses.
I was somewhat apprehensive about jumping back in, sticking with the many hours (it turned out to be about 80 hours for 1.5 pieces) of practicing, and the endless "polishing" to learn a piece well enough to make my fingers "fault-tolerant" during performance. And wouldn't 80 hours be boring?!

I was pleased with the ease of motivation of each phase of learning: from the grueling slow 1-2 measures at a time (working out fingering/pedaling & coordination)(note that on a pipe organ, the release of each note (non-overlap, and spacing between) is as important as which note is played and its rhythm), to the more fun polishing and confidence-building phase when the pieces are more alive and sound almost presentable.

Many of my past teachers'/coaches' tips and instructions played back automatically through my mind as I would encounter various types of musical phrases and technique demands.

Another organ practicing aspect was that it was very helpful to practice the same piece(s) on several instruments (of varying styles/vintages). Each instrument rendered the music and my connection with the instrument slightly differently such that new awarenesses of phrasing, touch, articulation, etc. were brought out by the various instruments' characters.

I'm a perennial multi-tasker, and have always been told and aware of the somewhat obvious concept of "diving deeper" (more deeply) into a given subject area yields better clarity and mastery. However, I'd never really experienced this due to my always being all over the map. Granted my focus in March had its many distractors (mostly leftover and emergency client workload that was unavoidable and un-delegatable to those covering for me), but still I was able to allocate more energies into the music field than ever before. This in itself allowed more experiential and thinking possibilities to gain more insight and clarity. Although i was quite happy and satisfied with the overall month's accomplishments and results, i was disappointed that i didn't spend any time at all on composition. I collected a lot of musical ideas and experiences that will eventually play themselves onto staff paper someday.

I'll be sleeping on the floor of my brother's apartment (he commutes from NC and is there only 4 days a week when not traveling for business), and will have my computer & synthesizer gear there.
There's a gym in the building, local running paths, nearby health food stores, and the Metro is a few blocks away. What could be a better set up?!
My brother (and his wife) have already been extremely hospitable in making arrangements: for instance they're working on getting a special computer+(computer)keyboard table that I should be able to put my dual monitors + synthesizer keyboard + computer keyboard (like a two-manual organ console!).
Blaine will drive down and back with me, and have a (reverse) round-trip plane flight to PVD, dropping/picking up his truck at PVD parking garage on our way down/back. Thus we'll have a few days to be tourists at the beginning and ending of the month.
I won't miss the snow and ice and keeping the woodstove and coal/wood furnace going every hour, fersure. (Although staying in Sterling by March timeframe, it should no longer be sub zero.)
Although I won't have much time for sightseeing, I do have several guidebooks and maps, as well as lots of recommendations (and places not worth the time). I have some relatives and also college buddies in the area that i hope to be able to see at some point.

I've had several requests for me to substitute at various church services during March while I'm there. Because I need to focus on my goals for the month (and the time is so short), I'm only accepting one gig of this nature. I'll be subbing at All Souls Episcopal on 3/15, organist/director for the 11am Eucharist service. This particular one will be optimal for me on a number of levels: Philip Cove the O/D there will be coaching me in choral vocal production, and in addition, I can sing with their choir on 3/1 in order to both experience their service format and observe his choral direction. He is from the Anglican British school and that will be a great exposure.

Biggest snowstorm of the DC 08-09 season,
photo by Will's brother, Arthur Sherwood.

My first few days were spent unpacking and a little sightseeing in the district, and dealing with computer issues.
I attended A-S choir rehearsal Thursday night, and as coincidence would have it, the organist (rehearsal accompanist) was sick, so the director asked me to accompany, which was fine. There are many parallels with their choir's logistics: how to deal with collecting/distributing music, section leader absences (both sopranos soloists were absent), and various logistics/happenings/crises among choir members. Last week they performed Carl Orff's O Fortuna from Carmina Burana, which I would never have thought of to do in church, but now the seed is planted! And I am collecting other repertoire ideas. Perhaps we can use some memorial fund sources to purchase a few of the most appealing scores in this lean-budget year.

Sunday was a full schedule: I attended Natl Cathedral early service ("Cathedral Voices" choir performed), followed by the "Cathedral Choir of Men and Girls" (a common British combination, using well trained teenage girls to yield a straight treble sound without the heavy vibrato) rehearsal (which was magnificent), and then the first part of the late service (the big one). In the sanctuary, the HD TV monitors everywhere were distracting, altho they did show the organ console frequently to see the organist's hands. The choirs were both superb. The rehearsal was very professional (not even a whisper amongst the choristers), and phrase by phrase was adjusted in the most subtle of ways. Amazingly the choir remembered all the nuances being asked.
Running (literally) next 1.5 miles to catch the last half of All Souls "The Lesser" (as A-S UU calls them!) service and a 12-1pm monthly choir rehearsal (nothing ever mid-week), I got a glimpse of the service and venue for where i'll be subbing 3/15. The service is described as bells and smells (a common Episcopal phrase for incense and handbells to signal various rituals in the service, much like 1st U's ringing of the bowl prior to the prelude)- I guess I'll get vested on the 15th.

Monday night was the Cathedral Chorus rehearsal, a 150-voice auditioned volunteer choir, with a 10-week cycle for each concert with orchestra. They are very well organized for logistics with a chorus-master (who does the warm ups), accompanist who is the assistant conductor(and quite a pianist for orchestral reductions and very intuitive for giving notes and automatically helping sections with notes during singing). They have a huge concert coming this Sunday. The director was excellent and kept the energy going for the 3-hour reh. This world still has nice people: at 10:45pm at the end of the rehearsal, it was 0-degree wind chill, and a long walk to the metro ("T") or a long wait at the nearer bus stop. Sharon and Jane gave me what was supposedly a ride to the metro entrance, but they drove me home to my brother's apartment! A hearty thanks to them for helping a fellow musician!

I'm slowly getting unencumbered from client project leftover tasks (when clients realized that the time was really coming soon, they started thinking of tasks at the last minute).
I think in the next day or so I'll be 99% music-focused. Also, I have most of my computer problems worked-around to be operational.

My main computer system, which i just got working and connected to the internet only late last friday, died yesterday (motherboard).
By fortunstance, Blaine was back in Sterling yesterday and packaged and shipped my backup system tower to arrive on Monday.
Between the hardware problems and the software constraints (not allowing easy capturing the score for live entering of notes from a keyboard (synth), this may be one of those situations that is "not meant to be."


I attended several free concerts (cultural life in DC is expensive), art openings/galleries, and choral rehearsals during the month.

Of particular note were several concerts:

  • Bach's Birthday celebration - a 10-hour(!) organ concert, 9 of which were played by one(!) organist (Charles Miller). I heard him in hour 4 and he was still going strong.
  • Flutologist - a jazz flute and piano concert at the Old Post Office Building. Altho somewhat noisy, the music was creatively and competently performed.
  • Harp & Flute - free Tuesday noontime concert at Church of the Epiphany, somewhat of a potluck classical series, where the performers split the donation bucket. This was expertly and musically performed to a lean audience, many of which in the back were street people coming in from the cold.
  • Scott Dettra at National Cathedral - a masterful interpretation of Mendelssohn, Langlais, Bach, and Messiaen. Scott is not only the Cathedral organist but also the Keyboard Artist for the Cathedral Choral Society. He is not allowed to play altered harmonizations nor interludes nor altered introductions for hymn in cathedral services, a very sad state of affairs.

Choral rehearsals included:

  • Cathedral Choral Society, J Reilly Lewis, director - about 150 voices that perform large works with orchestra at the cathedral 4 times(!) per year.
  • Cantate Chamber Singers, Gisele Becker, director - an auditioned, volunteer group (28 voices) performing with orchestra 3-4 times per year. Exquisite sound, full of subtle nuances. Gisele uses small direction gestures to which the choir responds instantly.
  • National Cathedral (choir of men and girls was singing the week I was allowed to attend the inner sanctum rehearsal, a rare permission given) - Rivaling King's Chapel, this was an efficient rehearsal with absolutely no talking from the choristers, and quick response to the director's requests for subtle shapes and nuances.
  • Arlington UU - They have one Thursday night mass rehearsal (~60 people on average) that split into two services on Sunday mornings. Their librarian is wonderful and efficient.



  • Organ Improvisation
  • Choral Vocal Production/Pedagogy
  • Choral Composition
  • Choral Techniques
  • Gospel Repertoire/Instrumentation/Accpt


I have a ton of to-do lists for both preparation and while there. Colleagues have been so very generous and forthcoming with providing me with musician connections in the DC area for coaches as well as practice instruments.

I have so many lists that I need a list of lists.
One of my favorites is the categories of tasks/goals:

Learn/hone new skills
Develop existing skills
Creativity refresher
Time to do something I've always wanted to do

Obligatory cherry-bud pictures (March was colder than usual, so we got to be only best buds while there)

Washington (Arlington) music workstation and business/design computer set up

Taking over my brother's main living space: The mini-tower in the top center barely works (full of errors), but it will connect to the internet for email!
My defunct/rebuilt tower (black) on the right is strewn apart to try to fix in my copious spare time.
Air mattress on the left for comfy sleeping.
Music stand sits commandingly with printouts of lyrics/texts and blank staff paper, lonely for black dots to be placed on it.

All good things come to an end, and I have a busy summer awaiting me at home.

A welcome-home view at the end of March: December 2008 ice storm aftermath in our back gardens.
The trip home was unpleasant and 2 hours longer than typical due to interstate delays (accidents), but we arrived safely in the overstuffed car.