You have a very dynamic style with your singers—you perform for them, even as you’re asking 9-year-olds to sit straight in their seats and deliver. Is this something you do intuitively?
My teaching style wasn’t always like this. I’m constantly learning and a lot of what I do—I hate to say this—you steal from others. There are such wonderful teachers in Cincinnati. When I’m able to go into their rehearsals, I’m always thinking, This would totally work in my rehearsals.
And you speak quickly…
I try to be as quickly paced as possible without losing them, structuring those rehearsal plans so they flow seamlessly from the second the singers come in. The expectation is they’re going to meet me where I want them in five seconds. And they always do. Once they meet you in that place, you can start to lift that bar a little higher. My job is to keep pushing that bar up.
There must be surprises, too.
[Laughing] In March I had a girl try to walk on stage without her shoes on. She thought, My feet hurt, and I know I have a concert, so let me just try to march onstage and see what happens. And I’ve seen kids eat part of their uniforms.
You were also nominated for a Grammy in music education?
In 2013 I was nominated by a colleague. So I filled out the questionnaire and thought, OK, I will never hear from these people again. But then I did. Out of that 32,000 [initial nominees] it was narrowed down to 217 people. I made it to the quarterfinals. I was thrilled to make it as far as I did.
Do you hear individual voices amid the 30-something children in each choir?
Yes, I do. The idea is you want to sound like one sound. But the more I get to know my singers, I will be able to pick them out. I put like voices together. Voices have different timbres, so I find that if I can match those timbres, it helps my choir sound gel.