Episode 45 (1)

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Tom T. Shelton, Jr. is a native of Greensboro, N.C. and a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where he earned both a Bachelor of Music Education and Master of Music in Choral Conducting. He is Assistant Professor of Sacred Music at Westminster Choir College.  Focusing on children’s and youth music at Westminster, he teaches classes in conducting, sacred music, music education and coordinates and conducts the Neighborhood Children’s Choir Program.  In addition, he is the Director of Music for Children’s and Youth Choirs at Princeton United Methodist Church.

Mr. Shelton has a passion for music education in all areas: church, school and community. He taught middle school choral music in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County for 18 years. During that time he was selected Teacher of the Year for both Atkins Middle School and Kernersville Middle School.  In 1999 the North Carolina Music Educators Association presented him with the North Carolina Middle School Music Teacher of the Year award. 

Mr. Shelton is active with the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA), currently serving as the National President-Elect.  Other ACDA leadership positions have included Southern Division President (2011-2012), National R&S Chair for Middle School/Junior High Choirs (2007-2009) and North Carolina President (2005-2007).

Mr. Shelton has conducted festivals and honor choirs in 20 states as well as Hong Kong. He has conducted Choral Festivals in Carnegie Hall, Honor Choirs for the Central Division ACDA and Southern Division ACDA, as well as All State Choirs in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina and South Carolina.  He is the Series Director for the Music for Young Voices Series with GIA Publications and has over 40 compositions published by Choristers Guild, Colla Voce Music, G. Schirmer, GIA Publications, Heritage Music Press, Hinshaw Music Company, Santa Barbara Music Press, and Walton Music.

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Show Notes

Today, I’m speaking with Tom Shelton, choral conductor, composer and Assistant Professor of Sacred Music at Westminster Choir College of Rider University. Tom works extensively with children’s and youth festival choirs and taught middle school for 18 years. Currently, he conducts a neighborhood children’s choir at Westminster.

When did Tom decide to make music his life?

This was a process of many years, Tom notes. He started playing piano at 5 years old and his family always sang together at church services/revivals. Tom also played in the high school jazz band.

However, when he went off to college, he chose to major in communications. After changing his major 8 times he finally ended up as a music major in his junior year. He realized at that point that none of the other majors had “clicked” as music did.

A time when things didn’t go as planned; a.k.a. Tom’s worst musical moment

Tom’s worst musical moment occurred while working with an older adult choir in a Greensboro, NC church. Tom chose a rendition of “He Leadeth Me” for the choir, written in ¾ time rather than the standard 4/4 time. However, on performance day, the men started in 4/4 time. The women came in and continued the 4/4 time. Though the choir eventually came together and finished correctly, when it was done, the Pastor said from the pulpit, “We all know ‘He Leadeth Me”, and that’s not how it goes!”

(Listen to hear more anecdotes from Tom about his choral experiences)

Proudest Moment of Tom’s Musical Career

Tom’s most transformational moment came with an ill-behaved 3rd grade class while working on a song about how music brings people together. When they finished singing, a little girl said it reminded her of her grandfather, who just died. Then others chimed in. So, Tom took the moment to talk about the healing properties of music and how it relates to life as well.

This experience changed the way Tom worked with kids for the rest of his life and it made repertoire selection especially important. (Listen to hear about Tom’s personal reasons for writing the piece, “Echo”, commissioned for the Eastern ACDA Middle School Honor Choir.)

Choosing Good Literature for your Youth Choirs

Here’s a list of Tom’s steps for choosing the right music for his choirs.

  1. Lyrics, text, poetry should be of quality and something to which the singers can relate. “You have to buy into the piece,” says Tom, and share that love with the students and convince them to love it, too. What the music is about is important.
  2. Make sure the range is appropriate for your students. (Listen to hear Tom’s tips for evaluating young voices and his views on 3-part mixed music and when it’s appropriate to introduce SATB music)
  3. Ask yourself if the students will like the music. If not, it’s torture for everyone.
  4. Look for musical concepts you can teach through the piece.
  5. Variety is ultra-important in programming. Everyone should be exposed to all types of music.

What Tom is most excited about at this time

Tom is very excited about the neighborhood children’s choir at Westminster, partnered with a local YMCA. It includes a 90%+Hispanic population, featuring children that wouldn’t normally have opportunities to sing in such a choir.

Also, Tom is currently excited about a song cycle he’s writing that’s based on Sarah Teasdale poetry

Favorite Personal Growth or Music Books

Tom is a big fan of poetry and reads it a lot. He especially enjoys the works of Teasdale, Rossetti, Dunbar, and Dickinson.

Frauke Haasemann’s “Group Vocal Technique”

Henry Leck’s and Jean Ashworth Bartle’s books on working with youth choirs

How to Connect with Tom

www.tomsheltonmusic.com; use the contact page for communication

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About Tom’s work “Echo” mentioned in the episode

Echo by Tom SheltonEcho
Come to me in the silence of the night;
Come in the speaking silence of a dream;
Come with soft rounded cheeks
and eyes as bright
As sunlight on a stream;
Come back in tears,
O memory, hope, love of finished years.
O dream how sweet, too sweet,
too bitter sweet,
Whose wakening should have
been in Paradise,
Where souls brimfull of love abide and meet;
Where thirsting longing eyes
Watch the slow door
That opening, letting in, lets out no more.
Yet come to me in dreams, that I may live
My very life again tho’ cold in death:
Come back to me in dreams, that I may give
Pulse for pulse, breath for breath:
Speak low, lean low,
As long ago, my love, how long ago.
~Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)

“Echo”, by Christina Rossetti, is about loss and can be interpreted many ways. I was
commissioned to write this piece for the 2016 Eastern Division ACDA Junior High Honor
Choir, conducted by Andrea Ramsey. Even though the singers are relatively “young” – I
felt they would understand the meaning behind the poem and be able to apply personal
life experiences, as I did while writing it, that would enhance their interpretation as artists.
Educationally, I think it’s wonderful for them to be exposed to important poets and reflect
on the writing, meaning, and interpretation of the text.

Compositionally, I tried to evoke feelings of beauty, loss and remembrance through the
melodic line in the opening section. In the middle section, I wanted to paint a picture
of grief, reality, and the feeling of life spinning out of control as we deal with loss. This
becomes faster, more frenetic, and louder, as the ostinato parts are added one by one. After
this climax, there is a return to a sense of calm – symbolizing that as time passes, we are
able to come to terms with loss.

The music moves fluidly from 6/8 – 3/4. Many times you will experience 6/8 in the piano
part and the feeling of 3/4 in the singers part. Conductors and singers alike will find the
designated time signatures helpful.

Children’s Choir Resource List


Bartle, Jean Ashworth. Lifeline for Children’s Choir Directors. Toronto, Canada: Gordon V. Thompson Music, 1988. Print.

Gackle, Lynne. Finding Ophelia’s Voice, Opening Ophelia’s Heart Nurturing the Adolescent Female Voice. Dayton: Heritage Music, 2011. Print.

Kemp, Helen. Of Primary Importance: Information, Preparation, Application : A Practical Guide for Directors of Younger Elementary Choristers. Garland, TX: Choristers Guild, 1989. Print.

Leck, Henry H., and Flossie L. Jordan. Creating Artistry through Choral Excellence. Milwaukee, WI: Hal Leonard, 2009. Print.

McRae, Shirley W. Celebrate: A Practical Guide for the Use of Orff Techniques and Materials in the Church. Minneapolis: Augsburg Pub. House, 1984. Print.

McRae, Shirley W. Directing the Children’s Choir: A Comprehensive Resource. New York: Schirmer, 1991. Print.

Page, Sue Ellen. Hearts and Hands and Voices: Growing in Faith through Choral Music. Tarzana, CA: H.T. FitzSimons, 1995. Print.

Rao, Doreen, Lori-Anne Dolloff, and Sandra Prodan. We Will Sing!: Choral Music Experience for Classroom Choirs. New York: Boosey & Hawkes, 1993. Print.


Youth Choir Resource List

Abrahams, Frank, Judy K. Bowers, Paul Head, James Mark Jordan, Patrick M. Liebergen, and Sherri Porterfield. Teaching Music through Performance in Middle School Choir. Chicago: GIA Publications, 2011. Print.

Albrecht, Sally K. The Choral Warm-up Collection: A Sourcebook of 167 Choral Warm-ups. Van Nuys: Alfred Pub., 2003. Print.

Barham, Terry Joe., and Darolyne L. Nelson. The Boy’s Changing Voice: New Solutions for Today’s Choral Teacher. Miami, Fl.: Belwin Mills, 1991. Print.

Barham, Terry Joe. Strategies for Teaching Junior High & Middle School Male Singers: Master Teachers Speak. Santa Barbara, CA: Santa Barbara Music Pub., 2001. Print.

Cooksey, John Marion. Working with Adolescent Voices. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Pub. House. 1992. Print.

Leck, Henry H., and Flossie L. Jordan. Creating Artistry through Choral Excellence. Milwaukee, WI: Hal Leonard, 2009. Print.

Gackle, Lynne. Finding Ophelia’s Voice, Opening Ophelia’s Heart Nurturing the Adolescent Female Voice. Dayton: Heritage Music, 2011. Print.

Pagel, Randy, and Linda Spevacek. The Choral Director’s Guide to Sanity … and Success!: How to Develop a Flourishing Middle School/junior High School Choral Program. Dayton, OH: Heritage Music, 2004. Print.

Phillips, Kenneth H. Teaching Kids to Sing. New York: Schirmer, 1996. Print.

Robinson, Russell L., and Jay Althouse. The Complete Choral Warm-up Book: A Sourcebook for Choral Directors. Van Nuys, CA: Alfred, 1995. Print.

Yarrington, John. Building the Youth Choir: Training & Motivating Teenage Singers. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1990. Print.