CCM Institute 2018

The CCM Institute at Shenandoah University has become my home away from home. Since my first summer there in 2009, I've fallen in love with the people and the work. I went there to study contemporary vocal pedagogy, but I started my path as an artist there, too. 

On the surface, it is simply a place to learn how to teach popular music singing styles (the vast majority of academic programs don't touch them). But in the process of teaching how the voice works in these styles, the vast world of music is also being valued and affirmed as something beautiful and important and diverse and accessible. The teachers who attend are surprised to find themselves opening to the possibility that they've really wanted to sing this music all along, but weren't given the opportunity or the encouragement by their teachers. They open up. They try new sounds. They learn how to foster authenticity in singing and in artistic identity. They learn how to hold a safe space for developing artists, including themselves. By the end of the week, the connections are strong and plentiful. 

I was fortunate enough to be asked to join the faculty last summer. It's crazy to me that my name appears beside the vocal pedagogy giants on this team. They're so knowledgable AND so warm. After 10 years together, we're truly a family.  

The Faculty (L to R): Tom Arduini, Jackie Zito, Wendy LeBorgne, Julie Dean, me, Matt Edwards, Marcelle Gauvin, Edward Reisert, Kathryn Green, Marci Rosenberg, and Edrie Means Weekly. 

The Faculty (L to R): Tom Arduini, Jackie Zito, Wendy LeBorgne, Julie Dean, me, Matt Edwards, Marcelle Gauvin, Edward Reisert, Kathryn Green, Marci Rosenberg, and Edrie Means Weekly. 

Faculty Q&A

Faculty Q&A

Artistic Director Matt Edwards carries the bulk of the teaching for the week. Executive Director Kathryn Green works behind the scenes to make sure all of the logistics work. It's a gargantuan amount of work for both of them. I'm amazed by how they make it happen. 

The rest of the faculty teaches segments on their specialities (science, pedagogy, styles, improv, etc.) while also running breakout sessions and teaching private lessons. My responsibilities for the week included teaching breakout sessions on vocal function, giving private lessons, playing piano for all masterclasses and open mic nights, co-teaching a class on rock/pop styles, and co-teaching a session on commercial gigs, songwriting, and running a private studio. When we're not learning together, we're all hanging out, catching up, and getting to know each other, usually out by the pool at the hotel. It's a crazy, non-stop 9 days, but it's a blast from beginning to end. The collective energy keeps us going.

L to R: Julie Dean, me, Jackie Zito

L to R: Julie Dean, me, Jackie Zito

The Institute made a shift a few years ago to being a place where many contemporary singing approaches are recognized and discussed. Artistic Director Matt Edwards is passionate about the field being one where we learn from each other for the sake of the craft. The Institute began giving the Lifetime Achievement Award last year to people who've made major contributions to the contemporary vocal pedagogy field. 

This year, we honored the amazing Mary Saunders-Barton with that award. Mary teaches at Penn State, and started Bel Canto Can Belto, which was one of the first vocal cross training programs in the world. She also recently published a great book on vocal cross training with Plural Publishing. She was SO lovely in every way. Great teacher and wonderful person. Learned so much from her.

Mary led a wonderful master class with Institute participants.

Mary led a wonderful master class with Institute participants.

Happy faces after great dinner and conversation with Mary Saunders-Barton. 

Happy faces after great dinner and conversation with Mary Saunders-Barton. 

We also had Dr. Ysaye Barnwell of Sweet Honey in the Rock as our guest speaker on roots music. In addition to her great lecture, she led us in singing in African and African-American styles. 

For the first time, we had group singing as a part of each open mic night. It gives the participants a chance to just sing for fun. We're not always great about that in it was a breath of fresh air to do this with peers and colleagues. Thanks to colleague and dear friend Julie Dean for making that happen this year. Here's one of our group sings:

I was over the moon to meet vocal jazz composing/arranging/everything giant Greg Jasperse, who was a participant this year. The WV All-State Chamber Choir did one of his pieces a few years ago under the direction of Mike Engelhardt. The Institute got to experience Greg's amazing piano playing at the open mic nights and jazz masterclass, and he sang and played a beautiful reharm of Skylark at one of the open mic nights.

I also got to meet participant Carla Stickler, who plays Elphaba in Wicked on Broadway. Elphaba is always used as an example of extreme high belting in our videos, but this year we got to hear Elphaba in person, off-mic when Carla agreed to sing for usIt was eye-opening (ear-opening?) for everyone to hear what the voice is doing with and without amplification in "Defying Gravity."

And it's always a blast to serve as pianist for Sheri Sanders' master class. LOVE that woman. Her work in diversity and healing through the medium of musical theatre is astonishing.


It's tough to put into words all that makes that week great, but I hope that gives you a glimpse. The Institute is really special to me, so I wanted to make sure I shared it with you guys. :) Hope you're all having a great summer! 

Spring and Summer Preview

Here's what's on the docket so far for spring and summer:


Apr 22: Songs at the Center TV Taping

I'm so honored to be sharing the stage with Todd Burge, Bob Thompson, and Eric Gnezda for a taping of Songs at the Center, which is viewed on over 150 American Public Television stations. We'll be sharing originals in the round. This performance is free and open to the public, thanks to the Ohio Arts Council, and is part of the new Brick Street Arts Bash that's happening that weekend in Marietta. More info here.

May 20: Soloist with River Cities Symphony Orchestra

I'll be the guest soloist for the River Cities Symphony Orchestra Pops Concert, singing some hits from mid-century musical theatre.  

Aug 23: Jess Baldwin Quintet at Lakeside Chautauqua 

My quintet will be performing at lovely Lakeside Chautauqua! I'm excited to be performing again with Sean Parsons, Ryan Kennedy, Andy Hall, and our newest addition, John Inghram.


Columbus Sessions

I'll be in Columbus the second weekend of each month. If you're a gigging singer in the Columbus area, click here to schedule a spot.

May 16: 1 Year Anniversary of Commercial Voice Resources Launch

May 16 will mark a year since the launch of my website Commercial Voice Resources, which is for teachers who work with singers in commercial and popular styles. I'm excited about the great master teachers slated to write guest blogs and do interviews for the coming year. 

June 4: Presenting at Voice Foundation Symposium

The Voice Foundation is an international organization made up of voice scientists, doctors, therapists, teachers, and other professionals. At its annual Symposium, I'm presenting the results of two surveys I'm conducting with Kat Reinhert and Matt Edwards. Through this research, we hope to....

  • encourage the study and performance of popular genres of music.
  • help high school and private music educators better understand the programs when advising college-bound music students.
  • help post-secondary institutions better prepare future educators (particularly voice teachers) to teach in the programs.

June 14-17: Presenting at Association for Popular Music Education Conference

APME exists to empower music educators who include popular music in their curriculums. I'll present the two popular music program studies at this conference, and I'll also be giving a vocal technique workshop.

July 15-20: Teaching Assistant at The New CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute

The CCM Institute provides a foundation of instruction for people who sing and teach voice in contemporary commercial genres of music (non-classical music). Most college programs only teach classical singing, and the CCM Institute is one of the few programs where the science and voice function behind other genres is taught. I've studied at this institute since 2009, and I'm thrilled to be a part of it this year.


Winter Review

Spring is right around the corner, and I have some big news to share about the upcoming months, but first I wanted to catch everyone up on how I spent my winter. For me, winter tends to be about resting, planning, and preparing for the rest of the year. I always have this fear that I'm not doing enough during those winter months, but as soon as March rolls around, I realize it's just the calm before the storm. :)

Dec 4: Ohio Music Award

My single El Scorcho brought home the 2016 Ohio Music Award for Best Cover Song! It's now sitting happily beside its sister 2014 OMA for "One Little Song."

Dec 9: Peoples Bank Theatre Gala

I was so honored to sing in the one-year anniversary gala for our beautiful Peoples Bank Theatre! Once again, Scott Kitchen did a great job leading the house band with guest singers from around the region. So proud of the PBT and all of the people who have made it a success!

Jan 7: Guest Blog

Our great local music zine Hold the Note featured me as guest blogger on the topic of keeping your voice healthy in the wintertime.

Feb 20-24: American Traditions Competition

I had a great week in Savannah competing and hanging out with 27 great singers from across America in the American Traditions Competition. My journey ended at the quarterfinals, but I enjoyed listening to such wonderful voices all week. Hearing Andrew Lippa in the judges' concert Monday evening was a particular treat.

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A unique feature of the competition is the opportunity to stay with a host family. I fell head over heels in love with mine. Quick-witted Wellesley girls Carol and Liz kept me and fellow contestant Missy Wise (winner of the 2016 NATS Musical Theatre Competition) in stitches. Sweet Ali was the definition of a gentle-man. They made sure our bellies and our wine glasses were always full. They have lived the most amazing and fascinating lives, which could easily have filled every conversation, but they kept the focus on me and Missy, showing genuine interest in our lives and making us feel supported and cared for the entire week. I couldn't have asked for more. 

Many of you have asked about what my song selections looked like. We had to choose 9 songs in 9 different categories/genres and space them over three rounds of competition. Here was my program:

  • Quarterfinals
    • Jazz: Quiet Whiskey (Wynonie Harris)
    • Johnny Mercer: Autumn Leaves (Johnny Mercer/Joseph Kosma)
    • Country/Folk: One Little Song (Gillian Welch)
  • Semifinals
    • Gospel: Road Trip (Kirk Franklin)
    • Blues: Crossroads Blues (Robert Johnson)
    • Hollywood: Go the Distance from Hercules (Alan Menken/David Zippel)
  • Finals
    • Pop/Rock: Best of My Love (Maurice White/Al McKay)
    • Cover Song: Over the Rainbow (Harold Arlen/E.Y. Harburg/arr. Baldwin)
    • Musical Theatre: Don't Rain on My Parade from Funny Girl (Jule Styne/Bob Merrill)

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Feb 23: On the Radio

I was so honored to have my cover of John Lennon's "Beautiful Boy" on WV Public Radio in February! Thanks to host Jim Lange for putting it on his wonderful show Eclectopia. And thanks again to Ryan Kennedy, Paul Flaherty, and Andy Hall for making it happen.

Mar 3: West Virginia Music Educators Association Conference

I led a workshop for choir directors on helping singers be more versatile. We had a great time making some crazy sounds together. I really love working with teachers! They're so passionate about learning and helping their students.

Mar 6: Show Choir Workshop

Had a great morning coaching singers in Ravenswood's Rave Revue Show Choir. We worked on getting more power and energy into their bodies and their sound. They won 1st place in their class the following weekend! Congrats Rave Revue!

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Spring is almost here!

Like I said, there are some really exciting things coming in the next few months, so stay tuned! Click here to subscribe to the blog!

Now Offering Monthly Lessons in Columbus

I'm excited to announce that I will be headed to Columbus once a month to teach. The fine folks at Musicologie in Grandview Heights have opened their space to me. My Columbus dates for the next few months are...

  • Oct 21-22
  • Nov 18-19
  • Dec 16-17

Sessions are open to pop, rock, country, R&B/soul, hip hop, gospel, indie, and other CCM singers in the Columbus area who want singing to feel easier, who need help keeping up with vocal demands of gigs and touring, who want more power and range, who want to hone in their style, or who are recovering from voice injuries.

If you or someone you know is interested, you can find more info on my teaching page

Striving for Flexible Psychological Boundaries in the Voice Studio

A flexible boundary is like a cell membrane: it gives shape and structure to the cell and protects it from its surroundings while also selectively allowing substances to enter the cell that will allow it to survive. Likewise, our boundary can give shape and structure to our identity, protect us from things that might harm us, and allow things to pass through that can feed and nurture us. Today, I'm exploring the ways teachers and students manage their boundaries in lesson contexts.

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Fun: The Backdoor to Better Work

2016 Reading Challenge

2016 Reading Challenge
Jessica has read 15 books toward her goal of 30 books.

I can't believe I'm already halfway through my reading goal for the year! 30 felt like a very ambitious number based on the average amount of books I've read over the past several years. Once college started, I limited myself to books that I felt were directly functional/helpful in my life in some way...books that I "should" read. But the more I limited myself to what I "should" read, the more I struggled to read as much as I felt I should. But there was a big shift over the past couple of years for me, and now I'm reading more than ever.

This issue with "should" wasn't just present in my reading. It was everywhere. My housework. My practicing. My writing. My studio management. My eating. My exercise. I felt that every spare moment should be spent doing what "should" be done. However I was doing it had to be the "right" or "good" or "efficient" way. I was exhausted all of the time, and I was becoming more and more resentful of everything that needed to get done, while also resenting anyone who was getting in the way of getting things done (including myself). Meanwhile, I watched my partner Andy letting himself have fun while also being extremely prolific. It became more and more obvious that my approach was neither effective nor necessary.

Julia Cameron says you have to satisfy the inner child so you can get work done. Similarly, Jung said, "What you resist, persists." Brené Brown's research found that Wholehearted people prioritized playtime in their lives. Thanks to writers like these and the help of my wonderful therapist and coach, I've been working through the fears that had me dragging along under the whip of responsibility while resisting my playful, childish side.

When I'm resisting fun (which means I'm not really working, either), it often takes the form of mindlessly alternating between social media apps. My well of joy is running dry, and my inner child is refusing to let me work until I go play and refill it with something that's legitimately satisfying playtime...not just another game of Candy Crush. Once I stop resisting that need, I not only have a great time, but I can get work done afterwards with much better energy. I still have to deal with things that should get done, but I'm no longer too exhausted to deal with them. 

One of the best parts of more playtime? There's a new sparkle in my creations. When my notes, words, and rhythms emerge from a place of "Why not? It's fun and I like it!" instead of "I should do it this way because...," the work feels more like me and I enjoy it more. 

I've been using this approach more in lessons, too. When students find their own sense of fun and joy in self-guided projects that seem like a diversion from the path or approach I'm envisioning, the student almost always comes back to things they "should" be doing on their own later because the "shoulds" help them achieve the things that brings them joy. They still have "shoulds" to do in their assignments that they don't really consider fun, but when they have some joy and self-directed goals mixed in, they actually do more of the "shoulds." 

I would previously have labeled this "fun-first" approach "procrastinating," but I realize now that it's completely necessary. It's not just a backdoor approach to productivity. It makes me a more complete, less anxious, healthier, more joyful human being.

What are your experiences with playtime and productivity?


We teachers sometimes hit impasses with our students. 

I used to think students were lazy or had bad attitudes when they would suddenly become resistant to progress through different tactics, including not practicing for a little while. Then I learned something profound from Jeanie LoVetri: “Always assume they are doing their best, even when you think they're not.” At the same time, I was delving into The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. In it, Julia says, “Being blocked and being lazy are two different things...Do not call the inability to start laziness. Call it fear.”

Now when a student suddenly seems lazy, defensive, belligerent, forgetful, etc., I recognize that it may be because we've finally found the locked door we’ve been searching for on their journey of development...the door that has been preventing them from sounding the way they want. Chances are good that they’ve either tried to unlock that door already with no success, that someone else has told them they can’t open it, or that they’re terrified of what will happen if they do open it. It’s my job to help them craft a key and to help them believe it’s safe to go through. (Help is an important word here. Almost always, the student needs other support and knowledge to fully unlock the door. Help often means referring a student to books, activities, therapists, medical professionals, and avoided conversations that are needed for them to take the next steps after they get through the door.)

Assuming a student is doing their best forces me to keep asking questions that will help me create a better solution and forces me to keep believing they will ultimately choose to go forward, even if they don’t choose that today. It’s my job to lead them to the truth, but I can’t force them to swallow it. Trying to force progress prematurely only seems to amplify the voice of whatever is keeping a student from moving forward. They’re ready when they’re ready. In the meantime, there are always plenty of things we can do to work on other things that aren't so scary to them. (The value of working indirectly is another post for another time.)

Assuming that the student is doing her best has saved me from wasting a lot of energy resenting my students and assuming the worst. They wouldn't be studying with me if they didn't want to get better on some level. Even if they are holding themselves back from success due to other reasons that they need to explore, I have to teach them under the assumption that they will eventually deal with those reasons, and when they do, they will need the tools that I am teaching them to use.

I’ve learned to look forward to those difficult “brickwall” lessons because it means we’re almost on the other side. They’re, by far, the most uncomfortable lessons, but some of my best and most rewarding solutions for students have been created there. If students never get through the door, they see these lessons as the worst ones, and sometimes quit lessons altogether if they’re exceptionally afraid of taking the next steps that would follow. If students do get through the door, they tend to see those lessons as profound experiences of clarity and hope about the progress they’ve made up to that point and the progress that is yet to be made. 

Eventually, if a student decides that they will not take the steps needed to finish forging the key to unlock the door, I have to let them go. It's very rare for me, but it does happen. There is a limit to the amount of solutions and help that I can give without the student putting their share of work into the process. It’s a difficult decision, but these students tend to sap more than their share of the limited energy and creativity that I have to give…energy and creativity that needs to be shared equally among all of my students. When I realize that this is happening, I have to let them go for the sake of my other students.

I’ve found many powerful solutions by first assuming that there’s more I can do, and the lessons where I see a student finally open the door make it all worth it. Do you have similar experiences? What were they like? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.