My Way to Teaching and Founding a Vocal Ensemble in Hollywood
by Kier (aka Morten Kjaer, DEN/USA)
Back in my early twenties when I studied music at the Royal Academy of Music in Aarhus, Denmark, I made a big deal out of NOT wanting to be a music teacher. I was ambivalent about my studies, since running band and choir rehearsals took up 50% of everyone’s lesson plans at the time. In the late 90s, as a new thing, the school offered up a program that focused exclusively on being a performing artist. I immediately switched. As embarrassed as I am to admit it today, to me full-time music teachers seemed to be those who had given up on their dreams and artistic integrity and instead had settled into a much less exciting existence as employees in (boring) music schools around the country.
For a number of years, I said no to almost all teaching opportunities that were presented to me. But at some point (I don’t remember if it was because I needed to make a few bucks or simply didn’t have any better plans) I agreed to do a choir workshop in a small town in Denmark. I recall sitting in a bathroom stall during a break, sweating like a pig. I had run out of ideas and exercises, and we still had a couple of hours to go. What to do?! After the break, i initiated some weird improvisation exercises, and somehow times passed. As the singers were exiting, a couple of the board members approached me. I was sure they were going to scold me and withhold my pay. But, much to my surprise, they offered me a position as the permanent director of the choir. I was shocked. Apparently I didn’t suck at teaching. This experience changed me. Slowly and over time, working with singers became an integrated part of my professional life, and today I am happy about my career as a music teacher. My collaboration with Malene Rigtrup on “Ørehænger” I am particularly proud of.
So – something was clearly missing when I moved to Los Angeles in 2010. After 10 years of singing with Vocal Line on a weekly basis on top of teaching my Copenhagen choir, NoteAble, not belonging to a “vocal family” was just strange. In the Fall of 2011, I decided to found my own, new choir in Hollywood. I wrote the voice teachers in my network and posted info on Facebook and Craiglist. Before I knew it, 13 surprisingly young and quite talented singers showed up for the auditions at my apartment. We named ourselves Top Shelf (referring to high-quality liqueur – something the members still enjoy frequently!), and we started to meet up each Tuesday in rented theater spaces or in people’s homes. After some months, we got a permanent rehearsal space in a gorgeous church in Koreatown, and we have kept adding people to the mix and new arrangements to our repertoire.
Today, Top Shelf has 20 members: 12 gorgeous girls, and 8 solid guys. I am proud to call myself their “Dad”, and I am enjoying how we are experiencing an increase in our concert activity. Just this month, we have done a couple of sold-out public concerts and taken part in a very romantic proposal, and in a few days were are to performance in front of a celebrity TV-soap cast (“Days of our Lives”). Good times! And even though we call ourselves Top Shelf, there is still room to move up and forward.