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Home > Main > My Way to Teaching and Founding a Vocal Ensemble in Hollywood

My Way to Teaching and Founding a Vocal Ensemble in Hollywood

by Kier (aka Morten Kjaer, DEN/USA)

Kier running jumpingBack 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.

Kier on e-piano skylineToday, 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.

Read more about Top Shelf and check out the music on and

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