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Our History

Gary Hammond, a life-long musician and music teacher, was determined to find a tool which would provide his choral students a way to continue learning their notes, intervals and rhythms — those elements which form the nuts and bolts of learning new music — at home as homework. He reasoned that the instrumental students practiced their music at home, and students were expected to do homework on all their academic subjects, but he knew of no system or tool which allowed choir members to do homework on the music they were studying in class.

In 1980 he began researching ways to provide students with a homework tool that wasn't a rote-learning device — one that wouldn't destroy all the sight-reading skills he was attempting to teach in class. He reasoned that if the tool required the student to have their score in their hands and follow along with the music, and that what the student heard was similar to what they heard in class when he was playing their part on the piano as singers in the other sections were humming along softly on their parts, then the tool would be a legitimate reading and note-teaching aid rather than a rote-learning device — a distinction which he felt was important.

In 1985, after five years of experimentation he felt he had developed a tool which fit both criteria: it would help his high school choral students rehearse their music at home as well as avoid the stigma most music educators associate with rote-learning devices. Each choir student heard their part being played on the piano in the foreground, with all other voice parts, accompaniment and soft metronome in the background. It worked like a charm!

During the next five years (1985-1990) he provided every choir student in all of his four choirs with a tape of all their repertoire and found that students who used this method faithfully and correctly — reading from their scores as they followed the music on the tape, (which was almost exactly as they learned their music in the choir room) actually improved their reading skills. Just as any instrumental student sharpens his or her skills at reading notes by daily practice at home, choral students were similarly benefited by daily homework — reading their music as they listened to the tape. He found the student's use of the rehearsal tapes to be a valuable adjunct to the daily work in the classroom, and realized that he had developed a legitimate home study tool.

In the late 80's the word got out, and nearby churches, community choirs and colleges began asking him to prepare Songlearning Systems™ for the Handel Messiah, Mozart Requiem, Faure Requiem, Brahms Requiem and many other major works. An idea which he had developed specifically as a classroom tool to help students learn their music faster and more accurately soon began to help many choirs in the surrounding communities. Directors commented repeatedly how much faster and more accurately their choir members learned their music with the aid of Songlearning Systems™ than with traditional rehearsal techniques. They found that by using this system they could learn more difficult and challenging major works than was otherwise possible with their limited rehearsal times because they could concentrate on nuances instead of playing parts.

In 1990 he started advertising Songlearning Systems™ monthly in the ACDA Choral Journal and his catalog of major works soon exceeded 100 (currently the number is approaching 600 and growing all the time). He also found a natural marriage of his tapes (now CDs and MP3 downloads) with the organizers and conductors of all-state and honor choirs. Typically, all-state choir members are asked to learn their music within 6-8 weeks after being informed of their acceptance in the choir, and the CDs & MP3s help them to learn their music through independent homework so they can arrive at the first rehearsal with the mechanics (notes, intervals and rhythms) down pat. All-state conductors are always happily surprised and delighted when their choir members arrive with the nuts and bolts learned, ready to progress right to the nuances and make beautiful music without the stress of having to teach notes and rhythms in their precious few rehearsals.

Gary realizes perfectly well the inherent limitations of any rehearsal system. He knows they are not replacements for excellent directors and teachers whose direction and teaching is invaluable to the learning of choral music. Nor do the CDs or MP3s entirely supplant the need for sectionals, which provide valuable opportunities for sections to learn the nuts and bolts of their music in a group setting (although Songlearning Systems™ are often used to lead sectionals where multiple pianos are not available). While our CDs and MP3s observe the nuances of tempi changes — including ritardi, rallentandi and accelerandi, they do not have dynamic changes on them. Singers who use our system need to hear their part prominently in the foreground. Years of research has proven that if the loudness of their part dips suddenly to reflect the dynamic changes in the music, their part tends to blend in with the other parts being played in the background, and they will lose their place. They can and will adjust dynamics from ff to pp during sectionals or full ensemble rehearsals, when those dynamic changes are asked for by the conductor and heard, felt and expressed as dynamic changes within sectionals or the choir as a whole. To summarize: the CDs and MP3s are not a substitute for good teaching and directing, but rather an adjunct — a helpful tool which allows choir members to continue practicing their part at home.

Songlearning Systems™ are simple, valuable tools to assist independent homework on the nuts and bolts of learning new music: notes, intervals and rhythms. Once these basic elements are learned, directors can get to the nuances of expression, dynamics and rubato quicker because they don't have to struggle with correcting wrong notes and rhythms in rehearsals.

At present, Hammond Music Service is helping thousands of choirs around the world, including 50+ regional, all-state, honor, and school choirs learn their music quickly and accurately. We strive to maintain the highest quality of accuracy and musicianship on our rehearsal CDs and MP3 tracks, and are always searching for new ways to improve them.