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Size is magically altered. That big roomy stage is minuscule! The chairs are snug! I'm twice as manly as I appeared. Trust me. Colors are magically altered. While looking the hipster in black on black with a little black thrown in may work in reality (at least in NYC), on TV, producers shun that kind of intense contrast. (Contrast with what? My pale skin?) "You will look dead" they warned. The headline came to me immediately: Corpse directs Jane Pauley Singers. Now that's news. More importantly, that's good TV.

Masculinity is magically altered. I wore make up. They made me. Again with the death threats. Not that I haven't worn makeup before; I've played many a part on the stage. But on TV, I was to be playing myself. (I like to imagine the credits even now: Jonathan Minkoff as Himself. That's one of the few moments where non-deities enjoy the capital "H" but I digress.) Since I don't generally wear make up I was a little apprehensive. "It comes off with baby wipes!" they yelled as I was escorted to the set. Wait. I don't have baby wipes! I don't even have a baby! Wait!

Finally, "realness" is magically altered. I think that everyone suspects this about TV. ("Jane Pauley? Oh she's a robot.") I don't think Jane's a robot but, I've been to TV. Now I'm back. Our suspicions are justified. Everything is something other than it appears. The "spontaneous" is actually rehearsed (Jane singing with the Yale Out of the Blue), and what one might expect would be the result of, oh say at least a few days work, (the performance of the Jane Pauley Singers for example) is not nearly so well-rehearsed. In reality, the televised performance of the Jane Pauley Singers was the first time that all the singers and vocal percussionists had ever performed the song together! And unlike one of the the lovely and talented veteran groups, we didn't get any "do-overs."

I'll tell you what was real though: the intense focus and work ethic of the Jane Pauley Singers. They worked their butts off and I'm damn proud of them. I only wish I could have known them for longer than 2 hours.

How were they chosen? What grueling process must one endure to perform on national TV? The brave hearted members of the Jane Pauley Show cast and crew answered the question, "Hey, anyone here sing?" with a resounding "Yeah kinda." And that was the week before the taping. I was simultaneously contacted with the invitation to direct them through Jingle Bells. Why Jingle Bells?

It's seasonal and in the public domain. Hence free. Normally one would have to pay the arranger. In this case, however, we would be performing a Jonathan Minkoff arrangement of Jingle Bells. Hot off the press. And since I wanted to get CASA and contemporary a cappella some national exposure, I did not make an issue of such details. Hence free.

So for all you arrangers out there, think for a second about how you would arrange Jingle Bells. The key. The  number of parts. The style. Now remember that you don't know how many singers there will be. Or what parts they sing. Or their skill level. And you are told to create a featured, but not too featured part for Jane Pauley, herself. But to also keep in mind that she may not have enough time to rehearse with the choir during the two hour rehearsal session the day before the taping so she may not end up performing. Regarding Jane's part, the producers tell you, "Not too high."

I jumped into the Minkoff Arts, LLC recording studio in New York City (Of course I did. Top quality. And I own it. Hence free.) and laid down all the parts with some assistance from CASA board member Diana Preisler (www.DianaPreisler.com). This enabled me to enter Monday's rehearsal with part-separated CDs for each singer. (Each track has the part in question stereo panned to one side while all remaining parts are stereo panned to the other side. The listener can hear as much or as little of their own part as they find helpful.) This proved particularly important Monday morning when I discovered that our rehearsal area was an office with no piano. Thank heaven for pitch pipes.

I chose not to hand out notated music. While doing so may have sped up the learning process for a few singers, I was concerned that in general the singers would use it as a "crutch" during our rehearsal and then have difficulty performing without it on national television the next day. That was the same motivation behind the choice to only arrange the first verse and chorus to Jingle Bells. Few are the singers who know the remaining verses by heart.

But as I said before, this group, the Jane Pauley Singers, dubbed by Jane as "The Best We Could Do," was actually pretty special. In retrospect, it feels like they could have handled anything. Great people. Great energy. Great work ethic. We rehearsed holding hands. We rehearsed using just a breath to cue everyone in. We rehearsed bouncing around and smiling. I hope to work with them again, on or off the air. And just as importantly, with or without more than 2 hours rehearsal.

Thanks guys for keeping some real magic in the land of TV.

Jonthan Minkoff is CASA President, the Executive Director of the East Coast A Cappella Summit, and a Producer/Engineer with Minkoff Arts, LLC, an a cappella focused recording studio based in New York City.