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Music professor publishes guide for performers

Oct. 6, 2010

KALAMAZOO--Some 30 years as a professional musician, director and educator have been condensed into a practical guide for performers, students, teachers and even parents by Western Michigan University's internationally known vocal jazz educator, Dr. Stephen Zegree.

The Wow Factor book cover.The result is "The Wow Factor: How to Create It, Inspire It and Achieve It," a treasure trove of fundamental philosophies and concepts essential to a performer's growth and development. The book draws upon Zegree's wealth of experience to help would-be stars attain success.

Zegree, WMU's Bobby McFerrin Professor of Jazz, used his recent sabbatical to write the book, which covers more than just the basics, the prescribed curriculum and how to get up in front of an audience and go through the motions. As a bonus, Zegree adds a chapter of insights from interviews with top performers he has worked with over the years, including Nick Lachey, Bobby McFerrin, Liza Minnelli and others.

"The book is a compilation that looks at my experience as a performer, musician, educator and human being," Zegree says. "It combines all those elements in ways that might help other people be successful and gives them tips and pointers and methods on how they can achieve success."

But the book doesn't just offer tips on how to wow an audience. Performers have to do a lot more than perform, Zegree says.

"An audition is really not any different than a job interview," Zegree says. "So it really relates or parlays into tips that at least I think are important in terms of how to live life."

That gives the book a certain crossover appeal. Beyond the tips and tools performers can use on stage, there's useful information on how to conduct yourself when not in the spotlight.

"If you're a performer and you're on the road, the gig is two hours a night," Zegree says. "But there are 22 hours left in the day where you have to learn to get along and live with others and be the kind of person that others want to play with and, perhaps more importantly, others want to hire and work with."

Since the book's release a few weeks ago, Zegree has received comments and e-mails from performers and teachers alike, who say the book has had a big impact on them. He hopes that for educators, it might help them "think outside the Bachs."

Much of Zegree's wisdom has been gleaned from his long tenure as director of Gold Company, WMU's globetrotting and award-winning vocal jazz ensemble, and its sister ensemble, GCII. A whole chapter is devoted to Zegree's directing of Nick Lachey's choir on the nationally televised "Clash of the Choirs." Lachey tapped Zegree as his "secret weapon" to direct Lachey's hometown Cincinnati choir and beat hometown choirs assembled by other music superstars, including Patti Labelle, Kelly Rowland, Blake Shelton and Michael Bolton.

Other pearls of wisdom come from Zegree's distinguished career as a pianist, conductor, arranger and music professor, often placing him in demand in distant parts of the world.

Zegree says he was urged to write a book by publisher, Hal Leonard. But others had suggested he do so over the years. Though very time consuming, writing the book wasn't that difficult in that the material was a natural byproduct of what he does all the time.

And he had some much-appreciated help from more than 25 music pros he's worked with.

"My favorite chapter is the one that I didn't write, the one with interviews from all of these terrific professionals," Zegree says. "It really ends up being the chapter that I love."

The admiration appears to be mutual. One of those contributing professionals, Ward Swingle, icon and founder of the French vocal group The Swingle Singers, gives the book a glowing review.

"This is a superlatively written, wonderfully detailed examination into every possible aspect of group singing," Swingle says. "I'm truly amazed at the quality and quantity of information it deals with. The Wow Factor is not only a veritable textbook. It's awe-inspiring!"

Zegree says the material from contributors is very informative, interesting and diverse.

"I was really thrilled that so many cool folks agreed to be interviewed or send me their thoughts," he says. "And I only had to blackmail them just a little bit."

Copies of the book are available at the WMU Bookstore and through Hal Leonard Corp. at halleonard.com, amazon.com or Kindle.

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Media contact: Mark Schwerin, (269) 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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