WALT DISNEY WORLD… (which will have absolutely nothing to do with High School Choral Music!)

WDW w Mickey

Happy New Year and New Decade!

My husband Rick and I spent the Holiday Break in DisneyWorld.  (Get comfy – it’s a detailed description of our Disney Days – complete with video clips!)  Thanks in part to Ridge Choral Grad Jennifer D’Armiento, who has become an independent contractor; MAGICAL VACATION PLANNER BY JENNIFER D’ARMIENTO LLC- an authorized Disney travel agency.  Here’s a commercial message for her highly recommended personal service!   

J D'ArmientoContact me for a free, no-obligation quote for your next Disney Magical vacation!  My services will include:  *Creating a magical vacation itinerary that is the perfect fit for you and your family!  *Booking any/all of your itinerary, including resorts, airfare, dining, special events, and cruises!  *Fastpass+ suggestions, touring options and more!  *Applying discounts and promotions to your trip to get the most magic for your dollar!  I am your personal concierge for your Disney Magical Vacation!  Best of all, my services for you are 100% free!   Contact me to hear more about Walt Disney World, Disneyland or Universal Studios, a Disney cruise or an Adventures by Disney tour!  Let’s plan your perfect Magical Disney experience!

M.  908.342.5255     f.  812.849.0913     j.darmiento@magicalvacationplanner.com

From the moment we began planning, Jennifer had great ideas about special events of which I was unaware.  We had visited the parks before but the addition of these suggestions really made this a very memorable Disney experience!

I wanted to stay on-site this time and I wanted to stay at Animal Kingdom.  Jennifer was able to book 4 of the 5 nights at the Jambo House – Savannah View – which was just perfect!

We planned two travel days and four park days – no hopper – just a park a day.  Our United flight on the 26th was on-time and uneventful – just the way we like to travel!  We use the Valet Service at Newark Airport Long Term Parking on Olympia Drive.

img_1685Download the app, schedule the arrival and departure, drive in, leave the key and the shuttle takes you to the terminal.  When you return, your car is waiting for you with the trunk open and running.  It was $12.99 a day with a 15% discount code on FaceBook!

We also were able to travel with our rolling backpacks and a drawstring carry-on which just makes everything simple.


Once we arrived at MCO (Orlando Airport), we went downstairs to find the MAGICAL EXPRESS bus which would take us to the Coronado Springs Resort for night 1.  We arrived around 6:30p and went in search of food.  Once dinner was finished, we went exploring and found a sign advertising a SANGRIA flight which was the PERFECT way to begin a holiday!

Jennifer was helpful in securing our MAGIC BANDS which were pretty handy throughout the stay.  The band will unlock the resort room door and ring up food purchases.   She also made sure we were familiar with the My Disney experience app which proved HUGELY helpful in ordering food in the parks, with FastPass+ reservations and with Rick’s day-long STAR WARS adventure.  (That’s Day 3!)

PARK #1-EPCOT.  Epcot is undergoing a boatload of renovation – updating and building.  If you’ve been to DisneyWorld over the years, it’s interesting to see how much of it is now dated – given the burst of technology over the years.  Rest assured, we made a considerable contribution to the advances that Disney is making to its theme parks and resorts!  As it was Day #1, we needed to use our first 3 FastPasses before we could freely use more than 3.  So, Living with the Land, Soarin’ and Mission to Mars (the less aggressive trip)  were all part of the EPCOT experience.   It just never gets old for me.  I love the creativity and the story-telling and the engineering and the ingenuity that Disney brings to its parks.  (And…We found NEMO!)

The afternoon was spent exploring the countries.  We made a 5:30 dinner reservation at the Biergarten in Germany which guaranteed seating at the Candlelight Processional (Thanks, Jennifer!)  We were entertained at the German buffet with an Oom-Pah Band and Alpine Horn players, reminiscent of Westendorf for my AMA friends!  The Candlelight Processional was lovely – Marlee Matlin was the narrator with her personal translator and she signed the entire performance.  The green-robed singers were part of Encore, Disney’s cast performers and the yellow-robed singers were high schoolers.  The Orchestra were professional players.


The evening ended with the over-the-top Disney fireworks display.  We LOVED the kites that were flown by the jet-skiers!  We now returned to the JAMBO HOUSE at Animal Kingdom for the remainder of our stay.  Disney’s Bell Service was a perfect way to move our backpacks from Coronado to the Lodge.


I have no idea why these video clips are so large!

PARK #2 HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS and Rick’s STAR WARS Experience (while I stayed behind and slept in!)  Rick left the Jambo House at 4:30a to catch the 5a bus for the 6a park opening.  He was there with hundreds of others who were all hoping to be able to experience STAR WARS: RISE OF THE RESISTANCE!  The rope dropped at 5:50a and the masses rushed toward the far end of the park.  At 6a, everyone was now able to access their desire to be placed in a “group” – no FastPasses for this one.  Rick scored GROUP 76.  The waiting game began.

He gets on the single rider line for SMUGGLERS COVE, which cuts 2 hrs and 30 minutes off his wait time!  (His review:  “Meh.  No new technology at all.”)  He also cut time the same way off the STAR TOURS ride.  Meanwhile, it’s “Florida” raining (warm and a constant drizzle).

At 10:04, they called group 53.  I texted to ask if he had done any other rides and suggested he explore the Aerosmith Roller Coaster.  At 10:24 he was on the single rider line and Stand-By was 105 minutes!  At 10:26, the group was now at 60 and he had clocked in 12,000 steps.  At 11:01, the group was holding at #61. (We’d later learn there was an “issue” with the Force!)  11:48 – Rick has completed the roller coaster ride which was “really, really fast!”   (Zoom in on his face!) I head to the bus stop at noon to meet him in the park.  img_1601

We meet in Toy Story and are hungry so we decide to use the Mobile Dining app for  Woody’s Lunch Box – Grilled Cheese and a Turkey Sandwich.  Simple to order and ready when we walked up to the window.  There were easily 50-60 folks on line that we completely bypassed for food.  Amazing.  Finish lunch and go see MUPPET 3D.

2:45-Rick receives a text that his GROUP HAS BEEN CALLED!  At 2:53 – he’s in! (Well, he’s on the first of many, many concrete mazes and lines).  I go over to Indiana Jones and am on the standing room only line.  As I enter, I ask about single seating – the elderly man said there was none.  The pretty teenage girl found me a seat – SECOND ROW CENTER!

3:19 – Rick receives his “Mission Briefing”.  3:44 – Rick has finished the ride!  Success!  We bus back to the hotel so he can nap a bit – he’s had a LONG day!.  We have an 8:30 reservation (Thanks, Jenn!) for the VIP DESSERT experience at FANTASMIC back at Hollywood Studios.

7p-Back on the bus to Hollywood Studios. We check the weather app – Great! No rain.  SO we leave the ponchos in the room.  DON’T EVER LEAVE YOUR PONCHOS IN THE ROOM!  When we arrive, it starts to mist.  No big deal, we’re wearing hats.  Then it starts to rain.  The amphitheater is open-air.  So then we become the proud owners of DISNEY PONCHOS (grrrr…)  We get our VIP Dessert bags and our “Mickey Juice” in our sparkly-light-up mugs and we go to the wet stadium metal bleachers to sit our dry butts down onto chilled wet metal seats to have dessert in the rain.  Real rain.  Chocolate covered strawberries.  Brownie.  Cheesecake cup.  Chocolate Mousse.  Babybel Cheese, Crackers and Grapes – and Mickey Juice.

The show starts at 9p.  All along, the announcement is warning of a cancellation of the show due to inclement weather.  They were also serving beer/wine so folks were pretty mellow about the weather.

At 5 to 9, the rain stops and the FANTASMIC show begins.  It was really lovely!  Probably, for us, the best thing Hollywood Studios has to offer!


PARK THREE – ANIMAL KINGDOM and a 3-hr Africa Savannah Trek! (Thanks, Jennifer!)  We wake up to more Florida rain.  We bring our ponchos today as we head over to Animal Kingdom where we are about to take the three-hour tour through the Savannah!  We meet our guides, Kathy and Alex, who were exceptional, and we are weighed (can’t be over 400 pounds) and fitted for our safety vests.  We are strapped in, I was given a wrist strap to take my cellphone for pictures (although they both take tons of pictures along the way as part of the package and provide a website from which to download), complimentary water bottles, we join 8 others and off we go.

Wild Africa Trek-2

We hike up to see the hippos and meet their trainer who bangs five times on a bucket and the hippos come for their lettuce lunch!

Then we hike further to one of two suspension bridges which will take us above the crocodiles. (gulp).




Then we hike to the waiting truck, shedding our safety vests, for a more private safari tour of zebra, giraffes, rhino, long-horned steer, elk, elephant, cheetah and lions.  The truck brings us to a boma (hut) where we are served a tasty lunch.  A return to the lockers to retrieve backpacks and the tour is over.  Highly recommend!  And the weather was just perfect!

We then take Rafiki’s Train to Conservation Station mostly to sit for a few minutes!  We end up in an Animation Experience where we are given paper, a pencil and a clipboard and an animator is walking us through the creation of TICK TOCK – the crocodile from Peter Pan.  My first work of art – ever!

We wandered to the Tree of Life to catch It’s a Bug’s Life, saw The Lion King show and then to Pandora to see what the new space was all about.  Both rides there were a wait of 205 minutes with no FastPasses. Skipped those.   Our final FastPass of the day was for the River of Life: We Are One, which was just beautiful!

PARK FOUR – MAGIC KINGDOM!  But first…I had developed what I thought was a stye in my right eye; it turns out it was really cellulitis (yuk) which did not seem to be getting better so I thought it prudent to taxi to the local Urgent Care to have someone take a look at it.  Arrived at 9:20a.  Here’s the lesson here:  Go online and schedule an appointment first!  Walk-ins are treated AFTER those with reserved times (repeat patients) and those who have made appointments online.  If you call in, they tell you to schedule online as well.  SOOOO…three hours later with antibiotic and eye ointment in hand, we were shuttled to the Magic Kingdom!  

Because I have fond memories of DisneyWorld’s Magic Kingdon as a teen, the Haunted Mansion, Hall of Presidents and Country Bear Jamboree are a must-see as well as the afternoon Parade.  They never disappoint…


Back at the JAMBO HOUSE, the resort was just beautiful.  Spacious rooms.  Gorgeous lobby.  “Resort” animals roaming free near the pool at hot tubs…paradise!

It was a truly wonderful holiday.  Thanks again to Jennifer – please contact her for your next Disney experience.  She’s just the best!

Happy New Year!

Thanks, as always, for reading!


NOTE:  Pack instant oatmeal packets, granola bars and lemonade packets for trips like this.  Having the oatmeal for breakfast, the granola bars for long lines and the lemonade packets for the refillable water bottles all come in handy!




‘Tis the Season…

Concert Flier 2019At present, I am printing my concert program at home (don’t ask) and reflecting.  Reflecting on the countless hours every one of my colleagues has spent preparing to bring their love for Choral Music to their communities.  It’s insane!  BUT…

Every one of those colleagues will tell you, first and foremost, they work with NICE KIDS…super people with whom they create music in rehearsals and in performance.

As a result, my program notes for Tuesday’s concert,  “From the Director” reads as follows:

Good Evening and Welcome to the Winter Choral Concert!

I took a moment this crazy, busy season to sit and reflect on the journey that we’ve taken to bring our program to you tonight…

  • The A Cappella Choir auditioned new members in June. At their first rehearsal, they were sent home with the December caroling repertoire for Summer Study. Section Leaders held weekly sectionals in their homes starting in September (Thank You, Host Families! Xo!). 
  • The Concert Choir and Chorale received their repertoire in September and have been preparing in class five days a week.
  • We welcomed “Mr. A” (Ed Alstrom) into our Ridge Choral family as our new accompanist.

We created another Choral Community; a Family, if you will.  Diverse, crazy, loving, kind, wacky, ambitious, passionate, cheerful, polite, beautiful, shy, well-behaved, goofy, curious, tolerant, open, honest and trusting.  And what brought all of these young people together?  OUR MUSIC!  In every rehearsal, music was created and re-created while, simultaneously, community was built amidst laughter and jokes, frustration and grit, determination and a pursuit of excellence.  The rehearsal space is safe.  The rehearsal space is filled with opportunities for growth where every singer represents their family, their community, their culture and their commitment to the goal of making beautiful music together.  The rehearsal space fosters new ideas, an understanding of others and ultimately, a sense of belonging.

These kids now spend much of their time in a virtual world, but the work that brought all of this to you tonight is real.  Real people.  Real music.  Real emotions.  Real feelings of joy and vitality and love.  You’ll see it in their eyes and hear it in their songs.

Through this marvelous gift of music, each of us – singer, listener and conductor – will be touched and may be…changed.  The power of a melody heard simultaneously, by many different listeners, will effect each soul in ways that are uniquely personal and intimate.  GREAT IS THE POWER OF CHORAL MUSIC, which offers hope, healing and inspiration.

Our world needs more of what music has to offer.  I have never doubted the importance of my role in bringing Choral Music into the lives of young people.  Its reward has been one-thousand-fold.

Thanks for being with us tonight.

We are grateful.

Happiest of Holidays.

Barbara Retzko…a.k.a. RETZ… 

(Excerpts from two letters by Dr. Lynne Gackle-ACDA President)

Thanks, as always, for reading.

Here’s to a restful, peaceful Holiday season for all.



A pretty remarkable day…


For many years, I have hosted a Choral Festival which Ridge alum Ben Carlin affectionately named Choralpalooza.  (Thanks Ben!) Today was Choralpalooza 2019.  The morning was filled with my three choirs – Chorale (Women’s Choir-grades 9 & 10), Concert Choir (SATB choir-grades 9-12 guys-grades 11-12 girls) and A Cappella Choir Honors (Select SSATB choir) and choirs from Hanover Park, Somerville, New Providence, Warren Hills and Newark Academy.  In the morning, each choir gets a 20-minute time slot – two-song maximum – and an onstage clinic.

This year our clinician was Dr. Brandon Williams from Rutgers University.  Exceptional insightOutstanding rapport with our singers. Top-notch pacingCreative critique and comments for every level of performance.  We shared a bit of background with Brandon prior to his work on stage so he had points of reference upon which to focus as he addressed each group.  Each of us also writes comments for the others.  The sharing comes from a place of deep love, respect and admiration of our respective programs.  We’ve grown up together.  We’ve watched each other’s programs shift in all kinds of ways over the years.  We are so much more than choral colleagues.

As part of the preparation, the Ridge kids are asked to bring 2 dozen cookies OR brownies OR cupcakes to create 48-feet of a dessert bar during lunch.  Goodies are purchased 3/$.25.  Ridge treats the Directors to lunch – Jersey Mike’s this year – only the best for my friends!  Six choirs find places to sit on the floor of the PAC lobby to eat lunch, mingle and socialize.  Thirty minutes later, we reconvene in the PAC.

This year we chose soloists (or a duet) to represent each school as a part of the afternoon activities.  Before those kids sang, two of our Directors sang the duet from Lakme – sending shivers down our spines – pristine blend and balance…heavenly harmonies!  Wow.  What a treat!  The solo representatives from each school sang beautifully and the support they received was reflected in individual standing ovations.  Stellar work.

The day concluded with a Massed Choir sing of Here’s Where I Stand from the movie Camp.   The newest addition to the Ridge Family, accompanist Ed Alstrom, brought in his HAMMOND ORGAN to fill out the piano and percussion accompaniments.  We divided the solos into six parts so each school could be represented.  Brandon rehearsed the 420 singers on stage – “bringing us all to church” with their performance.  What a way to end the day!

There’s a LOT that goes into the planning and preparation of Choralpalooza; parent help to set up desserts at 7am and then more parents to sell desserts at noon; nine sets of choral risers and the Steinway need to be moved from the choir room to the stage and back again; sound and lights have to be set; mics placed; my groups need to rehearse and I need to conduct them; the schedule needs to stay accurate to afford each group equal stage and clinic time; lunch needs to be delivered; the PAC lobby and choir room need to be cleaned immediately following lunch so as not to interfere with the school day…it’s a lot.  I don’t list this for any other reason than stating that the team of parents and section leaders and officers I have from year to year never disappoint.  With a day that begins at 8a with the welcoming of 450+ guests, by 2p it is all returned to its respective place.  I am grateful for everyone who makes the day run so smoothly.

This year, I was struck by the magnitude of watching 420 young singers crowd onto a stage and sing their hearts out.  It’s really remarkable when you stop to think about what it takes to make that happen.  Hours of tedious rehearsal.  Commitment to the greater good.  Patience to help guide them to an understanding of what the choral art is and can be for them.  Patience in dealing with the daily “events” that consume a teenager.  Dedication to the knowledge that if you can get them to buy into the journey, they will have an experience that is usually indescribable.  And the beauty of bringing this all together with people in whom you’ve invested and know and love continues to create a deeper and deeper appreciation of the magic of the choral art.  Six schools.  Six Directors.  A wide variety of repertoire.  Varied conducting styles and interpretations. A depth of commitment that knows no bounds.  The knowledge that we have each other’s backs.  Thick or thin.  Good times and bad.  Man, it really doesn’t get much better than that.

I’m grateful and thankful…and tired…

Thanks, as always for reading.

Happy Thanksgiving.



Super Conference = Super Weekend

SUper confOn Saturday and Sunday, I attended The Producer’s Perspective SUPER CONFERENCE held at the SVA Theatre on 23rd St.  It was a gathering of Broadway’s finest – led by Producer Ken Davenport. Here is his goal.


Here is a run-down of the sessions I chose and some of my cryptic notes.

DAY ONE – Five 45-minute sessions.  I chose:

  • Navigating the Collaborative Process – Creating New Works

Creative Process

The inspiration from this session was the confirmation that Theatre is a collaborative art form by its very nature.  Bart Sher (Mockingbird) believed in the concept of “collective genius” where you recognize that what you are creating is much larger than you and it doesn’t completely belong to you.  The collaboration also “establishes what the world is and what the world isn’t” which I thought was a great topic to use to establish the tone of the school year on day one.  (Here is what choir is and what choir isn’t…)

This panel was particularly impressive; Andrew Lippa=Addams Family, Itamar Moses=The Band’s Visit and Bart Sher=To Kill A Mockingbird.  Not too shabby.

  • Getting Press for your projects and yourself

Getting Press

Where PR is concerned, it’s important to develop a vocabulary about the show being promoted because the public reacts to the show before they see it.  ie-Dear Evan Hansen.  Social media has changed everything because cast members can speak directly to their fans.

  • Preparing your Pitch – The Art of Pitching Producers

Pitching Producers

Dori produced The Prom.  Hal is producing Fiddler in Yiddish. Aurin is producing Evil and the Good Fight (TV).  They were quite clear about the expectations of a producer; the project needs to be something that moves the Producer.  It needs to be relevant to the times.  It needs to be relatable on some level.  Is it something A Producer would want to see and bring friends AND spend endless hours on? What makes the project unique and special? Is it a story that has to be told? AND, is this the production team that can bring it to life?

  • Budgeting for Every Stage of Development


This was really interesting to me as I had no idea of the real money needed to mount and sustain a show.  Two budgets need to be created – a Capitalization Budget which needs to cover everything up to the first preview (Marketing, Press, Scenes, Costumes, Light/Sound, Salaries for Stagehands, Musicians, Interns, Agents, etc.) and the Weekly Budget which covers everything after the first performance.  When the investors put up their money, they want to know how quickly they will “recoup”.  Many do not recoup 100%.  Most houses budget at 70% weekly capacity.  It took Beautiful one year to recoup for investors. Only 30% of B’way shows recoup their investors’ money.  (Sad face)

Let’s say you have a show (project) and you would like to arrange for a “29-hour reading” now referred to as Tier 1.  You need to have between $35,000 and $50,000 on hand to pay for that single week and that is bare-bones…chairs and stands.  Tier 2 gets you two weeks and actors off-book and Tier 3 gets you 3-8 weeks of staged rehearsal, choreo, actors who are paid $1250 per week and you’ll need to have between $350,000 and $500,000 on hand to pay for it.  That’s real money!

Once the show opens, it needs $800,000 per week in ticket sales to run (one thought).  The theatre gets 7% weekly for labor, stagehands, ticket takers, etc.  4% pays the credit card companies.  Then there is the matter of Royalties-35% of profit goes to the royalty pool.  If the production is adapted from a film, then 42-44% will go to the weekly Royalty Pool.

A Musical can cost anywhere from $575,000-1 million dollars a week to run(a second thought). Orchestra can be $100K a week.  It was good to hear that there are NO RECORDED TRACKS on BWay.  It’s all live musicians!

  • Raising Money for your Show at all Stages of Development

Raising MOney

Tom Kirdahy=Hadestown, Little Shop Revival. Mara = The Inheritance.  Wanna’ invest in theatre?  Accredited investors have 1 million in assets or make $250K a year.  Money Bundling Groups are governed by 1 person getting 5 people to invest 50K.  And, there’s Kickstarter.  I sat near a gentleman at lunch who was an investor and he told me the minimum was usually 25K and that in 5-6 shows, he’s recouped on 1.  You need to know you may never get your full return when investing in a show.


  • Casting Superpowers


Probably the most interesting session for me.  The casting agency is charged with fulfilling the creative vision of the Director.  They try to get as close to the story you want to tell through their casting choices.  These choices need to bring characters to life.  Thoughtful casting takes time – going after the right people.  Directors need to approach their casting agency as if they were “dating”…it’s a relationship that requires honesty and trust between both sides.

Research these agencies.  If you see that they are casting specific roles (Christine in Phantom) and you think you are right for the part, CALL THEM to ask for an audition.

To the Potential Actor:

  • Educate yourself about the Casting Director – the Director wants to find YOU!
  • Reach out to them.  In your email…”I’ve seen some things you’ve cast”…and name them…
  • Explain why you think this Director might be interested in seeing you?
  • State “I like the message of the projects you’re producing and I think I’d be a good fit for your work.”
  • They all said – BE KIND (in auditions) and SHOW UP AT THE TABLE-IT’S TIME!

Attend open calls for agencies for which you’d like to work.

  • Securing Rights

Securing Rights

Secure the rights FIRST!  You need the rights to produce anything!  As a start, find really good source material that others aren’t after to tell your story.  The current jukebox musicals needed major rights clearances.  If you are synchronizing music to an image, you need rights.  Ted Chapin=rights to all things Rogers & Hammerstein and Irving Berlin.

Wanna’ know the background to a song—song meanings?   www.songfacts.com

  • What do critics look for in 2019?

CriticsThis was interesting as the moderator’s first question was – What are you NOT looking for in 2019?  The answers – Bio Musicals, Jukebox Musicals, 2-part 8-hour productions (Harry Potter!) and Premium Pricing! Adam = TimeOut New York.  He sees 6-7 shows a week and reviews the higher profile shows.  Michael=Radio 1710 WOR he used to work for the POST but they no longer run a theatre section – he’s now on the radio.

The closing 45 minutes was a keynote by Stephanie J. Block, who just won the Tony for CHER.  She was the highlight!  Completely unscripted and speaking from the heart.  Some of her pearls of wisdom included…”NO is a complete sentence.”  (loved that!).  “When you say Yes, it’s “Yes, and …”  If you are rejected, you can cry for a minute…The phone may ring tomorrow – ARE YOU READY?  (when the phone rings for the next opportunity).  When you are in an audition/casting situation and you don’t feel right, be truthful with yourself and say “Thank you.  I’m not supposed to be part of this team”.  She really really felt that there was a greater universal power that would reward you for your choices – at least they had for her.


Thanks, as always, for reading.



S4L-QP-invisibleconnectednessNetworking.  Investing.  Collaborating.  Being interconnected.  I am struck by these concepts this week.  Mid-October and the blues.  Not quite cold enough.  Not quite warm enough.  Nothing really happening yet.  Kids in class are antsy.  Connect these thoughts and add a touch of sharing and you realize that no one has to do this whole teaching thing alone.  Everyone has someone out there who would be willing to help, listen, or do,  if they were asked.  We’re all very interconnected.

A grad of mine was recently in an awful teaching situation – a new job in a dangerous neighborhood, kids fighting in class, administration ineffective.  When asked, my advice was to get out as quickly as possible.  I made an email connection between him and another grad who had lived through a similar, difficult teaching experience.  Gratefully, he took the advice and will soon be starting a new position in a new district.  We’re all very interconnected.

More grads, a married couple, have embarked on the creation of a podcast about Disney because she has built a small Disney travel business based on her love of all things Mickey.  I posted the info on my FB page to help them build a necessary network for their success.  We’re all very interconnected.

My last Monday night rehearsal was charmed by the presence of yet another grad who came into work with my tenors and basses – encouraging, demonstrating, sharing his skill and passion for choral music and the teaching of high school singers.  He connected with my guys in a very short amount of time and helped to boost confidence and cause them to create a sound they didn’t think was possible!  So rewarding to watch!  We’re all very interconnected.

These small stories could go on and on.  I don’t need to walk my path alone.  You don’t need to walk your path alone.  They don’t need to walk their path alone.  There are so many folks out there with whom we are connected and to whom we reach out when we need to reconnect.  It’s something we should not ever forget.

Are you reaching out to your connections?  Are you networking and connecting people from your classroom to the world beyond?  Are you doing simple and special things for yourself to make it through the mid-October blues?

Next week is Halloween and the week after is a long weekend!  We’re almost there!

Thanks, as always, for reading.


In the ‘Hood

Monday September 30, 2019Mister-Rogers-Neighborhood

One month down. Nine to go.

Lately, I have been reflecting on the idea of sisterhood, (brotherhood) and neighborhood.  I feel lucky to have a solid and dependable sisterhood of female friends who have my back, who listen and share and support and who love me unconditionally.  That’s huge.  Especially when life throws mud your way…I feel lucky to have a few “sisters” there who will help clean up the “mess”.

Mr. Rogers created a neighborhood.  I’ve long since dreamed of creating my own.  Wouldn’t it be cool to have your sisterhood or brotherhood living right next door…from whom you could borrow a cup of sugar or sit down for a beverage in the afternoon and just shoot the breeze?  That would be exceptional.  Kinda’ like dorm living was – without the freshman!  We are all so insulated in our own homes and our calendars are so packed that it becomes a challenge just to find time to catch up with one’s ‘hood.

This is all I have today.  Just a recognition and a shout out to my pals in the ‘hood.

Thank you, my ‘hood,  for being there, in the background, when life throws mud; when we are all crazy busy.  It’s important to recognize and remind each of you how very special you are – as often as I can.

Who are the treasured people in your ‘hood?

Thanks, as always, for reading.



relationshipsIt’s Saturday, September 14, 2019.  We’ve completed seven days of school.  During this time, my A Cappella Choir had a team-building retreat and their first rehearsal, we’ve welcomed our new accompanist and started all classes full-time, including Sectional classes and my mom passed away.


In order.  The seven days of school seemed to fly by.  There is much to do to get Sectionals scheduled from lunches and study halls (we still run a straight 9-period day – soon to be changed over to a potential double-drop rotating schedule in two years).  We run five lunch periods from 4-8.  I teach Music Theory during period 3 so I now have access to everyone in the building if they wish to participate in choir.  This year, Sectionals are a requirement for all students in the Concert Choir (SATB-girls grades 11-12, guys grades 9-12) and Chorale (all girls-grades 9-10).  Think Science Labs.  Concert Choir gets two Sectionals each week and Chorale gets Wednesdays.  Recruiting is done by students in lunch and study halls.  “Bring your friends!”

The A Cappella Choir retreat was a huge success!  These kids have deeply invested in the concept of family.  Section Leaders read letters of expectations and intentions to the choir to start the retreat.  Activities included the Marshmellow Challenge – build the tallest structure you can with 20 sticks of spaghetti, 3 feet of string and 3 feet of masking tape and a marshmallow – which must be placed on top.  It’s fun to watch brainiacs work!  Ultimately most structures collapsed right as the 20-minute timer sounded.  Didn’t matter -it was a bunch of fun!  We moved on to creating section collages (SI, SII, A, T, B) which represented 3 truths about themselves from every member of the section-cut out words and pictures from magazines and pasted on a big piece of paper (arts and crafts supplies provided).  Then, after the pizza was delivered at 9p, they each presented their 3 truths in their section in a skit.  Great way to learn a bit more about each member of the group!

I gave them a two-sided homework assignment from the retreat which was turned in at our first rehearsal.  Side one – Seven-word biography.  Sum up your entire life in seven words and explain why you chose these seven words.  Side two – What is ONE THING you could teach me?  Fascinating reading!  If I pursue it, I will be taught how to play guitar and flute, the rules of cricket, the importance of marinating a steak, how to sail, the joy that comes from learning, calligraphy, how to play Magic the Gathering, how to backflip on a trampoline, french braid, Taekwondo and what it’s like to be a Queer teenager at Ridge High School.  I’ll never be bored this year!

Our first rehearsal was quite rewarding.  As I audition this group in June and send them home with December caroling rep and learning tracks, it is their responsibility to learn the music and have it ready when Section Leaders schedule 1-hour sectionals throughout the summer.  The first rehearsal is usually a sing-through of all the rep to see what shape it is in.  Because we had one activity left over from the retreat to complete (Write on My Back), we didn’t sing through everything but what we did sing through was in decent shape.  From there, I give them weekly assignments from the full list of repertoire on which to concentrate in sectionals.  Having 26 guys in this group last year and having 13 this year is a bit of an adjustment in the Tenor and Bass sections.  All of the SATB rep has, in some way, been assigned to the “Altenors” as we were left with 4 tenors this year (we had THIRTEEN!!! last year!).  All 13 altos have 3-4 songs assigned to them in which they will help the tenors sing their part.  It seemed to be a reasonable solution to boosting the section with the smallest number.  (PS – A number of my Basses and Tenors went to Rutgers and have auditioned and been accepted into the Rutgers University Glee Club, Kirkpatrick Choir and the University Choir! So proud!)

Our new accompanist has jumped in with both feet and is working to learn the names of all the singers in all ensembles.  Ridge has provided a full-time accompanist (12:45-2:45p  each day plus 7-8:30p on Monday nights) for over 20 years now.  Because of the student ratio of 80-90:1, the accompanist is justified as an aide in the class.  It’s always smart to have a second adult in the room when possible.


Every August for many, many years, the colleagues who participate in Choralpalooza (our yearly Choral Festival) come to my screen porch to brainstorm and plan not only for Choralpalooza but additional events in which we all participate.  Five area high schools come to Ridge for a day to share music and friendship and lunch and a 40-foot dessert bar and a clinician.  We refer to ourselves as the SPG (Screen Porch Guild) and our daily (sometimes hourly) text group chats are a true lifeline for each of us.

While we are quite like-minded in our approach to Choral Music Education and our love for the kids, we have varying administrative teams that throw different agenda items at us from year to year.  Can’t accompany a concert unless you’ve been fingerprinted and gone through a background check.  Lesson plans are due every Monday by 9a.  There will be a new Mandatory study hall and extra help period after school.  After school activities may not start until 25 minutes after school ends.  Our theme this year is GenZ.  Our theme this year is Social-Emotional Learning.  And the list goes on and on.

So, we vent, we joke, we laugh and cry and depend on the SPG to understand and support.  And then we share this…


YOu might be

I do want to share with you a moment that will carry me for a while.
I was not excited to come back. I am not feeling particularly creative or inspiring. I have been dwelling on who won’t be in my room rather than who will be in my room. 
So….yesterday was our first day with students. On my bulletin board in bold letters is “ YOU DO ‘U’.” I explained to each class its double meaning…that you are free to be yourself in here and you will be accepted exactly as you are. It is a safe and welcoming space. Then I explained the cool concept that a “U” is more welcoming than a circle. At the end of class, a freshman came up to me and said, “Can you please call me Phoenix and use they/them pronouns? I didn’t think I would say this to anyone today and was worried about how and when to tell people but you made me feel like I could tell you right away.”
It will be a good year and I think I’m where I’m supposed to be. 
Thanks for your constant love and support.
In response…
We love these kids and we were put on this earth to give them a place to feel welcome, important and basically alive. It’s hard to understand and people don’t believe why there would be any difficulty in easily achieving that every day every year.
But we choose to go on with it despite the obstacles and being driven to the edge because we know our threads in the fabric of a school are vital to keeping it from unraveling for so many kids. You are all my heroes!
This is a lifeline for which I am grateful – every day.
My mom passed away on Tuesday, September 10 after a lengthy battle with cancer.  She lived in New Bern, NC.  My husband and I took a road trip in the early part of July to go and see her.  We brought her chocolate-covered strawberries for her birthday.  She had just turned 82.  In her final days, I believe she was kept comfortable and I believe her passing was peaceful.
Mom was a strong woman; filled with colorful and vibrant opinions! 😉  I have great memories of her running the PTO in elementary school and raising more money for the cause than anyone who preceded her.  She and my Dad owned and operated a deli in our home town for many years.  The townspeople liked her.  The long-haul truckers liked her.  The cops liked her.  I think my strength and perseverance came from her.  My ability to see a job through to the end.  My fierce protection of my friends and family.  Many lessons learned that are now part of the reflection of my life.  Thanks, Mom.  Rest in Peace.  I love you.
I know how fortunate I am to have the many relationships I have in my life…family, friends, students, graduates, the cashiers in Shop-Rite, the lady at the library…they are all part of what creates the entries in my ongoing Gratitude Journal.
I hope when you stop and look around, you have similar Relationships too.
Thanks, as always, for reading.
PS – Here are two clips the SPG shared with one another.  Mia was shared the night before we began the school year and the second…well…we just needed a good laugh!

                            CLICK ON THE  WATCH THIS VIDEO ON YOUTUBE link….

An effective group activity…

Kindly forgive the second post here today – after just opening this blog up again after a few years of writing.  The previous blogs (2014-2017) appear on the WordPress site https://bretzko.wordpress.com.   August 2014-June 2015 chronicled one year in the life of my Choral Program complete with attachments and worksheets.  I refer to it as “my book!”  Use what ye may!

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Anyway, I am presently organizing the activities I will share with my advanced choir (A Cappella Choir Honors) at their retreat one week from tonight and I thought I would share a very effective group icebreaker activity I have used in the past for those of you looking to get to know your singers on a deeper level and to instill the concept of what YOU value right from the start.  I found it somewhere online and have adapted it to meet my group needs.


MATERIALS NEEDED – Post-its (5 per participant) and pen/pencil per person.  Screen/Projector to display powerpoint slides helpful but not necessary.  (I am always happy to share whatever resources I include in my blogs).  Just ask!

The activity works best in even numbers, as pairing is required. To begin, divide your group and create two concentric circles (one inner circle and one outer circle).  My group will divide into 2 circles to average 11 or 12 x 2 in each group.

Seated on the floor – the people in the outer circle should face inside, and the people in the inner circle should face outside. Each inner circle person will pair up with an outer circle person.

POST-IT NOTES: enough for each participant to have five each and pens.

Ask the participants to think about their values and what makes up their identity.  Show Powerpoint slides as examples of Values. (see slides below)  Instruct them to write one value on each post-it. They should write 5 values in total.

  1. Once everyone has written down their five values, have them share with their first partner why they chose to write down the five values they did.
  2. After sharing for 1-2 minutes, ask all participants to rip up one of their post-its!  This part of the activity gives participants an opportunity to reflect on how they prioritize their values. Ripping up the post-it should help the participant imagine living without that part of their identity.  You might tell them this as well.
  3. After the participants rip up one post-it, the outer circle will rotate one partner to the right. Everyone should have a new partner now. Have the new pairs discuss why they ripped up the post-it they ripped up.
  4. Continue this process until all participants are each left with one post-ittheir most important value!

This is a very easy, low-maintenance group activity that requires little preparation and can work for as small as 8 people to as large as 50 people. This activity is also good to help encourage people to share deeply with others with whom they would not otherwise share.

This was a surprisingly powerful activity, especially when I asked them to rip up a value the first time!!!  (gasp!)  Once we got to the last value, I asked them to stand and state their “most important” value and tell us why.  Very powerful.  Deep thoughts.  I am sure the powerpoint slides helped them to determine the values they chose.

Use it if you’d like.

Thanks, as always, for reading.


Another sunrise…


I began my teaching career at New Providence High School…1979.  I was responsible for the Ninth Grade Girls Chorus and Group Voice Classes.  It was a part-time position.  At the end of the year, I was RIF’ed (Reduction in Force) because there was no budget to retain the position.  Fortunately, my Supervisor knew of an opening in his hometown and called the Superintendent with a recommendation.  Hence, my career in Bernards Township began in 1980.  Forty years ago.

I am a Choral Director.  It’s the only thing I know.  Middle School, High School, International School and College.  Projects are my passion.  Planning and problem solving are my lifeline.  Mentoring and advising are part of the mix.  And lately, folks are asking me about retirement.  Retirement? Really? Other people retire.  Parents retire.  Why are you all asking me about retirement?

Forty years is more than half a lifetime.  “You can do anything in retirement,” they say.    “When the time comes, you’ll know, ” they say.  “Don’t retire, rewire,” they say.  Really? Me?

No one ever told me or suggested I think past my career.  Plan ahead.  Prepare for the “third” chapter. It’s a lecture I’d like to share with every college grad although they probably wouldn’t listen.  I’m certain it would have been lost on me if I had heard it in my 20’s.  But here I am,  faced with the reality of retiring someday.  It’s just surreal.

I can’t imagine not going to Ridge every day.  The “R” word is just not a part of my vocabulary.

So, on Tuesday I will begin another year with two days of Inservice.  The students come on Thursday.  We’ll review the rules, start voice testing, number and distribute music, meet with our new accompanist, campaign and elect new officers.  The A Cappella Choir will have its get-to-know-you retreat and the administration will share their new initiatives.  Away we’ll go.

The start of another year.

Another sunrise…

Hope we all have a good one.

Thanks, as always for reading.


Expressing the inexpressible…May 2017


~Aldous Huxley

So here’s the thing…I would really like to be able to teleport every person in my life into my performing arts center on Wednesday, May 24th to experience the Ridge High School Spring Choral Concert.  I write with no acknowledgment of ego.  Rather with a deep desire to share the love I am feeling and receiving from my singers as I stand before them every day in rehearsal.  They are singing with such depth and soul that I would love for everyone I know to be able to bear witness to what they will bring to their audience that evening.

My Chorale girls are singing Homeward Bound and River in Judea as part of their set.  My A Cappella Choir is singing Stars by Ēriks Ešenvalds, poetry by Sara Teasdale, accompanied by tuned Wine glasses.  My Voices of Ridge are singing the empowering We are the Voices by Jim Papoulis.  The Ridgemen are singing the Joseph Gregorio six-part Dona Nobis Pacem.  My GUYS NITE OUT group – grades 6-12, Dads, Grads, Grandads, Husbands and Friends, are singing Carry On My Wayward Son and Old Time Rock n’Roll.  My Concert Choir will surround the audience with Can You Feel the Love Tonight as their opener.  They will sing a breathtaking arrangement by Roger Ames (who may come to the concert!) called A Choral Reflection on Amazing Grace with one of my junior sopranos as soloist which may very well leave many speechless and in tears.  The concert will close with Kevin Memley’s Uniamo in Amore – Let us join in Love.

They are singing the life out of this music.

So, I write and reflect…why is this so intense, so different?  I’ve stood before stellar choirs in my career.  I’ve conducted on many levels, in many venues.  I’ve seen the work of my friends and colleagues who are great artists in their own right by bringing amazing music into the lives of their students.  What is it then?  Why do I feel differently this time around?

My conclusion comes with age and experience.  I am nearing the completion of the fourth decade of a career in Choral Conducting.  I have been genuinely blessed with dedicated students year after year who always work hard to reach and exceed my expectations.  When I see talent in a kid, I go after it with a vengeance.  I want them to have the indescribable experience of creating music that exceeds description and definition, where there are no words that they can string together to explain what they felt – what it meant to them to be completely immersed and surrounded by harmonies and melodies that were unified and shared with great love and passion. The true power that creating music brings to the performer and their audience.  The look on their faces when the final product has reached so deeply into their being.  The knowledge that their investment in learning every note and nuance has brought them to this place of other-worldliness…a place that will leave an indelible mark on them which will last a lifetime.


Singing together…

Harmonic Convergence…

Expressing the inexpressible…

Thanks for Reading…


After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music