Expressing the inexpressible…May 2017

AFTER SILENCE, THAT WHICH COMES NEAREST TO EXPRESSING THE INEXPRESSIBLE IS MUSIC

~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.

Music…

Singing together…

Harmonic Convergence…

Expressing the inexpressible…

Thanks for Reading…

Barbara

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

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Bliss – May 4, 2017

BlissI haven’t written in a number of months.  But, I just created an end-of-year reflective that I will distribute to my Choir tomorrow and thought I would share it.  It comes from an idea I heard where Seniors are given the opportunity to invite a “special guest” to graduation – given an extra ticket to share with someone who has positively impacted their lives – and where they can invite that person to attend their graduation ceremony.

I like the idea of sharing gratitude and reflecting so my twist on the idea is to ask my Seniors to choose three influential people who were part of the “village” that raised them and describe each of them to me in 3-5 sentences.  After the concert on May 24th, they will then present 2 of the 3 names and reasons they were significant to the class.  (See attached).  I also suggested that they take time to hand-write a card to the three people and stamp it and mail it – the old fashioned way – so that the thoughts do not get lost in this assignment.

I am asking my underclass persons to reflect on the last 8-9 months.  Of what accomplishments are they most proud?  What frustrations did they experience?  What are their summer plans?

I am living in a euphoric teaching place right now where everyone is singing beautifully and kids are happy and the weather isn’t really crappy and I just want to stop the clock and stay here a while.  Trying to bask in the genuine moments of bliss I am experiencing in all of my classes.

I hope you are able to find bliss in your days as well.

Thanks for reading.

Barbara

Reflective Assignment – 2017

Thursday May 5, 2016

I haven’t blogged in a while.  Today I feel like I have recently done some fun things in my rehearsals and made some discoveries that I would like to share.

First of all, I would love to become much more involved in all things GOOGLE.  I attended the Ed-TecGOOGLE LOGOh Summit last year, where I won a Chromebook and was pretty excited about the potential of bringing some of the ideas into my classroom and rehearsals.  There really aren’t a lot of helpful tips out there for GOOGLE and the Choral Director.  I am working hard to change that and in the process, I have discovered the use of GOOGLE CLASSROOM and would like to share my findings.

My A Cappella Choir was given a writing assignment during our September pre-school retreat to interview everyone in the choir and write “fun facts” about them.  I turned this into an assignment that they needed to submit in GOOGLE CLASSROOM.  I appreciated the humorous writing style of many of them and really loved the fact that I felt as though I was having an independent conversation with my responses to each of them.  We have covered the SI’s, Tenors and Basses and I think we are going to share our “fun facts” about the SII’s and Altos in skits in rehearsal.  The group cohesion from this assignment has been priceless.

My Chorale class (9th and 10th grade girls) was given a solfege video assignment from the reproducible Masterworks Press STEPS TO HARMONY Series.  The exercises are quite simple and run three lines at a time.    http://www.masterworkspress.com/files/steps_to_harmony.pdf    We use the booklet as a warm-up for sight-reading.  As I gazed around the room recently, I noticed a few “mumblers”.  Giving fair warning that my expectation was that everyone was working to their potential on singing the syllables, I finally gave them an assignment because, after all, students are so often only motivated by a grade.  Because they all have cameras on their cell phones, I gave them one week to turn in the assignment and gave their groups of three the chance to sign up for a 20 minute block of time in class in the event they found it difficult to get together in their groups outside of class.  I am finding the videos quite revealing and again, I am able to coach each of them individually as I grade their rubric through GOOGLE CLASSROOM.

My Concert Choir (Grades 9-12 guys, grades 11-12 girls) have been working on key signatures and scales.  Thinking this was a review for most of them, I was surprised to learn that whatever most of them have learned has not been retained.  So, again, GOOGLE CLASSROOM to the rescue!  They have a www.musictheory.net  Key Signature assignment where they will identify 30 key signatures in 10 minutes and then link their “report” in GOOGLE CLASSROOM to turn in.  I like discovering more and more ways that I can assess my singers in as simple and paperless a way as possible.

My Music Theory class has just started non-harmonic (non-chord) tones.  I placed a short example on the board to show them how we were about to transition from successions of static four-part chords to the more interesting melodic writing created by the addition of NHT’s.  I found a YouTube clip which described the analysis of Chorale 167 step-by-step (albeit with 2 mistakes) as well as an interesting Bach blog which was a good way to explain why Bach and his Chorales are the foundation of basic Music Theory.  I felt like a (geeky) rock star!

As I continue to discover more ways to use GOOGLE in my classroom, I will be happy to share.

Thanks for Reading!

Barbara

March 19, 2016

I haven’t written in a while.  I spent the entirety of last year documenting all that I do/did to create the Ridge High School Choral Program in this blog.  I attached lesson plans and worksheets.  You want it – take it.  It was an answer to a promise I made to my husband, Rick and my friend Todd who felt that I should write a book.  Who would read it?  My answer and compromise was this blog.

It was fun to do.  I have enjoyed revisiting it.  But the truth is, with the exception of different kids and repertoire, it is the same format I have used for years and will continue to use for years.  It works.  It’s effective.  It creates a positive learning environment and has a long-lasting effect on students which brings me to today’s thoughts.

I enjoy contributing to my FaceBook page as it is the only social media I explore.  I use the page to make people aware of the activities I have going on at Ridge, to share moments of success and pride. I like to post pictures of travel and my Grand-Nieces.   I enjoy reading about my friends and family as they share their day-to-day joys and sorrows.

I am blogging today because I have been pondering the idea of luck and gratitude vs. hard work and life experience.  As defined by Webster’s dictionary; LUCK means the things that happen to a person because of chance: the accidental way things happen without being planned; success in doing or getting something.

After the last few choral events I have conducted at Ridge, I found myself posting that I felt lucky to have shared said experiences with my singers and their audience.  I read the comments of colleagues with a similar number of years experience who are saying similar things.  So, I find myself wondering about hard work and life experiences by its very definition vs. the idea of luck.

Lately, as I’ve mentioned, my FB colleagues with years of teaching experience seem to be posting about feeling lucky and blessed.  Are they lucky or are they feeling the give-back from the investment they’ve made, day-in and day-out, in every kid and every lesson and every note which is not “luck” but the fruits and rewards of their labor?   I know after 35 years in the classroom (which is incomprehensible and a whole ‘nother blog!), while it feels lucky, it really is/was:

  • the consistency of my teaching style
  • the patience and understanding to be able to separate the love I have for the kid from their not-so-pleasant behavior
  • the determination on my part to see a project to fruition, and
  • to tap into the experience of knowing that for the most part, it’s all “small stuff”.

I watch the FB posts of the frustrations of the middle years teachers and remember all too well feeling that I was always right (not) and that if I screamed and shouted, someone might actually listen (they rarely did).  I watch the posts of the fresh-outs and am so very glad I never have to experience the beginning again.

There is something to be said for those of us who have hunkered down and invested our entire lives to a single program.  My memory is not always kind to me so I struggle with the concept of having spent nearly 36 years in the same place – watching so many come and go – seeing the population explode – and finally, after six renovations, having a beautiful teaching space in which to spend my days.  Am I lucky or did the investment pay off?

My experienced colleagues have a method of success, a pattern they know as tried and true for creating a finished product that is now admired by those in their world.  They are comfortable in their skin.  They are role models by daily demonstration to the next generation of young people with whom they work.  They are unmoved by the next new educational phenomena because they have been around long enough to know it is likely another (expensive) passing phase.  They have lives away from their classrooms that are meaningful and contributory.  They can tell emotional stories of exceptional performances and stories of deep emotional loss.  They have invested in life and reaped its rewards.  Are they lucky?  Yes, because, by definition,  they’ve surely experienced success by chance and success that has not been a part of a lesson plan but was a byproduct of their experience and investment.

Bird on Cyc

This photo was a lucky shot.  It was also taken by a woman with years of experience as a professional photographer.  The perfect example of luck and experience – what a winning combination!

Thanks for reading.

Barbara

 

 

Monday November 16, 2015…The All-State Experience…

It’s Monday November 16, 2015.  It’s the day after the second NJ All-State MiAS PROGRAMxed Chorus concert.  I am about to wax nostalgic.

This year, the NJ All-State Mixed Chorus was conducted by Dr. Anthony Leach from Penn State.  I have known Tony for a number of years as we have adjudicated together and he served as a clinician for our Choralpalooza.  I had recommended him to the Choral Procedures Committee and when he was chosen, I agreed to serve as his rehearsal and concert assistant – start to finish.

In New Jersey, students audition for the All-State Chorus in April.  There are two weekends of auditions (North and South). Students audition with high, low and chromatic scales, a Solo and their voice part in a music-minus-one recording of Gibbons The Silver Swan (V1).  They also have a 4-measure tonal memory exercise to sing for pitch and rhythmic accuracy.  Approximately 325 singers are chosen for the Mixed Choir and approximately 160 add’l women are chosen to create the All-State Women’s Choir.   The first rehearsal for both choirs is held in June and add’l rehearsals are held in September and October for the Mixed Choir and in January and February for the Women’s Choir.  The Mixed Choir performs in November at the close of the NJEA Teacher’s Convention in Atlantic City and then again at NJPAC in Newark.  The Women’s Choir performs as a part of the NJMEA Convention in East Brunswick in February and their concert hall is also NJPAC in Newark.

The All-State organization is near and dear to my choral heart. Walking into what is now known as Boardwalk Hall (previously the Atlantic City Convention Center), was surprisingly emotional for me.  When I saw the empty bleachers where the choir would soon assemble to sing, I was catapulted back to my high school days because I sang in the NJ All-State Choir.  I stood on the platform upon which Tony would stand when I conducted the NJ All-State Mixed Choir in 1991.  And now I was back in the same space, many years later, serving as an assistant and reveling in all of the memories that were swirling through my head.  What a ride it’s been!

The All-State Chorus and Orchestra arrive and check-in on Wednesday afternoon, have dinner and settle into a lengthy evening rehearsal.  There are three time blocks of rehearsals on Thursday and two on Friday prior to the downbeat at 8:30p.  These are long days with a lot of hours in them!  Any of you who work with high school singers can easily imagine the challenges that are associated with the organization of a production of this magnitude which spans over two and a half days of intense rehearsal.  You can also easily imagine the challenge and frustration in the age of the cell phone which  seems to be attached to the palm of every young musician during rehearsal!  (No need to expand on that thought…)

But, when we get to the Friday morning rehearsal, I find myself all verklempt.  I could blame the emotions on fatigue combined with the 4-6 long walks we faced each day in moving from Boardwalk Hall back to the Claridge Hotel where we were staying.  But the truth is, the emotions were coming from the nostalgia of being in the same performance space that profoundly impacted me at the very same age of these young singers. As I watched their faces, I knew that indelible memories were being made with every note they sang.  Musical phrases were changing lives.  Precious and innocent young minds were being swept into the fast flowing abyss of rhythms and harmonies.  The universal language of music was speaking to each and every one of them.

I thought about the fact that when we create choral music in any way, it feels as though we manipulate time.  We create a suspended feeling where everything seems right in the world.  There are no worries and no cares; the focus is absolute on the moment-to-moment creation of brilliant sound.  It is powerful.  It is indescribable.  It overwhelms me and moves me to tears.

I then thought about these young people who now, God willing, have their whole lives in front of them.  Hopes and dreams like I had, like you had.  They have no idea what life will bring to them.  They’ll think themselves immortal and invincible as I did; maybe you did as well.  They’ll have all the answers.  They’ll know it all.  And then, when they least expect it, life will present itself in ways which will challenge all they thought they knew.  And if they are lucky, they’ll come out the other end with a real, clear understanding of the important things in life.  They’ll understand that most of it is really all small stuff.  They’ll land at the part of the journey where, like me, sitting and taking in their final pre-concert rehearsal, they’ll look back from this vantage point and realize just how very precious every moment was.  (The tears gently rolled down my cheek.)

The NJPAC concert was very different than the Atlantic City concert.  The acoustic in NJPAC is world class.  The choir is surrounded by beautiful wood panels which permit their sound to take on a depth that the cavern in Atlantic City cannot provide.  They are seated directly behind the orchestra, not off to the side, and they witnessed the mastery of their orchestral peers as they beautifully performed the Symphonic Dances of West Side Story.  They take pride in their achievements as they share their accomplishments with family and friends.  It is a classy way to end the entire experience.

Maybe you have memories of a similar musical experience?  One which may have had the same profound impact on you?


 

I took this video during the Mixed Choir rehearsal on Sunday.  This is their set closer called CLAP PRAISE by Diane White-Clayton. The video goes black shortly after it begins.  Hang in there, it’s worth the wait!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5jdh-2WkgQo

Here’s to all the folks who made the 87th NJ All-State Chorus and Orchestra concert a success.  May we continue the commitment to present 87 more.

Thanks for reading.

Barbara

Monday October 26, 2105 – CHORALPALOOZA

Today was CHORALPALOOZA 2015 at Ridge HS.  For the past 10-15 years, I have hosted a choral festival at my high school where I invite 5-6 area schools to come perform for each other and often times, for a clinician.  In the past, we have invited Patrick Gardner from Rutgers, Heather Buchanan from Montclair, Tony Leach from Penn State, Chris Thomas from Rowan University, Z. Randall Stroope from Oklahoma…to name a few.

This year we invited NICK PAGE from Boston http://nickmusic.com/  and the timing of his work with our singers could not have been better.  If you have experienced Nick as a community song leader (in the day he referred to his work as POWER SINGING), you know deeply how memorable his time can be with a room filled with singers.  He transformed our 500+ high schoolers into a beautifully resonant ensemble in minutes.  He worked his inspiration and magic through all kinds of songs and activities.  Our invited schools included Warren Hills HS, where their quarterback recently passed away suddenly after a Friday night football game…a hit to an unknown enlarged spleen was the cause of death.  Hanover Park lost two teachers and a grad over the summer.  Here at Ridge, one of my junior girls was run over by her uncle as she lay in his driveway on her cellphone staring at the stars.  He never saw her; she never heard him.  Miraculously, she is home and ambulatory with movement of both legs and toes after surgery for broken pelvis, ribs and punctured lung.  Lucky kid.  She was in school to take the PSAT last week.    Everyone experiencing various unexpected life losses/changes of which Nick was aware and incorporated those back stories into his work with the kids.  It was magical and transforming and I would highly recommend him as a clinician for your school.

I hope as month number two comes to a close you are finding many magical moments in your world.

Thanks for reading

Barbara

September 22, 2015 – Choir Elections

Every September, we run elections for three positions in Choir;

  • SECRETARY-transfers scanned attendance from the iPad and bathroom sign-outs into the grade book.
  • VICE PRESIDENT(S)-primarily responsible for the alumni connection via newsletter.
  • PRESIDENT(S)-a mini-me; leads by example, demonstrates positive morale, assists wherever needed.

We run a parliamentary election by asking for nominations, confirming that the nominee accepts the nomination and then I ask for the nomination to be seconded.  Nominees can and have declined nominations.  Any full-time member of the Concert Choir can run; the position of PRESIDENT is seniors only.

Students can then campaign in the Choir Room.  Given the space we have, (see previous post), the room becomes papered with banners and signs and sweet treats are distributed at the end of rehearsal to “encourage” votes!  Speeches are given; the voting is done via a Google form on the class iPad so the results are instantly determined and a new set of officers can then take over the Choir.

This year, the creative campaigning is off the charts…and the baking has been exceptional!  Here’s what I mean..

image image

Yes, that is a Rice Krispie treat piano, complete with Kit-Kat chocolate pedals and keys, which fed both ensemble classes and then some and the “notes” are Hershey chocolate squares!

It has been a ton of fun watching the collaboration and healthy competition between candidates!

Voting and results on Friday!

Thanks for reading!

Barbara

September 16, 2015…My Teaching Space

Here is the link to an 8 minute video of my teaching space.

Choir Room

The Choir Room was opened seven years ago and the resources I have really represent an accumulation of thirty-five years of teaching in one district as well as learning how to raise money (we collect a donation of $3 at the door of the Winter and Spring Choral Concerts, we present a Broadway CABARET, the A Cappella Choir Honors carols in December and our audiences are quite generous with their donations.) as well as using generous budget money from year to year.

I am well aware of how fortunate I am and am grateful every day!

Enjoy!

Barbara

Sunday September 6, 2015

Greetings!

As we are about to embark on the First Day of School, I thought I would begin by recapping my extraordinary summer vacation!  My husband Rick and I have adopted the motto, “Work Hard and Play Hard”, which, for us, means that we try to financially reward ourselves for the hours we spend at our respective jobs by spending quality time doing interesting things during Rick’s three-week  vacation time during the summer.

I started the summer by taking a week-long Level 1 World Music Drumming workshop in Middletown, PA.  Ever curious about this type of music-making, I was equally nervous about having never participated in an instrumental ensemble in my life!

If you are not familiar with the curriculum, there are seven ensembles in Level 1, each of which represent a combination of rhythm patterns played, predominantly on low, medium and high drums.  Add to that shakere, cowbell and gankogui and you’ve got yourself a whole bunch of fun!

By the end of the week, I was hooked!  So much so that I purchased 18 tubano drums and various add’l instruments for my choir and I plan on running  ensembles for my classes and workshops for my colleagues.  Here is a picture of my new “toys”! Tubano set

Back to the Summer Vacation.  Rick and I always feel so lucky because we have had experiences in travel and with friends that are very unique.  We’ve climbed the Eiffel Tower; we’ve slept in the Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden, (Yes, the bed is ice, the table is ice, the bar is ice, the chapel is ice, the movie theater is ice and yes….it’s cold!

Ice Hotelwe’ve taken a 12-night Baltic Cruise and spent two days exploring St. Petersburg, Russia and now we can add this summer’s adventures – a Trip to Churchill Canada on a six-night outing called “Belugas, Bears and Blooms”.  We saw beluga whales by the hundreds in the Hudson Bay;

DSCF0225 bears Bears Purple

I was about six feet away from this mama and her cubs – photographing from the back observation deck of a Tundra Buggy; we went for a dog-cart ride and, BONUS(!) saw the Northern Lights!  What a week!

And now, we’l l start another school year – #36/7 for me.  I had my A Cappella Choir retreat on Friday night and the group spent the evening doing icebreakers and bonding activities so we can all start the year on the same page.  They sang a little bit and have great potential.

I am going to attempt to create a Google webpage for school.  We currently use OnCourse, which is clunky at best.  We’ll see.

Here’s to a safe and happy start to 2015-2016!

Thanks for reading!

Barbara

Wednesday June 24, 2015

MONTHLY TO-DO LISTS June 2015

Here is the finalized list of all that went into creating the Ridge HS Choral Program this year.

I am finding the use of a punch list of this nature very helpful – not only in assuring that I maintain deadlines, but also when I am able to delegate to student officers.

If you find it valuable, please personalize it for your use.

Happy Summer!

Thanks for reading.

Barbara