It happened twice yesterday.
Back story: My mother’s mother, Mee-Mom, loved to play games with me when I was around kindergarten age. They weren’t games like Candyland or Monopoly; she would play phonics games (do they even teach phonics anymore?) and memory games. The phonics games came in rectangular cardboard boxes with spools of paper inside so that you could roll the spool to see a question and when you were ready to answer it, another roll of the spool would reveal the answer. I loved this!
The memory games were just as fun…you’ve been asked to go to the supermarket to buy hamburger, eggs and corn flakes. Then Mee-Mom would tell me that I needed to imagine that my ENTIRE REFRIDGERATOR was FILLED WITH EGGS or the ENTIRE LIVING ROOM had three feet of CORN FLAKES in it (can you hear the crunch as you walk?) or that the STOVE had ONE GIANT HAMBURGER that covered all four burners on it… For me, it was the discovery or creation of my photographic memory!
Skipping ahead: When I was in third grade, I knew I wanted to be a teacher. Mrs. Gorman would ask my friend Sherry and I to watch the classroom next door while that teacher went for coffee. It was an enormous responsibility (or so I thought). I loved that feeling, even at that age.
Skip one more time: When I was in seventh grade I was asked to participate in the Middlesex County Intermediate Chorus. I was the only one from my school who was asked. Because I was already tall and sang Soprano II, I was placed on the top center of the choral risers. The song was The Ash Grove. To this minute, I have vivid memories of the melodies and harmonies swirling all around me (Think Disney’s Fantasia!) and I was hooked! A music teacher I would be!
So, now let’s talk about what happened twice yesterday…
Ridge High School hosted five area high schools (Newark Academy, Viraj Lal, Director; Somerville High School, Karen Gorzynski, Director; Hanover Park High School, Helen Britez, Director; New Providence High School, Susan Kirkland, Director and Warren Hills High School, Lauren Voight, Director) in an annual choral festival now affectionately called CHORALPALOOZA! The purpose of the day is to give our programs an early pre-caroling season goal in a public performance(and to have lunch together!) and the premise of the day is to get together and share our work with one another and a clinician of our choice. Our clinician was Dr. Christopher Thomas from Rowan University…what a treasure!!!!
In my opening remarks, after housekeeping rules and group introductions, I shared three things with the 450+ singers in the PAC.
- CELL PHONES – While some of us, as Directors, are trying to understand and accept the true obsession this generation has with their cell phones, we asked that the day be a “Cell Phone Free Day”. My words…” All of the Directors are on board as we ask that you put your phones away while you are here in the PAC. If we see a screen, regardless of whose student it is, we will take the phone away. Please do not make this a contest or a game. We are asking for your complete cooperation here. Is there anyone in the room that does not understand what I just said?” (crickets…crickets…)
- FIELD TRIPS – Field trips are becoming a privilege for your generation. More and more schools are denying field trip requests because they fear the loss of instructional time which, of course, is preparing you to be tested. Yours will be the tested generation and for this we are sorry because we, as artists, know that this day is filled with valuable instruction!…Lessons that are not ever taught in other classrooms! So, please recognize the privilege it is for all of us to be here today.
- And lastly, CHOIR IS OUR PASSION – The Directors that are here today are all buddies…our friendships run deep and our passion for bringing choral music into your lives knows no bounds. We want you all to have a terrific day sharing your talents and skills and recognizing the great gifts we share through the choral art.
Then I introduced Chris Thomas.
I had not yet met Chris Thomas. When we organize CHORALPALOOZA, we toss around ideas and clinicians that we think will bring a new perspective to the event. Chris’ name came up a couple of times and he was delighted to join us for the day!
Honest, candid, quick on his feet, funny, accessible, great with the kids on stage, great with the kids in their seats. A true master teacher. What a treasure to the Choral World of New Jersey! How lucky we were to share him with our singers!
The day went off without a hitch. The kids were brilliantly behaved and wonderfully responsive. Each group sang beautifully. Chris’ on-stage work was warm and friendly and positively received. The forty feet of baked goods sold during lunch in the choir room was a repeated success. My Section Leaders and Officers were exceptionally responsible and helpful…from striking and setting up risers the night before, to greeting each school as they arrived, to sweeping the lobby of all cake and cookie crumbs immediately after lunch. The remainder of my singers helped reorganize the choir room, collected the writing assignments for the day and walked every aisle in the PAC picking up any lost-and-found or remaining debris.
The afternoon sectionals and final performance of HOME (guys only) and THE BATTLE HYMN OF THE REPUBLIC were quite moving for all of us. Five guitarists, one pianist and a cajon (box drum) player represented all schools. 120+ guys on stage singing together was awesome. The BATTLE HYMN was just the right closer for the day. By all accounts, a success!
So, what happened twice that day?
My A Cappella Choir is currently singing an arrangement of IN DULCI JUBILO by Matthew Culloton, which I could rehearse all day. They are singing it with superb musicality and nuance. When I got to the last two bars of their performance, I got that lump in my throat – take your breath away feeling that I have yet to be able to put into words. What happens when you realize that you are creating and are involved in that Fantasia-like swirling of notes with your singers? The feeling that brought you to the profession in the first place? For me, speaking becomes impossible and tears stream.
The second time it happened was after all the schools had gone for the day. It was just me and my entire department in the PAC. I have taken to use the clapping pattern… ♩♩♫ ♩ as a call and response to bring them to order. (Works every time). When the room was quiet and I went to address them, I couldn’t speak for the lump in my throat! After a few deep breaths, I was able to tell them how extraordinarily proud I was of them; the way they performed, their behavior, their etiquette…everything they contributed to the day to make it the success it was. Tears streaming. What a day.
I hope I never lose the experience of the feelings that “happened twice that day” .
Thanks for taking this journey with me.