Step One – Done! October 27, 2014


I did it!

Today I write to say that I have successfully completed the first 60 hours of my ESL Certification with the certificate to prove it! (photo above)

It was very interesting for me to be back in a classroom as a student and to interact with other students as a student, not as the teacher! Quite valuable for my approach back in my own rehearsals!

This week will bring a start in both ensemble classes to “filling in the gaps”. On Friday, I gave my grade 9-10 Chorale girls a pre-assessment on note names on treble and bass clef, ledger lines and rhythm numbers and there are extreme levels of knowledge and understanding throughout the class. When I observed the videos of my concert choir members at the keyboard trying to play starting pitches for their scales and solo assignment, I was amused (and I shouldn’t be amused by something like that!) by their inability to identify single notes on a piano.  So, today I distributed those light blue testing-type booklets to every member of the two classes and told them that they represented communication between them and me. The Concert Choir was asked to draw a two-octave keyboard in their booklets and place the letters on the keys as well as add F#, C# and G# so they can now spell an A Major Scale. Chorale reviewed the letter names on the Grand Staff and learned how they all connect through middle C. I am a maniac about musical literacy and tell them as often as I can that I can’t walk their musical journey for them…this they have to do themselves; and, I need for them to be able to “talk the talk” in choir land. It’s my job to fill in the gaps, however cavernous they may be!



It happened twice yesterday…October 21, 2014

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.


Friday October 17, 2014

Happy Friday! I have just finished entering grades for all my sectional classes; I have decorated my room for Halloween; I have my “to-do” list ready for next Tuesday’s “Choralpalooza” where, together with five area high schools, we will sing for each other, write comments for each other and listen to on-stage critiques provided by Chris Thomas of Rowan University. We will have lunch together (The whole reason for the day!) and then finish the afternoon with all the guys from each school, (which I think will number about 120-130 guys!) singing HOME by Philip Phillips, accompanied by 5 guitars, piano and box drum and all 450 singers will combine to sing Wilhousky’s BATTLE HYMN OF THE REPUBLIC to complete the day.

It’s a lot of work!

Once Choralpalooza passes, we will do a little bit of pre-assessing in my Chorale class for their SGO and get interested singers ready for the Region II auditions in December. My portfolio assignment for COncert Choir and Chorale has now been turned in and I am in the process of listening to over 160 low and high scales, Turtle Dove Solos and Silver Swans. This assignment is always so eye-opening for me. It is also a GREAT way to communicate with every singer in my ensembles – one-to-one. It takes a lot of time, but the investment, for me, is worth it.

And finally, it was a special week of alumni connections. On Tuesday night, Rick and I ate at MY MOROCCO in South Orange – just a few steps away from SOPAC, which is owned and operated by Jennifer (class of ’91) and her husband Robert.   Delicious food and a lovely evening out!   And on Thursday we met Dale (class of ’85) in NYC for dinner and opera…One of my private voice students from a number of years ago and from another area high school, Amy, was making her MET debut in The Magic Flute singing the role of the First Lady!   I was bursting with pride!   After the performance, she arranged for us to come and say a quick backstage hello and we passed Julie Taymor in the hallway! (Apparently Julie mounted this production ten years ago and hadn’t seen it in that same amount of time!   It had all the flying animals that you would expect from a Taymor production!)   While it was filled with very special events, it was a week that seemed to have more hours in it than most!

Tomorrow I will return to Rutgers for week two of my ESL intensive certification class; 9-6p on Saturday and Sunday. My lesson plan on the verb “have” is ready to go and my flashcards are in order. It’s been interesting being a student again and it’s been interesting watching the efforts of my classmates of varying ages and teaching experience.

I hope your week was a productive one.

‘Til the next time!

Thanks for reading!


Friday October 10, 2014

It’s Friday afternoon. The Dance Collective is practicing in my classroom and I am reflecting about the week gone by. My thoughts gravitate towards the niceness of my current singers.

I am a manners fanatic. Excuse me, please and thank-you goes a long way with me. I live by the credo that says you should treat others as you would like to be treated. So, I never miss an opportunity to say please or thank-you – especially to my students.

I stand outside my door at the end of class and thank them as they leave. And they say thank you right back!!! Very few, at this point, avert their eyes or look to the floor as they cross the threshold. They seem like they are happy kids. This group is quite academically conscious. They come to the choir room rather than sit in study hall to do homework. I could have fifteen kids in my room during any given lunch period and you could hear a pin drop for the quiet. It’s pretty awesome.

I gave my ensembles a portfolio assignment this week.

CC Audition AS Video Audition Assignment-2014     It’s a video assignment where they need to record all the parts of the Region II Chorus audition for a grade. Because I am able to “speak” to them through my comments on their rubric, I am then able to invite a number of them for whom Region II Chorus would never have been a thought, to audition. Last year I had 25 out of 28 singers make the choir! I am certain the larger numbers were a result of this assignment. I would love to be able to work in a private lesson setting with each of them, but time does not allow. I have found that this assignment is the next best thing.

A colleague in the science department has invited the faculty to join a website called Educanon  Apparently, it is an interactive video site where you can record your lessons and ask your students for responses which are somehow recorded for the purpose of grading. When I learn a bit more about it, I’ll share. Anyone use it in the choral world?

The next three weekends will be committed to an ESL certification intensive I am taking at Rutgers. Saturday and Sunday from 9a-6p for three weekends and then an add’l 40 hours online. Languages and working with kids whose first language is not English is interesting to me. I am looking forward to a very different course of study in the next few weeks!

Have a great weekend!


Wednesday October 1, 2014

Good Morning!

Well, we have Back-to-school Night number 2 tonight…Jealous? Our administration blames limited parking so we already saw the parents of the grade 9 & 12 kids last week and grades 10 & 11 tonight. We have 1900 kids here…do other schools with that number of students have TWO nights? I would be curious.

Anyway, today’s tidbit will be another use of technology. A short while back, I asked the men of my select choir if they all had/can find their tux shirts for future performance. If not, I will place a new order. Did I get a resounding response? (You already know the answer…one kid, out of twenty, told me he had his in his closet).

So, I JUST emailed an assignment to them…FIND your TUX SHIRT and take a picture of you HOLDING IT and email it to me…due IMMEDIATELY. (No need to put it on). It will be easier than asking them to bring them in for proof!

I also set up my video testing assignment for the A Cappella Choir. I put music minus one Sibelius tracks (i.e.-WE THREE KINGS minus Soprano) into Dropbox of the pieces for which they are responsible with an assignment sheet that will be distributed on Monday night. 1-2 pieces due every week by midnight Sunday night until the end of the marking period. They download the tracks they need for their voice part. When recording, they need to make sure the minus one recording can be clearly heard and that they can be clearly seen. They can submit to Edmodo (preferred), a YouTube account we have created for that ensemble or on a flash drive. They are asked not to erase their submission until they have rec’d a grade back from me. I have also printed a copy of their respective parts for each piece (also through Sibelius) which will be copied for the number of people in each section to use as a grading sheet. (We have students who take “Office Practicum” who do the copying for us). Once graded, these sheets are then given to the Section Leaders to review with their section at their weekly Sectional.

And today, we’ll start to think about SGO’s. Woo-Hoo!

Have a good day!