It’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…
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.
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….