Interconnected…

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.

Barbara

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.

Barbara

Relationships

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.

Relationships.

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.

Relationships.

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.
Relationships.
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.
Relationships.
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.
Barbara
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!
Enjoy!

                            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!

color color paper colored paper colorful
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.

VALUE CIRCLES

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.

Barbara

Another sunrise…

sunrise-1

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.

Barbara

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

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