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!



Wednesday June 24, 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.


Saturday June 6, 2015

My Spring Concert is Tuesday June 9th. I am so excited about this concert because all of the repertoire seems to fit each group like a well-tailored suit. We’ve had the music concert ready for a while now…it will be great to share it with family and friends. Come and join us if you’re in the neighborhood!

Spring 2015-JPEGThis is my concert flier. I’ve submitted a short article advertising the concert for the local paper which was printed on Thursday. This flier was published in our “Friday Folder” which has all-district distribution. This flier was placed in the PTO newsletter. This flier and a PDF of the same was emailed to every singer in the department to use as their FaceBook status, to Instagram; to get the word out to family and friends that they are singing on Tuesday night.

That’s a lot of work.

I have already rented my helium tank with which I will inflate 41 Green Mylar Graduation balloons for my seniors. I will tape the balloons to the railings of my choral risers for the night of the concert. I have collected one dollar from each of my grade 9/10 Chorale girls which will help defray the cost of the red carnations each senior will wear on their white shirt in the concert. I have ordered 25 long stemmed red-roses in ribboned presentation tubes/boxes which will be given to the 25 seniors as a 4-year Rose to celebrate and acknowledge their choice in placing Choir in their schedule for eight consecutive semesters.

These are the long-standing traditions of the Ridge High School Spring Choral program.

Today I am working on the repertoire for my A Cappella Choir for December. I will audition new members on Thursday the 11th. I hire three colleagues to serve as adjudicators and we use the same material as was learned and used daily as a warm-up in both ensembles for the NJ All-State Chorus auditions in April, including Tonal Memory.  This takes me out of the loop of judging and permits me to remain completely impartial to the selection process.

The list of acceptances will be posted on Friday the 12th.   I will hold their first rehearsal on Monday June 15th at 7p at which time they will receive their music for the December caroling season (11 SATB, 2 SSA, 2 TTBB) and a part CD (I still distribute an actual CD because it is easier for them to download their specific parts from that CD than to have them go to DropBox for their music, which, because there is less repertoire, I do in the Spring) from which they will learn/practice over the summer. (Whew! – Long sentence!)  Section Leaders will run sectionals in August. The expectation is that they will have thoroughly learned this music in summer study for the first rehearsal in September. I have been doing this for many, many years and while it is time consuming on this end, it is hugely rewarding in the fall.

I have changed up the Sibelius process just a bit thanks to the FABULOUS suggestion of Dr. Christopher Russell.

Chris has been a huge help and resource for the last two years with tech and iPad issues and I finally had an opportunity on Friday to chat with him! He has suggested and I have invested in the app called NotateMe.  Notate Me has an in-app purchase called PhotoScore which allows you to take a picture of a score (iPhone 5 or later as you need the resolution provided by ios8), email it as an XML file and open in directly in Sibelius 7.5 – GENIUS!!!! I had previously scanned my enlarged and darkened photocopies with my HP All-in-One or asked my secretary friend to scan the same and send them to me as PDF files for importing but this new investment has been incredible to work with. It’s by no means perfect, but the scores come into Sibelius needing much less clean-up. I have put in about 4 hours today and am finished with five scores…unprecedented success in this process for me. I use these Sibelius recordings as learning tracks for the A Cappella Choir as well as their testing tracks (think Music-minus-One) in the fall. This technology is pretty nifty and for me, has been worth every penny I paid for it!

Okay, enough blogging…gotta’ get back to my input.

Here’s to the end of another school year!

One more Friday!

Thanks for reading…


Choral Collaboration – Wednesday April 29, 2015

I have a very fortunate teaching situation. I have Choir Sectionals every day of the week during lunch periods/study halls. Almost every member of my SATB Concert Choir (guys grades 9-12 and 11th & 12th grade girls) takes two 25-minute sectionals a week and my grade 9-10 SSAA Chorale meets for Sectionals on Wednesdays. With the exception of approx. 20 singers in both ensembles, everyone is also in a five-day ensemble class.

Couple this with an unusual ability to pace quickly, my choirs are pretty ready for their June 9th concert. But it is the end of April. What to do with another 6 weeks other than introduce new literature (which I am currently doing)?

My Chorale class will learn to transpose. We have been working with identifying the notes on a keyboard and have done worksheets on half and whole steps. I will introduce the intervals of major and minor seconds and thirds as well as octave markings (8va and 8vb) and then I will have them transpose the Star Spangled Banner from C major down to Ab major. My Chorale class is a strong group of young singers and they are going to be fierce as they move into their sophomore and junior years. I want them to have as many marketable tools as singers as I can give them.

My Concert Choir has been divided into 18 groups of 5 (or 6) and the groups are working on videoing their responses to the following:


  1. Why did you join choir?
  2. How has choir/Mrs. Retzko helped build your confidence as a musician?
  3. How does Mrs. Retzko foster a sense of community within the choir?
  4. Briefly complete this statement: “A musician should be able to____________________
  5. How has being in choir contributed to your overall high school experience? Studies say the best students are in music/the arts.


  1. What will be your biggest “take away” from choir? (i.e. a skill, a memorable experience / be succinct in your response)
  2. What skills have you learned in choir and how do you see yourself applying these skills later in life?

These questions came from a new teacher in a neighboring town who came to observe our program. He asked my singers a few of these questions at the end of their respective rehearsals but time did not permit a full exploration of answers. I was intrigued by the students who did choose to respond. Hence, I created this project around those questions.

Each group has been asked to determine a medium by which they will present their 10-12 minute video. So far, they are proposing:

  1. A Red Carpet Interview
  2. The Ellen Show
  3. Therapy Group Session – Choirholics Anonymous
  4. A Gameshow
  5. A skit where we pretend to be on a bus heading to our high school reunion
  6. CSI – Choir
  7. A scavenger hunt
  8. An interview/parody

They have also been asked to provide written responses to the following:


(12 Point Font 1.15 spacing – fully, detailed paragraphs, not bulleted answers)

  1. Complete the sentence…I didn’t expect to____________________from choir.
  2. State your current grade. How could you have made each year in choir better?
  3. Seniors/Juniors…What advice would you have given your first-year-choir-member-self?
  4. Sophomores/Freshman… What advice would you give the incoming class of ninth graders?
  5. What would you want RETZ to know that she didn’t know? I wish my teacher knew _______

They have a timeline for completion and I have decided to REWARD THEM on their rubric by giving them an “A” if the written responses were turned in well in advance of the May 1st deadline.” They will get a “B” for turning it in on time and a “C” once it becomes a day late.

I am THRILLED with the response to this! FOUR DAYS EARLY, I received dozens of papers…more appeared this morning! Rather than punish them by dropping grades, they are buying into the idea of being proactive and not procrastinating! (At least some of them are!) They are also asking me to “tell my other teachers about this”. So, I’m telling you!

And, taken from an article that circled on FaceBook, their responses to the fifth question have been poignant and heartfelt.

Were there only time to really converse with every kid that walks into my room. I understand that my job title is Choral Director and not ever Counselor or Therapist or Friend. They pay me to teach kids to sing. But, it is so critical to tapping into the emotions of each of them to generate the best experience we can in rehearsal. Sometimes a fine line, but always worth the investment.

So, if you need an end of the year activity, here’s one that is working for me.

I created my rubrics using


Thanks for reading.


January 31, 2015…A very valuable resource – no matter where you are on the Choral Education journey..

When I served on the Board of Directors for NJ-ACDA, I was a contributor to a Choral Directors Handbook which can be found on the NJ-ACDA website.

Regardless of where you are on your teaching journey, it may be worth a few minutes to breeze through it and read the many contributions that brought the final compilation to life.  Always a good idea to review the basics…

Thanks for reading.


Monday December 1, 2014


My husband is my hero.

After a Thanksgiving weekend spent in Germany celebrating the half century birthday of a dear friend, I woke up this morning wondering what I was going to do with my period 9 Chorale girls.  They are so ready for our concert…beautifully ready…and I did not want to continue to sing their program over and over again for the next 12 days.

What to do…what to do…

I needed an idea for an in-class week long project.  I know!  We’ll create skits in each section…but what shall the topic be?  Something relevant would be the holidays or Christmas but I knew it wouldn’t necessarily be representative of the diversity in the class.

I walked into the kitchen to prepare my lunch and shared what I had so far with my husband, Rick.  In a New York minute he said, “Frozen”…the title should be “Frozen:_____________________”!


All I needed was the idea and I ran with it.

I have attached the instructions I distributed to the class and THEY LOVED IT!  I have a split section of SI’s, SII’s and a split in the alto section so there are 5 groups.  So far their titles are

FROZEN: The journey Home

FROZEN: Princesses with Icy Hearts

FROZEN: Thawed

FROZEN: Let’s Break the Ice

FROZEN: I’m still…still…STILL…waiting!

And of course, the moral of each story…LET IT GO!

This will be such a fun week in class…watching them create for their presentations on Friday.  They are also charged with creating three rubric statements for grading.

Feel free to use it if you’d like!

Let the creativity begin!

Have a great week!


Getting to Know You…Thursday November 13, 2014

Today’s Concert Choir Activity was a “bonding” activity. We are quite ahead of schedule for our December concert and I have challenged my Officers and Section Leaders to get to know all the singers in the class. Minimally, they need to know their names – we are 92 strong. They suggested we run a “get-to-know-you” activity. I do these types of activities early in the year with the Chorale girls and we did them with the A Cappella Choir at their retreat in September.

Today, I was actually going to run an activity I’ve done before where I divide the class into four choirs and where we run our rep by the number I signal to the class. (Number 1 = Choir 1 and they sing until I change numbers).   This lets me break up the rehearsal routine and lets me hear the singers in smaller sections, without their Section Leader influencing them.

Today, we added that “get-to-know-you” idea where the Section Leaders and Officers created questions for which they would facilitate responses in their “choirs”.

Concert Choir Bonding Questions

  1. Do you speak any languages (other than English) fluently? Are there any that you would love to be able to speak?
  2. How many siblings do you have?
    1. Who has the most?
  3. Favorite Concert Choir song? Favorite song (ever, or right now)? Favorite artist?
  4. What is your favorite musical? Do you plan on doing anything in Cabaret??
  5. Other than choir, what are your interests and hobbies?
  6. What is your favorite food? What is your favorite ice-cream flavor?
  7. What is your middle name?
    1. If you don’t have one, what would you want it to be?
  8. What is your favorite class at school? What is your least favorite? What class do you wish we had at school?
  9. In how many places have you lived? Where would you like to live in the future? Dream location?
  10. What is your favorite TV show genre? Your favorite TV show?
  11. What is your favorite article of clothing?
  12. Do you play any sports, if so what is your favorite to play? What is your favorite sport to watch?
  13. What is your biggest pet peeve?

I chose two facilitators per group – they asked the questions and recorded the responses and then they presented their group to the class. What fun! What interesting things we learned about each other! We were able to get through two of the four groups today. We will finish the other two tomorrow and then the groups will have a little bit of a sing-off…pitting each choir against the other three.

Happy almost Friday!


Wednesday November 12, 2014

So today we said goodbye to marking period one and hello to marking period 2. Grades are now turned in for the eighteen class sections I have. Thoughts are now turning to polishing repertoire for all ensembles for December performances. Kids are still recruiting their friends into choir and I am taking every one of them.  I spend spare minutes during the day recording voice parts on cellphones so these newbies can catch up with the friends who recruited them.

I’ve announced to my Concert Choir that we WILL have a CABARET 2015…not in May, but in March…right after our Spring Musical and just before PARCC testing begins. Trying to create or establish any classroom momentum from March 16th to graduation will be a huge challenge. We will have eight delayed openings from March 16-25th. (Testing in Grades 9 and 10 English/language arts and All students in Algebra I or Algebra II;  Grade 11 English/language arts or all students in Geometry)

None of us are certain what the schedule will look like for teaching. When we run a delay for testing, the students who are being tested come to school at 7:35a and the rest of the school arrives for 10:35a…then we run 21-22 minutes periods 1 through 9 until 2:25p.

School will be closed on April 3rd for Good Friday. Our Spring Break, weather permitting, is April 13-17. PARCC testing will resume on April 21-27th with five delayed openings. (Grades 9 and 10 English/language arts; All students in Algebra I or Algebra II; Grade 11 English/language arts or all students in Geometry)

May 4-15 are AP exams. May 15th is the Senior Prom. Bio testing will give us two add’l delayed openings on May 26 & 27th. Physics Day, which wipes out all physics classes (ten busses??) to test the velocity of roller coasters at Great Adventure, is June 2nd. The Spring Choral Concert is June 9th. Graduation is June 18th. It won’t come soon enough.

In the meantime, my A Cappella Choir Honors has submitted their video testing to Edmodo for marking period 2 grades. My Concert Choir now has deadlines to meet in choosing all cast numbers for their March CABARET. My Chorale girls are minutes away from being performance ready so they are working on the basics I would normally start in January. After a review of the notes of the treble and bass clefs, accidentals and ledger lines (last week), their assignment today was to write out the parts they sing from two of their scores and identify the names of the notes…practical application of the notes they took last week. Everybody’s busy.

In the meantime, I cert 2have successfully completed the 40-hours of online study for the full 100-hour ESL certification!   I have met with Josue, a junior from Honduras, who has been assigned to me (by my request) for tutoring. He has limited English and he is testing my far-away and somewhat limited high school Spanish. I am enjoying the diversity of preparing for his after school tutoring session. It’s been fun!

Keep calm shirtAt the end of the school day today one of the two singers I had who participated in the All-National NAfME Honor Choir in Nashville presented me with a “thank-you” gift…(see photo). I love it!!! I think I will frame it and place it over the clock in my room for all to see…what a thoughtful gift!.

I hope you are all doing well in your corner of the world.

Thanks for reading!


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!