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.    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  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!


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!

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.


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!



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…


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.


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.



And THANK YOU to Chris Russell for giving me a shout out from his blog!

I am a public high school Choral Director looking for like-minded individuals with whom to chat, vent, converse, share ideas and brain-storm!  I have over 30 years experience in the high school classroom and if nothing else, would love to share tips and tricks of the trade that I have mastered along the way which are now making my job so much easier!    I would love to serve as a mentor for choral directors who are new to the field and create an environment where I can express to them the love and passion I have found in this career.  I would love to discover new uses for my iPad in the classroom and efficient ways to meet the newly-created assessment requirements in NJ!

Why blog?  I served as a member of the NJ-ACDA Board of Directors in the capacity of R & S Chairperson for High School for nearly six years.  One of our directives as a Board member was to write articles for the website, which I did.  In the six years I served as R & S chairperson, I never once had anyone ask anything about high school choral music and I have no idea if anyone read my articles…


Here I am to throw years of experience on a screen for others to read and take away anything and everything that might help make their job a bit more rewarding and put a bit more time for LIFE back into their lives!  I have found that I like to write about the things that have worked for me and I am hopeful that you will share in return.

So,  “Welcome to my Blog!”