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.


Happy New Year! January 24, 2015

Happy New Year – 2015!

Greetings…and a Happy New Year to all, albeit a bit late.  We are nearly out of January and I feel like I was unable to catch a breath during the last three weeks of school.  The Christmas break was a long and relaxing one with overnights spent in NYC seeing shows (The Rockettes and It’s Only a Play with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick), five movies (Wild, Unbroken, Into the Woods, A Night at the Museum and A Theory of Everything) and attending a cooking class at the Institute of Culinary Education called Road Trip America where we, as a class, prepared Shrimp and Grits, Maine Lobster Rolls, Beignets, Philly Cheese Steaks, Buffalo Chicken Wings, Hushpuppies, five-way Chili, Fish Tacos and Gooey Butter Cake. (Yes, we rolled out of that class in need of a long NYC walk!)                                 The time away did not make for a rush back to work!

But, return to work, I did.  Once back in the Choir Room, we started immediately preparing for our Concert Choir Broadway CABARET which is created, produced and performed by my 93-voice SATB Concert Choir during period 8.  The format of the all-student production is two acts – the opener and closer of each act involves everyone in the class (All Cast).  Students have chosen “guy” numbers and “girl” numbers (two each) and the remainder of the show is solos and small group numbers that were auditioned for class choice with rubric scoring (Open Call).  I do not choose anything.  I only monitor and sometimes veto choices.  (“No, you CAN NOT do the Cell Block Tango from Chicago!”)  Students are permitted to audition with one solo and one other number.  The music was due in to our accompanist during the second week of December and we rehearsed with each of the Open Call numbers on Monday January 5th – after school from 2:30 – 8:30p  (jumping right back in!!!).

During the entire second week of January we ran Open Call auditions in class.  We get through nine songs in a class period.  Students are asked (not required) to vote using the nine-column rubric below:

                                                                 Please score using whole numbers only.  No .5’s!
Pitch Breathing Dynamics Diction Style/Character Tone Quality Comfort on Stage Costuming Evidence of
Intonation Phrasing Volume Clarity Personality Vowels Stage Presence Preparation
Projection Poise/Confidence

We use the same number system as All-State scoring; 1-9.  If a student is performing, they must give me a 1-3 sentence description of their selection so that everyone in the class will understand the context of their song in the show or movie.  I put that info under their name, show/movie and song title on the rubric.  I create wireless lapel MIC assignments for them and our Sound guy.  Auditions are held in the PAC.  I averaged between 54-59 students voting every day.

I take the scores sheets from each day and enter them into an EXCEL spreadsheet for averaging.  At the close of the fifth day, I sort all the scores low to high and announce the top 21 scores as those chosen to appear in the actual performance.  Those who did not make the cut are then given priority in the smaller solos we have in the All Cast, Guys and Girls numbers.  The final audition for the class is the coveted CABARET solo – open to any girl in the class and programmed just before the Curtain Calls.  The diversity of song choices this year is great!  Once I have created the program I will attach it to a future blog.

Now that we are back in the Choir Room, we are learning the music for the all class numbers.  (I am also teaching this music in Choir Sectionals – excusing those students in Sectionals who are not in the Period 8 class).  Again, with suggestions shared by the students and through an on-line Google Doc multiple choice in-class vote, we will open Act One with WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER and close Act One with YOU CAN’T STOP THE BEAT.  We will  open Act Two with FOR GOOD and close with THERE’S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS which is also our All Cast Curtain Call.  The guy’s numbers are GREASED LIGHTNING and OFFICER KRUPKE (which we do every year).  The girl’s numbers are MAMA, I’M A BIG GIRL NOW and BELLA’S FINALS (with a few word changes).  Student Choreography will begin in class on Monday.

The set for CABARET is twenty-five 4×8 decks in three heights (8”, 16” and 24”).  They are set five-in-a-row and I have ten 4x8x24, ten 4x8x16 and five 4x8x8.  This all fits in my Choir Room so we are practicing on the decks right from the start.

CABARET has previously been scheduled for the Thursday before Memorial Day as we have a professional day that Friday and Memorial Day Monday off.  We previously learned most of the Spring Concert rep from January to mid-March when we would hold Open Call auditions and then run CABARET stuff in class until the end of May; bringing back the Spring rep immediately after for the Spring Concert on the second Tuesday of June.

Well, looking at the PARCC testing schedule at our high school changed that.  We will begin PARCC testing on March 16 with eight consecutive delayed opening days for testing – leaving us to teach in 21-25 minute time blocks per period.  Can’t create a choreographed show with a schedule like that.  Initially, I just thought I would bag the whole CABARET project, (IT’S A LOT OF WORK!!!) but my Section Leaders and Officers became admirably pro-active in choosing dates and recommending solutions – the best of which was to schedule it before PARCC testing began and to choose more familiar all-cast songs for quick learning and memorization.

So, in addition to finishing marking period two on Wednesday this week and starting marking period 3 on Thursday (are you kidding me?), we are learning CABARET music in Concert Choir; my Chorale girls are filming five-minute commercial/recruiting videos to share with the eighth graders who will come to our Monday night rehearsal on the 26th; the A Cappella Choir has started Spring Competition rep and are also learning all of the Carmina Burana choruses to perform with the NJ Festival Orchestra at the end of May.  I just ordered the GUYS NITE OUT music, which is a recruiting program, now in its seventh year, which is accompanied by an outstanding elementary school choral director in our district who loves reconnecting with her kids in high school after having sent them off to the middle school from 5th grade.  We invite guys in grades 6-12, Dads, Grads and Grand-Dads, Uncles, Cousins, Neighbors…and over the past few years, we have averaged 65 guys on-stage for the Spring Concert!  There are five Monday night rehearsals which begin after Spring Break from 6-6:45p (right before my Monday night A Cappella rehearsal time).  I put the rep on-line with PDF’s and learning tracks so they can come ready to sing for the first rehearsal and my A Cappella guys learn the GNO music well in advance of the first rehearsal so there is a core of guys who already know the music for the first rehearsal.  It is great fun and it has produced the forty-three guys I currently have singing in the program!  (Thirty-eight who are in class every day!)

So, on this snowy Saturday, I still need to enter marking period 2 grades, finish a few Sibelius charts for my Men’s choir and choose some optional rep for eight singers who want to continue singing Madrigal music in the Spring.  Much like your world, there is always something left to do!

Hope your New Year is off to a strong start.

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!


Friday October 10, 2014

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

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

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

I gave my ensembles a portfolio assignment this week.

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

A colleague in the science department has invited the faculty to join a website called Educanon

https://www.educanon.com/  Apparently, it is an interactive video site where you can record your lessons and ask your students for responses which are somehow recorded for the purpose of grading. When I learn a bit more about it, I’ll share. Anyone use it in the choral world?

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

Have a great weekend!


September 23, 2014

It’s a quiet Tuesday here at Ridge. Here’s what’s has happened this week…

  • I have distributed school-owned Performance Apparel to my auditioned A Cappella Choir (black gowns, tuxes, cummerbunds, bow ties, suspenders and pocket squares – red! Guys are responsible for purchasing a tux shirt. Girls wear black knee-hi’s and black shoes).
  • We have Back-to-School Night (one of two) tonight. My hand-outs are ready.
  • I have placed an order for the Male and Female Voicings of Carmina Burana as the A Cappella Choir has agreed to join forces with the Westfield Symphony to perform it in May (additional choirs have also been invited).
  • I am almost ready to post the monthly Birthday lists. (I have a Happy Birthday poster on the inside of the classroom door and I post a list of student birthdays by month). I used to distribute Happy Birthday pencils with lollipops but when I found a few of them on the floor after class, I got the hint.
  • I have completed my Student Database from the Day One Info Form. When the kids submit to my Google Doc via the tinyurl, it makes the process quite simple.
  • I have finished and submitted my Emergency Lesson plans for the Main Office.
  • Choir t-shirts have been ordered for all the new additions to the program.
  • Our Choir Festival (Choralpalooza) is scheduled (October 21st). Five area schools are invited. Clinician has been chosen and accepted (Chris Thomas from Rowan University). Afternoon all-sing selections have been chosen (Philip Phillips’ Home – all the guys from every school will sing with guitars a-strummin’ and Wilhousky’s Battle Hymn as the closer for the day.) The morning will be filled with every school getting a 25-minute time block to perform no more than two pieces and then receive an on-stage clinic and written comments from the other Directors in the room. Lunch for the Director’s is pre-ordered from the local deli and is on Ridge. All kids bring a brown bag lunch and Ridge kids bring in one dozen cookies, cupcakes or brownies for the lunchtime dessert bar – 40 feet of sugar…3/$.25!

Hope your week is going well.


The end of Marking Period Four…

I began this blog to chronicle and share the various activities and lessons I have used in my high school choral classroom.

Today was the last day of my thirty-fourth year of teaching.  It was a rough year in New Jersey between the weather causing delayed openings and snow days in excess of our allotment and testing and the new mandates for additional paperwork looking to justify and measure success in our classes.

My high school moved away from a mid-term and final schedule to a quarterly schedule.  Four times a year, the bell schedule was changed for five consecutive days, running two periods per day for 62 minutes so teachers could administer quarterlies.  In choir-land, for marking periods one and two, they needed to be pencil to paper.  (Refer to my April 18, 2014 post which is an article I published in November 2013 about the quarterlies).  I was not a fan.

For marking period 3, quarterlies were cancelled.  So were three days of Spring Break.

For this last marking period I was permitted to “show a video” and have a “spirited” discussion as my quarterly.   Because I do like to share things that I think are meaningful with my classes, I went on a search-and-find mission via YouTube and TedTalks.

These are the video clips I played, in order, for my ensemble classes.  Much to my surprise, there really WAS “spirited” discussion after watching each of them, especially the second clip! 

I changed the pace and lightened the load with the Bobby McFerrin clip (#3), followed by a demonstration of Vocal Percussion by Andy Frost of the British “Man-Band” called The Magnets.  Founder Nic Doodson was a past Choir President in my program and I have seen Andy in action and thought the kids would enjoy it.

I finished with the TedTalk by Eric Whitacre (#5) where he describes his journey into choral music and eventually to the creation of his virtual choirs.

This quarterly was a huge success!!  The kids actually wanted to continue the discussion the next day!  I was encouraged by their responses…it gave me a renewed faith that we have not completely squelched their ability to think and respond beyond the four corners of a marking period assessment.

The video links are listed, in order below.



TEDxDesMoines – Clare Barcus – Quit Trying and Triumph



Why taking choir kept me from being a Valedictorian: Austin Channell at TEDxColumbus



Bobby McFerrin: Watch me play … the audience!



The Magnets Drum Solo – Andy Frost



Eric Whitacre: A virtual choir 2,000 voices strong

Choir Retreat

At the start of the 2013-2014 School year, I arranged to host a retreat for my select choir – something colleagues had spoken favorably about but something I had never tried. I have developed a strong relationship with the area Senior Center and asked if we could use their meeting space, with kitchen attached, for our retreat. Generously and without cost to us, they agreed.
The retreat was to run on a Friday night from 6-11p, with section leaders arriving at 5p to help set-up.
This was not to be a rehearsal but an evening of team-building and ice-breakers, activities I will describe in a future post.
As my year is now almost to a close, I have asked my Section Leaders to reflect on the year, which has been wonderfully musical, and even more rewarding in the way the entire department co-existed. The Section Leaders gave all the credit to the fall retreat.
I just emailed the Senior Center to secure a date for September.

A Choral Director and an iPad go into a Bar… (November 2013)

QR codeWell, not really. A Choral Director and an iPad go into the App Store and purchase ATTENDANCE2, recommended by Dr. Christopher Russell in his e-book iPads in Music Education. Once mastered, this app will potentially maximize the first few minutes of your large ensemble rehearsals.

At the start of each school year, I ask my singers to complete an information sheet in two ways. The first is through a tinyurl into a Google Doc database. I gather a long list of information which includes names and addresses, cell phone numbers, emails, birthdays, and the same for their parents/step-parents/guardians. The Google Doc database is then exported into Excel. The second way I gather information is via hard copy of the same information with the addition of questions of interest…What did you do over the summer? Do you study privately? What are your choral/vocal goals for the year?

This year I created a CSV file from that Excel database, placed the file in my DropBox account and imported the information into the ATTENDANCE2 app for my iPad. Created by David M. Reed, a computer science professor at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, ATTENDANCE2 is the new and improved update to ATTENDANCE, the app which was designed and intended for teachers to take and keep classroom attendance records.  ATTENDANCE2 now contains additional features which include:

  • The ability to create up to five fields for custom information about your students.
  • The ability to sort students by first name, last name, an identifier (I used their folder number), or any other the custom fields you’ve created for them.
  • The ability to customize the attendance status for each student; more than the standard “present, absent, excused, and late.” You can also add a secondary status option, to mark student participation, if they’ve turned in their homework, or anything else you can imagine tracking.
  • The ability to send to Dropbox.
  • The ability to email students their individualized attendance reports.
  • The ability to generate a QR code for every student in every class.

I generated a separate QR code for each student in each ensemble using their folder number as an identifier. I printed the codes on card stock, covered them with clear packing tape and taped them into their respective choir folders.

My singers now know they have to “scan in” for their attendance at the start of every rehearsal. Students who come into class late from lunch do the same. The entries are all time-stamped so there is no longer any discussion around arrival time or tardiness to class. My Choir Secretary enters the absences into my grade book where I can then check them against the school report that is emailed at the end of every school day.

Students are permitted to take a picture of their QR code and use their cell phone to scan in. We find the app recognizes the code just as quickly from a photo on their cell phone as from the cardstock original taped in their folder.

For $4.99, ATTENDANCE2 is a fantastic investment promoting a solid use of technology in the classroom!   My students and I just love it!