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.


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!


September 1, 2014

Tomorrow we will start a new school year with two days of In-Service.  The kids start on Thursday. 

I have attached three documents to this post.  The first are the actual notes from which I read on the first day of school.  The second is a poem I read every year called TEN LITTLE CHOIR MEMBERS.  The third is a NEW cellphone permission form.  If you find them helpful, please use them.

I will distribute a syllabus for the two ensemble classes, an info sheet which will be completed by hand and then completed online via a Google Spreadsheet and the NEW cellphone permission form.  It seems we now have a policy which prohibits teacher/student contact via cellphone or email unless we receive written permission from parents/guardians.  We are also prohibited from contacting students, once permission is received, via personal email accounts.  All correspondence is now to be done on school email addresses.  What have we come to?

I have planned a retreat for my select A Cappella Choir for Friday night.  Section Leaders will arrive at 4:30 to help plan activities (icebreakers) and the choir will arrive at 6p and leave at 11p with a pizza delivery at 9p.  We will convene at the meeting hall of the local Senior Center who lends this room, complete with kitchen access, to us for free.  It is close to school but not AT school!

I hope you have a smooth and anxiety-free start to your school year.


cell phone use permission slip

Ten Little Choir Members

First Day of School Sept 2014

The Internet, iPhones, Ipads, Laptops and a Choral Ensemble’s Quarterly Assessment (November 2013)

Our high school has restructured its cumulative testing by removing final exams from the schedule. In place of exams, we have been asked to administer quarterly assessments.  The bell schedule for our nine-period day is disrupted for five days, every marking period, (four times a year), to create sixty-two minute assessment periods.  These assessments are not to exceed fifteen per cent of a grade and are cumulative up to the date of the assessment.  This change came about as a result of a survey that stated our students were under considerable stress as a result of having to take final exams and midterms.

While I have an extensive list of none-too-favorable opinions about this restructuring, this article will focus on the process by which I administered the marking period one quarterly to my SATB Concert Choir (100 singers) and my SSA Chorale (65 singers).

In October, each student was asked to complete a video assessment of the Region II Chorus audition material.  Students were graded using a rubric where I could add individual comments regarding personal growth and potential.  As the end-of-marking-period assessments were to be “pencil to paper”, I decided I would create an assessment of twenty-five multiple choice questions for each ensemble.  Questions would include references to the literature each ensemble was preparing for the Winter Choral Concert.

Rather than administer these assessments on actual printed paper, I decided to incorporate technology by creating a multiple choice test using Google Docs. All questions had four possible answers and all questions required a response before submitting.

Once the assessment was designed, I created a tinyurl from which each ensemble would retrieve the assessment online. I then asked both classes how many singers had devices from which they could access the internet. Approximately 85-90% of my singers had internet enabled devices.  I had already used a tinyurl during the first few days of school to gather their personal information, so I ran a mock assessment by asking them to log onto the tinyurl from the first day of school.  With the exception of a small handful with browser issues, everyone was able to access the day one Google Doc with ease.  Once the browser issues were fixed, we had 100% success with the internet access.

When the assessment day arrived, I assembled all my singers in my choir room with their internet-enabled devices.  I had hard copies of the assessment printed for those without access. The students took their choir folders to a spot in the room, logged onto the tinyurl and began their assessment.

As the students finished and submitted their work, I was able to refresh the browser on my iPad at the response site of the Google Doc to confirm their submissions. Once all assessments were completed, I ran the responses through Flubaroo which immediately provided a grade for each assessment.  From here, I could transfer grades into our Home Access Grading Center and into my grade book.  If the Google Doc is created requesting the student’s email address, Flubaroo will email results directly back to the student.

While it is unquestionably time-consuming to create a multiple choice assessment for a performance ensemble, the time spent on the front end was a solid investment, compared to the minimal amount of time it took to administer the assessment and retrieve and document the results from Flubaroo.

I’m hooked!

Choral Assessment – Listening Assignment (December 2011)

 Once a semester I record the singers in the Voorhees Choir at Rutgers University and create a listening assignment for them. They are to print my notes, listen to each recorded rehearsal track and prepare to make all of the proper changes in the rehearsals that lead to the final performance.

I also record my select high school ensemble but this semester I created a question/answer/response assignment for them. Rather then give them my notes; I turned my notes into questions. “What is wrong at m.23? How can you fix the pronunciation of the word BOUNDEN? What is the issue with the soprano entrance on page 3?” I also asked for paragraph responses “What was your overall impression of the recording? What are you working on to improve your contribution to the ensemble’s performance?”

They were graded on their responses. I was made immediately aware of the weak links in the group and was able to address their needs more directly.

I made the recordings available on our YouTube account as I recorded them on a Zoom Q3 recorder which is video/audio.

The next rehearsals were remarkably musical! Because I “tested” them on their material via this listening assignment, they invested in the concept of blend and balance, were very aware of their contribution to their section and the ensemble as a whole and were now willing to make the music come alive. It was a terrific assessment, one I will certainly use again.


The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz (October 2011)

Are you familiar with Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements?

Be impeccable with your word – Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.
Don’t take anything personally – Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.
Don’t make assumptions – Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
Always do your best – Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.

I use these as a method of class discipline in my large ensemble, Concert Choir. We have an AGREEMENT; I give the class four minutes to come into the room, detox from their last class and share the latest earth shattering news with their friends before I call the class to attention. During this time, they are to enter the room, get their Choir folder, drop their backpack and move into the center of the riser set-up. For me, it is time that becomes a bartering point. I give you a few minutes; you give me your focus for the rest of the period.
As happens with time, they begin to stray from our AGREEMENT. They congregate outside the risers, they drop backpacks and neglect to get their folders. Section Leaders and Officers try to enforce the AGREEMENT with gentle reminders.
Ultimately, I will have to reign in the behavior with the following…(addressing the class after warm-ups)…”I thought we had an AGREEMENT. I give you a few minutes at the beginning of the period where you drop your backpack, get your folder and head into the center of the room. Seems we have lost sight of the AGREEMENT. So, let me re-state the options – I start the class as the bell rings and you suffer the consequences of lateness to the start of class OR we keep the AGREEMENT. What will it be?”
You know their choice. I find that this type of class discipline works for me. They are happy and I am happy. And the end result is a solid effort in creating a quality choral sound. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that!
PS – This year my “call-to-order” for my large ensembles is the clapping sequence ♩♩♪♪♩. Not sure why it is so effective, (engrained from elementary school?) but the second I clap this pattern, my classes immediately stop talking and move into place. They remain quiet until I start the warm-up. I love it!

Sibelius 6 – A Tool for High School Choral Music Assessment (January 2011)

Edited by Joan Catoni Conlon, with text by Torquato Tasso, Claudio Monteverdi wrote a beautiful madrigal called Ecco Mormorar L’Onde. It is scored for SSATB and my auditioned A Cappella Choir will perform it this spring.

Ridge High School’s A Cappella Choir meets as a credited course, zeroperiod on Monday nights from 78:30p. After three years of participation, students are eligible for Honors credit. Twice a year, I create learning CD’s for their music using PhotoScore Ultimate and Sibelius 6. I also include solid recordings of all repertoire on their CD. Five student Section Leaders are responsible for onehour sectionals each week for eight weeks. This permits us to come together on Monday nights without the extra responsibility of teaching notes.

This ensemble is tested individually on their music. In the past, I would announce the sections that would be tested and use rehearsal time to hear every member of the group. While it served the purpose of testing, this process ultimately chewed through a full rehearsal.

Last fall, I assigned testing outside of school to be recorded and submitted via YouTube. We created an account with a private password and students coordinated their schedules to meet with their quartet/quintet to sing and submit their testing assignments.

This spring, I am trying yet another approach to testing. Because I can mute a line through Sibelius, I have provided Music minus One tracks for each student (similar to the recording they hear when they audition for AllState or Region II Chorus). The first assignment was the abovementioned madrigal.

In order to assess and grade them, I reduced the required pages of the score by 50% and cut and pasted each section onto a single sheet of paper. Once copied, I highlighted the voice part of the student I was about to observe.

With trusty red pen in hand, I was able to circle and mark improper pronunciation (their first assignment was pronunciationonly for testing), bad entrances, wrong pitches and faulty rhythms. There is space for me to comment, make suggestions and praise. I can monitor breath support and vocal technique as I watch them “perform”. I think they prefer this type of testing although I have yet to gather information for a consensus.

While the learning curve of Sibelius 6 may be steep, I have found it very helpful as an aid to the accurate assessment of the members of my select choir. I think you may as well.

NOTE:  This article was written during my tenure as Repertoire and Standards Chairperson-High School for NJ-ACDA.  I have continued to use this style of assessment in my ensemble classes.  Rather than reducing scores for grading, I now print a SIBELIUS 7 part sheet for each voice part.