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.


Waxing Philosophical…

It’s June. In choir-land, it could mean that your concert season has finished or your concert season has yet to be completed. Over the last few weeks I have read the FaceBook posts of many of my choral directing friends as they reveled in numerous on-stage successes.  They speak of the great pride they feel as their students share exceptional musical accomplishments with family and friends.

This got me thinking.   How many kids are deeply affected by their experiences in choir?   As directors, we know it is really remarkable what they can absorb through these performing experiences… collaboration, teamwork, vocal technique, repertoire, exposure to world cultures, discipline, manners, and a uniform regard and respect for one another.

A concert.  A small collection of minutes at a time.  The observation of a singer’s commitment to the creation of the whole. When you step back and take a hard look at the journey from choosing the literature to the final performance, it is not only remarkable, but awe-inspiring.

Moments in time.  Collective memories. How enriched are the lives of our singers as they are exposed to all types of literature; to the heights and depths of emotion and humanity?

Who reaps the greater reward?


(Posted as my FaceBook status on June 4, 2014).