Candid Over Coffee ~ 2.23.17

This morning I am drinking my coffee at an Einstein Brothers in Athens, Georgia. My students are down the street in rehearsals for All-State Chorus, and I am relishing the chance to sit down with some coffee without interruption. Life has been a little extra crazy lately, hence my lack of posts these last few weeks. My husband just got a new job (praise God!) and so our two younger children are going to daycare. This means all new responsibilities at night to prepare for the next day and new routines for our sweet little baby. Our oldest child started t-ball, which means more commitments to write in on our calendar. And then of course, just our daily schedule with three kids under the age of 5 is a little nuts. But everyone seems to be doing really well. We are healthy, we are joyful, and we are starting this new season of our lives with excitement.

At school, my choirs are rehearsing for our Large Group Performance Evaluation. We perform two pieces for a panel of three judges and receive feedback and scores. Then we sight read for another judge to again receive feedback and scores. Some days I leave work thinking how great our rehearsals were and how well we are doing. Other days, I leave wondering why it’s not coming together like I want it to. Teaching singing can be so challenging; I can’t tell my sopranos to just move this vocal cord to this place. That’s not how our voices work. It’s such an experimental process for the singer to find what works. It’s a lot of “try this” and “relax” and “don’t do that.” But I have a fantastic group of kids this year that are eager to learn and improve. Seriously, a teacher’s dream.

And this weekend I am with three of my students as they participate in All-State Chorus. They are having an amazing time, just as I did when I was a part of All-State as a student. I can’t help but remember my own experiences every time I come to this event. This event used to be held in Savannah, so it’s a little harder to be nostalgic in a completely different city, but when I sit in on rehearsals and listen to the concerts, I feel like it was just last year that I was performing with the All-State Chorus. And now, as a teacher, I have a whole new appreciation for my music teachers, for the time and resources they invested, and always with great enthusiasm. Those people have impacted my life in tremendous ways. There is no doubt I am who I am because of them. And even if I had not chosen a career in music education, I know that their impact would still be a lasting one. They nurtured a love and appreciation for music within me, but they also chose to love me as a person. I can’t tell you how often I hear from someone that they took piano lessons or a music class in which the teacher was “mean” or “so strict” and those people walked away from that experience with a bad taste in their mouth. Thankfully, I just can’t relate to that sentiment. My teachers have been truly wonderful. I will forever be grateful to them, and it reminds me of my responsibility of carrying on their legacies to my students now.

Do you have a music teacher that left their mark on your life? Good or bad? I would love to hear about it here, along with any crazy memories you have from their classes or being a part of ensembles.

Any Day Now

“Any day now.” That’s what I keep hearing from the doctors, anyway. My third pregnancy is coming to a close, but not fast enough. I am miserable in every sense of the word, and I ask for your prayers for my family and sweet co-workers as I have no doubt that I am dreadful to be around these days. They are putting up with me, though, which I greatly appreciate!

My students have been nothing but wonderful. I have started the year with the largest number of students I’ve ever had in the program, which is a great feeling. The kids are enthusiastic, kind, and wonderful to be around. Last week we performed our fall concert. It was incredibly stressful trying to prepare for our first concert in the first eight weeks of school, but we pulled it off. Uniforms arrived in the nick of time, music was learned and memorized, and everything went smoothly. I was so impressed with the work put forth by the kids everyday in class. We have been honored to be invited to sing at two different events in which the Governor was speaking, which was really exciting for us. So in just two months we have had two performances off campus, a formal concert on campus involving all three ensembles, a major fundraiser, and weeks of productive rehearsal time. As anxious as I am to have this baby, I’m also sad to leave such a great group of kids just as we are building up so much momentum across the program!

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A small group of students and I after our first performance of the year in which we sang the National Anthem at an Educational Leadership Conference.

 

Once the work day is over, I’m completely wiped out from rehearsals and preparing for maternity leave. When I get home, I’ve been crashing on the couch for as long as my two crazy kiddos will let me. I did ask my oldest one afternoon if we could rest, “because Mommy is really tired.” His response? “Well, I don’t have a baby in my tummy. I’m not tired.” Both boys are so excited to meet their new little brother. I am definitely ready. I’m still waiting on that burst of energy to arrive, though. Wasn’t it supposed to appear sometime in the second trimester? As for nesting, it’s not happening. If I have a free moment, all I want to do is sleep! I’ve lost interest in a lot of my favorite things just because I’m too tired to stay focused on any one task longer than five minutes. This too shall pass, though, right? One day at a time.

 

 

Why Train the Students?

It is fairly common to hear ensemble directors talk about how they “train” their students.  Of course, all classroom teachers do this, really.  One of the first lessons taught in classroom management courses is that of teaching your students routines.  You are to train them to know where to turn in papers, where to find passes, how to transition in and out of the classroom, and so forth.

In the music classroom, we train our kids in these same areas, but also in how to be responsible, independent musicians.  I always start my classes with vocal warm-ups, ensuring that they are becoming mentally focused for rehearsal while also creating healthy habits for their vocal use.  I work with them on their sight reading skills so that they can learn music on their own without always needing someone to pluck out notes for them on the piano.  I constantly remind them to give me good posture, always keeping their hands at their sides, feet firmly planted on the floor.  I promise them I’ll wear extra make-up – even paint my nose red – if they will just watch me conduct!

I have a group of students leaders that I have made sure to train for various roles.  Some have taken on the responsibilities of recording attendance, leading warm-ups, or setting up risers.  Recently, I even went so far as to run timed set-ups of the risers to prepare for our annual Fine Arts Showcase, a concert in which we would need to set up the risers backstage quietly and quickly while other groups performed.

The Fine Arts Showcase has been a tradition at my school for the last six years.  We perform a two night show that includes students from dance, theatre, chorus, orchestra, band, and even visual art.  It is a great event, but can be very stressful as there is a lot of transitioning that takes place.  While one group performs, another group quietly sets up in another part of the auditorium.  There is no down time at all so that the audience constantly has some entertainment going on.  I have been a part of it from the start, but this year things were a little different for me.

Last week, my sweet Grandmother passed away.  Oh, what a special lady she was, not just to me, but to so many.  I am still dealing with so much heartache, and when I am ready I feel certain I will have a blog post to share just how wonderful she was.  She passed away unexpectedly the week of the Fine Arts Showcase.  I was in such a fog.  My colleagues knew what she meant to me, and they knew I would need to be with my family for the visitation and funeral.  They immediately jumped in and took care of everything for me.  The band director, who already had a tremendous amount of responsibilities on his plate for the week, jumped in and directed my choirs.  He rehearsed with them as much as he could so they could get used to one another, and then he did a fabulous job conducting them in the concerts.  What a relief it was for me to know my students would perform with everything they needed even though I could not be there.

Through this Showcase, while I was gathered out of town with my family, my students proved to me the value of “training”.  The other directors share how the students came in dressed and ready to go for the concert.  Somebody stepped up and led warm-ups, and all of the students participated.  They lined themselves up to walk on stage just as we had practiced, and the riser team had the risers set up in record time without disrupting the other performances taking place on stage.  They were in their places ready to go with time to spare before the curtains opened.  They performed their pieces beautifully, and when everything was over, they had the risers broken down and put away. They even cleaned the room as if no one had ever been there.

They impressed the other directors that night and represented our choral program extremely well.  They were professionals.  They gave an outstanding performance, and they allowed my mind to focus on my family instead of worrying how to be at the concert to ensure that chaos did not break out.  This was the best gift they could have given me during my time of grief.  They gave a beautiful, impressive performance that allowed their audience to pause and enjoy the holiday season without distraction.  This is why we train our kids.

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Nashville

As a musician, I was always slightly embarrassed to admit I had never been to Nashville, Tennessee.  Maybe not as shameful as admitting to never having been to New York City (who, me?) but I had just never had the opportunity to visit.  My chance finally came last month when one of my students was accepted in to the National Association for Music Educators’ (NAfME) All-National Honor Choir.

When I first learned about the All-National Honor Choir last spring, I shared the information with one of my outstanding singers, Keshav.  He was a sophomore at the time and was eligible to apply after he made it in to the All-State Choir.  After discussing the program with his parents, he decided that he really wanted to be a part of this.  After completing the application and sending in an audition video, we waited about six weeks before receiving the news that he had been accepted.

Keshav spent four days in Nashville with other outstanding musicians from across the country.  He spent many hours in rehearsal with the choir, but he also had the chance to hear concerts by groups brought in by NAfME.  He stayed with the other singers at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and performed with the Honor Choir on stage at the Grand Ole Opry.

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I could not work out my schedule to be in Nashville for the entire NAfME Conference, but I did not want to miss the final concert.  I invited my best friend and fellow music nerd Amanda to make a whirlwind road trip to Nashville.  We left on Tuesday afternoon to make it in to the city just before dark.  We stayed in The Gulch and had dinner at a really fun place called Whiskey Kitchen.  Great food, great atmosphere.  The place was growing crowded as the night wore on, so as we left we were bumping in to all sorts of people, including John Corbett.  My first run-in with a movie star!  I was totally unprepared.  I didn’t know his name right off, but I quickly recognized his face from “Serendipity” and “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”  From then on I was convinced there were celebrities everywhere in Nashville, on every street corner, and was certain I would run in to more.  I kept my eyes wide open.  Alas, on a Tuesday night, the town is pretty quiet and I did not have any more exciting run-ins.  Finally Amanda and I trekked back to the hotel in the pouring rain and got some sleep.

The concert started at 9AM Wednesday with the All-National Jazz Band. We had fantastic seats.  The Jazz Band was incredible and included a performer from Jazz at Lincoln Center.

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The All-National Honor Choir followed the Jazz Band, and their concert was truly impressive.  Afterwards, I was able to find my student to congratulate him.  He was on cloud nine and was having to say goodbye to all sorts of new friends he had made.  It made me a little nostalgic for my own All-State Chorus experiences as a kid.  I love having the opportunity to introduce my students to these experiences just as my teachers did for me when I was a student.

I fell in love with Nashville, and cannot wait to return.  Next time my plan is to stay for a little longer than 18 hours.  That would be nice.

A Sigh of Relief

Another Fall Concert is in the books, and what a relief it is to have it behind me.  It went better than I had hoped.  My students made me incredibly proud with their hard work, focus, and professionalism.  I’m actually a little sad to have to move on to new music.  The music we had been working on was so much fun, but also rich in educational content and musicality.  Our concert theme was “Celebrating Today’s Composers”.  All of our music was written by living composers who are still actively composing.  It is amazing to me that so much incredible music is still being written today, music that I believe will continue to be performed by choirs for generations to come.

We had a larger audience than normal, which is fantastic.  I am so glad to see our program drawing in new people and greater support.  There were a great number of people there who do not typically attend the choral concerts–some of them were probably seeing their first Chorus concert.  After the concert, I overheard a few of those audience members talking about their favorite pieces and even downloading one of them to their phones.  I just smiled to myself as I walked past them, thrilled that our concert had introduced them to new music.  Isn’t that part of our goal?  Our purpose?  Not just to reach our own students with new music and performance techniques, but to have them go out and share what is learned in the classroom with others?  A love of music can be infectious.  May it always be so!

I have been walking around with such a sense of contentment after having a successful concert.  Now it’s a new week, and as always, I’m looking around my home and office realizing how many chores I had neglected to spend more time preparing for the concert.  Time to play catch-up and get back on track.  Winter performances will be here in the blink of an eye…