Is it time yet?

Through the ages, there has been a heated debate that consistently arises this time of year. The question can be a difficult one and it tends to brings out strong opinions. As for me, my thoughts have changed over the years on this hot button topic, and I am ready to say unashamedly that no, it is not too early to start playing Christmas music.

Typically, I am immersed in Christmas music by late October. As a choral director, you had better start that Christmas music in the fall in order to be prepared for a successful December performance. I was really excited over the holiday music I chose for my kids this year, but I’m not there to work on it with them since I’m still on maternity leave. I am rehearsing Christmas music on Wednesday nights with the church choir, but I found myself needing more.

Years ago, I was adamant that Christmas music should not be played before Thanksgiving. I would not pull out my favorite holiday cd’s until the day after Thanksgiving at the earliest. Slowly, over the last few years, I’ve found that one month a year isn’t long enough to get my fix of Christmas music, so my start date for listening has oh-so-slowly crept up to November 1st.

And I’m ok with that.

Even as the temperatures are still in the 70’s here in Georgia and none of my Christmas decorations are out, I am still loving having my favorite Christmas albums playing in the car and around the house. My boys are loving it, too. My husband on the other hand — well, he is of the opposing side on this issue, and is not a fan of my playing Christmas music before Thanksgiving. However, in this family of five, he is now outnumbered in his opinion and will have to deal with it.

Nothing makes it feel like Christmas for me like Mannheim Steamroller and Vince Guaraldi’s soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas. These guys bring back vivid memories of childhood Christmases like nothing else can. Music can do that — transport you back to another time and place. I also am in love with Avalon’s Joy album. It came out 16 years ago, but it never gets old for me. And when the boys are in the car, I make sure to play The Muppets’ Red and Green album. I mean, I’ve been listening to that one for years, but now I don’t have to feel so silly telling you about it since I’ve got kids.

So while I won’t put my tree up before Thanksgiving (and on that point, I don’t see a change of viewpoint in my future), I will happily play my favorite Christmas music throughout November. Life is too short to put a time restraint on some of the world’s most most beautiful and joyful music.

He’s here!

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At long last, our sweet baby #3 is here! We are now officially a family of five. Sweet Ethan was born on October 8. I was absolutely convinced he would come early; after all, he was my third pregnancy in less than five years’ time, and I was working and still directing performances less than two weeks before my due date. However, as much as I hoped for him to come on, he didn’t, and for a number of reasons the doctors encouraged me to induce labor the day after my due date. I am incredibly thankful for those wonderful doctors and the awesome nurses that I had. Labor and delivery went really smoothly. We started the pitocin at about 8AM and Ethan arrived at 4:03 PM. He weighed 8 lbs, 12 oz. His daddy and I are absolutely in love with him.

Ethan’s big brothers got to meet him in our quiet hospital room just a few hours after he was born, and they were immediately smitten. One of them kept wanting to “pet him”, so needless to say we are having to say the word “gentle” many times a day. They both took turns holding him over and over again. Two weeks later and the novelty has not worn off.

Our time at home has been great so far. We have been blessed with visits and meals from friends and family, and I have been able to get some much needed rest thanks to Josh being at home. He has had two weeks off of work instead of the usual one week that he had with our first two children, and it has been awesome. Having him here with me for an extra week made a huge difference for us all. He has been busy changing diapers, keeping the “bigs” entertained and happy when they wake up before the sun, driving the oldest back and forth to school, cleaning house, and plenty more. In the evenings, we have crashed on the couch after putting the boys to bed so that we could have movie nights and hang out together. Just like with my first two boys, I have fallen in love all over again with my husband through this incredible season of our lives. We have faced some tough trials this past year, but God has made our marriage stronger and has taught us so much. The biggest lesson we have taken away? His plans – and the timing of those plans – are perfect.

 

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.

 

 

Hello, Third Trimester

Today’s post, I’m sorry to say, may be one of those annoying “mommy” posts.

I am now 29 weeks pregnant and am completely exhausted. That burst of energy that is supposed to show up in the second trimester? It must have passed me by. The third trimester isn’t looking any more promising. At least back in June, I was able to get going in the mornings and take my boys out for fun outings. I was so proud of myself as I took them downtown to the zoo all on my own with a bag carefully packed with all of our snacks and necessities and plenty of patience to keep us all happy. I enjoyed our library and park visits, and I even managed to teach for a week at Vacation Bible School. I even provided them with some craft projects straight out of the best Pinterest pages.

Just a mere six weeks later, our summer is looking much different. My children are binge watching “Octonauts” on Netflix so that I can close my eyes for just a few minutes on the couch. The heat outside is unbearable, so much so that the boys don’t even ask to go outside. I’m waking up each night with pregnancy aches and pains, and in the mornings the boys have gone from being content to play quietly in their rooms to now calling for me to come right away to let them go downstairs and start the day. Most days we just stay in our pajamas, which at least lessens the issue of laundry. Thank goodness, because I don’t have it in me to worry about another household chore.

We are in survival mode.

How will this work when we return to school in a week? For the sake of my unborn child, there is only so much coffee I can consume. And my department chair frowns upon my taking naps in my office in the middle of the day. Truthfully, even though our outings have become much more scarce, my boys aren’t really complaining. So while I feel guilty about how our days look right now, I don’t really have the enthusiasm or motivation to make many changes. I’ll do my best next week to muster up some energy to take on those last items on my summer bucket list, but I hope I won’t beat myself up over it if they don’t all get crossed off. After all, I’m getting bigger and the weather is getting hotter. Perhaps I should choose to put my feet up while I can, because in about 11 weeks this house is going to reach a whole new level of crazy.

 

Summertime and the living is easy…

Sweet summertime. I am loving every minute. I am finding time to do lots of fun reading, I’m catching up on so much of the housework that was neglected in the spring, I’m taking naps (oh so many naps!), and having all sorts of fun outings with friends and family. I spend most of my time with my two sons, and I am loving our movie days, library visits, trips to the zoo, afternoons at the pool, and plenty more.

Yesterday, I had to take my oldest child to the dentist. As we were leaving, the dentist exclaimed, “Have a great rest of your summer! Er, what’s left of it!” I cringed. I couldn’t believe such a statement was being made. Summer just started! But when I mentioned it to my husband, he cautiously pointed out the small number of weeks I have left.  Really, I am somewhere around the halfway mark of my summer vacation, but seeing the date on the calendar sends me in to a flurry of emotions. What kind of emotions?

Let’s start with the easiest: DREAD! First of all, I am absolutely loving my time at home with my boys. As I said before, we are having all sorts of adventures and creating fun memories, and I’m not ready for the change of pace. But the other main reason would be that I am miserably pregnant. The thought of going back to 5AM alarms and having to put on dress clothes over my ever growing belly in this insane Georgia heat is bringing back the nausea of my first trimester. Right now I am sleeping in, putting my feet up (as much as is possible with two little ones under the age of 4), and living in t-shirts and stretchy shorts. I have no excitement whatsoever at the thought of gearing up for a new school year while being eight months pregnant.

It’s really tough for me to try and plan for this upcoming school year. We have a lot of variables and new challenges hanging over us right now. My husband’s company was recently bought out by a major competitor, and so we are waiting to find out whether or not his department will be dissolved. My oldest child will be starting Pre-K in August, which will be a whole new ballgame for our family. I will have about two months of work in which to build a strong foundation for the year, put on a fall concert, and then hand over the reins to a long-term sub as we welcome baby boy #3 in to the world in October. And is our house ready for #3? Definitely not! I am still waiting on that burst of energy for nesting to kick in.

It has truly been a fantastic summer, and while my dentist and all of the “back to school” ads on tv want to tell me it’s almost over, I am reminding myself that I still have several weeks of fun ahead of me. I’m looking forward to some time on the beach, lots more books to devour, and plenty more naps to enjoy on my couch. Yes, I probably need to pull out my planner and start taking notes on all of those great teaching articles I’ve bookmarked over the last month. Yes, I probably need to start organizing my thoughts and goals for the new school year. But maybe I can also just enjoy being lazy a little while longer.

 

 

The Hiatus is Over

It’s been quite a while since my last post.  About three months, I believe. My New Year’s resolution of writing every day? Yeah, that didn’t last. It’s not as if I haven’t had plenty to write about, because I have. But I lost a lot of motivation to write. I have felt incredibly overwhelmed these last few months, and many days just was floating along and trying to keep my head above water.

Professionally, I think it was the best year I’ve had yet. Personally, it was the hardest. As I mentioned in my last post, I lost my Grandmother in December and it was rather sudden. I’m blessed to say that she and I were very close and have been very close all of my life. I grew up next door to her, and as an adult I enjoyed a special relationship with her. She was a wonderful lady, one that I admired and loved to be around.


Then in January, my mother-in-law, after battling lung cancer for almost two years, took a turn for the worst. She had fought so hard, but the cancer had taken over. In February, she passed away. It has been incredibly painful in many ways. Not only is it my personal loss, but it hurts that my children won’t grow up with their grandmother. Most of all, it has been horrible watching my husband lose his mother. I have felt so helpless as he worked through so many emotions and it doesn’t seem to be getting any easier.

And in the middle of all of this, we became pregnant. You know, because life wasn’t crazy enough. Yes, we are expecting our third child. We are thrilled, and I’m really happy that my mother-in-law was able to rejoice in the news with us while she was still here. As exciting as the news is, fellow moms will understand the exhaustion and discomfort that pregnancy brings. Especially with the third. Wow, this body is tired! Baby #3 will be another boy, so while I am prepared with clothes and such, I’m trying to figure out how to prepare to keep three boys in line as well as my sanity for the next 18 years.

God is good, all the time. I couldn’t get through the bad or the good without my faith in Him. I trust that He is in control and is guiding my steps. He is the source of my joy, not my circumstances. I also have the comfort of knowing I will see my sisters and brothers in Christ in heaven one day, where we will forever be in the presence of Christ. The older I get, the more excited I get for that day.
That’s the last six months summarized in a blog post. I promise from here on out I’ll be posting more often and sharing useful, happy stories and reflections. I’m looking forward to a fantastic summer.

A Love-Hate Relationship

Sometimes I think I was overly ambitious by choosing a career in music.  By choosing to study performing arts, I think I have sentenced myself to years of great joy while also enduring extreme frustration.

Sometimes, for me, music is just too subjective.  I can drive myself crazy when I don’t achieve that perfect sound that I’m looking for.  There are some moments when I am looking at my students, envisioning the sound I want, pulling out every rehearsal technique in my arsenal, but I am just not connecting with them.

Thankfully, there are plenty of “AHA!” moments in which students do get it, and so we make forward progress.  Those are the moments that I remind myself I’m supposed to be in the classroom.  Those are the moments I can’t wait to write about here on the blog.

But sometimes, those moments seem distant, and I am left listening to recordings of my rehearsals trying to figure out what I am doing wrong.  Maybe I’ve tried to use an analogy about voice placement that was always helpful to me in my own voice study, but it doesn’t work with my students.  Or maybe no matter how many different ways I try to have my students correct my vowels, it isn’t sticking from day to day.  The feeling of defeat can weigh on my like a ton of bricks.

With Large Group Performance Evaluations around the corner, this stresses me out more than any other time of the year. It seems that every February, I start wondering what other line of work my degree in music qualifies me for.  Still, in the midst of my frustration with my own imperfections, I continue to love what I do.  I love the students, I love the music, I love the singing.

With music, I suppose it will always be a bit of a complicated relationship.

When your Mom is a Musician

When your parent is a musician, life can be a little different for you. There are quirks, really. I didn’t realize this until I had children of my own. Like when you are too sick to be at daycare, but your mom has rehearsal, so she sets up a pack and play next to the piano and manages to keep you somewhat entertained while also playing and scribbling down notes for the singers. Or even if you’re not sick, you find that much of your time is spent with Mom or Dad in the theatre or rehearsal venues.  Homework is done in the sound booth and naps are taken on the corner of a stage.

When your Mom is a musician, you listen to lots of Gershwin, Chopin, and some Beethoven mixed in for good measure. When you watch “Little Einsteins” and a composers’ name isn’t pronounced to her liking, she is sure to let you know.

When your Mom is a Choral director, your bedtime lullabies can be really strange. If it’s getting close to a big performance, you will probably be listening to her sing the alto line to one of the concert pieces.  Or maybe if the tenors were particularly squirrely that day, you’ll be hearing their part an octave higher.

When your Mom is a Choral director and she goes to conferences, she comes back with gifts, which is why you have your own set of Boomwhackers in the play room.

I’ve seen children tagging along with their band director daddies to our professional association’s planning meetings. I’ve sat in a corner of a convention center with choral director friends as our babies played and crawled all over us while we waited on our students to get out of All-State Chorus rehearsals.  I’ve seen our dance teacher make pallets in the floor for her children to sleep while she stayed at school late to finish building a set.  I’ve listened to our theatre director’s son recite lines from a play that he knows better than the actors because he has sat in on so many rehearsals.

Yes, life can be different for our children.  But there are also great memories to be made along the way as we include them in our crazy schedules and routines.  They are introduced to what we do at an early age, and they are given a model of hard work and dedication that they will always remember.  Hopefully, they will follow in our footsteps with a love for music, dance, and theatre, and we will have a special bond that spans from dragging them with us to rehearsals to one day sitting in the audience as they take their turn on the stage.

 

Choral Tone

Large Group Performance Evaluations are coming up for my choirs, and the first item on the judge’s sheet will be “tone”. I talk about tone almost every day in rehearsal, and I have realized that I continue to use the same words over and over again, year after year.

Sopranos, sing lightly!”  “Altos, darken your tone!” “Support your sound.” 

  These are just a few of my go-to phrases. I use them daily, along with words like “covered” and “mature”. I have a list of descriptive words that I have heard from other professionals over the years when talking about tone, and so they are ingrained in my mind. I think all choral directors have them. Naturally, I regurgitate these words when working with my own choir.

 Just like students have different methods in which they learn new material in our classrooms, they have different ways of grasping how to create just the right tone in their singing. This point was made clear to me yesterday in class. I found some recordings of fantastic choirs whose sound is one I would like my students to achieve. I told the students to listen specifically to the sound of the choir and come up with words they would use to describe the tone. They came up with an incredibly long list and had some really interesting ideas. Some of my favorites were:

Graceful.   Free.   Floating.   Moving.   Flowing.   Celestial.   Ringing.   Rich.   Like the whistle of the wind through the hills.   If calligraphy had a sound.   Elevating.   Oceanic.

All together, each class came up with about thirty-eight words. We put the words on the board and will be leaving them up as we continue to rehearse our music in the coming days.

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The students now have words of their own to connect to when striving for a beautiful tone.  Perhaps these words translate my ideas to the singers better than others.  The words will remain at the front of my classroom as a visual reminder of sounds we are striving for in our ensemble.

What are other words that you use in describing a quality tone?  I would love to hear some tips and tricks for improving tone in the choral rehearsal!

I’m Ready for Ya, 2016

Sometime back in November, my brain had started to already believe it was 2016.  I found myself talking to my mom about something that had happened “16 years ago in 2000”, and was surprised when she corrected me.  Instead of writing down the wrong year in January, I had started writing the wrong year in December.  Clearly my brain was ready to take on 2016.

For as long as I can remember, I have made New Year’s Resolutions.  Something in me loves new beginnings and the idea of a clean slate.  It’s one of the things I love about teaching because each year we can start fresh.  In fact, I suppose I make a list of new resolutions twice a year: once in January, again in August as a new school year starts.  I often will look back in my journals to see what my resolutions were from past years.  I really could have just copied and pasted the same list each year and saved myself some time.  I always have high hopes of cooking at home more often, getting more exercise, becoming more organized, keeping a clean house, being more consistent each day with my personal Bible study, and just generally trying to be a better person.  Apparently it is taking longer than a year to achieve, but at least I haven’t given up, right?

Last year, I really tried to create more concrete resolutions.  I wrote down detailed, achievable goals in addition to the new habits I wanted for myself.  One of those resolutions was to finally start my own blog, and here we are.  I have loved having an outlet to write and connect with people, and it has been just one of several writing opportunities I have had over the last several months.  My passion for writing has always been a constant in my life, but has been harder to pursue over the last few years.  So in 2016, I am resolving to write every day.  Every single day.  It’s day 8, and so far this resolution is a success, much more so than my resolution for becoming more organized.  Whether it’s in one of my personal journals, my blog, or a freelance project, I plan on putting words on paper every day this year.  I’m excited to see what I can come up with over the next 12 months.

I’m looking forward to 2016 being spent growing in my career, being involved at my church, pursuing some new hobbies (sewing and Bible journaling!), reading great books, writing, traveling with my husband, and creating new adventures with my crazy boys.  Oh, and cooking all those fancy meals at home too, of course.