Monday, July 30, 2012

Liftoff in 4 weeks

Step away for a couple of weeks & regroup. 3 days in Capturing Kid's Hearts training. Great. 3 days at TCDA - reading sessions, networking, learning new ideas. Awesome. Now back to work.
Get ready for liftoff - August 27. The First Day of School - my favorite day of the year. I love it more than my birthday.

Today, I stepped back into the schoolhouse. It took me a 3 hours to regroup my thoughts and find a direction. First, I figured out that I had to begin organizing the choir room. Two years of piles due to pregnancy and first year of motherhood. After that task is accomplished, then I will begin solidifying my lesson plans.

I began by moving a table over near the choir library and sorting huge piles of music. Putting solo books back in place - they tend to wander off with each contest. Then I began filing music of the past 2 years. In 2010-2011, I didn't have an office aide, so while I was pregnant, I didn't file much of anything at work. On the flip side, I put my house in order and got ready for baby. My husband thought I was going to label the cat during those nesting periods. In 2011-2012, I had an office aide. She was good, but I didn't train her well or stay on top of her tasks. I was satisfied for her to complete the immediate tasks that needed to be done. I knew there was other stuff to do, but I didn't have time to get to it. I wanted to get home to Meg. The piles built up and up and up. Everything is filed in the proper place, for now. Once the year begins, more library boxes will be ordered and box labels prepared to complete the entire task.

In the midst of filing, I found the single copy of the 4th piece in the TMEA program - the substitute piece. YAY! I played through it - accompaniment, then parts. Oh, WOW. It is as wonderful as I remember. Great unison sections, and lush harmonies in appropriate places. The text brings me to my knees.

This week, I will reorganize my single copy octavos. They multiply each year like rabbits. Then I will attack my office. There is quite a bit to shred and purge in that tiny little space.


A reflection of TCDA leading up to TMEA.....warning, this is not a rosy view of things.

I rode to San Antonio with Michael on Tuesday morning. Lots of good conversation. We checked into the hotel and registered for the convention.

Let me just say right here - the past 9 years, I have gone to TCDA & TMEA broke. Or I am dead broke at the end of the trip. No money. It's pathetic, but it is reality. Going to these conventions costs a great deal of money. The hotel bill is always outrageous. This time was no different. With Steve unemployed for the last 7 months, I didn't need to go, but I needed to go. Very few people understand this need. I got in and out of TCDA for less than $350 - registration, membership, and hotel. I chose to room with high school students - acting as a "chaperone" or "an adult in the room" - not a choice I will make again. It wasn't horrible - it kept costs down. They were great girls. I was not comfortable rooming with former students. In 3 days, I spent $76 on meals and $100 on hotel. The biggest expense was the $180 membership/registration fee. ACK! Considering I haven't been to TCDA or TMEA since July 2010, I think everything went okay. Not without snafus, just okay (I'm glossing over many details here). These conventions remind me that I am not rich, nor will I ever be.

I went to a few sessions on Tuesday afternoon, then went to dinner with friends. A wonderful evening with friends. When I returned to the hotel, I worked on music - writing solfege, analyzing, marking music, etc.

On Wednesday, I was up & at 'em, hitting the first 8am reading session. I succumbed to peer pressure and sang in a reading choir. I am more of a listener during reading sessions. The reading choir makes me READ the music. Of course, I was singing Soprano 1. At 8am. I'm an alto. I went to a good session about recruiting & retaining students in choir. This was great info with fresh ideas from a contemporary peer. Then I got lost in the exhibit hall. Roaming. Talking. Networking. Chewing the Fat. Ordering music. More roaming. I talked with a lot of good people. Julia and Amy reminded me to enjoy the process. With the help of the AMC music gurus, I found my out of print piece. Sally looked at my program repertoire and gave her commentary. Generally, she liked the program, but has questions with the 2nd piece. Yep, she has me scared, but I will figure it out or learn from a possible mistake.

Many of my Houston area friends/colleagues left Wednesday afternoon. I went to the TCDA business meeting. I went for 2 reasons: 1.) I love singing with a room full of musicians, 2.) I knew that I would be recognized for having a TMEA choir. Do I need that recognition? No, but I feel it is part of my duty to this profession to be present for something as seemingly mundane as a business meeting. What happens there? The room sings the Doxology together in full harmony. My heart swells with great pride during this moment - singing this hymn that I learned to harmonize as a child and now sing with a room full of colleagues. An honor choir of children performs absolutely beautiful music that was programmed very well. Then the "business" meeting begins. The business is recognition. For over an hour, people are recognized for all sorts of honors - scholarships (10-15), TMEA invited choirs (12), ACDA invited choirs (14), Young Director awards (2), Choral Excellence awards (3), then door prizes. Then the whole room sings The Lord Bless You & Keep You. I love all of it. Obviously more than my colleagues in Houston because I sat with my friends from Dallas/Fort Worth. Another lesson: this is only important to me.

I would have loved to spend the evening dining with friends, but that fell apart & I was not happy about it. I went to my hotel room only to be greeted with 5 teenage girls who desired nothing more than a So You Think You Can Dance party in our hotel room. I worked on music for an 30-45min, then I escaped to for my nightly phone discussion with Steve. Stir-crazy could not begin to describe how I felt in that room, but I didn't feel comfortable booting them out of the room. I was just a tagalong. Afterwards, I found an empty conference room in the hotel and really dug into the music. I think I figured out the problem in the 2nd piece that Sally questioned. A hotel staff member brought me a free cheesecake. All is right with the world.

On Thursday morning, I went to an 8am session, then listened to the 3rd installment of Craig Hella Johnson. My first thought - "Who is this hippie?" My second thought - "This country girl is way too simple for this level of artistic intelligence." Then he said he was "brain dumping" and I was sold. OH! This guy is just speaking in stream of consciousness? I get it. CHJ is to my little choir director world like Steve Jobs is/was to Apple. At that point, I began to really listen and wished that I had attended all 3 sessions. It was profound. Listening to him, I realized that I had chosen the right pieces for this TMEA program. I have found the center - I just have to bring the girls to it. Gleaning a little bit of CHJ's brain was as important to me as when I sang in the TCDA Directors Chorus a few years ago with Anton Armstrong conducting. I am different because of it.

Going to convention is tough for me. The first 4-5 years of attending convention, I was told what sessions to attend. Now, I like to be left alone to attend whatever sessions are important to me. I always have trouble finding a roommate - all of my friends have their regular roommates (colleagues or spouses) - and I prefer just 1 roommate. 3-4 adult women in a room is too much for me. Suffocating. If I could afford to room alone, I would - every time. I don't spend my convention time recreating with adult beverages.  I can't spend a ton of money. I don't have a regular convention buddy or entourage. I go to learn and spend time with colleagues - that's what I enjoy. I'm an odd bird. As much as I love to be alone, I also love to be around people. It's a lonely existence that I haven't quite embraced. I enjoy it, to a point. The point is I'm socially awkward. The best conventions for me were when I presided sessions at TMEA. I LOVED that part. If I could be a part of the facilities or logistics team, THAT would be a GREAT convention for me. Stay busy & behind the scenes. I'm happy. is time to go home. To see my husband and daughter. Reality. Love.

Thursday, July 12, 2012


The calendar is coming together. I spent some time today securing clinicians for the fall semester. I have asked Brianna Kruse, Klein Collins HS Asst. Director, to come in for 2 rehearsals and work on tone with the girls. She has the best clear tone of anyone I know - such a fabulous model. Kendra Welton Lipman, Westwood HS Choir in Round Rock, has agreed to clinic the girls on 2 occasions. She will be our primary clinician. I'm very excited for the learning opportunities these 2 women will give the girls. I will be looking for 1 more person to do a final clinic in January. To seal the deal.

On another front, I was suppose to have a student teacher for 12 weeks during the fall semester. I contacted her this week to relay rehearsal and performance dates. She is an instrumentalist. Needless to say, HR has been contacted so she can be re-assigned to Band. She was a bit mortified to hear of her choir assignment. Yes, singing. It creates fear & trepidation in the hearts of instrumentalists everywhere. I was excited about having a fall semester student teacher - never had a 1st semster ST before - and someone to help with daily rehearsals. Especially the section rehearsals during 4th period. Unfortunately, that excitement is over. In the midst of everything, it is also a relief. Somewhat. It's hard to explain. Anyway, I am talking to a couple of people about coming in during 4th period to help with daily sectionals.

Final note: I will have a major accident if anyone asks me to play a wind or string instrument. Wet reeds, spit valves, dry horsehair, valve oil, love lost here. I'm glad to have those instruments in the world and happy that someone else makes music with them.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Dealing with musicians

In preparation for the opener and closer, I have to find instrumentalists. I want a string quartet for the opener. This means 1.) the piano accompaniment has to be transcribed for string quartet. 2.) finding instrumentalists. I also want folk instrument accompaniment for the closer. I have find those people as well.
When I called the recommended person to book those instrumentalists, it was an experience. I had enough information to know what I wanted, but he kept questioning me. There aren't many people that intimidate me, but he did speak with an inferior tone. I just stood my ground and answered (and re-answered) his questions. If I don't hear from him by Monday, I'll call him or find the instrumentalists elsewhere.

More music

Today, I went to the school with the best intentions of organizing, filing, etc. That didn't happen. Instead, the planning of music for the other 3 choirs happened.

The guys are the furthest away from finished - partly because I have to wait until Region & Men's Concert music is chosen. I worked on some ideas for their UIL program. It's difficult b/c in May, the choir was mostly tenors. I hope that 10 weeks of summer will produce some voice changes.

Sixth Grade Girls Choir and Intermediate Treble Choir - these group's music is chosen for every concert except Pop Show. Intermediate Treble - I really like what I've selected for them. It's good stuff. I hope they like it and feel challenged - most of it is from the PML 1 list, but it does present new difficulties. I need better inspiration for the 6th grade girls. I'm growing bored with what I have to work with. I'll keep digging for them.

Overall, today was fun to put together music for the year. To not think about the advanced girls for a bit.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Fail to plan, plan to fail.

This is my mantra. Colleagues have told me to have fun along this journey. Planning is fun to me. The past couple of days, I have been creating sightreading plans for all of the choirs.

For 6th Grade Girls Choir (GC) & Intermediate Treble (IT), everything is complete for the first semester. The sightreading is simple yet thorough with 2-3 assessments per grading period.

For the boys (MC), I will take things at the same pace but supplement with other resources. Some of which are at school, so I don't what to supplement yet. I'll finish them tomorrow.

For Advanced Treble (AT), the plan used for GC & IT will be accelerated & complete by mid-October. The remainder of sightreading for the semester will be supplemented from other resources that I have at school. Again, I will work on this tomorrow.

In mid-January, all choirs except for GC, will transfer to UIL sightreading practice pieces. I have a document that details the sightreading titles on file - by key, meter, & difficulty.
I will create a different plan for Girls Choir.

All in all, the sightreading plan is different for this year & I'm excited about it. That means I'm having fun!

Saturday, July 7, 2012


At 10:15p this evening, I received a text from the composer regarding the last song. It was an audio file. My husband & I listened to it in the kitchen. It was just an audio wav file of the composition - the sound quality was okay, not great. Passable. By the composition itself? Fabulous. What a fun way to end this program! Once I got into my school email a few minutes later, I was able to see a off file of the song. I played through each part. I love every single part of this composition. I do not know how I will be able to contain myself with the girls. But to keep it fresh, I won't teach it until right before Christmas break. I feel like I am flying over the moon right now. I can't wait for everyone to hear this piece.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Voicing the Choir

Over the past week or so, I've been "voicing" the choir. I have several lists - all with the girls names on them - different categories. 7th/8th grade. Loud/Soft singers. Soprano/Alto. Soprano 1/Soprano 2/Alto. I pour over their final exam score sheets - reminding myself of each individual's sightreading level, and vocal tone. What I don't have yet is specific ranges of each girl. Then again, I harbor the belief the every middle school has the same or similar range - a solid B3 to E5. There are 5-6 girls who can sing down to a solid G3 or F#3 - without sounding like a hairdryer. Then, there are 20-25 girls who can sing easily up to A5 - without stopping themselves from the mental allergy of the dreaded "high note". Oddly enough, 95% of middle school girls can vocalize up to C6 without blinking an eye.

This is why I believe every middle school girl should learn to sing every part on the page within her middle school career. If they understand how to sing each part, then they begin to hear how vertical relationships work within harmonic structures. Can they name that concept? No. That's my job. Learning to sing all parts gives them a "marketable" skill in the choir room. Learning to sing all parts allows them to jump the hurdle (or at least attempt) of the mental vocal allergies: "I can't sing that high" or "I can only sing low" or "I don't sing this way anywhere else but choir" or my personal favorite "Singing high feels good and singing low makes me feel like a smoker". Learning to sing all parts provides a sense of equality in the choir room.

Every year, I teach at least 1 piece of music to each treble choir where they have to learn all parts before I settle them onto a voice part. We spend a week learning each part (1 week per part), then we spend a week flipping kids around on each part. This makes them uncomfortable. I do not care. They have to see beyond their comfort level to understand what the music needs from them. In the last week of flipping, we find who should sing what part. And often, I allow the girls to decide what sounds the best.  They will be honest and say what sounds best for the choir. By this time, the song is ready. There is a lot of polishing that occurs in the flip week. It's a beautiful process.

Girls will sing till the cows come home. Girls in choir - they are the work horses of the program, I believe. It takes some convincing for boys to be in middle school choir, so they are not work horses yet. YET. It comes with time and guidance. Girls - they like to work. They like to sing. The serious ones like to work at singing. They do not like unstructured time. Give them a challenge. If a challenge is not offered, they will become discipline problems.

All of these issues stated above, this is why I feel it is important to know every individual and their voice. I would know this information even if we weren't singing at TMEA. Success happens this way.

Today, I realize that I need more volume in the Soprano 1 section, so I will need to flip a few singers around to re-balance the volume levels. In that flip, I have to keep in mind the tone and ranges of each singer. It is a lot of information to wrestle with on paper during the summer. Usually, I work on a list and let it rest for 1-2 days. That's where I am now - letting a list rest.

When I am letting one thing rest, be sure that I am working on something else. Like sightreading plans for all choirs. Sometimes, I think that I am more of a planner than a choir director.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Chosen Program

Yesterday afternoon, I submitted my TMEA program repertoire to Janwin Overstreet-Goode. I felt confident of all selections. Everything had a nice fit together. 8 pieces. 20m30s of music - approximately. 4 pairings. 5 foreign languages. 3 English texts. 3 A cappella. 3 from the PML. I am excited and at peace with these selections. I have created a themed program of repertoire. YAY!

This morning, I received an email from Janwin that 1 of the pieces was already selected by another choir (and it was performed last year?). Here's a little perspective: it has been 6wks since the TMEA invitations were issued. There are 8wks until the repertoire submission deadline. People are already turning in informal submissions to Janwin. This is a "pay now or pay later" lesson. Be prepared. Do not delay in choosing repertoire. If this early in the process, a piece is already earmarked, then it is back to the drawing board & act fast for me.

Since I am not using the piece any longer..........I had selected Jesu, composed by Andrea Ramsey.

My task this afternoon was to find a song that met the following criteria:
  • 2pt or simple 3 pt
  • contemporary setting
  • sacred
  • preferably English text
  • lyrical
  • piano accompaniment
Tall order. I called Sandi Parks with this list. She suggested a piece that she conducted with the Louisiana All-State Children's Choir. I like it, but it is another language piece. I scour the PML books. Immediately, I have 3-4 pieces that are sufficient. One in particular that I have taught before and is well-loved by students. A familiar melody and one of my favorite lyrics of all time. Is that what I want though? Hmmmm....I need more. I begin digging through JWPepper website - searching composers that I like. Do any of them have a piece that meets this criteria? I find a couple of pieces. Go to youtube, listen to recordings. Within a few hours, I have found a replacement. A contemporary piece that I have taught before. Meets all the criteria. The girls loved it when I taught it 3-4yrs ago. Lush melodic lines, good harmonic structure. Does it fit with the other piece in the pairing? (Jesu was originally paired with sacred liturgical piece from the Classical music period). It is not an exact fit (what really comes close to the original selection?), but it works on a contextual level.

Finding a new piece so quickly. Did I choose the right piece? I think so. I have pushed myself in the past few years to know middle school choral literature. I don't know ALL of it, but I understand the needs of my choir and know what appeals to our ears. And I do know a lot of pieces. This is such an important part of my job. I scour those PML books 2-3 times a year and my single octavo file....well, that needs some cleaning out. I also keep a file of every piece I have performed with a choir. These things are meant to help me choose music for my choirs.

That is done. For now.

Another wrinkle. A very interesting one. The song that I have chosen to pair with the closer is a folksong from "across the pond". I learned the piece a few years ago and have loved it ever since. I have the anthology that it is published in by a national music organization. I have already contacted the organization about copyright issues. Today, as I am scouring the PML books, I find the song by the same arranger. Huh?!? I didn't think it was on the PML?!?!? I turn to find the song. It IS the same song, but accompanied and published by Alliance Music Publications(AMP). I spend the next 30 minutes discovering that both pieces - the SAME arrangement - have slight differences:
  • the anthology version is a cappella v. the AMP version uses piano accompaniment
  • both versions are published in the same year
  • the AMP version has a few changed notes in the harmonic lines and a few text placement changes
  • the AMP version seems to be out of print, but still on the PML, Grade 3. (double checking this detail).
It is my understanding that composers can't submit the same piece at the same time to different publishers. Maybe 20 years ago, this was okay though. Anyway, this composer/arranger got a double whammy every time her arrangement sold. However, if the AMP version is P.O.P, then she may not have made much money from the arrangement. Who knows? It was an interesting find today. I could use the PML version, I guess. But I would want it to be a cappella for TMEA. I could use the accompaniment for UIL contest. Not a decision I have to make right now. very interesting.....

Overall, a good 2 days of repertoire building.

Tomorrow - I will enjoy a holiday! Happy Independence Day to America!

Composer Dialogue #3

Yesterday, Michael & I met with the composer. We discussed transcribing the opening song for string quartet accompaniment. Then we turned our attention to the closer that he is working on for me. The piece is little known folksong from "across the pond."

He said, "Please don't be disappointed b/c I don't have much done. I just want to make this what you want." There were 4-5 printed pages of music. And he had a recording of the pages. We listened. Immediately, I liked what I heard. This is going to be GOOD & FUN.

We discussed a solo at the beginning. I said no solos in the program. Equality for all. Make the opening line either unison for all voices or a single section. Then we move on to the chorus - toss around a few ideas. Both settings of the chorus within the song are good. As we discuss how to use each setting, then the form of the piece begins to take shape. A simple song with a verse and chorus (binary) structure should be simple, but what should we do on each repeat? Discuss, discuss, discuss.

Then he pulls out his lyrics. I pull out my lyrics for the piece. There are 3 versions of the lyrics. Which one should we use? Well, the setting of the song that I love uses very bawdy lyrics - not exactly appropriate for middle school girls. We settle on what is considered the original setting of the lyrics - more appropriate.

Then we discuss instrumentation. What instruments do you hear and how do you hear them? How many instruments? Do we use piano? Probably not. Do we use drum? What kind? Discuss, discuss, discuss.

After the verses have been stated, how do we want the song to build to the end. The composer tosses out an idea. (I can't show all my cards, ya know.) Ooooo, yes! LOVE it for the bridge and leading into the last refrain.

At this point, I want to fly around the room with great joy! This fun, energetic closer has come to life and my girls are gonna have so much fun with it! I can't wait to teach it! BUT it will wait. I will hold the teaching of this piece until late December, keeping one part of this program fresh.

The composer said that he should have a lot more of the song ready next week. I have always wanted to create a new work for a program. Truly, it is as exciting as I imagined!

P.S. I had a followup conversation with the composer today regarding cost of this arrangement. Commissioned work costs are all over the map - ranging from $2,000-$14,500, according to published sources. WHOA! He doesn't know yet what to charge. I have been given a low ball price (very low) by the school district. I think he deserves much more. We shall see what happens.