Wednesday, August 29, 2012


I asked Julie Birkner to 'present' me & the girls at TMEA. Julie is my junior high & high school choir director from Bryan High School. Actually, she was the assistant at the high school. I have known Julie for almost 30yrs - which coincidentally, is also our age difference.
I could tell many a story. It boils down to this - Julie was THAT teacher in my life. She saw something in me that I couldn't see for myself. She taught how & why to find it. When I couldn't afford voice lessons but needed them, she found a way. Every Wednesday, I drove the van to school so that I could go to Mrs. Birkner's house afterschool. I cleaned her house. Badly. Then she came home at 5pm & gave me a voice lesson. It was our exchange.
She made me behave. She made me stop talking in rehearsal. She taught me how to teach myself harmony. She didn't give up on me. She rejoiced in my success.
So much love.

Voice Parts Assigned

After brooding over 32 voices for several months, I have finally assigned them to parts. It was a relief today to finalize that step.
I will admit, this choir is young. 19 seventh graders & 13 eighth graders. The tone is clear & has warmth, although not the depth of tone that I have had in recent years. It will come. They still sound good. After procedures are done, I'm ready to quicken the pace.
Now that voice parts are assigned, I have distributed the sectional assignment calendar. September & December are 2 part weekly section rehearsals on Th/F. October, November, & January are 3 part section rehearsals on W/Th/F. These section rehearsal occur in the mornings, 8:00-8:45am.
I have our regular accompanist coming on M & Th during class to work rotating section rehearsals with me. For instance - I'll work a TMEA piece with Soprano 1's while she works a Region piece with Soprano 2's, and the Altos work on something else in the practice room. After 12-14min, we rotate those sections.
I am a bit exhausted. Up at 5:30am, at school by 7am, home by 5:30p to cook dinner, put Meg to bed, and try to wind down before I crash into bed.
A colleague said to me this morning, "So, what's going on? You are always a busy bee! In the zone!" Yes, I am. I have to be to an extent. It is the first week of school. There is so much 'housekeeping' to be done that singing becomes low priority. I have to stay very focused to maintain organized. I make lots & lots of lists.
Someone once told me that they would never venture the TMEA journey without an assistant. I thought "That's crazy talk!" I get it now. Although I delegate well, this journey is a lot to handle by myself. There is no one to share this journey with, besides the kids. I have to really work to reach out to other musicians & pursue choral dialogue. In this singleton journey, I don't pity myself. I love what I do. This journey is just teaching me one more level of self-awareness.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Tomorrow! Tomorrow! I Love Ya! Tomorrow!

The TMEA year begins tomorrow. Well, it's already begun, but the first day of school is tomorrow. I am very excited. It's my favorite day of the year - more than my birthday. When a Texas public schoolhouse fills up with children, I feel most complete in body, mind, and soul. I don't suppose that my worry level is real high right now because I made gumbo tonight. Cooking - it's my hobby, my craft, my science lab, my math is cheap therapy. My gumbo is a masterpiece.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Our Theme

After 3 days of pondering, the girls found a theme that fits them as a group. What a lovely way to end these Summer Choir Rehearsals. These girls are really wonderful, I already love them completely. This shared music experience will be phenomenal.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Summer Choir

If possible, I would have Summer Choir Rehearsals every year. I absolutely love them. The group dynamic, the relaxed atmosphere, everyone is new, quirky personality traits emerge - it is so refreshing!

Tonight, we played lots of games and narrowed our focus. The work began in the midst of play. Ever played Chair Breakers? It is fun - the point of 6-7 girls sitting on top of one another. We previewed 3/4 of the program repertoire - the girls are intrigued, to say the least. We played silly flashcard games. We described ourselves. We sightread more.

We wrote solfege in the first song and sang a few measures. And it was easier than expected. The girls were very surprised at how well they know how to sightread and count rhythms. It enlightened me: my students know both rhythm and pitch languages. That feels great, as a teacher.

We sang in canon. Voices stand out. We sang a scale and moved from the IV chord to the I chord - it needs a lot of work, but they are listening.

We narrowed our focus on a theme. It is coming to us. We are sharing ourselves right now. Our center is emerging.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

First Rehearsal

The first rehearsal was tonight. 26 of the 31 girls were present. 

We sang. The tone was clean, blended, and warm. My biggest worry all summer was the tone - the girls that were selected for this group - would it all fit together. There are tonal space issues to practice. Breathing will be our biggest hurdle. They know HOW to breathe. They don't trust the air to sustain the sound they produce, so they take too many breaths. Common mistakes to correct.

We sightread. Smart girls. They know rhythms & pitches. Now - how to make it fit together in sound and idea.

We played. The Name Game - that was a lot for 26 names! Maybe I should have had smaller groups?!?! Maybe, but they know each other's name now. Rock Opera Disco - kind of like Rock Paper Scissors - with partners. An 8th grader won. Human Slipknot - 27 people (includes me) stand in a line. The person in front puts their right hand through their legs and takes the left hand of the person behind them. The last person  (that would be me) in that long line of connected hands lays down and the entire line walks backwards over the person behind them and lays down. Obviously, you have to have a LONG space to do this activity - school hallways work great! Lots of laughter. My favorite part asked by 5 students - "Why did we do this?" Answer: Team building, getting to know each other, laughter, something fun, no reason whatsoever.

We began to find a theme for the year that will bind us together. It's on this wall somewhere.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Choir Reunion

Tonight, 60 girls gathered for an Advanced Treble Choir reunion. About 30 current girls - going to TMEA - and 30 former members - in grades 9-12 and beyond. We ate, sang "If You Dance", took pictures in the sweltering heat, ate some more, and hung out. It was a lovely evening. Lots of girls, lots of family members.

If you dance then you must have boots of shining leather,
Money in your pocketbook, in your cap a feather.
But if you would sing with me, you don't need a cent you see,
So come & sing together!

Such a great canon. I teach it every year to the girls (except I forgot this year - ack!). We sang it a few times, then we went upstairs to the 2nd floor and sang it around the stairs. In canon. Wonderful sounds of young women singing. Such a joy!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Standing on the edge...

Tomorrow is another moment in my life where I will stand on the edge of a new adventure. It all begins tomorrow. I have invited all of the current & former members of Advanced Treble Choir to a Reunion tomorrow night. Just a couple of hours to see each other again. Mingle. Eat. Laugh. Cry. Sing. Take a few pictures. A few sweet moments to remember what we have achieved together in the past 5 years and launch this new adventure.

An alternate plan

One of my chosen pieces may not work. Both Sally & Jan have considerable doubts about the piece and it creating weakness in the overall program. At TCDA, I spoke with Sally about the repertoire, she expressed her concern about the piece, but seemed to like all of the other pieces. On Wednesday, I met with Jan, she expressed similar concerns and loved the rest of the program. Their concerns with the piece - this is vocally taxing on middle school voices, the phrasing is extremely difficult to achieve correctly, it won't tune well. Ugh. Jan is a great resource. As she sightreads, she whistles. In tune. It's amazing. Then as we are discussing the repertoire, she begins to tell me the pitfalls and highlights of each piece.
  • "This piece, you are going to have to drill the scale so they will lock in every pitch."
  • "Boy, you are going to make sure the girls don't run away with tempo on this one."
  • "This one is FUN!"
  • "This is a good recording of the piece, but they are missing the point of emphasizing beat 1 in this language."
  • "I love the contrast of these two pieces."
It was good meeting that made me think and believe that I had chosen all but 1 piece correctly.

Here is what I knew long before I ever submitted an application to perform at TMEA - I will consult the great choral minds that I know in order to become a better musician. Jan Juneau, Sally Schott, Julie Birkner, John Hornbeck, Denise Eaton, Dennis Boyter, etc....these people mean so much to me. More than they know. I also knew that I wanted a fresh, different kind of program. I didn't want brand new music - beyond one commissioned piece. I didn't want a tried and true program. I wanted different. So, in asking for opinions, I understand what I am doing. I am asking for feedback.

Along the way, the feedback begins to consume me. I have to be careful because I can allow feedback to sway me completely. I almost feel like I should do what they are telling me to do out of respect for my elders. oy vey. I may need more therapy. OR I can use it constructively - the intended use.

I have looked at the original piece up one side and down the other, I don't see what Jan & Sally see and know. Jan & I dug for more than an hour for other ideas. I emailed Sally asking for ideas. She offered a couple. I put together a slate of 4 new choices. Both of them came to the same conclusion. I gave the 4 choices to Michael - he liked the piece that they liked and had programming ideas for it.

So, I will order this new piece of music tomorrow so that I can SEE it in print. I like the new piece a lot. This is not a done deal. I'm just considering a substitution. If I like it, then I have to be at peace with the change.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Choosing Music

Some people ask me "How do you order all of your music for the entire year?"

Here's the answer:
1. Choral Literature - I know the pieces I have in my possession.
2. Students - I know my student's voices and how they sing together.

About 7 years ago, I began this routine because Frank Bennett encouraged me to try it as a way of being more prepared and getting to know choral literature. It works.

Each summer, I read as much music as I possibly can. The first summer (2006), while teaching at Hildebrandt, I took 1 piece of music out of EVERY file in the choir library (that's over 500 pieces of music). I took the music home, sorted it by voicing (SA, SSA, TB, TTB, SAB, SATB, etc.) on the dining room table, and began reading music. Every day during that summer, I would sit at the piano (in the dining room) and play/read/sing music for 2-3 hrs at a time. After each reading, I made notes on the front cover of each piece. Then I put the piece in one of 2 piles - Yes or No. By the end of the summer, I had chosen the year's worth of music. Whatever was leftover was filed back in the music library. Suddenly, I had a new skill in my toolbox.

Every year, I do the same thing. Just not at home anymore. I go to school during the summer to read - it's task isolation. Out of 7 summers, the only adjustment I made was 2011. I was pregnant with Meg, she was due the last week of school - I knew reading music was out of the question. So, one of my projects before the school year ended was to choose the 2011-2012 music before Meg arrived. Knowing I would be a first time mom & learning a new level of life balance, music was chosen that I had taught before with a couple of openings for new music. Just in case, I got bored. Honestly, it was a relief to plan this way, but I was glad to get back to routine this summer.

After all of the music is chosen, I print it all up on a document for the year. The document includes all concerts, all choirs, Region Choir, Men's Concert, and ideas for the next year. I keep the document on my computer desktop for reference purposes. I keep every year's Music Selection document on file as reference.

This system works beautifully for me.

Music Business

It's an exciting day when the music arrives from RBC Music Co.! The order that I completed at TCDA arrived on Thursday. Newly printed music is so FRESH! For me, it's like receiving warm copies from the old duplex machine with smelly purple ink - good feelings!
This is not ALL of the music, there is still a bit more to be ordered - Men's Choir Concert music and the rest of pop show. The music laying on this table is worth $1700. If you are a choir director, you understand this well. If you are not a choir director and reading this blog - choral music is getting more expensive every day.

Here is the way it works:
One single copy of music ranges in price from $1.80-2.25 - depends on the publisher, the number of pages, etc.. Doesn't sound like much, huh? Multiply that by the number of students that will handle each piece (25-40 for each group)....well, one class set of music costs as much as 1 English textbook ($45-65). Plus S&H, of course. In 1 year, the entire choir program sings through 35-40 pieces of music. Choir students do not buy their own music. The school district pays for the music and it is "checked out" to the student during a concert season. When a concert is done, the music is checked back into the choir library. After 5 years of Krimmel being open, I have about 180 titles in the library. I recycle pieces every few years because my $1800 Reading Materials annual budget only goes so far. Just one more facet of my job is to build a choir library. My budget is relative to my choir program (the number of students and the age of the school) - some schools have more, some schools have less (much less). For instance, a neighboring school may not receive as much because the program enrollment is about 50 students and the school is almost 40 years old - they have almost 900 titles in that library.

Let's do some math....
Song Title:   My Heart Is Offered Still To You
Composer:   Orlando di Lasso
Publisher:    Alfred
Cost:           $2.25
Quantity:     45 
(32 students, 2 copies for director, 2 copies for accompanists, 3 copies for judges, 3 copies for clinicians, extra copies for incidental purposes)

$2.25 x 45 = $101.25 + S&H + 10% Trade Discount from RBC Music Co. = ~$95

That is 1 set of 1 piece of music for a choir who will perform this piece 3-4 times during the year. The piece is 2.5 minutes long.

Where does the money go? A whole pyramid of people - from the editor of the publishing company to the printer to the paper company to the composer. Ultimately, does the composer make any money? Orlando di Lasso does not make a profit from this song because he died 418 years ago. The arranger or editor of the piece would profit...maybe. If the piece were written by a contemporary composer, one could assume that he/she will make about 10 cents per copy of music ordered.

One of those pieces of music in that picture is by a contemporary composer. It costs $1.80 per copy. 25 copies were ordered. The composer will make approximately $2.50 from that order. If 250 copies are ordered, the composer profits ~$25.

For the composer, getting music accepted for publishing, printed, read, & ordered by the masses is a LONG process. Getting 1 piece published is sometimes a 2 year process. Receiving the profit often happens 1 year after the piece is first published.

I suppose I could buy the composer a gallon of milk instead.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Happy moments

I am so excited that our closing piece on the TMEA program has been approved for publication by BriLee Music Publishing Company in 2013! Thank you to Tim Winebrenner, who arranged this folksong for us! Tim is the Choir Director at Schindewolf Intermediate in Klein ISD. He's a good friend and colleague. Thanks to Denise Eaton for guiding us along the way. This continues to be a fun journey of sharing music!

This day needs lots of exclamation points!