Sunday, October 28, 2012

Song #8

Our closer - Song #8 - is in production. This week, Denise Eaton, Carl Fischer Publishing Choral Editor, captured a couple of production moments at The Lodge Recording Studio in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Here are the vocals being recorded:
And the violin part being recorded:

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Week 9

We should have recorded 4 weeks ago. I've been thinking about it, but there have been too many things that got in the way. I recorded Au Joli Jeu today. It was revealing. The girls were not impressed with themselves.
And I dangled the carrot a little bit more. Song #8 - the closer. Carl Fischer has recorded the accompaniment in the last few weeks. This week, the vocals are being recorded. I shared this info with the girls, they went crazy with excitement.
It is exciting. And still scary.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Turning a corner

This week, we finally turned a corner. Or two. The turning process has taken the better part of 3 weeks, but we are there. A ton of rehearsals will do that a choir. Time spent together making music actually works as team building.
At the beginning of the week, I began by telling the girls, "When I wake up in the middle of the night, this is what I worry about....."
Posture. I have never had huge posture issues from my choirs, but this year is different. It's a problem. The girls need to open their chest cavity. It's not about sticking the chest out, it is about expanding the breadth and width of the chest cavity. Bring the shoulder blades closer together without tension. Stand with confidence.
Breath. The breath of a singer is the money. It is THE key to successful singing. Without knowledge & PRACTICE of breath intake and placement in the abdominal core, phonation is just an exhausting joke on the vocal muscle. We have practiced breath intake over 4 beats, 2 beats, numbered breathing, measure breathing, BAR - breath as release, and how to execute a QDB - Quick Deep Breath. But are they doing it? The 2 beat breath is becoming a habit. The QDB is next. We are working on numbered and measure breathing - this is successful if the music is marked and it is memorized into execution.
Soft Palatte. I have 4-5 singers that are not raising the soft palatte to sing. We did several exercises to find the soft palatte - I didn't make them stick their finger in their mouth, but that could be used. We practiced the Gasp breath, the yawn, and the Ah vs. uh trick. The soft palatte is raised in PRACTICE. The singer has to be able to physically FEEL the soft palatte in the breathing & phonation process. Honestly, this is a very difficult skill for a 7th grade girl. There are so many other physical issues they are going through, so asking them to feel the kinesthetic movement of this area of the body is abstract. And they give up. Because it is hard.
The revelation of these 3 concerns seemed to get a little bit more buy-in to what we are doing.Then we began to concentrate on Au Joli Jeu.
Au Joli Jeu
Friday's lesson was exhausting and exciting. I wanted to change the dynamic contrast, firm up m24-27 (the cross voicing was suffering), and move into more a dance like tempo. I had been trying all week, but it wasn't happening. I began with working on m24-27 - specifically targeting m26 where the Soprano 1 and 2 sections cross voice on C# and E for 3 beats. I took the Altos off the risers and put them in a semi-circle facing the risers, then spread the Soprano 1 and 2's out over the risers - facing each other. We slowed the tempo way down to find the weaknesses. The Altos were getting frustrated - they have to sing the same note for 7 beats. Everything firmed up in a the slow tempo - each part could be heard, the balance was present, and it didn't sound weak. Speed up the tempo and it would fall apart. UGH. Repetition was not our friend. I had to get away from this problem for a second, so I focused on dynamics. We chanted the solfege slowly with dynamics - it is a stark contrast in this section - a 3 beat crescendo from soft to loud, then it happens again. We sang this dynamic contrast slowly. We chanted the section a little faster with dynamics, then sang it. Suddenly, I heard the trouble spot firming up. I had found a back door without realizing it!  We began speeding up the section with dynamic contrast and suddenly, the cross voicing problem had solved itself. Repeat a few times to make sure it wasn't a fluke. I'm still not sure how it happened. I put the altos back on the risers. It was time to move to a dance like tempo. We moved to the beginning and picked up the tempo - they sounded like they were in the 4th hour of a Monopoly game. I knew, at once, that I had to focus on the character of the piece. They laughed at me when I mentioned the 4th hour of Monopoly, so I said, "I need you to sing this song with the energy, lightness, and quick thinking of playing War. Ya know, the card game?" Suddenly, they perked up and the song CHANGED. Really changed. Suddenly, they were in character! These were girls playing the Game of Love like it was the Game of War! This is where quick thinking comes into play as a choir director - this stuff DOES NOT make its way into lesson plans - teach energy through character role play. Measures 11-17 became role play - it is a duet trade-off between the Soprano 2's with the Soprano 1's and Alto's. I told the girls to turn toward the section they were in duet with - at this point, the song became PLAY. The girls were having fun and they understood the character of the piece. It was a transformative lesson. That song will never go back to boring notes. Sharing the music has begun.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Catching up....

I am all caught up now on this blog. We are having great rehearsals in and outside of class. The girls are working on Solo & Ensemble Contest. A performance based curriculum never rests, neither do I.
It has been an emotional 3 weeks. I drove myself half crazy trying to prepare for the clinician then the concert. Last week, Steve's 4 month contract job ended 2 months early. He is staying home with Meg while he looks for more work. I feel the stress easing a bit, but it will roar back to life in 2 weeks as we prepare to host Solo & Ensemble Contest. The push to get to Thanksgiving Break is very eventful.
Where are we at in the music:
  • Au Joli Jeu - we are on text and now working in ensembles. Working hard on word stress and dynamic contrast. This piece has firmed up nicely, I'm very pleased with how I taught it and the current results. The girls will test this piece on French next week.
  • Gia il sole dal Gange - the last half of this piece is complete. The girls are testing on the last 10 measures this week. They are proud that this one is finished.
  • Regina Angelorum - this one has been shelved for a few weeks while we work on Au Joli Jeu.
  • Welcome All Wonders - the opening melody has been introduced and the concept of the piece discussed. 1/2 unison and 1/2 two part harmony.
  • The Ring - this one has been shelved for a few weeks. We'll pull it back out for VIP luncheon in November.
  • Igraj Kolce - the first page is learned. The 2nd page is in progress. We are studying repetitive tone patterns in this one. This one feels like a circle and the girls get a bit lost in it, so we are taking it bit by bit.
  • The Turtle Dove - the first page has been introduced to the choir. They LOVE the melody. I'm going to put it on the shelf during class for a few days while I get Au Joli Jeu complete.

The Big Reveal

After the concert, I did the big "reveal" of our TMEA performance time in a student/parent meeting.
We are performing on Thursday, February 14 at 1pm in Ballroom A of the Henry B. Gonzales Convention Center in San Antonio TX. We will leave the day before and make a side trip to Austin.
It took a moment for this to sink in, then one of the girls yelled, "HOTEL!" They all started squealing! We talked about a tentative itinerary and costs. Then it was time to go home.
Just to put this in perspective..........this TMEA Invited Performing Choir is a big deal. Especially when you consider the district investment - for 32 girls to sing for 25 minutes approximately $600 per student will be spent. This is an important endeavor for the sake of an artistic experience.
I hope.........that the girls come to understand along the way that this is about the artistic experience of making music and not about 2 days out of school and a walk through the exhibit hall.

Fall Concert

Fall Concert - in an ideal world, this concert would be so much more artistic. It's a middle school choir concert - the function of this concert is introductory. Students in uniforms for the first time, how to walk on and off stage, sing pitches and rhythms correctly, attempt to breathe in all the right places (as opposed to every barline) - generally, this is Choir Open House. It was a good concert - short and sweet. The boys looked amazing in their new uniforms! WOW! What a difference a more formal uniform makes!
The Advanced Treble Choir sang Gia il sole dal Gange - measures 1-48 on Italian text and measures 49 to the end on solfege. It was a good demonstration piece. The other choir students liked this piece because they like seeing the girls sing on solfege and handsign really fast. Hehehe. I love that part. The Ring was a real stunner - the girls really performed this one and it sounded like ART. So, yes, idealistic goal achieved. On one song, at least!

Rehearsal retreat

On October 5-6, the girls and I had a "rehearsal intensive". It wasn't a retreat, it wasn't a party. It was just a couple of long, intense rehearsals. 
On Friday evening, we rehearsed from 4-7p - played games, ate dinner, rehearsed 2-3 pieces of music. Sherrie McMahon was with us for a bit before she had to go to the homecoming game. I let the girls choose what they wanted to eat both days. For Friday night dinner, they chose Chick-Fil-A.
The next day, we all met at Wunderlich Farm for TMEA group pictures. We spent an 90 minutes taking pictures in a variety of settings. It was really fun, actually. Joel Wren got some wonderful pictures of the girls. After the photo session, we headed to the school for a 5 hr rehearsal session with pizza in the middle. At this point, I introduced new music - Igraj Kolce, The Turtle Dove, and Welcome All Wonders. We did a breakout sectional rehearsal to introduce Igraj Kolce and work a section of Gia il sole dal Gange. The girls fell in love with the natural minor melody of The Turtle Dove. Overall, it was a great day. We were ready for the Fall Concert. 

Oct 2 - Clinician Day

Kendra Welton-Lipman, formerly of West Ridge Middle School in Eanes ISD and now Asst Choir at Westwood HS in Round Rock ISD, was our clinician on Tuesday October 2. She worked with the Men's Choir, Advanced Treble, and Intermediate Treble Choirs.
1st pd - Men's Choir In just under 30 minutes, she was able to get more diction and sound out of the guys. Really energetic work.
2nd pd - 6th grade girls. My principal enters the room for a 15minute walkthrough. I was not in the hall greeting the students, I was in the room discussing the previous class with the Kendra. I was NOT happy with this situation - guest in the room, admin makes a quick evaluation - UGH. NO. Not ideal. It's reality. I introduced Kendra to my principal, then she went in the choir office while I attempted to teach class. I'm not going to discuss what my need for improvement is because I don't agree with it completely, plus the situation still rubs me the wrong way. I did not get my way, so this is my tantrum.
4th pd - Advanced Treble - Kendra and I had previously discussed a plan. She warmed up the girls for about 30 minutes. It was divine. She had the girls stand in a large circle around the piano while she led warmup - really putting them through the paces of vocal exercises. Forward tone. Harmonics. Half step work. Afterwards, they sat while she talked to the about the TMEA experience and what they could expect. I expected the girls to have more questions, but they didn't. Hmmm.... At the end of class, I conducted the 4 pieces that they have worked on and she took notes for the afternoon rehearsal.
5th pd - 6th grade girls - I carried on as normal.
6th & 7th pd - Intermediate Treble - Kendra got a better response from 6th pd - the smaller, older section of this choir. They really understood what she wanted from the music and enjoyed the rehearsal. The last class was not as responsive, almost flat-lined, but good work was achieved.
Afterschool rehearsal - Kendra got down to business with the girls immediately working on Gia il sole dal Gange and The Ring. She spent nearly 40 min on the Italian. I had to insert some mental breaks in between to get the girls to unload for 30 seconds. The girls were surprised when an audience of teachers showed up for the rehearsal - I didn't tell them about that part - to gain professional development. There were 10 adults in a room with 32 girls - they were shocked. I took notes the entire time - listening to the girls and to the clinician - then posted them on LMS (our cloud) for the girls to read later. When the girls left, we had a Q&A session with the teachers. It was quite enlightening.
My true thoughts - having a fall semester clinician is scary. It is more wrong note work than I am comfortable with because I think a clinician's job is to polish. It didn't feel like a polishing day to me. She was extremely picky - very intense. The girls liked it but it was the first real rehearsal like that this year. We have been focused on learning NOTES. They were exhausted. I learned that I have not opened myself up enough to the artistry of this experience. The focus of learning rhythm and pitches, entrances, breath management, releases, etc.....overwhelms me. We were barely into the text! Yet, I need to let go and allow these students to enjoy the music. Kendra suggested moving to text earlier in the process. That's a trust issue for me. Yes, solfege is a tool for learning pitches, but I believe that every pitch has to be secure on solfege before moving to text. In the past few years, I have learned that these kids are on information overload. I am more successful teaching solfege - almost to the point of memorization - until all pitches are secure and then moving to neutral syllables and/or text. If the layer of text is added too soon, then pitches will be forgotten and sung wrong. I have a trust issue with this technique, obviously. I trust it too much. Kendra suggested I release the text earlier in the process. The truth is  - I don't want to be correcting wrong notes in January. I want to polishing.
Overall, it was a great day - pleasing and scary. It had to happen.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Wee Small Hours

Awakened by a teething toddler at 3am - two hours later, I can't go back to sleep.
The next 8 days will be packed with CHOIR. Choir, choir, choir. I'm not sure what I was thinking in imposing this schedule on my students. Oh, well, what's done is done. We shall all survive.
Here's the breakdown -
Monday -  get 3 of 4 choirs on text; check in clinician to hotel
Tuesday - Kendra Lipman - all day clinician, working with Men's Choir, Intermediate & Advanced Treble Choirs plus 4-6pm rehearsal w/Choir Director Q&A at the end
Wednesday - 8am Sectional; 4-5pm Intermediate Choir Rehearsal
Thursday - 8am Sectional; 4-5pm 6th Grade Girls Choir Rehearsal
Friday - 8am Sectional; 4-7pm TMEA Rehearsal
Saturday - 8-10am Group Pictures; 10am-3pm TMEA Rehearsal
Monday - 7pm Concert; 8pm TMEA Parent Meeting
When the concert is over, we'll jump head first into Solo & Ensemble Contest.
I've been sick all week with sinus congestion - didn't feel run down, but my body has been yakking all this stuff out.
I am pleased with where we are, but thought we would be further along with all 4 pieces. We started school a week later than usual, so with 1 more week - I wouldn't be worrying. Well, I would be, but not as much as I am right now.
The girls have begun to have intonation issues that I am very concerned about as we move from solfege to neutral syllables. It requires finding the right consonant to begin with.
I'm proud of myself - I gave the Advanced Treble Choir Officers the job of creating and leading icebreaker/team building games for our rehearsals this weekend. Normally, I wouldn't trust anyone to do this, but honestly, I severely dislike this job. I don't mind games, but I would rather focus on the music. REAL honesty - I have always believed that rehearsal is team building enough for a choir, but I understand that in this situation, middle school girls need something fun along the way. I'm not always going to be fun b/c I am so task-oriented. But I let go of my trust issues and have enjoyed watching this group of girls get excited about creative play.
The downside of this week is all of the parent emails that I will field trying to get their daughter out of this weekend's rehearsal b/c of things that come up/require attention/emergencies. I published this TMEA schedule in May for these very reasons.
I am most excited about Tuesday w/Kendra Lipman and this weekend's rehearsals - polish the old and introduce the new! That's FUN for me!