Thursday, August 28, 2014

Plugging My Ears

As a child, whenever I did not want to listen to someone or hear something, I would plug my ears with my fingers.

Often singing, "La, la, la..."

It usually was an attempt to avoid hearing Momma calling me to do some chore or a sibling pestering me.


I had a colleague for whom loud, continuous noises could cause great distress to the point of physical sickness.  He would wear sound-limiting earphones whenever he knew he would be around loud sounds.

I watch my brother, after years of working in a loud manufacturing plant, use ear plugs when he worked with power tools or lawn equipment.


I have always taken my hearing for granted.

I have a pretty keen sense of hearing.

I am able to distinguish the slightest differences in a sound, between voices or instruments.

I am able to hear things a fraction of a second sooner than others might hear them.


Recently I have watched my momma deal with age-related hearing loss.  Now, with the help of technology, she is rediscovering sounds that she has not heard for several years.


Students of music will recall that the composer Beethoven was afflicted with the devastation of deafness.  Its onset occurred around age 29.  For the remainder of his life he faced each day with decreasing hearing and eventual silence.


I can not even fathom what it would be like to not hear anything ever again.

Even the mere thought of that is unnerving.


All of these thoughts flitted through my mind the other day as I mowed my lawn wearing ear plugs for the first time.

It was amusing because the sound of the mower was so muted that at times I found myself wondering if it was running.  Amusing because it was a riding lawn mower and I was riding it at the time so yes, obviously, it was running. But I still would catch myself looking at the mower to make sure it was still chewing up grass!

Why hadn't I worn these foamy little ear plugs sooner?

I couldn't find them.
I thought I'd look dorky.

Well, now that I have found them AND hung them on the hook with my lawn mower key, I will now look dorky as I mow the lawn or do other loud activities for, you see,

I don't want to take my hearing for granted any more.

I want to be able to hear the music, the voices, and the myriad of sounds that will come my way in the future.

And so, because of this, I will be plugging my ears to guard against and prevent any hearing loss that I can possibly protect.

I want to proclaim this message to anyone who wears ear buds and blasts the music or movie directly into sensitive ears.

I hope they hear it - if they can - before it is too late.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Best Job In Retail - Ever!

Unbeknownst to many readers, years ago I worked for the discount store Target. I started as a cashier ringing each item up individually (no scanners back then!), proceeded to "work the floor" in all departments, eventually moving to the price change team (back then every product had a price tag) and the cash office.

I enjoyed the job. No job responsibility beyond the work day. Nice people to work with. Nice discount on everything I purchased.

A good job.

However I recently read an article about what could be the best job in retail.


It is the job of Grand Court Organist at the Macy's Center City store in Philadelphia.

Twice a day, six days a week, the grand court organist performs a 45-minute concert.

Pretty cool, eh?

Must be.

The current organist has held the position for 25 years.

His predecessor held the position for 23 years.

The person before that was organist for 49 years - from 1917-1966.

All I can say is WOW!


I can vaguely remember going to a department store in a mall somewhere - Neiman Marcus, perhaps -  that had a musician play a grand piano in a center court of the store.

I recall thinking that to be pretty cool.

In fact, I believe one of my school principals, who was also a church musician, played piano at a department store for a while.


I have always said one of the best things about my job is that I get paid to listen to, perform, and teach about music.

And, if I had to work retail again, I believe I, too, would think it to be the best job in retail if I could be a retail musician.


This post was inspired by this article -
Grand Court Organist

Thursday, June 26, 2014

If You See The Light On

There is one place in my house where, if you see the light on, you can pretty much be guaranteed I am practicing something.

The light is illuminating my dining room.

But my dining room is not a dining room.

My dining room, here as it also was in my former home, is my music room.

So, if you see my dining room light on I am probably practicing something.

It could be:

   My conducting

     My piano

         My trombone

            My singing

               My Irish whistle

                   My congas

                       My harmonica

                           My recorders

[This list is not in any order of preference. It just happens to be the order I see the instruments in my music room at this moment in time.]

Or any other of the 100 or so instruments that might be lying about or neatly tucked in containers.


And so, unlike Tom Bodett and Motel 6, seeing my light on in that room at night does not mean you are welcome.

I am practicing and, like most musicians, prefer to not be disturbed during my practice.

If, for some reason, you must get my attention, please wait until it seems I might be in a pause in the music.

In other words:

     Do not tap on the window, ring the doorbell, or call my name if music is being played.

[Note: Whether you think it is music or not is irrelevant.]

So respect your musician friends.

They will appreciate it.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Singing To Bring Back Memories

Recently I heard a folk singer being interviewed on the radio.
She said,
"I sing the songs so that they may have the memories."

Songs do inspire memories.


When I hear the Christmas carol "O, Come All Ye Faithful," in my mind and even though I have heard the tune every single Christmas season, I am transported back to my earliest elementary school in southern Illinois where I attended kindergarten through second grade.  You see, this was the carol that all children sang while they entered the annual Christmas program. When I have the memories I am back in a gym full of resounding children's voices singing with great enthusiasm.


While in college I watched as as friend raced out of a concert crying. I followed her to the restroom and, in comforting her, I learned that the song being performed was "their" song - hers and her ex-boyfriend's.  Hearing it again...alone...caused her to have the memories which had become painful. Hence the tears.


Fast forward a few years to when I would take students to sing at the local nursing home. Our selection of songs was chosen purposefully so as to touch on the memories of those who would be listening. As a result, my 12-year-old sixth grade girls chorus was learning songs that had been popular nearly 60-70 years prior just so the audience members would have the memories. I recall great satisfaction as I watched the audience sing along with my young singers; their participation encouraged my singers and created a memory for them.


A favorite experience is when I took a choral group to the nursing home to go Christmas caroling. We sang in the main recreation room then walked down the hallways singing to those still in their rooms.

Upon encountering a blocked hallway the nurse accompanying us pushed a buzzer and the doors clicked and swung open. We were entering the ward for Alzheimer patients.  I had tried to prepare my young singers for this part of the visit - that even though they might be singing those in the audience may not appear to be listening and, that despite this, they should sing out with great enthusiasm for these patients would enjoy the music in their own way.

My students stood, lined up in a straight line, singing with great joy. I watched and saw them looking at these patients who were not responding to their music in any way and admired them for singing with a lot of energy anyway.

After a few songs one patient began to sing along with the students. My students acknowledged this to each other and to me through smiles and continued singing.

I noticed the nurses and attendants whispering among themselves and saw a few wipe their eyes. Soon I heard the locked doors click and swing open and a person, I shall assume was a doctor due to the white lab coat, entered, scanned the room, and attentively watch the patient who was singing along.

My students finished their songs and were wandering the room greeting patients as we often did, smiling, patting hands, and occasionally hugging their audience members.

I spoke to a nurse and asked what had been going on while my students were singing. She informed me that the one patient who was singing along with such gusto had not spoken a word or responded to anyone during his stay at the nursing home. They were thrilled to have finally found something - music - that reached him.

For you see, the music allowed him to have the memories that connected him with reality.


So my friends, as you sing or listen to your music, be attentive.

Does that piece of music cause you to have the memories of another time or place?

I imagine sometimes you will find that it does.

And, I also imagine it always will.

Friday, June 20, 2014


As a former member of a teachers' union that nearly went on strike two or three times I have been drawn to the posts with this hashtag: #ThisIsMyStrikePay

No, I am not declaring my allegiance to either side of the situation in British Columbia because I do not have any connection or knowledge of the situation except by my chance encounters of posts on social media.

I am a virtual anonymous observer of the Twitter-sphere.


I know from personal experience that tensions and emotions are running high in a situation like this. Because of this I am impressed by the positive spin that has been used to get the point across about the importance of education and supporting those who provide and receive it.

In the current BC situation teachers seem thrilled and somewhat surprised by the public response.

I think that as teachers we often get ourselves caught up and bogged down in the bureaucracy and administrative expectations of teaching.

We often are so focused in the negative that we wallow in drudgery day in and day out.

This is no way to live.

We forget about all the good things going on around us.

It shouldn't take a strike situation to realize the value of what is done in classrooms across the world.


Some of my favorite moments have been the wonderful comments by parents and students that have encouraged me and lifted me up.

Sure, many times these comments have come years later, but that's OK. 

It still makes me feel pretty wonderful.


I have watched my "kids" (students) grow and have children of their own.

I treasure it when they share stories, pictures, and videos of their own children enjoying music experiences.

A former student once told me,

"You taught us to sing and enjoy music. Now we get to do the same with our kids."

It's doesn't get much better than that.


I remember, as a young teacher, being worried and frustrated at the child in music class who never participated or sang or danced or anything.

That all changed during a routine grocery shopping trip when the parent of a non-participating kindergartener exclaimed how the child sang and danced around the house and when asked who had taught them the songs the child said "Music Teacher taught me. She sings all the time!"

I had an "Aha" moment. The child was "getting" it by observing.


Recently I had a mother thank me for the musical experiences I provided for her two sons. These sons are in their early 30s now, I believe.

It's rather surreal to think that even after nearly 15 years the experiences I provided in the music and choral classroom are valued.



Ok, this post seems to have meandered quite a bit.

To wrap up I'll say:

To parents/students/community members:
Don't wait until a strike situation to tell teachers that you value what they do.

To teachers remember that you are making a mark even though sometimes it doesn't seem like it.

Back to the #ThisIsMyStrikePay topic: As teachers our pay is intrinsic most of the time rather than dollar signs. This message is coming out loud and clear.  The song the BCED teachers are singing today is "Don't Stop Believing."

That's not a bad idea.

[If you tweet, my handle is @musiciansojourn]

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Practice: Nary A Day Should Be Missed

It's summer vacation for many now.

Lots of time for musicians, young and old, to practice and grow musically.

This issue became a soapbox for me when, the summer break after my first year of teaching college music majors, one of them posted on social media the question:

"Is it wrong that I have been out of school for over a month and I have not touched a piano?"

I wanted to scream through the computer: YESSSSS!!!

After all, this student was supposed to be a piano performance major.  I can not imagine being a performance major and NOT practicing for a week, much less a month.

I did not say anything for this was not one of my studio students so I just tucked her comment away in my soapbox.


In the past week I have had several conversations with young musicians about the importance of practicing during the summer break. 

I want my students to continue the skills developed this past school year and even improve over the summer.

One, a college music major who I happen to follow on the phenomenon which is called Twitter even though I do not know her, tweeted (what one does on Twitter), that she was out of school therefore she didn't have to practice.

I responded - as all good music professors should - and she retorted that I had misunderstood her tone.

[Well, I will admit that the typed word, though revealing, does not reveal one's tone of voice very well. Many a conflict has arisen due to misreading/assuming the tone of a written communication.]

Anyway, I quickly apologized and explained myself.

After several exchanges, each one becoming less and less heated, she, this mysterious music major from some university in the USA, exclaimed that I was "Wonderful!"

A few moments later I received the notification that she had "followed" me.

We have since exchanged several encouraging tweets. :)


It is my hope that all my students practice during their summer break.

It is my hope that my music colleagues practice during the summer break.

Yes, we often have to schedule these practice sessions.

No, we don't always want to do it.

But, the end result will be worth it all.


Do I practice what I preach?


Today I've practice piano and went to band rehearsal.

What have you done today?

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Playlists...for Books!

A student shared that she had recently read a book that included a playlist to go along with certain points of the story.

Hmmm...that's a novel (pun intended) approach to including music with literature.

It got me thinking.

Would the Laura Ingalls Wilder books be more interesting if appropriate music was chosen to be played at certain points during the stories?

Other than Mr. Edwards singing "Old Dan Tucker" and Pa's fiddle music I don't recall too many references to music so there is a LOT of room for musical enrichment taking advantage of a bit of dramatic (or musical) license.

Dance scenes, of course, would have appropriate dance music from the time period.

Worship scenes could make use of hymns.

Perhaps Native American music when the family was frightened by the Indians when Pa was away.

You get the picture?


I must admit that at the moment my remembrance of this set of books is blurred by the beloved TV series.

(I am a product of pop culture!)


But how about applying this idea to other books?

Wouldn't it be interesting if, as you read a book, you'd come encounter pages on which you would find suggested listening examples to enrich your reading.

Of course, the listening material could be found online - perhaps on the author's website?

Thus making the process of reading a book not only mental, but aural as well.


As a musician and music educator I believe a person can never listen to too much music.

Nor can a person read too many books.

What do you think?

What book would YOU choose to select music for?

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Musical Treasures From The Past

I've written before about purchasing lots (as in collected items and sold as a "lot") of sheet music.

Despite the mustiness of the pages I find myself eager to pore over each page and look forward to playing through each one.

Today's lot included sheet music from the first half of the last century. 

Wow! I find it hard to state a particular era, especially one nearly a century ago.

As I lifted the music from the box I came across an envelope which I set aside because my hands were filled with sheet music.

I just had a feeling I wanted to look closely at its contents.

I found a book for beginning violin. I have many instruments, but I don't have a violin.

At least when (not if) I get a violin I'll have a method book to work from.

I found a commencement program from Hunter College dated 1944. I scanned it quickly to see if I recognized any names. 

I didn't.

Finally I got to the envelope. 

It was fragile.

It was OLD.

Inside I found a duet of Grieg's Peer Gynt Suite.

I put it with the other music.

There appeared to be something else in the envelope.

Ever mindful of possible spiders, I tentatively put my hand further in the envelope.

No spiders!


I found a smallish book-like item.

My heart leapt thinking it might be a mysterious passport from the past.

It wasn't.

It was the book shown below.

Army Song Book.

The cover is loose, but present.

I found a couple torn out pages.  

It seems I'm missing the title page for the front and a couple songs from the back of the book.

The book contains patriotic, sentimental, and church songs.

It's nearly complete and looks pretty good for being perhaps nearly 100 years old.

I find myself curious.

Who carried this particular book?

Did he like to sing?

Did this book survive a battle?

What countries was it carried to?

I'll never know, but I am thankful for this mysterious treasure from the past.

Someone else made it last this long.

Now it's my turn to continue its journey.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Road Kill

Today on the way to church I spotted road kill on the road.

Normally I avert my eyes, pretending I do not see it, yet the human side of me nearly always HAS to look to see what it is.

First, I spotted a o'possum.

So I sang the rabbit and possum song.

Drove a little further and saw something I've never seen before: a dead robin on the road.

I thought to myself: "Poor little robin!"

I found myself singing "Who Killed Cock Robin?"

Such a sad, perplexing song.

A musical "whodunit," if you will.

Then I saw a skunk on the road.

I could have sung the little skunk song.

Instead I just held my nose!

Oh, such is the life of a person with thousands of songs in her head --

Even road kill is inspiration for music!

Monday, March 3, 2014

You Know - That Trumpet Guy on Johnny Carson! (Part One)

The past month has been eventful for me in many ways. I guess the highlight would be when I got to talk with, you know, that trumpet guy on Johnny Carson.

Yes, if your first guess was Doc Severinsen, you would be correct!

Prior to his keynote address at a recent conference I strategically positioned myself in a seat where I could hear and see him without distraction.

On the 2nd row of the auditorium.

Little did I know that the couple who came and sat next to me were Doc's friends.

[Turns out Doc's friends were Allen Vizzutti and his wife. Don't know Allen Vizzutti ( Don't worry neither did I!  I've learned he is just one of the top jazz trumpeters in the world. And no, I didn't get his picture. :( ]

This first pic is when I first sighted Doc on stage as he was familiarizing himself with the stage area.

He came off the stage to talk to someone right in front of me. (Pic #2)
THEN he came down and sat on the arm of the seat in the first row (as you see in Pic #3) to talk to his friends who were sitting next to me. He was about 3 feet away from me.

He and his friends started talking about Doc's dogs. They noticed my listening in (OK, eavesdropping) and began including me in their discussion. I smiled and laughed along with them as they told stories of their pets. When Doc asked me if I had any pets I went on and on about how my brother and his family had just gotten a toy/teacup (?) Australian shepherd puppy to join their other dog.

Now, those who know me know that I do not have nor have I ever owned a pet besides the occasional carnival goldfish which usually met a watery demise down the toilet, so to be included in a discussion about pets, pet care, etc. was foreign territory for me.

But hey! If Doc Severinsen wants to talk to me about dogs, who am I stop him?

You might notice that I do not have a picture of myself with Doc.

For me, the experience I had is far more thrilling than a 10-second photo opp.

I did not want to appear the fan. (Even though I am!) It was not a photo opportunity.  He was relaxing before a presentation and talking with friends.

I wasn't going to mess with that. If I had I might not have gotten to talk with him for 15 minutes like I did.

Did he know I was taking his picture? Probably not.  Especially not the one of him on the stage. I tried very hard to be discreet - it would have just looked like I was checking for a message on my phone.


Did Doc really even notice me?

After all we didn't talk music or his career or my admiring him.


After he spoke (topic for Part Two of this series) there was a jazz concert.

I moved to another seat on the aisle back farther in the auditorium. I noticed that Doc and his companion (I'm not sure who she was though she did play in the concert that night) took my vacated seat next to his friends.

Midway through the concert Doc and his companion left the concert.

As they passed by where I was sitting Doc glanced up (I was on an elevated section right next to the aisle) and our eyes met. He smiled and gave me that jazz point with his hand - I waved with a goofy grin on my face.

Then they left the auditorium.

I sat in the darkened auditorium listening to some phenomenal jazz music and just smiled into the dark at the experience.

More later....

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Why Music Appreciation?

Historically music appreciation has been taught on the college level as what is called a "GenEd" or general education course for many years. It one of the required courses that a student may take to fulfill the fine arts requirement in many college curriculums.

John Knowles Paine was responsible for getting the course incorporated as a required course in the college curriculum during the 19th century . He was an early American composer and educator. What started out as an enrichment course at Harvard proved to be very successful.  As its popularity and value was realized it became a part of the core curriculum for Harvard students.

Each semester I tell my students they can blame Paine for the pain of music appreciation.


Regardless of the administrative reasons the course exists I have learned there is so much more to this course called music appreciation.

It is just like the child who sits and stares while the class sings songs around him and frustrating the teacher because she doesn't seem to be reaching him. Yet every night, according to his mommy's report, he sings all the time saying the "music teacher lady" (that would be me) taught him the songs.

Just like this child the music appreciation teacher doesn't always know how lesson content is being received by the students.

Blank stares are the norm.
Distracted, multitasking students are the norm.

Yet, some days acknowledgement that what is being taught is being heard...and shared.

Just a few highlights from this past week:

  • A student from last semester tweets that she misses music appreciation. My first response was "Really?" Then, though I realize she might miss the class for numerous reasons, a slow smile of satisfaction crept upon my face.

  • A current student shared with me how she knew the Hallelujah Chorus by Handel because she heard it sung at a singing Christmas tree program this past Christmas season. She also shared how she awkwardly stood with the rest of the audience while it was sung. I got to tell her how this long lived tradition had come about.

  • Another student was so moved by a graphic video portrayal of J.S. Bach's "Little Organ Fugue" that he'd left class and searched for it himself online so that he could watch it over and over again.

          You may watch it here:

          Pretty cool, huh?
  • Yet another student, upon hearing Vivaldi's "Spring" Movement 1 from The Four Seasons was prompted to by himself a violin. Yes, you heard me right: he BOUGHT a VIOLIN. He came to me wanting lessons. (I only know the very basics - we are in search of a teacher for him!)

         This is the video of Itzhak Perlman that inspired him:


Why music appreciation?

For this teacher these are but just a very few reasons why I teach it and enjoy teaching it:
Because it
  • exposes my students to new things
  • makes connections with other things, and
  • enriches their lives.

Yes, that is why.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Hallelujah Chorus...again.

[I love this performance. Notice that BOYS are singing the soprano and alto parts in this performance. Also notice the trumpets do not have valves.]

Surely you have heard this piece of music!

Today in class we talked about Handel's oratorio, The Messiah

A masterpiece.

[That is why this piece is on my mind. 
Bear with me.
I am hopeful that I don't repeat too much of the same stuff from an earlier post here.]


A little background for my non-musician friends.

An oratorio is a dramatic multi-movement composition that makes use of vocal soloists, a chorus, and orchestra.  It is often based on a biblical topic.  There is no scenery, costumes, dancing or any of those other things you might associate with opera.

In fact, a student once said his high school choir director took them to the most BORING opera he'd ever had to sit through.

I asked if there had been action, scenery, costumes. He said, "No, they just stood to sing then sat down!" I told him he had probably been at an oratorio.


There is a tradition that goes along with the "Hallelujah Chorus."

The tradition is to stand during the chorus.

The story goes that many years ago when the king attended a performance of the oratorio, The Messiah, that he stood at the beginning of the "Hallelujah Chorus."  And, when the king stands, EVERYONE stands.

It would be grand to think that he was so moved by the music that HRM leapt from his seat in joy.

Odds are more likely that he was just tired of sitting sing this piece occurs a ways into the entire 2.5 hour work.


I have quite a bit of history with this piece.

My first experience was singing it in my high school chorus accompanied by piano.

Then in my undergraduate years my college chorus sang it - a cappella!

During my graduate studies I had the opportunity to experience the work in two different ways. First, I got to play with the university's orchestra to accompany the performance. Then, as the final for my private conducting lessons, I got to conduct/run a rehearsal of the entire Messiah with the orchestra. What a wonderful opportunity that was! Sure, my heart sank as my private instructor pushed the score (1" thick) towards me and told me that was my final, but BOY, what a final!

As my career as a music teacher moved forward my experiences with the oratorio and this piece was through performances with the local community chorus as well as annual community sings of the entire work during the Christmas season.

Now, I get to share it with my students.

I guess the funniest story I have about this piece is when I played it over the loud speaker at my school on the last day of school after all of the students had gone.

[I'll let you in on a little secret: teachers celebrate the end of the school year just as students do! Shhh!!]

Little did I know, as the teachers were celebrating in their rooms and in the hallways, that my principal was in an important meeting in the superintendent's office.

Let's just say, she was not amused. :(

But, I did survive to tell about it! :)


Short & Sweet

Recently my sister and I talked about the attention span of my nearly 3yo great-niece (her granddaughter) while doing "craps" (translation: "crafts").

Today I attended a piano recital. The program progressed quickly and the musical works were interspersed with light banter.

Afterwards I mentioned to the performer that it was an "easy" recital - not in terms of the music, but in terms of the length of the works.

The pieces were more enjoyable because they were not incessantly long.

We talked about how it is important to consider the audience when preparing music for listening.

In my classes I make every effort to keep the listening examples long enough to get an idea of the music, but not too long to make the students tired or bored.

As for me, I could listen for hours, but I know many of my students wouldn't tolerate that so class listening examples are right at 2-3 minutes.

Yes, that is very short.

And yes, some students may want to listen longer.

While this is true, I must keep in mind that I do have a curriculum to get through.

I appease my desire to play the music longer with the knowledge that students do have access to the work in its entirety through our school's online classroom platform so those who wish to may take advantage of that.

So, like my listening example this reflection of the day is ...

Short & Sweet.



Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Tonight's Musical Experience

How can I describe tonight's experience?


     I sat next to a high school freshman. Around 14-15 years old.
     There were a few people older than me.
     Lots of young'uns. :)

Like riding a bicycle.
     For some it had been YEARS since they'd done this.
     Slowly it came back to them.

     Tonight brought back many memories for me.
     Not just what I was doing, but the feelings and sense of contentment.

     I was in a room full of mostly strangers, but yet I felt comfortable and included.

One might ask what I am talking about.

Why, I am talking about an experience that many in America have had - that of playing in a community band.

If you have watched many episodes of the Andy Griffith show you might recall an episode when the Mayberry band was revived.

I was privileged to have grown up in a town that had a community band.

I spent several summers practicing in the, thankfully, air conditioned band room as well as performing at the band shell in the city park.

You see I was once that young freshman sitting next to me tonight.

Now it would appear I am the old person I once sat next to!

My, how times have changed, but yet so much remains the same.

For, after all, it is the music and the joy of actively making music together that brought us together.

An example of the power of music.

Did you play in band when you were younger?
Do you miss that sense of belonging and playing your instrument?
Do you still have your instrument?
Maybe YOU could have a similar experience to what I had tonight.
Check around where you live and hopefully, if you're lucky enough, you'll find a community band in your very own home town!

Monday, February 10, 2014


No, not blankets or sheets.

Covers of songs are versions (variants, if you will) of existing songs.

Often times "covers" are a musician's attempt to ride the coat tails of popularity created by another music.

Currently it is not uncommon go to a concert and hear "covers" of other artists' songs.

Normally, if I wished to hear the music of another artist I would go to that artist's concert.

To me there are two types of covers:
1) One that sets out to imitate exactly the original song.  Tribute bands today tend to fall into this category.
2) One that while using the same song/music by another artist the new performer tries to make it their own.


I'd never really thought about it, but choral arrangements of pop tunes are in reality "covers."

(By pop this includes film and Broadway tunes, not just popular songs.)

Choral arrangements have been written for years. They are not new phenomena.

My experience has been that most choral arrangements of popular tunes tend to be lacking in substance.

To put it bluntly, a poor substitute of the original.

There is usually a reason why a particular song was made famous by a solo artist rather than a choral group.


I recall singing a few choral arrangements of songs when I was in high school and not really liking them.

One of the challenges I face as a choir director was trying to convince my choral students about choral arrangements they might be singing.

It kind of becomes a love/hate relationship.

Normally the students LOVE a song and want to sing it.
Then when first introduced to the choral arrangement they determine they HATE it because "it doesn't sound like the original."
This dislike is often obvious in the performance.

Having said this, it is rare that a choral arrangement of a piece of music lives up to the beloved original.

I find that I am drawn to the choral arrangements that make use of a song's tune while expanding upon the harmonies.  This expanding upon the harmonies allows the arranger to make it his own.
Choral ensembles are able to build sonorities that a pop group rarely can.

Currently I am preparing for a spring concert that is made up of choral arrangements of known tunes.
While some of the arrangement, "covers," are bearable and/or are growing on me, others appear to be better off unsung.

[This is not a reflection of the choral director's song selection, merely a statement that arrangements, or "covers," of songs are rarely satisfying in great number or in the long run.]

Sunday, February 9, 2014

I Make Music

Today I sang.

Today I played three different recorders - soprano, alto, and tenor.

Tomorrow I will sing with my local choral society.

Tomorrow I have an audition.

Tuesday, I will sing, play instruments, and dance folk dances with my students.

Tuesday, I will return to my second love, my trombone, as I play with the newly established community band.

Wednesday, I will teach and sing.

Thursday, I will learn from others.

Friday, I will hear Doc Severinson, famed trumpet player for the Johnny Carson era Tonight Show.

Friday, I will teach other colleagues.

Saturday I will reflect on yet another week of music.

Just a brief glimpse in the life of a music teacher.

A week of giving lessons and receiving lessons.

A week with music every day.

Every single day.

[Feeding my addiction, one day at a time.]

Every Day

I just heard it said that those who have been addicts struggle every day with the source of their addictions.

The conversation was referring to the recent death of yet another celebrity to heroin.

The addiction is the need for heroin every day.

Another reference was made to the oft overwhelming lure of food.

The addiction is the need for food every day ... in unhealthy amounts.

Both are very real struggles.

But the idea of "every day" is what stuck me.

I thought to myself, just a few hours after attending the local symphony's concert, that for me music is something I need every day.

Does that mean it is an addiction?

I have said here that I do not normally listen to music outside of what I do for work/school/rehearsals because it becomes too much like work and often is not relaxing.

But don't get me wrong for I have music in my life daily.

Every day.

And many times during the day.

Every day.

I can't even begin to list the amount of music I absorb during a day.

What was the last music I listened to?

The music to a game I was playing.

Will it be the last music I hear before I go to sleep, seeing it is nearly 2am as I look at the clock?

No, probably not.

So I repeat, is music an addiction?

I'll take it a step further and ask, can too much music be detrimental?

I'm not talking about music that leads people to do bad things.

With these thoughts I shall listen to the music of the night and turn in for the night.

Great! Now Phantom of the Opera is starting in my mind's ear.

And so my days ends with the chandelier crash at the beginning of the show.

It's a new day of music.

Every day.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Day the Music Died

On February 3rd there were many posts and articles about that fateful crash in 1959 when the music world lost Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and "The Big Bopper" (J.P. Richardson).

No, this isn't a post about that tragic loss.

No, this isn't a post about the Don McLean song, "American Pie."

(Can you think about that song without humming a line or two? I can't.)

This post is about how my day went this past Feb. 3rd and how I felt the music had died for me.  (A bit of an exaggeration, but bear with me.)

The day went relatively well.

I enjoy the classes I teach.

I have fun.

And, a student really complimented me after class so I was very content and satisfied.

And proud that I'd reached a student who'd said he'd DREADED the class.

THAT'S what it's all about!
(And I'm not talking about the Hokey-Pokey!)

I arrived home and prepared for the afternoon's lesson.
It was a no-show.
This is not the first time it had happened.
I was just a bit discouraged because I enjoy the lessons and I was looking forward to it.

Then the message arrived via email (not telegram - I am NOT that old!) that my choral society rehearsal was cancelled due to weather.

[Editorial Note: As a former Midwesterner the weather did not warrant cancellation of anything, but, as many point out to me, I am in the South now.]

I was bummed.

Then I started see all these things about "The Day The Music Died."

And I made a connection to how my day was going.

Kind of bummed.

But, alas, music has not died.

Not for the world after that fateful day in 1959.
Sure, the loss was great, but the influence of those men lasted long beyond their music.

Not for me.
The next day brought another great day of classes.
Choral society rehearsal took place the next night.

[In far worse weather conditions than the previous not (roads were blocked/detoured) - but I won't mention that.]

And so, music continues on for me.

As I hope it does for you.

[I have returned.]

Friday, January 3, 2014

Young Africans Concert

For years I've heard of the African Children's Choir (hereafter, ACC).

Only recently have I heard of the Young Africans Choir (hereafter, YAC).

The African Children's Choir is a part of an organization for children called Music for Life which works in several countries of Africa that lifts the children, literally sometimes, out of the slums and provides a better life and many opportunities.

One such opportunity is the African Children's Choir.

The Young Africans Choir is made up of young people who have progressed through the ranks of the children's choir. It is a group of 14 young people who sing, dance, and play instruments.

During the concert a few of the young people gave testimonials about how the African Children's Choir changed their lives and gave them hope.

While I do not know the exact number of young people who were in the children's choir I do not believe all the members of the YAC. I don't know for sure and I could certainly be mistaken, but it was a feeling I got that not all of them had risen through the ranks of the ACC.  Just made me think it was a bit misleading.

The music they performed was primarily traditional African fare with the familiar call-and-response form. Some songs were more contemporary gospel tunes. They were more successful on the traditional pieces as the melodies and harmonies for those are simpler; there were some intonation problems primarily in the contemporary tunes.

I liked that nearly every singer was given the opportunity to sing a solo at some point during the concert. This in itself shows the abilities of the singers.

The dancing was quite energetic as most African dance is, but the movements themselves were not so difficult. It was just the speed at which they were performed.  I imagine it takes a lot of coordination. I also felt that the group at times struggled successfully to complete their dances in the space that was available.

One piece was all instrumental. I thought this part of the program was well planned. During this part the members of the group performed on traditional African instruments. Each instrument was played by a pair of singers and the sound of each one was layered upon the others as it was introduced. The instruments played were xylophone (played by 2 players sitting across from each other with the xylo between them), harp, pipes (we'd call them panpipes), shakers (flat - looked like a pizza box shaker), horn (from some animal), and drums.

The costumes were very colorful and traditional African. First they wore tunics with capris, then they added short grass skirts. Near they end they dressed formally in colorful gowns and dress shirts with gray pants. Finally they were once again in traditional African garb. I was impressed with the number of costume changes that took place during a 1.5 hr concert.

The majority of the audience was made up of white people many of whom had probably never seen or heard this type of music - the drumming was very powerful, the dancing often tribal and sensual, the music repetitive and constant.

It was a very good show.

Minus the solicitation for donations for their organization, but then this is how they raise money so I am not complaining.