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.]