Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Magic of Reunions

The music world is all abuzz about the recent reunion of the group Destiny's Child.

Even I, not necessarily an ardent follower of the group who doesn't even know all the group members names, feel a little bit of the magic created by this reunion.

Over the years there have been a few momentous musical reunions that shook the music world.

The one that comes to mind is that of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. They reunited after a bitter separation.  In September 1981 ...

The duo entered through a side stage door, 
took center stage amid audience applause, 
looked at each other and shook hands.
The music began...again.

I can just imagine the roar from those in the audience.

A quick search garnered this list (by no means an exhaustive list) of musical groups that have reunited after periods of separation.
Spinal Tap
Stone Temple Pilots
New Kids on the Block
Spice Girls
Led Zepplin
Van Halen
The Police
Pink Floyd
En Vogue
The Fugees
Duran Duran
The Who 

Groups split for a variety of reasons.

Sometimes they just grow tired of being together.

Sometimes their once-aligned musical vision moves in opposite directions.

Both of these could be underlying causes for the split of the Beatles.

Sometimes, and frequently, one member of the group wants to explore a solo career. 

I can remember when Donny Osmond and Michael Jackson left the groups made up of their individual brothers. Each pursued a solo career which was successful.  The brothers' groups continued to sing together though their attempts were overshadowed by their younger sibling who had gone solo.

The Commodores floundered then fizzled after lead singer Lionel Richie left the group.

There's been rumors of a Commodores reunion.

It seems we might have to wait for it.

Last year, in a Rolling Stone interview, Lionel Richie said, "If I could pull off a Commodores reunion, I will be the miracle worker of life.

He went on to quote Paul McCartney: "Somedays I feel like it's what Paul McCartney said: "The memories of the Beatles are better than the Beatles."

Sometimes though it's nice to relive those memories with a reunion concert. 

After all, for the fan, the magic of a group's music is reignited when they reunite.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

All About That Bass

No, not that song!


Have you ever sung or performed with a group of musicians when the bass part was missing?

All that remains is the treble parts.

There is no foundation.

The musical harmonies are incomplete.

The missing part is very obvious to the musicians.

What follows are some thoughts about the evolution of the bass line in music.


Prior to/Around 1000 A.D. church music was known as Gregorian chant.

Gregorian chant was monophonic which means there was only one melodic line.

THE melody.

Then came organum which is considered to be the first form of harmonic music. 

In organum the melody was still the Gregorian chant with a harmonic part that would, initially, be improvised; later it would be notated.

However, the harmonic part was a descant, or was written above the melody/Gregorian chant.

This effectively made the original Gregorian chant the "bass line" of this now two-part music - for the time being.

As the third harmonic part was added it too was also added above the Gregorian chant which, because of its foundation-like status, became known as the cantus firmus.

The harmonic parts were treble and the cantus firmus, or Gregorian chant, would be called "Tenor."

[Side note: I have often wondered if this was why the melody part in Sacred Harp/Shaped note music was written in the tenor part.]

Eventually, a fourth harmonic part was added below the cantus firmus, or Gregorian chant, which would become what we now know as the bass line.

Where the cantus firmus initially was intended to be the most important part of a piece of music due to its religious importance the bass line would eventually become the most important part.


While an unaccompanied, monophonic piece of music - be it sung or played on an instrument - does not technically have a "bass" line there is an implied bass line even though it may be unwritten.

I can safely say that every song/piece of music with tonal harmonies written today has a bass line.

It is the foundation to which the melody is tied.

A polarity, if you will, exists between the melody and the bass line.

It is the foundation upon which all other harmonic parts are dependent.

Therefore, in tonal music every other part has distinct relationship to the bass line.

So you see, it really is all about that bass!

It's not just the title of some song.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Oh wait, this is important!

As I am about to leave the house my momma has one last thing to tell me.

Oh wait, this is important!

As my class prepares to leave for the day I will often have one more thing to tell them.

Oh wait, this is important!

In a concert the most obvious "Oh wait, this is important" moment might be the encore played by the performers as their last musical statement to the audience.

In a piece of music, be it "loud and proud" or "soft and subtle," the "Oh wait, this is important" moment might be the last few measures leading up to the final cadence.

And then there's that held-breath moment as that last resounding tone seemingly lingers in the air.

[Have you every listened to a piece of recorded music for this "Oh wait, this is important" moment? Next time listen carefully. It is there. Precious milliseconds of "air time" is all it takes, but you will hear it.]

That held-breath moment just after the conductor cuts the ensemble off or musicians cease to play.

It is ever so brief, yet to the audience members "Oh wait, this is important!"

Be still and enjoy the "Oh wait, this is important" moment when you attend your next concert.

Don't be so eager to gather up your belongings, put on your coat, or merely start shuffling your feet or shifting in your seat.

Let your ears listen attentively for that "Oh wait, this is important" moment.

Let your eyes be watchful to see the impact the "Oh wait, this is important" moment has on the performers and on the other audience members.

In other words, wait for it.

Wait for the "Oh wait, this is important" moment.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Musical Rorschach Tests

Music is like a Rorschach test. We all hear what we want to hear.

I recall a listening experience in high school music history.

(Yes, my HS actually offered a semester course in music history. It was a great jump start for college.)

My teacher played a piece of music and asked us to write a description of what the music was saying.

My own response was NOTHING like the composer intended.

I wasn't alone.

I remember there being as many descriptions of the music as there were students in the class.

Kind of like how the ink blot cards of a Rorschach test have different appearances and garner varied responses to each image - as varied as the viewers themselves.

Just as this test has often proven to be difficult for researchers in the field of psychology to study the test and its results in any systematic manner, and the use of multiple kinds of scoring systems for the responses given to each inkblot has led to some confusion.

So too is the struggle with teaching listening in music class.


Until recently I'd never really thought about music listening experiences in this way.

Too often we tell the students what they are going to hear, but really that in itself does not teach independent listening skills.

Too often we tell students what they are hearing WHILE they are hearing it.

[Egads! How can they listen if someone is talking through the music??? This is a futile attempt, at best, to guide listening experiences, in my opinion.]


How then can you teach an emotion or an image in music?

One of the first things that comes to mind is by actively engaging students in the listening experience.

Active engagement means giving the students something to do whilst the listening experience takes place.

I have found that students respond best when this is guided engagement. As they become more experienced their responses do not need as much guidance as perimeters within which they engage.

This one thing elevates the listening experience far above the passive music listening experience where students are either just sitting and listening or, worse yet, the music is merely background music.


It's difficult, as teachers, to let go and let students explore and find things within the music that draws them.

Engage the students in the listening and let them LISTEN!

Like responses to the inkblot cards of the Rorschach test, responses to the music will be varied.

And it's OK if students don't see it as you do.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Winning The Lottery

Setting one's sights on a career in music is not much different from expecting to win the lottery.
~ The Chronicle of Higher Education, 9/15/2000


This quote from 15 years ago could infuriate many a musician and music educator.

On the surface, it would.

But when those same people thought about it, it's pretty accurate.

However, it is not impossible.

I'm happy to be one of the many exceptions to this statement.

I have supported myself comfortably with a career in music. 

I tell students that my job is like that of the professional athlete. 

I get paid to do my hobby. 

Can't get much better than that!


Now...if I actually won the lottery.

A whole LOT of money. 

What would I do?

After taking care of my family and my church, here's a couple obvious things I'd do: 
  • Get season subscriptions to all local arts organizations
  • Travel to attend music/arts-related events
Then, to occupy my days, I would open a music studio that offered free music lessons for all students.

I believe every child should be given the opportunity to learn music. To experiment. To have musical experiences.

Now, when I've mentioned this to other music teachers they jumped on me because, since my lessons would be free to students, I would/could be taking students from other teachers.

I hastened to tell them that I never said my music teachers would be teaching for free.

Students get free lessons.                            
Teachers who teach at my studio would get paid.

It would be a win-win situation.


Sounds great, right?!?

Unfortunately, I've heard one has to play the lottery to win the lottery.

That may leave me out, but still this is my musical dream. :)

Monday, March 16, 2015

When Criticism Goes Too Far

Very rarely am I compelled to write immediately after reading/seeing something.

Today is the exception.

There is a musical reality show called "The X Factor" which, like "American Idol," has shows in different countries all over the world.

While I have watched American Idol I have not watched The X Factor so I cannot really say much about the show.

I do know both shows have judges who critique aspiring singers.

Most singers do understand that by going to auditions and perhaps making it to the actual show their singing will be criticized.

This is sometimes difficult for those singers whose families and friends have been telling them for years what WONDERFUL singers they are all their lives when in reality they are not very good at all.

Criticism comes with the territory of the music business.

This is a given.


Early on I did watch American Idol - the Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Hudson seasons.

I admired the usually constructive criticism that the 3 judges would mete out. 

Simon Cowell would always get boos for his comments, but professionally/musically-speaking he was often dead on with his critique.

While he did lack tact many times, his critiques - though seemingly harsh - were usually music-based, not personal attacks.

Sure, he made comments about someone's appearance or weight, but in the music business those, sadly, are a reality.

[Sometimes I long for the early day of radio when musicians were  lauded for their voice and their abilities because appearances were not relevant.

I was just commenting about a radio host's appearance on a TV news channel and how coiffed he looked for, stereotypically, radio personalities are not concerned about appearances.]


Today I read about two judges, a husband and wife team, who had been fired from their jobs judging New Zealand's show of the X Factor.

The two have been accused of bullying the contestant. Calls for their firing swamped the TV network that broadcast the show which, in turn, called for their removal by the production company.

The article quoted excerpts of each one's critique of a contestant. Though the excerpts seemed harsh I, wanting to give the benefit of the doubt, wanted to see them within the context of when they occurred so I turned to my trusty friend Youtube. 

The video below is what I found. What do you think?

As for me I am HORRIFIED and SICKENED by how they attacked the singer.

And I'm just watching a video after the fact.

I felt the singer handled himself quite well during the onslaught.  As incredulous as I felt watching the video I cannot imagine being the one standing there at that moment.

The video does not include the singing, but regardless of how the singer sounded, a professional, competent judge should never respond the way these two judges did.

The old saying, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything." is not always possible in the role of judge.

However, there are ways to get one's point across without overstepping the boundaries of professional criticism.

These two - who I won't mention here because they do not deserve any further publicity - went too far.

The singer - oh, his name is Joseph Irvine.

You can see his audition for The X Factor here.

This makes me think that his performance was probably quite passable.

[You'll also note that the same judges who tore him apart in the first video actually gushed about him over and over in this video.

That also sickened me.]


I do not believe a person should be led on to believing they have talent when it is lacking, but I do believe there are kinder, gentler ways to impart negative critiques.

These judges showed how NOT to critique a performer.

There you have it.

One of the few rants you will see on this blog.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Musical Experiences for the Senses

Have you been to Disney World and gone to the "Honey I Shrunk the Kids!" show?

During the show, at precise times, something occurs that affects those seated in the audience.

I remember the blowing of large fans when it was to be windy.

I remember the flash of light - like the flash on a camera - to mimic lightning.

I remember most the scurry about my ankles and feet when there were rats on the screen.

Followed by shrieks of some audience members.

It seemed very real and expanded the normal audience experience by involving the senses.

This is called "Immersive Theater."


Now imagine a music program that does something similar.  I recently read the following:

Those in the audience were blindfolded and fed different sensory experiences in parallel with the music: fizzy pop and cola bottles for the effervescent second movement and fingers scampering up your arms in tandem with the first violin, then as the music changed, a scent-soaked silk scarf flickering across your skin, and hands laid on to give a sensation of pressure or relaxation.
 [The Guardian]
This could be called an "Immersive Concert."

How cool would that be?
How eerie would that be?

The music director in me imagines the nightmare the logistics that would be involved.

However, I believe it could be doable.

Involving students in the planning would help them delve more deeply into the music instead of just performing it.

Making the students think about the affective aspect of musical works takes their musical thinking and understanding to a whole different level. 


Starting small scale with a small performance ensemble (those not performing could do the interactions with the audience) and a small audience.

Musical selections would be important.

Knowing the music would be important.

It could be billed as an "Evening of Musical Experiences for the Senses."

It would be a collaborative event. Totally different from what normally exists between performers and audience.

I believe it would be an unforgettable event for all involved.

Oh, and I would FOR SURE want to video tape the audiences responses to the entire event.  

That in itself would probably provide a good many laughs as well as an understanding watching the audience physical/sensual responses to the music.

Anyway, something to think about when wanting something innovative for a music program.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

My Musical Childhood


The following question was posed as a topic for a recent online chat.

This week we are asking you to share your own musical experiences at ages 5, 7, 11 and 14

Then we want to reflect on how this has shaped you as a music educator or if you aren't one, how it's had an impact on you since.


What follows are my responses.

Age 5
Music experience thus far in my short life has been primarily singing with my parents and family. Singing is an important thing to my family. My daddy is always singing something. My momma sings children's songs and Bible school songs with me and my brothers and sister. She can also be found playing and singing along with folk songs on the chord organ.  Interestingly enough, by this age I have already participated in my first singing school at the church where my daddy preaches.  I have been introduced to music notation, shaped notes, and how to song lead (conduct).

Age 7
By this time I have been continuing what I did at age 5. I can add having music in school (though I don't remember my first music teacher's name) and participating in school programs. I don't have a lot of memories of music at this time, but I do recall singing "Oh Come All Ye Faithful" at the Christmas program each year.

Age 11
A LOT has changed since age 7. My family has moved to a new town. Now I have music each week. A music teacher comes to our classroom to teach us. She often pushes a big piano into the room for music class. I remember thinking she must be strong! I also like when she bring a cart filled with xylophones. We sing a song called "Shenandoah" and my friend and I laugh when we sing the last word "misery" knowing it is really "Missouri."

In 5th grade my music teacher has an afterschool choir. We sing funny things like "Mah-may-me-moh-moo." It makes me laugh. I think we all sound like a bunch of monkeys!  We also learned a funny song called "High Hopes." That silly ol' ant! [I still have the song sheet we used.]

A man, called a band director comes to our class. He has us learn to play something called a flutophone. We learned to play a lot of songs, but my favorite is "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." I love that song!

Then this band director man talks to us about being in band. My older sister and brother are in band so, of course, I will be in band. I begin playing a trombone.  I don't think I knew what a trombone was until I learned about it from the band director man.  I tried real hard to blow into it and learned to hold a note for 4 beats while my foot went up and down, up and down.

In 6th grade I am in band, choir, and music class.

I am not so very good in band at the beginning of the year. I am 2nd chair from the END out of about 16 or 17 trombone players. At some point during the year I switch to tuba. Oom-pa-pa! It is a HUGE instrument made out of brass. I can barely hold it. It's a good thing my daddy has a station wagon otherwise I'd never get that thing home to practice it!  I'm not sure, but at some point during the year I switch back to trombone. I'm not really sure how that came about.  All I know is that whereas at the beginning of the year I was so bad, by the end of the year I am FIRST chair!!! WOW!  Somehow I got better.  Maybe there is something to this practicing thing.  I remember playing some piece called "Soul-Mobile."  Funny name, but we rocked!

I was honored at the end of my 6th grade year to receive an award for "Most Improved." I certainly did not expect that. I was so surprised when my name was called.

I know I sang in choir this year, but I can't remember much about it.

I do remember music class. My music teacher had us work out of packets. We learned music notes and a lot of other stuff. [Yes, after 40 years, I still have that packet.]

Age 14

Once again these past few years in junior high I have been in band, choir, and music class.

In band I sit 2nd chair my 7th grade year (2nd to an 8th grade boy). By 8th grade I am first chair again. A girl - 1st chair trombone! Our band director makes us do these silly breath impulse rhythm things EVERY day in rehearsal. It is SOOOO tiring. Then he makes us play a scale. I FINALLY learn what those little things at the beginning of each line of music are: key signatures! They tell me when to play Eb and Ab. Oh yes and a # too. I've learned those little things are important.  My band director tells us we give him an Exedrin headache and tells the drummers to stop being Russians! At first I don't understand this, but then I get it - he's making jokes!  Later I learn it's because we were trying his patience and the drummers were speeding up.

In choir we sing songs that includes the boys. So we sing 3-part songs. That's kind of hard so we work really hard at it. I sing alto! I find I can sing as low as a lot of the boys, but I don't sing their part.

In music class I remember working out of packets. What is it with these packets? And I remember learning to play the guitar. I learn to strum "Zum Gali Gali." I am a rock star on my guitar! No, not really, but I pretend I am.

It is during this time I get my first experiences performing at solo & ensemble contest and at organizational contest. I also get my first medals. I started playing a trombone duet with a boy. :)

One thing I will not miss in about junior high music classes is having to climb up 3 floors of stairs twice and sometimes three times a day!

During the summers I go to a music camp in Iowa. While there I play in a band, sing in a choir, and have classes in theory and conducting. I won a scholarship to get to go to camp. I am so proud. I am going to work hard and learn a lot!

By the time I actually turn 14 I am in my first year of high school. I am going to have so many musical opportunities!  I get to march in a squad of 4 trombones in marching band. We get to march at football games and parades. I am singing in the freshman choir. Once again I am singing alto. We have to sight sing after our warm ups. I'm pretty good at this, but others don't like it. I start taking private lessons in trombone and voice during this year.



My music education during the years described above were VERY influential in my becoming a music teacher.

Every music teacher from age 7 on has had a huge impact on me as a musician and on me as a teacher. Sometimes I do something in class and realize that "Mr. B. or Mr. K. or Mr. M or Mr. R. or Miss W. or Miss H." had done that too. And I just smile.

I learned that to be successful I have to work hard. I have to practice. And practice.

I learned how to read rhythms VERY well thanks to those breath impulse rhythm exercises.

I have to have an eye for detail - every element of the music being played or performed. 

I have learned to listen to myself and to others. 

I have learned to watch the conductor.

I have learned to work well with others. 

I have learned that an entire band or choir can all breathe together, pause, then play or sing beautifully together.

I have learned....oh so very much that doesn't have anything to do with music too!

I can never really thank those who shaped my musical childhood and influenced my musical career for all that they have done for me.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Memories of a Singing Girl Scout

Today is the anniversary of the Girl Scouts of America.

On March 12, 1912, Juliette Gordon Low began an organization with a group of girls in Georgia which would go on to become the Girl Scouts of America.

I am proud to say that I am a lifetime Girl Scout.

Scouting was a major part of my childhood and youth.

Sure, I enjoyed earning badges, cooking and camping out, playing games and performing skits. 

It was in Girl Scouts that I learned the importance of the flag and participated in many flag ceremonies for troop, camping, and civic events.

Camping was a big part of my summer. I was horribly homesick the first time I went for a two-week stay. I cried every night the first week. I recall receiving a letter from my mommy telling me that being homesick just meant how much I loved my family and my home and that I'd be just fine until they came to pick me up. 

Then I cried at the end of the two weeks because I didn't want to leave. I'd LOVED camping!

(Well, not all of it. To this day, after many caper assignments of cleaning out the latrine, I do NOT care to use an outhouse/latrine. Give me my indoor plumbing!)

My fondest memories of all the Girl Scout activities I was involved in all involved singing of some sort.

All songs were taught/learned through oral tradition - learning something through repetition. All harmony was done by ear.

I think it was Girl Scout camp that really prepared me musically for listening carefully for musical sounds.

"Make New Friends" is a song that takes me back to those childhood days spent in Girl Scouts.

At camp we sang all kinds of songs.  Beautiful songs like "Barges" and fun songs like the "Billboard Song."

After each meal we would sing songs that cheered for our camp (Camp Conestoga in Iowa) and for our individual units.  I can still remember the songs I sang for my units - Prairie's Edge, Tinder Trails, and Outback.

Campfires were a highlight of my time camping. I loved hearing all the voices blending together. Early on I was a fan of the harmony that was created.  I still find myself singing the three songs that always ended each final camp-wide campfire: "Each Campfire Lights Anew," "Green Trees Around Us," "Taps"

Games were song based. I remember "One & Twenty" and "Sarasponda" being favorites.

The songs I've mentioned here are just examples of the 100s of songs that I learned while at Girl Scout camp.

I am thankful for my involvement in Girl Scouts. Not only because of all that I learned, but because of all the music that it brought to my life.

I'll end with one last song: "Happy Birthday, Girls Scouts!"

Thanks for the memories...