Wishing everyone peace and joy throughout this holiday season and beyond.
Coming soon: guest posts from two readers about improvisation and motivating students!
Thank you so much for reading my blog.
And now… back to packing!
A new blog post! Surprising, I know. Having a few days’ vacation time gives me an opportunity to catch up a little.
A student took her turn a few minutes into the class, singing “Almost There” by Randy Newman.
She had nailed “All That Jazz” by John Kander just the week before, so I was anticipating that this would also be wonderful.
As it happened, she was anxious about something. When she began to sing, I could barely hear her. I wanted to get into it and play, but my sound would have covered her voice.
It could have been anything.
She was worried about the high note at the end of the first phrase, so she held back out of fear that her voice might crack. This is a freshman class. The students are shy about making a fool of themselves in front of other people, even in class. (I’ve been there myself so many times! As a freshman, I was so nervous in my first voice jury that I forgot every word after the title of a slow song in English! I changed my major immediately.)
The professor, who is also her voice teacher, identified the problem and found a way to deal with it. Among other things, she vocalized the student to a top note a third above the one she was concerned about.
On the fourth or fifth try, she knocked everyone out of their chair! She was SO GOOD!!! It was perfect.
The professor talked about how well the student had just performed, giving her kudos for her substantial progress this semester. She talked about how gratifying it was to witness this as a teacher, saying, “If I had my shoes, I’d throw them!” ++
She elaborated. In the African-American tradition, when something is “too good,” audience members throw their shoes! *
And then the professor burst into tears. It was so moving.
The student was in tears soon after.
And the class was speechless.
And that, for me, is what it’s all about.
++ Class is held in a studio with a dance floor. Everyone takes off their shoes so the floor remains grit-free. If a dancer were to trip on grit, s/he could sprain, dislocate or break something, putting him or her out of the game for a long time. So that’s why the professor didn’t have her shoes!
* Both professor and student happen to be African-American. After class, I shared with the professor that I worked in an African-American church in Brooklyn for quite a while, also performing in other venues with the music director, who is a wonderful singer. However, when things were “too good,” no one threw their shoes. So where did that come from? She said it’s a Southern thing. People even throw their shoes in church!
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Does this sound familiar? I have felt this way many times.
Being consistent about practicing has its good points, though. For one thing, it’s so hard to start over from nothing.
Hence the following.
~ Winston Churchill
When Winston Churchill was asked to cut arts funding in favour of the war effort, he simply replied “then what are we fighting for?”
~ Martha Graham
“We learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same. One becomes in some area an athlete of God.”
“Practice means to perform, over and over again in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired.”
~ Albert Einstein“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”
“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”
~ Beverly Sills
Beverly Sills sings “All The Things You Are” by Jerome Kern
“There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.”
“You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don’t try.”
~ B.B. King
“There are so many sounds I still want to make, so many things I haven’t yet done.”
Or we could all try this!
~ Artur Schnabel
“When a piece gets difficult, make faces.”
(My personal favorite!)
I’ll preface this post with the caveat that I incurred a serious back injury several weeks ago, so I’ve had plenty of time to listen to the radio.
Earlier this week, I discovered how to stream WQXR on my phone. What a find!
While living in New York, WQXR was my station for 18 years. I loved it.
After moving away from the city, there was no access to WQXR other than via computer. So I switched to the local station.
The difference in brain activity as indicated by a scan would no doubt be astounding.
Why do folks even bother to turn on their radios in order to be lulled into a coma? Wouldn’t white noise do just as well?
These are some of my experiences with the local station:
So I’ve had it! Last night, thinking I’d like to listen to jazz, I tuned in to the local station. A fund-raiser was in full swing, again. Where was the music? I changed to WQXR and was delighted to hear two wonderful, eclectic programs.
Last night, two prog;ram hosts on WQXR talked about how they love looking for music they’ve never heard. I’d like to say that they don’t stop there. When they find a composition that is new to them, they don’t simply play the first recording they come across. They find the best there is. It’s refreshing!
Since I haven’t driven for such a long time (since graduate school!), and since I now have a beautiful Fiat, I wanted to honor the experience with something special.
So I began daydreaming about names.
My VW bug was named Hansel, but just in my head. No fancy plates.
This time around, a fond memory surfaced. Several years ago, I lived in an apartment on Cabrini Blvd. in New York (near the Cloisters) with a single mother and her baby boy, Joseph. We decided before I moved in that we would trade piano noise for baby noise. I got a whole lot of nothing done during my 11 months there, because I played with him so much. He was extremely cute, intelligent, and curious. I witnessed him learning to walk!
He used to scratch things and listen to the sound. The cushions, arms, and back of the couch; the end table, coffee table, lampshade and its base; and, most interesting to me, a tiny steel manufacturer’s tag on the corner of a filing cabinet! The tag had raised dots and letters, so the surface was varied.
Joseph talked all the time, using his voice to experiment with sound. When I would look him in the eye and repeat a string of sounds he had just made up, he would have an astonished look on his face, as if to say, “Oh! Someone finally gets it!”
One day, he woke up ast 5:00 a.m. saying only one word, “Addy, addy, addy,” over and over. He repeated it until he went to daycare at 8:30. When he came home at 5:30, he was still saying it. And that was the word of the day until he went to sleep around 10.
I rather liked it!
CT vanity plates can have up to seven characters, including one period. “ADDY” seemed too plain. “MY ADDY,” with 2 “Y’s,” looked too symmetrical. So I went with “MI,” since I have an Italian car.
The CT DMV website has a page where you can try out your choice to see if it’s available. So I tried it out, adding a variety of backgrounds at the same time. The plain background didn’t work for me. I like lighthouses, so there you go.
In honor of Joseph and the Italians, here it is.
Now the old plates have to be mailed back to the CT DMV. And the MA title? I’m still waiting for the MA RMV (that’s the Registry, not the Department) to cash my check and send me the duplicate. The deadline for sending it to the CT DMV was October 15th. Fortunately, they use the date as a motivator. There is no late fee.
Just before the final hymn, he appeared to my left, eyes on the pedals! Although he didn’t make a sound, he was watching every move.
After the postlude, he was hanging around, so I asked him if he liked the organ. He started talking, so I asked him if he would like to play it. His eyes lit up. He came over and stood next to the console.
Humble thyself in the sight of the Lord
Humble thyself in the sight of the Lord
And He shall lift you up, higher and higher,
And He shall lift you up.
Celebration Hymnal #622
Sing the Faith #2131
Sing with Me #201
Singing the New Testament #230
The Faith We Sing #2131
(as listed at Hymnary.org)
Today was Kickoff Sunday at our church. Some churches call it Homecoming Sunday, and there are many variations on the theme. The designation denotes the first Sunday after Labor Day weekend, the beginning of school, the opening of church school, and the return of the choir.
Our “traditional” service began 1/2 hour earlier for the first time, which also moved choir rehearsal to 8:30 from 9:00.
When I arrived at 7:30 to practice, the chairs (a new experiment in lieu of pews) were in place for the parishioners. The location of the choir was left for us to take care of.
The six people who sang today all arrived at 8:30! Because of the earlier time, that could have presented a problem.
We welcomed Joyce, a new member who is trying out a new experience.
We discussed where everyone would feel comfortable, moved a few chairs, moved the piano so we could all see each other, and had a terrific rehearsal!
The choir wanted to face the congregation throughout the service in order to lead the singing. I couldn’t agree more! Finding seats among the parishioners and then walking to the front for the anthem would have disrupted the flow of the service.
Pam, a choir member, had suggested earlier in the week that we could spend less time rehearsing the hymns and more time looking ahead to the following week’s anthem. She made a good point. So today we warmed up on the sung response to a congregational reading. That only took a minute or two, a good use of our time, as the congregation needed our leadership with the unfamiliar music.
Our anthem was perfect for the offertory. Written like a round, the choir sang the melody. Sue, a soprano in the choir, handled the descant (essentially the 2nd entrance in the round) beautifully.
I came across this engaging piece while browsing through “The Faith We Sing,” an alternative to the standard hymnal. Although I didn’t know it, I fell in love with it right away. I was so happy when the choir had the same experience!
The congregation had a wonderful reaction to the choir’s singing today.
This piece, which can be done in many different ways, turned out to be a great way to begin the new season. Any number of singers would be appropriate, the placement of the singers for the two parts of the round could be flexible, the number of repeats could be changed during the singing with no problem, and the keyboard part could either be played or omitted.
I am so proud of my little choir for their enthusiasm, wonderful suggestions, cooperation, and willingness to show up early! The spirit of collaboration is wonderful, allowing everyone to feel a sense of ownership.
I can’t wait for next week! We will be singing “Lead Me, Guide Me,” by Doris Akers, followed by “Over My Head,” an African-American spiritual arr. by John Bell, the next week. “Over My Head” was suggested by a choir member last Spring. Thanks, Carolyn!
THE ACCOMPANIST I've always worried about you-the man or woman at the piano bench, night after night receiving only such applause as the singer allows: a warm hand please, for my accompanist. At concerts, as I watch your fingers on the keys, and how swiftly, how excellently you turn sheet music pages, track the singer's notes, cover the singer's flaws, I worry about whole lifetimes, most lifetimes lived in the shadows of reflected fame; but then the singer's voice dies and there are just your last piano notes, not resentful at all, carrying us to the end, into those heartfelt cheers that spring up in little patches from a thrilled audience like sudden wildflowers bobbing in a rain of steady clapping. And I'm on my feet, also, clapping and cheering for the singer, yes, but, I think, partially likewise for you half-turned toward us, balanced on your black bench, modest, utterly well-rehearsed, still playing the part you've made yours. Dick Allen Originally published in North Dakota Quarterly, Vol. 74, No. 3, 2007
The congregational singing was inspiring, and the choir sounded enthusiastic when singing “Hosanna!”
I want to emphasize my belief that the most important elements of good hymn playing are:
The congregation will respond with confident singing.
Additional important considerations are:
In this way, you will:
We are more inspiring when:
And the choir and congregation respond very well to all of this!
It is crucial for us to practice the hymns in advance so our musical decisions can come to fruition. The sloppiness that comes from lack of preparation does not inspire good singing.
Ours is not a large congregation. Nevertheless, the singing was accomplished as a group today. The group sounded committed, confident, and expressive. Mission accomplished! No wimpy singing allowed.