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Friday, April 24, 2015

Currently 5.24

     Here I am at the end of April vacation. I'm not ready to go back to school yet. :)


Watching: Nothing. I have been so tired I've been falling asleep on the couch. Over vacation I did see the new episode of Castle, which I really enjoy. I also watched a lot of other shows that I don't really see often- River Monsters, Dirty Jobs, Survivor, etc. 
Image result for abc castle
     Actually, we did go to see the Aleppo Shriner's Circus last night. It was a lot of fun. They had a lot of great acts this year- some white tigers that were beautiful, a tightrope act, dancers, aerial artists, clowns, camels, bears, motorcycle riders, contortionists, quick change artists, and more. Timmy liked the camels. David was a big fan of the motorcycle act and I think I liked the tigers best. I love that the profits all go to a great cause too. The Shriners are all Freemasons as well. The Masons have greatly helped my Chorale through their donations. I feel like we have made a great community connection with them as well.  

Reading: Still reading "Tchaikovsky" by Herbert Weinstock. I'm still fascinated by his letter writing and his diary, though I do still find him odd. Here are 2 excerpts from last night.
     A woman named Mme La Mara, once asked Tchaikovsky's publisher to give her a letter that would represent Tchaikovsky in a compilation of letters about/by musicians over the past 50 years. The publisher said that none of the letters Tchaikovsky had sent him would work for those purposes. Tchaikovsky agreed saying: "Isn't it strange that it should be hard to find an appropriate letter from a man who has been carrying on- and still carries on- the largest correspondence, dealing with not only business details but artistic effort? I constantly exchange letters with 4 brothers, a sister, several cousins, and with many friends, in addition to a quantity of persons of whom I've often never heard. The need to give so much of my time to letter-writing is such a burden to me that from the bottom of my heart I curse all of the postal systems of the world. The mail often causes me sad moments but it also brings me the greatest happiness. One person plays the leading role in the story of the last decade of my life. She is my good genius; to her I owe all my prosperity and the ability to devote myself to my beloved work. Yet I have never seen her, never heard her voice. All my intercourse with her is by mail. I can certainly say that I flood the earth with my correspondences and yet am not in a position to help you out of your difficulty. "  (p.277)   
    In his diary of July 9, (doesn't mention the year- 1886?) he describes that "It seems to be that letters are never entirely frank. I am judging, at any rate, by my own. No matter what or to whom I write, I always worry about the impression my letter will make, not only on my correspondent, but even on some accidental reader. It follows, therefore, that I am showing off. Sometimes I try to make my letters sound simple and sincere, so, that is, that they should give such an impression. But in no letters except those written under emotional stress am I ever myself. For that reason the latter sort of communication always remains a source of regret and repentance, at times even painful. When I read the letters of famous people, published after their death, I am always worried by an indefinable feeling of falseness and lies."
      This paragraph was disappointing since I was really enjoying reading Tchaikovsky's personal thoughts and correspondences. It made me think about my own letter writing.  People who penpal, what are your impressions of his thoughts? I find that my most honest letters are usually written "under emotional stress" as well but I don't feel like I am not myself in my letters. In fact, I often feel that if someone was to collect all of my letters from everyone I send them to, they would probably know me better than my closest friends do. 

Listening: Not much this week. I've been walking a bit since the weather is nice. When Timmy has practice and Matt is home, I walk the local rail trail. I walked 4 miles today with my IPod shuffle. I listened to everything from Les Miserables to Elvis Presley to Chris Tomlin. I love shuffling my music. I know, I'm a nerd.

Making: I have made a few cute envelopes with a Crafter's Workshop, cherry blossoms template. (The same one I used for the homemade postcard.) I have realized that I'm not the best at stenciling. Doesn't that sound odd? How hard is it to fail at stencils? 

Feeling: Good. Today I did a few things that were good for me. I walked double what I had intended to this morning and then I went down to my parents' house and did some cleaning there. They are trying to improve some things at home and I figured they could use a little help. Now, if you don't know me well- I hate cleaning; with a passion. However, I had a good time knowing that I was doing something that was really benefiting people I love. It was much easier cleaning up their mess than my own. 
    Mail has stunk this week though. Boo. 

Planning: Returning to school. I pretty much failed at all my goals this week so that's a bit disappointing. I'm looking forward to going back to school. I have quite a few concerts in May and there are lots of things to be done. I'm feeling like I'm in an okay place though. I have a big field trip that I'm struggling a bit with the organization. 

Loving: Watching Timmy play baseball. He has had a lot of practices and seemed like he felt like a bit of an outsider. He had a scrimmage this week and he was a blast to watch. He is not super competitive but he loves playing and doing his best. Today at practice they were doing a drill where he had to hit the ball and try to run the bases before his team could field it. He did and was giggling as he was running through third base. It's just fun. I appreciate all the time the little league coaches put into our children. Watching the kids grow in their skills, act with good sportsmanship and have a good time is one of my favorite spring activities. David starts baseball next week. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Homemade card and incoming 4/22

I made this card for a Postcrossing member who likes homemade cards. What do you think? I used my gelli plate on a piece of old sheet music to create the background. Then I stenciled the bird and flowers on. The purple print is from the bottom of a pair of dress shoes I have. This is headed to Michigan
     I received a letter from LR in Georgia. (LR If you're reading this, you sent me a few challenging questions I look forward to thinking through!) The cute pirates are from Anne in The Netherlands. She sent some cool music stamps too! I had never seen the stamps before. I didn't know the Vengaboys were Dutch.  The boys thought the card was cute too. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Quick mail catchup

   The mailbox has been quite dismal lately. I have gotten a few good things but the package from Finland got lost and I'm still waiting for other things. I have also been a bit behind on my writing. I'm hoping that this post will be a kick in the pants for me.
     These 2 were outgoing cards. 1 was for a woman in Germany and the 2nd was to a student of mine who just participated in a fencing competition. I also sent a letter out to both Chemobuddies.
    I have had a few interesting pieces of incoming mail. I won another cool book from Goodreads. This one is called "The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook" edited by Kate White. In addition to having some yummy recipes (I tried Louise Penny's Madame Benoit's Tourtiere tonight.), it has some beautiful pictures and the book is textured in a cool way.
    Another great letter and stationary from Neil in the UK!
 A letter from Tseganesh, my sponsor child in Ethiopia. I also tried to get a nice picture of a letter from Angie but I couldn't seem to get a picture that didn't show at least part of our addresses.

      I was doing pretty well with my mail log but I have fallen a bit behind. I will try to catch up tonight.
      Have you been getting anything good in the mail lately?

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Districts from a student's perspective

   I've been waiting to post since I was hoping 1 other student would jot down their thoughts. (We're on vacation right now so I doubt he will remember. If he does, maybe I'll add his comments in a different color and repost.)  I gave the kids a few topics and asked if they could write some of their feelings in regards to those topics. So, here are some thoughts from my girls. One is in 7th and one is in 8th grade.


    When a student decides to try out for Districts, they have most likely been asked by their music teacher. In my case, I often put it out to the whole group. If I have a ton of interest, I just go with those kids. If I don't have as many as I hoped or if I know there is someone the experience would be very good form I will just find the student and ask them. Both girls who got in had decided they wanted to try out when I first mentioned it.
     The first step in preparing for Districts is learning the audition piece. My student said "Getting into Districts is something I really wanted, so I practiced the piece for over a month." She also graciously said that if you have a music teacher that will help you that this step is very easy. My other student said "If you could imagine excitement and anxiety together as one emotion- that was exactly how I was feeling [while preparing for auditions.] I remember singing the audition piece for the first time and it was really exciting, just very scary. It involved a lot of really advanced skills, including having the best breath control, which I had a lot of trouble with, but in the end, the audition turned out great." Once students have learned the piece, they attend the auditions.
At auditions the students meet in the auditorium with all of the other choral students who are auditioning. (I giggled a bit when I read my students' responses and realized neither of them had written about the actual audition.) Many of my students mention being intimidated hearing all of the other singers from the district. One of my students got extremely nervous and didn't get in. He had never really sung 1 on 1 with an adult other than me. After auditions, students wait to hear if they got accepted to the festival or not. Since I was working at the festival, I knew that night and told my students that night. One thing that was interesting to me was that I asked my students if they wanted me to tell them when I knew or if they wanted me to just tell them on Monday when we got back to school. One of my eighth grade girls asked me to tell her over the weekend "so I can process everything, especially if I didn't get in. It would be really hard for me to find out if I didn't get into the festival when I was trying to go through my normal school day."


After the students find out they get in, they are mailed a packet of music. It is their responsibility to learn it before rehearsals. When they come together as a group, they have about 12 hours to get it to performance level. I rehearsed with each of my students whenever they could- usually during our lunches. One student said: "Rehearsals at Districts at first was not as great as it could have been because there had been some kids like me who had practiced the music multiple times, and there were kids who were sight reading it for the first time. On the second day, it was much better because everybody had already practiced it at least once. The morning of the concert (dress rehearsal) was the best practice of them all. Learning the music was kind of difficult because since I am an alto, I had to learn both alto 1 and 2 because it didn’t specify what I was singing. When I tried out, I auditioned for alto, not alto 1 or 2. After I knew what part I was singing and I practiced the music with all the girls in the choir, it was pretty easy. " This girl practiced with me close to 40 times. Every lunch and then some.
The other student said: " Getting in was a huge honor since I had seen how advanced the chorus was from the year before. I remember coming into the big chorus room at the high school and seeing all these girls. I felt so intimidated, but it was so cool to sing with these talented girls! Our conductor was great. She commended us for everything she likes, but never feared stopping us when we did something wrong. I believe the most important quality in a music teacher/conductor is understanding the music and not just the notes. It is necessary to feel the emotion that comes with a certain piece and I would say that was her strongest quality and I really admired that." 


    After rehearsing for their final 3 hours or so, the kids eat lunch, change into concert attire and prepare to "do their thing."
    Student 1: "The concert was amazing! During the concert, the people there shut the lights on the parents, so the people performing could not get distracted. In my opinion, it was very helpful. After the concert everybody had to leave the auditorium and go to the cafeteria. It was very chaotic and crowded. It was very hard to find my family. After awhile I found my family and got to go home. I had a great time at Districts singing and hope to get in again next year." (Side note: We have 2 concerts. The first concert is for the choruses. The orchestra, band and jazz band have the 2nd concert. This has the potential of being a logistical nightmare when 1 set of parents is leaving the concert while the other set is arriving for theirs. This is what she was talking about when she mentioned the cafeteria.)
Student 2: "The concert turned out SO well. I had my little group of friends that I had made and the whole performance I couldn't stop smiling! The District chorus is by far one of the greatest experiences I have been gifted with and I hope to be involved with it in high school."
If your child ever expresses interest in one of these festivals, say yes! It is a lot of work but there are great benefits. For your student: exposure to new repertoire, learning under a new conductor, performance skills, audition experience, chance to make new friends, confirmation that they know their craft, and obviously a great opportunity to learn. I always see a great change in my students who have participated in Districts after they are home from the festival. Just this week student #1 has been singing louder than she ever has in class before. She sat herself down in the middle of a bunch of younger students when we were rehearsing a 5th-8th grade piece (for the 2nd time) and was a great leader. Student #2 I have only seen once since Districts but she also acted as a leader in the girls' piece. Student #3 (the boy) was a great leader in the 5th-8th rehearsal of the boys piece by trying to encourage the older guys to sit with someone they didn't know and help them in their music. He also made a suggestion in the warm-ups of my after school chorus, I asked if he'd like to try taking over the warm up section of that rehearsal and, surprisingly, he did. (He did well too. I might do this with some other kids for the rest of the year.) 
I have already started preparing for next year's festival. I have to submit 3 choices of conductors by June 1.

Friday, April 17, 2015


   I just wanted to update to let you know I haven't fallen off the face of the Earth. My "busy season" is officially over. I start April vacation tonight. I don't really have any plans but I hope to write some letters, catch up with some friends and get a ton of housework done. I'm behind on everything but work. I have pushed myself to exercise a few times this week so I guess that's a success. I always see the "currently" lists that people post so I thought I'd jump on the bandwagon. Here's what's was going on this week.



Image result for images home movie 

     David really wanted to see this for his birthday. So, here we are almost a month later. We went out for a Mommy Date tonight and watched it. The beginning was slow but it was cute. It was good for young kids trying to figure out feelings. Tim said "I loved it" and David said "I just loved all of it."  There was one part in the movie where a 3 year old sitting a few seats down from me was worried about a character and she began weeping passionately because she thought something bad was going to happen. I was sure her mom would reach out and try to console her but she just let the girl sob. It was heartbreaking. I don't know if I've ever seen such an empathetic kid. I was moved by this little girl.

"Tchaikovsky" by Herbert Weinstock. I started reading this a long time ago and didn't finish it. I just recently picked it up again. Tchaikovsky was a pretty odd guy. I was just reading about his relationship with his patroness Nadezhda von Meck. Both Tchaikovsky and von Meck seem to be avid letter writers. There are over 500 surviving letters between the 2 of them. A really strange fact is that, even though they wrote very often and von Meck was an unwavering source of financial (and emotional?) support for Tchaikovsky, they never actually met in person.  
     This book is a little slow but I'm learning some things. I'm thinking I'll finish it by May.

   Anything by Gondwana Choirs- Gondwana Voices, Singers, etc.. I'm becoming obsessed with this group.
     "Lost Boy" by Ruth B. A student recommended it and it's stuck in my head. 
     This exact moment I have Pandora streaming spa music in hopes that it will make the boys fall asleep. (Honestly)  It is playing Radio Ballet by Eluvium at this second.

    Nothing? Actually, I plan on making a to do list before I snuggle into bed with a book.

     This week has been a draining week. Here are the highlights:
     In pain- I did something to the inside of my left foot. (Remember the skipping incident months back? I think this has some connection) It hurt so badly yesterday.  It just feels really tight today.  
     Disappointed- I had a really bad rehearsal with my own choir boys. Most of the guys worked hard but some of the 5th graders were just silly and disrespectful. We had a personal chat today where I gave them a little tough love. I am pretty sure most of them got the fact that I really enjoy having them sing for me but I expect to be treated like they are a group of gentleman.
     Proud- I confessed to my female students that the young men didn't do so well so I would really appreciate it if they worked hard at their rehearsal. They did and we had a fantastic time. I was really proud of their hard work and grateful that they really put a lot of effort in.
     Relieved- It's finally April vacation. I just need 1 day to recharge on my own and I'll be good to go for the rest of the year. 
     Grateful- for my health. I have so many friends who I'm praying for that are going through a multitude of horrendous health issues. If you're reading, I love you and am continuing to pray!  

     I'm planning what's going to happen for the week. I'm going to have a list of things I want to get done. I'm also going to have a second list of things that I should get done but will not put a ton of guilt on me if I don't. 
     I'm planning on spending some time exercising and writing. Did I mention that one of my 8th grade boys has run over 100 miles this school year? This doesn't seem huge when you look at it from September, but if you look at the days where snow made outside exercise pretty much impossible, I'm impressed. He has inspired me to try to walk at least 100 miles before the end of the school year. It has been a good time to spend time with God too. (I'm hoping the foot injury doesn't ruin my plan. I didn't tell the boy so you guys can help me stay accountable.)

  Did I mention it's April vacation?Matt also made a really yummy buffalo chicken calzone for dinner. Oh, and I just got the cookbook I won from Goodreads. It's beautiful. I'll show it in my next mail post. 

     Ok. That's enough for tonight. I'm waiting on 2 students to finish their thoughts for Districts and then I'll put that info up. I see a lot of people have read those posts. Thanks!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Districts- Perspective of a music teacher

    I love having my students involve with Districts but it is a lot of work if you take the responsibility of preparing them seriously.
      It starts in the fall, when the audition lists are posted. Again, speaking from the choral side of things, we have a restriction on how many females we can send and we can send as many boys as we can force get to audition. Here are the things that go through my mind when selecting students to audition:
- Who needs a challenge?
- Who are my leaders?
- Who is performing at a higher level than some of my students?
- Who would benefit with working with different musicians/conductors?
- Though sometimes this is a little scary, who do I feel would represent me and our school well?

     Usually I give everyone an opportunity to "sign up." I usually see who comes to sign up and then I actively pursue kids who should be on the list that aren't. If a student that I hoped would try out doesn't want to, I usually just let it go. This year there was a boy that I hoped would try out that didn't want to try out because he was worried he'd be a little overwhelmed.  Knowing him well, his abilities and the requirements for the festival, I was pretty disappointed that he didn't want to take the chance.. but I understood his decision. Unfortunately, over vacation I kept thinking about what a great thing it would've been for him. So, when we got back from Christmas break, I told him the things that had been going through my mind and asked him to think about it once more. He trusted me enough to audition. (He got in and performed last weekend) For the girls, I can only send 9, so I teach everybody the music and then pick the top 3 from each voice part. I haven't had too many years when I've had more than 9 girls interested. My only concern for the girls is if there is a girl who struggles and wants to try out. If there are enough spots, I'm glad to give her an opportunity but I don't want it to be a negative experience if vocally she wouldn't be able to do well. (AKA. I don't want to intentionally set someone up for failure but I do want kids to gain experience and learn audition skills. This doesn't mean I assume all of my students will get into the festival.)
     In preparation for auditions (or auditions for auditions), I practice the piece with each student. Ideally I would say "We're rehearsing on this day" and students would magically show up all together. Realistically, I don't have the same prep time  as any time my students don't have class. This means I'm trying to fit in small rehearsals with each kid with a few group practices. By January, I want their piece learned and them to have the confidence to sing it for me alone. There are some times that I would like to push students further than they want to go. These are usually the kids who could've gotten in but miss it due to needing to practice a bit more- or nerves about singing by themselves.
      In January, on a Saturday, I bring my students to auditions. Many years I ask for a bus but it would have to come out of our music budget. There are a few years when I've had a lot of students and I've been able to get funds from general funds. If they do not provide transportation I usually beg ask them to pay the registration fee. Then I beg parents to carpool the kids. I usually spend some time this day warming the kids up, calming their nerves and hoping that they will do what they are capable of. I'm proud of all of my students for attempting the audition, even if they don't get in.
     After auditions, I anxiously wait to hear which students get in. I know I will have to tell some kids bad news and I look forward to sharing in the joy of the other kids. I like having the score sheets with me at this time since I can give them specific strengths and weaknesses of their audition.
     Once students hear if they get in, the real work begins. Each student is sent a packet of music to learn. It is understood that the child will work independently on their music but it is also assumed that their music teacher will be responsible and help them prepare. I had 3 students get in this year- 2 girls, 1 boy. The girls learned the same music but they are in different grades so they were never "off" at the same time.  Between January and March I am also involved with the production of a musical so between musical rehearsals, after school choral rehearsals and meetings I have had no days of leaving school before 3:30 (or later) since the beginning of 2015. In addition to meeting after school, I have also given up every lunch to work with students.  I have also rehearsed before school. A few important things to point out-1) I don't mind doing this if it's helping students and they appreciate it. 2) This is a free voice lesson. Every day. 3) If you schedule a time to rehearse, I will be angry if you don't show up since I scheduled my time around that appointment.  4) If you have a music teacher who is working with your child, please understand that some of the time they are putting into your child are sacrificial times in their own families so a thank you is always appreciated. I don't expect anything from anyone but I always appreciate a sincere thank you. On a personal note, I also gain some knowledge of different choral repertoire in these rehearsals.
     At Districts, the music teacher position is easy- once you've gotten them there. Again, ideally buses. Second best- parent drivers. Honestly, for the past few years I have driven at least 1 way each rehearsal. In some cases, my students would not be able to go because their parents can't get out of work or can't drive. This is not ideal and if you are a new teacher I would never recommend driving. Since this has been the assumption in my job since I started, I've gotten used to it and it has been fine with administration and parents. If I can avoid driving I do.
     At Districts, as a music teacher, I like to go and learn from other conductors. I enjoy seeing my students soak up knowledge from new people and hearing the beautiful music they're making. I like to assess things I'm doing well in my job and things I feel that I could use improvement on.
     What I like most about involving my students with Districts is collaborating with other music teachers, watching my students grow musically and seeing them push themselves to achieve more than they knew they could. Some teachers have told me they won't involve their kids because it is a hassle for them and involves a lot of their own time. I find that the time I put into preparing my kids seems to be repaid when the kids come back stronger and as better leaders.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Districts Festival from the perspective of the festival coordinator

    If you bring your child to a music festival, it should look like things are working seamlessly. There are many individuals doing set tasks and all are coordinated by the festival coordinator. The festival coordinator answers to the executive board of the District. The following people (and everyone under them) answer to the festival coordinator:
-Asst festival coordinator
-Manager and assistant manager of each performing group (10 people in our case) and conductors by proxy
-Staff at the host site for auditions, rehearsals and concert (usually includes security, janitorial, technology and the nurse)

Here are most of the behind the scenes things that have to happen for a music festival to be run successfully:
Preparation for auditions-
-Months of attending e-board meetings
-Communicating with each manager about choosing audition pieces, conductors, accompanists (if needed) and repertoire. Then, each of those decisions needs to be checked by the e-board.
-Reserving a host site
-Reserving a police detail for auditions
-Communicating with the host site about the logistics of the day. (Usually we are working with a school who has hosted for years, The staff has this working like a well oiled machine. By the time you are festival coordinator you have worked at the festival for at least 4 years so you have some experience and lots of people who are willing to help if you have questions, provided you're not a jerk.)
-Plan for snow day here in the northeast- just in case
-Schedule 3 minute auditions for about 1200 children based on instrumentation and grouping all students from 1 school together
-Find staff to work the audition day at check-in
- Communicate with collegiate ambassadors who will be helping bring students around
- Answer all questions about auditions from the teachers of the entire district.  Some days I received over 100 e-mails a day from the when the audition date was posted until the actual festival (Sept- March) You have to actually answer the e-mails too.

Audition Day:
-Prepare and bring all materials
- Work the audition day (Saturday, usually about 7 am- 7 pm actively)
- Make sure everything is running smoothly. If you have done a good job in preparation, audition day should go smoothly and you usually feel a bit of pride at your hard work.
-You are the "final call" on all questions? What if a teacher registered their student incorrectly? Can they switch the voice part they are auditioning for? What if I forgot a payment? Wrong audition piece? Missed audition time? What are the cutoff scores for each ensemble? Etc.
-Troubleshoot- One year I was coordinator, a pipe froze and burst and steaming hot water was shooting out all over the cafeteria. Luckily it didn't affect any children but it was very close to the instruments and ruined some music. We had to keep the auditions going, clean/fix the cafeteria and move all incoming band kids planning to audition to an area we had not prepared to use. Luckily for me, the custodial staff was fantastic and the site coordinator stepped up to help so I just had to get the rest of the stuff done.
-Collect all materials from all managers

Preparation for rehearsals/concert:
-Months of attending e-board meetings
-Communicating with each manager about  logistics of the rehearsals, needs of their ensemble/ conductor, program information, group rosters, needs at rehearsals
-Reserving a police detail for auditions
-Communicating with the host site about the logistics of the day.
-Plan for snow day here in the northeast- just in case. Our rehearsals/concert schedule lasts 3 days so we need to consider what happens in case of a really bad storm. Usually we plan for 1 day and then just pray really hard. Ha ha. Seriously though, I lost so much sleep the week of the festival because I worried about this a lot.
- Answer all questions about auditions from the teachers of the entire district.
- Hire a printer for the program and the tickets
- Choose a caterer for staff meals and for the hospitality room. Choose the food.
- Keep track of all receipts and paperwork for everyone
- Collect contracts from everybody working at the festival
-Define expectations of how you'd like everything to go
- Prepare schedule that includes rehearsal locations within the host site, schedule for rehearsals and meals, dress rehearsal on the stage and logistics of concert day
- Hire recording company to record concert and make CD/DVD

Rehearsal days-
-Work at check in to collect all paperwork from individual schools, etc.
- Communicate with all festival staff about locations of rehearsals, schedule, etc.
-Clearly define what you need help doing. Delegate much of this work to the collegiates, who are all future music educators. If you have decency and professionalism, you should also be grateful for this help and show this in your actions and attitude.
-Attend 1 e-board meeting
-Run a general membership meeting
- Make sure nothing is wrong. If something is wrong, fix it- or find someone who can help you fix it.
- Again, you are the "go to" person to answer any questions, address any problems. Sometimes you have to make a hard call (Ex.  if a  kid missed rehearsal and you have to tell them that they aren't eligible to participate anymore. Most time the student knows the rules but the family does not understand why we have the rules.)
-Keep a running list of things that are going well or need to be fixed
- If you can, check out the ensembles in rehearsals

Concert day-
- Make sure everything is prepared and ready to go. Again, if your preparations along the way were well thought out, this should be a day where you can be happy about your hard work
- Give a speech at each concert
- Be the "go to" person.
- Make sure all salaried staff people get paid
- Attend both concerts

     Once this is over, we usually go out to dinner and then start preparing for next year's concert.  Although it was A LOT of work and effort, I really enjoyed this position. I was told that I did this position well and I really didn't have many complaints, which I was grateful for. This was difficult to manage my tasks a few times since my boys were pretty young at the time, but I think I would consider doing the position again if the timing was right. I am still seeing high school musicians from other towns who know me (3 years later) because I held this position. They still express how thankful they are for the opportunities that were provided to them.
     Next post: Districts Festival from the perspective of a school music teacher.

"So, what do you actually do?" District festival from the assistant manager's perspective

     Quite a while back, I asked what people were interested in reading about on my blog. A few people mentioned that they would like to hear more about what I do as a profession. Many times, when I first meet someone and they ask me what I do, I tell them that I'm a music teacher and get "Oh! That must be fun!" (AKA- Either- "Cool, that sounds like it would be a good time!" but more often then not "I know what you do!:"
Yeah..... no. What about this?
Music teacher.. what my friends think i do
Okay, this one is a little closer. Though anyone who truly is a friend of mine knows 1) I don't often have time/desire to just chill out on a beach and 2) let's face it... my pale skin is burned just looking at that picture.
    Here's how the rest of the conversation goes. "Oh! That's fun. So, what grade do you teach?" Me: "Middle school. I have students in 5th-8th grade." This is followed by a myriad of responses. Top 3:
1) "God bless you. Ugh. Middle school... " *shudders*
2) "How do you deal with kids that age?"
3) Silently slinks away or excuses themselves since there obviously has to be something wrong with me?
(Disclaimer: I actually truly love what I do. I also like working with middle school students. Also, I chose to work with this age group so you don't have to let me know that I am "good enough to teach at a high school." I am intelligent and I'm certified to teach high school too if I wanted to. It does take "a special person" to teach middle school and the job is not  for everyone. However, I think it's where God wanted me.)
       This past week I served as our Junior Districts Festival Boys' Chorus Assistant Manager. Have you ever wondered what really goes into putting on one of those festivals? I thought it would be fun (and educational) to tell you what goes on behind the scenes. I'm going to give you 4 perspectives. I might even be brave enough to ask my students to give me authentic student thoughts... gasp. Scared yet?
    Where to start? I guess I'll tell you about my official role this year.

A Districts Festival: Assistant Manager's Perspective

     If you are a music educator and you would like to help out at your state's district festivals, the assistant manager is the position that you would most likely start in. This job is not too overwhelming (even if you are a brand new teacher). It can be a great way for you to get to know students and teachers in your area, as well as serving your district. It is also positive p.r. for the district you work in since that is usually publicized with your name. The best thing about this role if you're nervous about jumping in is that you are working directly under someone who did this job last year.  This is more of a helper role than an administrative role.  The only negative thing that might matter to you is that, depending on where you are teaching, it is pretty much an unpaid position, other than your expenses. 
     The most important parts of this job occur at auditions, the rehearsals and the concert. These are my thoughts about my personal experiences this year. I will write about the boys chorus part of this festival but you should know that there is a boys chorus, girls chorus, jazz band, orchestra and concert band. There are 5 assistant managers and managers on the festival committee. 
      At auditions, we had 6th-9th grade singers from about 65 different towns.  The manager and assistant manager usually get to the audition site much earlier than the students in order to set up the audition rooms, talk to the festival coordinator, confer with judges, prepare the waiting area for the students who are auditioning and, if you're lucky, eat breakfast.  The auditions started at 8:30 am this year and ran until about 5, with a 30 minute break for lunch. Auditions for each student were 3 minutes long. When students arrived in the auditorium, I would greet them and check them in by school code. (This is a numbered code. Their school name or personal name are never used in anything having the do with the judging process) Students were sent to their audition rooms and it was my job to make sure that the auditions kept moving- that students checking in had enough time to warm up, that everyone in the room was checked in, that the audition rooms stayed on schedule and that none of the judges were getting a line of students waiting.
      This year the audition process was fun. I love it every year because you get the following privileges:
1) You hear what students from other places sound like
2) You are helping to provide an awesome opportunity for 100s of students
3) EVERYBODY in that room "gets" what you do and the importance of music
4) Most of those same people appreciate you being there.
5) Almost ALL of those people, especially the students, are grateful that you are there and actually tell you that. 
     After all of the students have auditioned, it's time to pick the group. I'll be really honest here. This used to take HOURS. We had to collect about 1000 forms, double check the math on each form-twice!, sort the forms by voice part, organize them by score, figure out the percentage of students you were going to accept and then do the math (again) to decide which students were accepted and which were not.  (I would say that this is tough sometimes if you see the names. It's all mathematically cut and dry but sometimes it stinks to know that your student would've been the next person accepted or other things like that.) So, last year our district switched to electronic submission of scores. So this year the process was more like- open excel file, sort, look for gaps in the score, figure out the percentage of # of students accepted by part, sort again, print. Once the group is chosen, the list is given to the festival coordinator and they send it to the music company who will then distribute the music. (Before, we put together the folders and did a mailing to each school. I'm grateful for technology in this case.) Once your auditions are done, you have a few months "off," meaning that you don't need to really do anything in the asst. manager role. (Which is fantastic since this is where your "music teacher" role picks up again.)
     The next time you are "on" is at the rehearsals. We did 3 rehearsals and then a concert. The 1st and 2nd rehearsals were after school for 4 hours each. The last rehearsal was 3 hours, followed by a concert after.  My main job at the rehearsals was to assist with the administrative parts of the rehearsal- checking in the kids, greeting everyone, answering logistical questions, doing anything the conductor needs, helping the manager and dealing with any behavior issues (this was not really a huge deal since all of these kids supposedly wanted to be there and had earned their spots. With middle school guys, if you lay down the expectations and they respect you, the problems often come when they're super tired or too hungry. lol). 
     Our first rehearsal was pretty good. The pacing was a little slow and the boys came a little less prepared than I was hoping. I mostly watched the conductor and his interaction with the boys. It's difficult to step in with kids who have never sung together or seen you conduct and then make them a cohesive group when you only have 3 days. The boys were fading a bit by dinner. After they ate, things went better. On a positive note, the guys in the group were very respectful, grateful and friendly. There were many different personalities and I think they all felt comfortable just being themselves, which was nice to see. Many of them introduced themselves to students from other towns and to me too, which I wasn't expecting. I was surprised by how many of them came to thank me at every rehearsal, to hold a door, offer help, etc. (Chivalry does still exist!)
     The second rehearsal was probably my favorite. I had been asked to run a sectional, which is a rehearsal with a smaller group rather than all of the voice parts together. When I had been asked, I asked which voice part they wanted me to work with. "Pros" and "cons" of each section (at least as a stereotype) in this group:
Soprano: Pros- usually pretty enthusiastic. Don't challenge things you say. Sound like little angels
Cons- They are usually the youngest so they can get really silly or really tired. Less experience

Alto- Pros- One of the more competitive parts in terms of getting in so they are usually very musical. Their music is usually in a comfortable range for them. Ask good questions.
Cons- Again, can be on the younger side of the group so they can get tired easily. Sometimes lack maturity. Some of their voices have started to change after auditions so they might be dealing with that.

Tenor- Pros- The most competitive. hard-working. Music is usually in a pretty good range for most of them. Want to be good leaders. Respond well to encouragement
 Cons- Sometimes the tenors want to be really cool... in a bad way. Will usually have at least 1 who will make side comments or challenge you about what you're teaching. Sometimes have voice change issues or strain vocally depending on their experience.

Basses- Pros- Usually are the older guys so they are usually have more experience musically. They also like being leaders. They also like thinking that they're the "men" of the group.
Cons- Sometimes they like leading boys to misbehave if they're not engaged. Are less concerned about pleasing someone than they are about having a good time. Sometimes can be rude. Potentially physically giant. 

     Can you guess which one I asked to work with? Tenors. (Another disclaimer- the Soprano, alto and bass sections were all really wonderful and other than getting tired, none of the negative things I said above were there.)  I asked the conductor what he wanted me to rehearse. Unfortunately, I wasn't told until 20 minutes before my prep time was over at school on the day of the rehearsal (with no more free time during the day). I was to rehearse specific notes, entrances and Latin pronunciation on 1 piece. Easy peasy. 2nd piece- 3 themes which were independent lines with lots of syncopation. No problem. I play percussion too so I love rhythmic pieces. Piece 3- Specific notes. Ok. 4 verses of French pronunciation. Huh? Au Sérieux? Tu plaisantes? Confession- I don't speak French. I began to panic and frantically sent my EEK! Help! e-mail to my friend the French teacher. 
     I rehearsed the French with the French teacher and practiced every second that I had free in the day. My poor 8th grade tenor laughed audibly when I told him that I would be teaching the French. (It's okay, he was just teasing.)  I was sick to my stomach.
     The sectional came after the warm-ups at the second rehearsal. As I walked to the classroom, a few gentleman took my music/folder, the keyboard, the keyboard stand and the music stand.. which left me holding the electrical cord for the keyboard- not bad for a group of guys I've just met. I rehearsed the first song. They had a few note problems but responded well to my teaching style. They moved fast and they treated me very respectfully. I had a few great questions and they were enthusiastic. I almost tried to avoid the French piece by putting it last but I knew that I wasn't going to miraculously learn how to speak French while I was teaching another song so I might as well be brave.
     Some teachers feel like they always have to look like they're perfect. I have seen teachers make up blatant lies because they don't know an answer to a question. I have seen teachers deflect questions in fear that they will look stupid. I'm not one of those teachers. I think you can learn from anyone- even awkward middle school boys. I figured I would take the honest route. I said something like "Ok boys, can I be really honest with you?" (Greeted by puzzled middle school boy faces) "I appreciate your hard work and I'm really excited to be working with you. However, I got really intimidated when I found out what I'm supposed to be doing in this sectional. One of my tasks is to teach you 4 verses of French. So, here's the confession. I don't speak French. I'm a singer, so I do know how to get around the language a bit, but I'm not confident about it. So, I guess I'm just trying to ask you to be patient with me and to tell you that I'm doing the best I can while being extremely out of my comfort zone. With that being said, if you're taking French in school and you hear that I'm making a blatant mistake, please feel free to politely correct me." (Greeted by smiles from all the boys who obviously take Spanish and feel my pain.) Then a really relaxed looking tenor in the back row raised his hand. In my head I anticipated "If you don't speak French, why are you teaching us?" but what came out was "Hi. I'm a native French speaker. We speak French at home. I'd be glad to help you out if you need anything." What!?! Score! 
     I put on my brave face and started playing the lines I was supposed to be teaching. I went through a few lines of text until I got a word that I doubted myself on. I looked back at the dapper young gentleman in the back and asked if I was correct. I was, except for the last syllable. Then I thought, I wonder if this kid would feel pressured if I put him on the spot. He looked comfortable. He knew French fluently. Why not? So, I asked after a few more lines of my teaching, if he would mind speaking the text syllable by syllable and having us repeat. "No, I don't mind at all." Hallelujah! I've never wanted to hug a middle school as much as I did in that moment.  To give you a sense of why this was so terrifying to me, listen to the song I was supposed to be teaching. This is not our group but I love their performance. I will warn you that this piece will be stuck in your head and the more you listen to it, the more you'll like it. Listen here. Patriquin- J'entends le Moulin Holy smokes!
      The rest of the rehearsal we spent on the last piece. The boys liked this piece and felt pretty good. I fixed a few things but they were really responsive of my advice. A few of them actually glanced over a few times in the full rehearsal when they did things correctly or to "own it" if they knew they messed up a section. I had such a great time in this rehearsal. Secretly I wish I could've stolen all of them and had them sing for me.. except for the 3 in the back who I anticipate would misbehave if they felt more familiar with me.  Their sound was glorious.
     After sectionals we returned to a full rehearsal where I spent most of my time as "page turner extraordinaire." Again, I just enjoyed listening and managing bathroom breaks. 
     Today was the last day. Thanks for still reading. You're a trooper!  This is where I could relax a little since most of the work is already done. I spent the beginning of the rehearsal page turning, answering questions, checking boys in, and being impressed by how many of them looked really comfortable walking around in a full suit. I ran a few errands for the manager. Oh, and as I was walking back to the rehearsal room, I found a pair of men's suit pants on the floor of the hallway. Figuring that they probably fell off the clothes hanger of one of my boys, I made the unfortunate mistake of announcing that I "found a pair of pants in the hallway and was wondering if anyone was missing them?" I walked right into the smirks and giggles I got. Again, they were gracious and didn't laugh as much as they could have. 
      After the full rehearsal, they had a run through on stage. Aren't they cute?

 Run through was alright, not the best they did but... okay. Then they had lunch- their favorite. After lunch, we had to have them wait in a few classrooms. During this time I awkwardly tied many ties. This comic shows what I was thinking in my head during this time:

    The rooms with the younger guys were either all playing games on their phones or acting spazzy. Most of my tenors hung out in the last room and quietly looked over their music or just relaxed. 
Concert time:

    They did great. I was really proud of them. Day over? Nope. After their portion of the concert, we led the boys back to listen to the girls' chorus (and pray that they continue to act like gentleman when they're in front of 200 girls- they did.)  Unfortunately, I spent a lot of this time trying to know where all the boys were since some parents decided they wanted to walk out in the middle of the concert since their child was done.FYI- I know that this is necessary at times but, in general, this is considered really rude concert etiquette. I would say at least 30 families left before the girls performed. When the concert was over, I led the boys back to the classrooms where they sorted their music, got their stuff, said thank you and left to meet their family. After meeting with my own students and making sure they met their parents, I returned to the classrooms to clean up (only a few scraps here and there) and return the music. 
     Next year, I will step up as the manager of the boys chorus.  I really hope most of these students had a positive experience and decide to try out again.  The last time I was involved in the festival, I was the festival coordinator. In my next post, I will tell you what this festival looks like from the perspective of the festival coordinator.  To keep it simple, this will probably be in list format. 

Friday, April 3, 2015

Martin Ramirez

   So, I recently bought a book of Martin Ramirez stamps for the cards I was sending to the kids in the musical. I had never heard of the artist but my recent interest in art has made me notice more things than I used to. I found this blog post on Ramirez today and thought it was pretty interesting. I thought I'd share it with you.
   These are what the stamps looked like:

random catch up

   Just returned from the post office with the intention of sending these goodies to Ireland in a Postcrossing swap.

   Those Coconut nest candies are my favorite at Easter (with Cadbury mini-eggs as a VERY close second). Unfortunately, when I got to the post office, I saw that it was missing from my package and that I had left it on my desk. So... I ate it. Sorry if you are reading this Brian! There is also a New England Patriots ceramic magnet in the package. I don't know how I forgot to photograph it. It's been one of those days apparently.   I don't know the user that I'm sending this stuff to so I'm really hoping he likes everything. (In my shopping for this package, I also got suckered into buying about $20 of stencils, stickers and art supplies.) Brain is one of the moderators on the Postcrossing forums so I imagine he does a ton of work with these swaps, many that I have benefited from.

       While I was at the post office, I also picked up their newly released From Me to You stamps. Cute.
From me to you stamps
     Okay.. I need to force myself to do something productive.. like art or snail mail. lol.

      For my Christian friends, I hope that you have a blessed Easter! What are you doing? My parents and niece are coming to church with us and then coming over for dinner. I'm looking forward to it.

Easter Sunday Bible Verses

Thursday, April 2, 2015


    I got my first card from Kazakhstan today. This is "Medeo" the mountainous ice rink.  Cool huh?
Lana, the Postcrosser who sent it to me, also recommended 2 bands to me-Ulytau and Urker. I especially like Ulytau.   Thanks!

     In other news, I sent a card to each kid who sang in the musical this year. They did this huge, really personal  presentation where many of them thanked the drama director and I. I wanted to say thanks and write them a small message. They got them yesterday. At least 10 kids found me at school and told me that my words meant a lot to them. I think that we often consider how our negative words affect people but we don't recognize how we have the potential to breathe life into people with a kind word. Sometimes people, especially students, just want to know that people notice (and care) that they exist. I challenge you to just write a quick, kind note to someone over the next week to brighten their day.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

March Stats and updated 366 Stats

     For those of you who have been penpals with me for a long time, my newest way of managing my mail piles seems to be working. I no longer have lost letters and mail piles everywhere- yeah!
     So, March was an extremely busy month. In the past week and a half I had a 3 day conference, 1 concert, 3 musicals, David's birthday and birthday party plus my normal life. Despite this, I got some good mail out in March. Here are my March stats"

In March, I sent:
43 cards!
9 letters
2 packages
2 postcards

I received:
13 postcards
3 cards
5 letters
2 packages

     Not a bad mail month. I'm still on track for my goal. Keep the great mail coming!!! April vacation is coming up and I should have time to catch up!

The 366 Project:
Sent: 150
Received: 68  April 1 is the 91st day of the year, so I'm still about a month behind with received mail.