Friday night, 6:00 p.m. We're back in the Science Spectrum . . . it hardly seems like a year has gone by since the last time I was dragging air mattresses, jam boxes and choir folders into the lobby, but time has flown by. One by one, kids filter into the lobby, while parents and staff members go over plans for the weekend . . . and it's going to be a long one!
Friday night, 8:00 p.m. After an hour of rehearsal, we pile into the IMAX for our own private showing of a movie . . . about cowboys and horses, of course! Just perfect for getting into the mood for our Cowboy Christmas shows at the Kessler . . . and leave it to our guys to discover a way to make life-sized shadow puppets on the ceiling!
Friday night, 10:00 p.m. One of my favorite parts of the choir retreat each year is watching our veteran singers "coach" our younger members in sectional rehearsals. It's very gratifying to hear them saying the very things we've been saying in rehearsals . . . does this mean they've been listening, after all? After half an hour of hard work, we gather in the stage room for "Choir Idol." Six groups of singers sang "As I Sat on A Sunny Bank" from memory and we are well on our way to our performance with the TTU Choirs . . .
Friday night, 11:30 p.m. The Apprentices are all tucked away in their sleeping backs, and ready for their late-night showing of "How to Train Your Dragon." Concert Choir singers get down to serious work with "One Fine Hour" for the Carol Concert . . . and they are going to sound great on this piece. It's hard, and requires sophisticated and sensitive musicianship. They are up for this challenge.
Saturday morning,1:00 a.m. Slowly but surely, we're shutting it down for the night. Some time around 4:10 a.m. I hear giggling, ("Can we play UNO?") but by 4:30 it's completely quiet. Too bad that alarm is going off at 7:00 a.m.
Saturday morning, some time before the alarm . . . one by one, little girls in pjs begin tiptoe-ing into the hallway where several of the staff, including me, are sleeping (finally) peacefully. Not for long; before we know it, they are piling onto air-mattresses, full of giggles. It's just like Christmas morning! They wake up happy and ready to pester the big kids to get moving, too. We start our day with an impromptu disco party . . . nothing shouts "wake up call" like "Copacabana" and "Dancing Queen" . . .
Later that day . . . some time between nine and one . . . best rehearsal ever! We've re-convened at Forrest Heights UMC, our regular "home" for the second day of our retreat. Somehow, these sleepy kids (and devoted staff) have found their second wind. We block the whole Kessler show, sustained by donuts and sub sandwiches (Thanks, Mrs. Roberts!) and sing through every one of the songs with Ray, the amazing guitarist and band leader. We love this music, and it shows . . . these kids are really terrific. I think we're going to have a wonderful weekend in December!
This past weekend was filled with hard work, fun and my favorite thing: all of us together making music. We spent Saturday morning putting the polishing touches on our music for Sunday's concert, and the singers finally got to meet Mr. Ballenger, our guest conductor and composer.
Many people aren't aware of the fact that for kids (especially young singers), it's a totally different experience each time someone new stands on the conductor's podium. The singers have to quickly learn the new conductor's gestures and cues, and it can be intimidating to sing with someone you've just met! Our singers met the challenge, and Mr. Ballenger was absolutely thrilled with their preparation of his music.
I always love seeing the kids arrive in their dress uniforms, and seeing them standing with such confidence on the stage of Hemmle Recital Hall filled my heart with pride. Scheduling a concert this early in our season represented a leap of faith in our singers (and a bundle of nerves for our teaching staff!) But they sang beautifully! Now we have a performance under our belt, and it has generated a lot of enthusiasm for our upcoming concerts. Thank you, parents, for your warm support and encouragement.
Now, we are back to square one with all new music, and lots of it! We have two completely different programs to prepare for the first weekend in December, so we REALLY need our singers at ALL rehearsals between now and then. Will you help us make sure the kids are prepared by encouraging them to be on time and ready to sing at every rehearsal between now and then? I'm counting on everyone to pitch in.
Now, I'm off to order a poinsettia and some pizza for lunch!
Our first concert!
What a busy week! Today is our last regular rehearsal before the fall concert at Hemmle Hall on Sunday, and we are gearing up for a power practice! We're putting the groups together to sing a wonderful set of pieces composed by TTU School of Music Director William Ballenger. Mr. Ballenger has been busy with his own new project: he has pledged to run 1000 miles to save the pipe organ in Hemmle Hall. You'll have a chance to meet Mr. Ballenger, and learn about his heroic efforts to save this magnificent instrument.
Meanwhile, please make sure to keep Saturday morning's FINAL rehearsal on your schedule. Singers in Concert and Apprentice Choirs will work with Mr. Ballenger from 9 - noon at Forrest Heights(Prep Choirs meet from 9 - 10:30.) WE NEED ALL SINGERS AT THE REHEARSAL. We'll do riser placement assignments and make sure that the music is polished and ready to go.
Finally, please invite your friends and families to our concert on Sunday. It's early in the year, and we're off to a great start . . . come and have a glimpse into the wonderful season to come with the choirs of the West Texas Children's Chorus!
October is a great month, isn't it? The fall has begun to sneak in, one orange or gold leaf at a time. It's cooling off and school is in full swing. Everyone I know is busy, and our schedules are all in high gear . . . it's time for a reality check! Is it really possible to do all the things we would like to do, in the mere 24 hours we have each day?
I'm not sure how our WTCC families manage it, but we are very grateful that you have found a way to keep singing with us each week a priority. I look forward to each Tuesday, and look ahead to the year of concerts with all of the choirs, and know that it's well worth the time we are all investing in the lives of these talented young people.
Our organization has really grown, and we're still getting to know our new singers and their families. That's why I'm really looking forward to this Thursday evening, October 7th . . . Ronda and David Langston will be our hosts for a really fun evening, just for parents of WTCC singers. By now, you should have received your e-vite; if you haven't, please contact Zoe Metcalf right away (email@example.com) for more details.
We have several big events on the calendar: an upcoming rehearsal from 9 - noon on October 23rd, a concert on October 24th and preparations for our trip to Dallas in December. We'll be signWe REALLY depend on our Parent's Organization to make these events possible for our choirs, and we need all of you to be involved. So please come out and enjoy getting to know one another, and learn about our upcoming performances, travel and fund-raising events.
See you at the Langstons' on Thursday!
Duck, Duck, Goose!
Welcome back! Or, if you're new to our WTCC family, "Welcome!" We are off to a running start, literally and figuratively! This year marks our first attempt at a fall concert, and the reality of the limited number of rehearsals between now and October 24th has really begun to sink it, at least with the staff! The singers are just glad to be back together for another year.
Tuesdays are my favorite days, and if you've ever dropped into the Fellowship Hall of FHUMC around 3:45 or so, you might know why . . . it's the time of day when the singers begin to arrive, checking in and getting ready for their classes and rehearsals. It's happy chaos: as soon as the first "batch" of kids appears, the singing games begin . . . sounds of kids playing "A Qua Qua" or "Circle 'Round the Zero" fill the room as TTU choral interns set up the room, help parents with registration and welcome little ones into the circle. I get hugs and high fives, and hear all about what Marc and Jefferson learned at school today, and about Gage's new silly band ("it looks like a snake!") . . . these kids are so grown up that I can hardly remember how little they were last year.
Just before 4:00, there's one soft, high note, sung on "ooh" . . . and before you know it, everyone in the room is singing the same note. This is a signal, and when the note ends, the room is silent! The teachers have arrived to line up their classes and take them off to classrooms all over the church for musicianship and rehearsals. The Fellowship Hall is quiet . . . for about ten minutes . . . and then the next "wave" of happy chaos begins as tweenagers and teenagers hit the door.
There's a lot of socializing to squeeze in before the downbeat of rehearsal at 4:30, and not quite enough time for "happiness and togetherness," which, according to certain singers, is the real reason we're all here. Not to mention the fact that we have a lot of new kids this year; it's hard to make new friends when you're singing every moment! Which is why our veterans decided to take the whole choir out to the courtyard for a quick game of "duck, duck goose" between classes. Because as one kid observed, "Yeah, nothing says "welcome to choir' like someone chasing you around a circle and calling you a goose."
Happiness and togetherness. We have it going on. Amazing teachers, amazing kids, great music, and duck, duck, goose. It's enough to make anyone love Tuesdays.
Merry Texas Christmas, You All!
Dr. B's notes have been pretty sparse lately; like everyone I know, I've barely had time to think, let alone write inspiring prose for our column. It's "Candlelight Christmas" Eve (the first ranch gig is tomorrow night) and my head is spinning (just like the swirling dust last Tuesday!) with all the details that are still falling into place. But I'm not really anxious about any of those things, because between the army of parent volunteers, generous and flexible colleagues and the hardest working people in show business (aka our teaching staff!), I'm sure we've got things covered, or at least we will have by tomorrow evening. And our singers will do what they always do: shine like a West Texas star. :)
The past few weeks have been full of activities for us: the Science Spectrum, the rehearsals and Carol Concert (amazing!), last Sunday's service at Forrest Heights UMC, and of course the fun-filled "weather event" during last Tuesday's Ranch rehearsal. While I could have lived without the freezing rain, sleet, snow and dirt that fell down on our heads as we delivered sweatshirts, flowers, decorations and kids into the dusty Pavilion, in a way it all just added to the "happy chaos" we're living in at the moment. It's all part of the process of "making memories" together, and crazy or not, I'm enjoying every minute of it.
Ask me again after we've thawed out on Saturday night, and I bet I'll say the same thing.
The Facebook Phenomenon
Ask any teacher who's been in the profession for a few years or more, and I'll bet they can tell you stories about events, occasions and most importantly, kids who made a lasting impression in their lives. Now, through the magic of social networking, I can have simultaneous conversations with students who are in my TTU classes & the WTCC this semester, right along with those who go a little (and a lot) further back. In fact, I'm going to have to use the term "kids" loosely, since some of them turned that corner a while ago. ("Let's see, if you were eleven in 1979 . . . ")
It's been amazing to hear from Edwin, who tells me that "the musical bug you planted twenty six years ago (thanks, Ed!) finally bit." Edwin's restoring the old Kessler Theater (once owned by Gene Autry!) into a venue for musical performances and community arts education in Oak Cliff. And from Adina, who would like to have a copy a "Hitch Your Dream to the Morning Star," because she's never forgotten singing it in the sixth grade. Or Clint, who promised (in about 5th grade) to grow up and buy better chairs for the choir room one day. (Grown-up Clint hosted that grand party for the WTCC at his beautiful Vino 100 in Dallas last year.) And Greg, who's taking a quick break from singing opera professionally in Germany to sing :The Messiah" in Santa Fe this November.
And most recently, Natalie and Ashley, the adorable twins who, in kindergarten, used to play "music class" and pretend to be the teacher (who just happened to be Mrs. Fleming!) I had a chance to visit the girls in person this weekend, and they are grown-up, successful career professionals now. But we had a great time remembering quite a few shared musical experiences!
It seems that every day, another former student turns up on FB to say hello. It's a humbling reminder of how quickly time passes, and of the amazing power of music to create life-long memories. I'm looking forward to hearing from our WTCC kids down the road . . . I wonder if they'll remember the music from Carnegie Hall, or the boys wearing antlers in their cowboy hats? We'll see.
This is Tuesday, September the 29th. Just a few weeks ago, I was waxing poetic about the "feeling of fall in the air." Well, so much for that! It must have been 90 degrees in our rehearsal today!! The AC is cranked up at good old FHUMC, but it's no match for the sauna-like temperature of the building this late in the day.
Our singers (and our staff) "parachute in" on Tuesday afternoons (as one of our staff members observed last year) after an already-long day at school, on their way to and from countless other activities and obligations. They are juggling football, volleyball, cheerleading, tennis, dancing, band practice, dentist appointments, homework, not to mention the all-important social agenda, and maybe a little family time thrown in along the way. (The car-pool logistics alone rival a NASA launch in complexity!) We're trying to fend off the swine flu, and we're already missing kids absent from rehearsal or musicianship class for one reason or another.
It's hot, they're tired, and in week three, almost every piece of music is still new, difficult, and in some language that isn't English. ("Folders up; let's read it in solfa . . . handsigns, please! Boys, posture! Sing it in canon; now let's sing it in German. Girls, more singing, less talking, please! Now in canon, with the text, in German. . .") It's a little early to get excited about Christmas music, especially in weather that's more suited for flip-flops and shorts than sweaters!
Meanwhile, our younger singers are working on the basics: how to sit, how to stand, how to make a nice vowel, how to find their places in a choral score. There's so much to learn besides singing!
Somehow, though, everyone settles in at the end of this hot, chaotic day, and we focus on the intonation of the half-step, or the rhythm patterns we are reading or writing. There are moments of beauty, artistry and sensitivity in these fundamental steps, and with every note they sing, I'm more aware of the amazing potential of these young people, musical and otherwise. I'm inspired by their curiosity, energy and talent.
By next Tuesday, it will be October, and we will be one week closer to the Carol Concert and the Ranching Heritage Candlelight tour. It's time to break out the Christmas music. And (we hope) the sweaters. I can't wait. :)
Happy Labor Day!
Long weekends are a rare treat, and I hope all of you enjoyed time with your family and friends this Labor Day. For me, it's a reminder of exceptionally fine times in my hometown of Morgan City, Louisiana . . . the annual Shrimp and Petroleum Festival is still celebrated every Labor Day weekend, and has been since about 1936. Like most other local events of its kind, the Shrimp Festival has its own traditions: there's a street fair, and festival royalty reigns over a street parade, while beautifully decorated shrimp boats are gather in the Atchafalaya River for the Blessing of the Fleet and a parade of their own. The food . . . amazing, and the music, well, every kind of Louisiana music you can imagine.
My sisters and I viewed the Shrimp Festival weekend as an excuse to invite every possible out-of-town friend we had to spend the weekend in South Louisiana (at our house, of course!) Most of our friends were kids we had met through music activities around the state; between summer band camps, choir auditions and music festivals, we Louisiana kids managed to do quite a bit of social networking, even before the advent of Facebook! We had lots of adventures and more than a couple of scrapes, but those weekends were the highlight of the year for us. We all loved music, and our lives revolved around making music in one form or another. As teenagers, it was great to have a feeling of "belonging" and knowing that there were other kids who felt the same way.
It's been interesting to reconnect with many of those kids we grew up with, and to catch up on the adult chapters of their lives. More than a few have had very distinguished careers as professional musicians, and many of the others still perform all kinds of music in their churches and communities. As we listened to the terrific new singers at our placement auditions, I found myself thinking of our returning singers, and really looking forward to having everyone back together next week. I hope that all of our young singers will find life-long friends and a place to "belong" here, and make their own memories of rehearsing, performing and traveling together. I hope that as adults, they will recall their experiences with the WTCC as some of their finest, and that music will still be a part of their lives.
If your kid can sing...
Today was a beautiful day in West Texas. There's a hint of fall in the air, and everyone is busy with new classes and activities. It's definitely time for "back to school" mode, and for us that means "back to singing!"
I spent most of the summer working with music teachers from all over the country, including many from Lubbock and our surrounding West Texas communities. As always, I was inspired by the dedication of these amazing musician/educators. The teachers I met spent their "time off" in rigorous, challenging and intense two-week courses of study; classes and rehearsals by day, homework and practice by night! All this, while juggling their families and busy schedules at the same time! Why do they do it?
Because as hard as it may be, it's the challenge of becoming the very best they can be: the best musicians, the best teachers, and best role models for the kids they will see this year in the classroom. From Kindergarten through High School, whether it's classroom music, choir, band, orchestra, piano, mariachi, guitar . . . you name it and there are music teachers out there trying to find ways to make music available and meaningful for kids.
Teaching can be a tough job, it's true. But there are certain people who, despite lunch duty, test monitoring, limited conference periods or double classes with 65 kindergarteners in a portable classroom, still look forward to this time of year. There are new songs and games to learn, and old favorites to share with this year's kids. And there is an incomparable feeling of pride and delight in knowing that for some kids, music will be the best thing about their day. That's the goal of the music teachers I know, anyway, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to know them, to learn from them and to be inspired in my own teaching.
So, if you have a moment one day, stop by and say hello to the music teacher at your kids' school. Maybe bring a cupcake. :) And . . .
Have a great week!
Dr. Susan Brumfield
Conductor and Artistic Director