Thursday, July 5, 2018

Surely Heaven is a "Lodge"

 I have just returned from two blissful days with some of the most wonderful people in the world of music. I have spent two days with the amazing studio singers at "The Lodge Recording Studios" in Indianapolis.

When you go to The Lodge to record music, you quickly discover that you are in the presence of "family." This family works diligently to produce a musical product that blends artistry, love, and musical expertise into an amazing musical product for clients. The singers truly delight in each other's company, working together for hours, and working to please "the client" (me). I love going to The Lodge, and one of these days I'll go back.

Singers at The Lodge have sung my music for years, yet I did not know their names or faces. It is important for all of us composers who have benefited from these singers to see them. Take a look at their smiles, look in their eyes, look into their faces, and see beautiful people, because they are beautiful people. They are also wearing very cool July 4th caps! Yes...we had a light moment when I gave them a tiny gift of appreciation. These caps had enough "bling" that some singers finally had to remove them, as it appeared that a mirror ball was twirling in the studio. However, we enjoyed a few moments of being "capsized" before jumping into a new patriotic piece...Let Freedom Ring. I had a piece that was going to need some additional energy because of the harmonic movement and the style...and I got it! Maybe the caps? Who knows? We got it done!!

Michael Graham

Through it all, we are under the leadership of an outstanding recording engineer, pictured above. Michael Graham has been recording my music since 1994 or so. He worked with Warner Chappell when I began writing music. Michael is an incredible professional, and together....I am speaking of all of us...the singers, Michael and me....we hear sounds that are wonderful and others that should be improved. We are all working together to bring about an outstanding musical product. We are of one purpose and one mind.

Let me introduce you to some of the Lodge Singers, whom you have likely heard many times. I want you to see them. I don't know all the last names, and I might not even spell the first names correctly, but I call them by name:

JULIE
This is Julie. She is an amazing Soprano I, Soprano II, and I even think I've seen her singing Alto at times. She has a range like the stars above, and she can do anything. She is an incredibly versatile musician.


AMY
This is Amy. She is an Alto, and there is no doubt in Amy's mind that whatever I request is "done"...no question...such a prefessional! She is also delightful.


GREG GILPIN
Okay...both of the photos above are Greg Gilpin, a wonderful tenor, composer, editor of choral music, and the funniest guy you can imagine. In the upper photo, he is trying to get the cap sized, to jump into rehearsal. Greg is an amazing musician, and I wanted all of you to see Greg as he is on a "work day." He is usually in a suit at a convention, presenting a session, but at The Lodge he is just Greg, working with his colleagues. Wonderful man!!

 ERIN and SARA
These two cute ladies are Altos...Erin and Sara. They are such delights to have in rehearsal. They are always "getting it done." Whatever I request, there is a nod, and it is done. So, so great to have in a session. They are incredibly talented singers, and they sent this photo to me on the evening of July 4th. They celebrated with their caps!!

STEPHANIE
Okay...Stephanie is going to find me one day, and "let me have it," I'm afraid. She is the person who is singing to the sky on high "C"s and such. She has no limits...she can make a Z-flat happen! However, for my session, the way it worked out, I had way too many high X's, and I felt terrible about it...until Michael said, "Hey...this is what they do. They are professional singers." OOOOOOHHHHHHKAY! That puts it in perspective. Good job, Stephanie!!

STEVEN
Steven is a tenor, and he is an astute, creative musician who has offered suggestions at times that really helped me as a writer. Steven is delightful, and the tenors are spot-on at every turn. It is always so great to have Steven working with me.

DOUG
Doug is a tenor, and I think he is the one who makes all sorts of vocal sounds at times that are totally hilarious. All sorts of "bluesy" sounds...is that you, Doug? So neat, so versatile, so talented. Funny guy...

MAX and BRENT
Max (left) and Brent are Basses. Max has an attention to detail that I appreciate so much. He has been singing my music for years, and is a professional's professional in studio singing. He knows his stuff. 

Brent is a soulful individual with the depth of the ocean. He is aware of people, and the needs of humanity are paramount to who he has developed himself to be in a spiritual context. His perspective on the journey of life is enriching and insightful.

AMANDA
Amanda is a Soprano who has literally "grown up" in the recording studio. Sometimes children are incorporated into the sessions to bring integrity to music for children's voices. Amanda was one of those singers at one time, and she finally said, "I can sing like a grown up! Really! I can!" She got the gig. Amanda is a delightful, beautiful human being, and I am so glad she sings in my sessions.

LEAH
Leah is a Soprano whom I have just met, and I was delighted to have her in my 2-Part recording session. Again, a wonderful person who is just terrific in the studio.

MARK
Does Mark look like a Bass to you? Mark is definitely a bass, with the richest, warmest, most wonderful bass voice you can imagine. Mark "gets it" that people will remember how they "made you feel." Mark, you made me feel really good about my music, and when I saw you singing, I knew your performance was coming from a place of deep musical integrity and passion. That is an incredible "thing" to have within. I am fascinated from whence that deep place might have come...taken root...and grown into such artistry. Really neat...and...take a look at the way Mark chose to celebrate on July 4th with his gifted "cap." All coordinated, looking fun. I want the trifle!!!


MARK and Beautiful Trifle

You get the idea...these wonderful musicians are really, really nice people who can sing the dots and sticks off the page as they assist people like me in creating a promotional product for my company, Earlene Rentz Online Publications. However, for me, the best part is knowing that when I go to The Lodge, I visit "family"....the family of singers who have residence there as singing professionals, but also the family they allow me to "join" for a few days here and there along my musical journey. Thank you, Lodge family!!

THE LODGE 2-PART ENSEMBLE

"Family" doesn't just happen. Someone makes it happen. It is with a full heart of love and gratitude that I say a huge "Thank you" to the one who structured such love, support, encouragement, and genuine well-being among his singers.

Michael Graham and Earlene Rentz

Thank you, Michael Graham. You have created an amazing community of love.











           

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Let Freedom Ring...and Sing!

Let Freedom Ring...and Sing!

I sang with Robert Shaw back in the mid 1980's when I was a public school choral director in Georgia. Eventually, I went to Florida State to obtain my master's degree and Ph.D., but I was fortunate to retain many wonderful friendships that were made in the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus by singing together as we worked hard to achieve Mr. Shaw's "perfection" (I'm not certain we ever achieved such...but we tried).

Among the many stories that gave me chills, one of my favorites concerned a European tour the choir made to East Berlin. At that time, Germany was divided into East Germany and West Germany, the latter being the free country. East Germany was under the oppression of a communist government. The choir was performing Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, and as they sang the last movement containing Schiller's Ode to Joy, the audience spontaneously joined in and "sang their socks off." Such an emotional event of music, freedom, and empowerment...all brought about by the power of music! The singer who related the story began weeping as she said, "You know, it wasn't long at all until that wall separating East and West Germany came down. I wonder if we might have had something to do with it." Quite a sobering thought, huh?

We Americans sometimes forget how powerful our art can be in the hands of an inspired, passionate group of people who love and care about "something" we agree on. It is true...our government does not always make the decisions we would make, but we live in a country where we can literally and figuratively change the entire complexion of our government by exercising our right to vote. According to The Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights, we have been provided numerous ways to change process in our government. Two of those include "the right of peaceful protest" and "the right to vote."

I have been amazed with the demonstrations of disagreement that have transpired over the past couple of years. I am even more amazed (and angered) to hear many of the protesters say that they did not show up to vote when they had the opportunity to do so...and they are protesting the things that have transpired when they did not vote. That does not make sense to me. But you know what? They have as much right not to show up to vote and protest the result as I have to vote and vocalize my opinion regarding the result and those who did not participate in the process. Interesting, huh? The freedoms of our country protect all of us.

Let's hope that all of us on both sides of the democratic process have realized how important it is to show up!!  I am not making a political statement...I am making a common sense statement.  If we care enough to take time to demonstrate and protest, it seems to me that it would be helpful to use that same amount of courage, time and energy to avoid the potential decisions of those whom we do not approve. Am I wrong here?

When we sing with passion for freedom and "love of country," we invaribly find others who will sing with us. We might not agree politically, but we can sing...together. We can be of the same mind or not...and we can still sing together in joyful harmony for whatever this country has meant to us independently. Hopefully, there is something that brings about joy in all of us when we ponder "love of country." Everyone can sing for joy...the joy they find in celebrating a place where many of our ancestors have been welcomed as immigrants from far away, though many have experienced discrimination and hurtful reactions. However, for those who have firmly continued in the process, they can officially call themselves "American"...the same word used to describe others who were born on the soil of the USA. It is this inclusive America we can all sing about and celebrate.

It is in this spirit of unity as Americans that a new arrangement has been composed for SATB voices, piano, and orchestration (Flute, Horn, Trumpets, Trombone, and Timpani) "Let Freedom Ring," is an arrangement of the familiar "My Country 'Tis of Thee" ("America"). The harmonic progressions are a bit unique, and I have tried to express the words of each verse with musical creativity and interesting choral combinations. The primary reason I wanted to arrange this tune is that I have not seen many arrangements of this piece that are written for everyone (audience and choir) to sing all verses with the choir.

I wrote this piece to focus on the verse "Let music swell the breeze and ring from all the trees, sweet freedom's song. Let mortal tongues awake. Let all that breathe partake." That means everyone. We all get to sing. We all get to sing of freedom! It is our country...and we celebrate together!!

We must all sing together of the joy of freedom! Let freedom ring...and sing! Sing!

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Old Homeplace

The Homeplace

I had an extraordinary experience a couple of weeks ago. As many of you know, my Mom died last year, and during five days or so around Mother's Day, it was time to go through her "treasures," discard or give away many things, pay tribute to a life well-lived, and spend some time grieving our loss.

I was amazed at the people who were blessed by my Mom, delighted to give them a "remembrance," and I was stunned to realize yet again the "things" that mean something to others. I have a few of my Mom's things. I live quite a distance from the Homeplace, so it makes life a tad difficult in terms of getting large things back to the place I call "home." 

To look at the homeplace, it really isn't much to look at, but within the walls of this home, I learned much about life, work, honesty, integrity, love, commitment, and spiritual values. We learned to be good people. We learned to "show up" when it was the right thing to do for others...weddings, funerals, church commitments, school events, etc. We learned to do the things that mattered. We learned to do the things that made a difference in the world.

When we began clearing out the contents of our home, it was as if Mom had never left the classroom. There were "school lessons" too numerous to mention: children's supplementary materials for learning specific concepts, resource materials for all sorts of educational interests, funny stories for presentations, inspirational stories, and quilting materials beyond belief (three trash bags full!). Mom's treasures represented her life...a life of educational commitment, spiritual commitment, love-thy-neighbor reminders of all sorts, and materials that reminded us that she had spent hours and hours investing in her own personal aesthetics and gifts...handwork samples of quilting, crochet, and embroidery.  

I am so grateful for the days spent with family. Our home became a family reunion of sorts during those five days...cousins, their families we scarcely knew, love expressed by all in a "legend of Aunt Mildred" sort of way. No one cared about what they took home as a gift from Aunt Mildred, as long as they received something. We did our best to make it happen, and everyone pitched in to assist with the clean-out. Wonderful cousins and brother!!

We gave most of Mom's things to a caregiver who took care of her when sons and a daughter were too far away to take her to get some chicken soup or a pot pie. Mrs. Betty was terrific to my Mom. She would take Mom in her car, and they would go places to break the monotony of a retirement home. We learned to appreciate Mrs. Betty more than words can express, and we found that Mrs. Betty appreciated Mom's things more than anyone could believe. It really didn't matter the value. As long as Mom was attached to "the thing" in some way, it was a valuable thing to Betty. It was a wonderful love and admiration to experience.




As I have lost a husband and Mom within a year, I am thinking most days about how my life has drastically changed. It might not be the life I wanted or the life I chose...but my life is still to be cherished in loving, magnificent ways...because it awaits me every day. I get to make those same decisions that the Old Homeplace taught me. I get to decide every day of my life whether I will make a difference....a difference that might come through my work...or through honesty, integrity, love, commitment, and spiritual values. I get to be a good person. I get to "show up" when it is the right thing to do. I get to do the things that matter. 

When it is all said and done, "making a difference" has been the goal for most people I have admired.  My husband and my Mom would be at the top of that list. As I live my life, I want to make that one desire a perenially echoing goal in everything I do. Something that makes a difference! Something that matters! Thanks, Mom and Bill. Thanks, beloved Homeplace.

Friday, November 18, 2016

A Visit with Thomas Jefferson



Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) is one of the most admired, controversial figures in American history. He endured incredible loss (only two of six children lived into adulthood), owned many slaves, defended slaves in a court of law, had at least one child with Sally Hemings, a slave, etc., and he also contributed much to the development of our early government.

Jefferson created the Democratic-Republican Party system that we have been inundated with as of late.  He was our first Secretary of State, established many free-trade policies, and was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence.  As a self-made architect, he designed the capitol building in Richmond (pictured above) and his beloved Monticello, constructed while a young man, after the burning of his childhood home.  He also moved Virginia's capitol from Williamsburg to Richmond.

Jefferson was a meticulous person in regard to process and crafting.  The Declaration of Independence did not ultimately result in the product Jefferson thought it should be, and the "committee work" of compromise was not exactly pleasing to him in the final document.  However, he held onto his original draft, and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing it first-hand.

While my husband and I were on a trip to Richmond, Virginia recently, we visited the Virginia Historical Society, and saw Jefferson's original draft of the Declaration.  It is scarcely imaginable to think of a young man 33-years-old, drafting such a beautiful document, copying this work over and over and over.  He had several copies, and each one displayed beautiful penmanship and grace.  It was truly obvious that "perfectionism" was embodied in Mr. Jefferson.

In the same wonderful exhibit at the Historical Society, we saw the plans for Monticello, Jefferson's magnificent home.  Each specific area of the home had intricate, specific plans for construction...including the gardens.  Jefferson knew exactly what he wanted to do...he thought.  It seems that the same perfectionism that created the Declaration of Independence also went into the building of his home.  He would get a section of it built...decide it was not what he wanted...tear it down...build it again.  He did this over and over again...disassemble...build again.  Ultimately, it cost him, but he had the privilege of seeing his ideas come to fruition in the beautiful capitol and Monticello.

I am making a transfer here into choral composition and choral music education.  I suppose this hits me at this point in my life, in looking back over a 22-year career in choral music writing...and yes....I hope for 25 more!  I look at the pieces I published back in 1994, and I think, "Wow.....who wrote this stuff?"  If I had it to do over, I would re-work every singing piece I have "out there." I have learned so much since I first wrote the first ones, and I can hear so many things that would make them better.  However, I have chosen not to re-work or change them in any way, but to write new pieces that will speak in fresh, exciting ways to the choral directors in the world.  I have a list of at least 50 pieces I want to write.  I have heard them in my head, and I want to write them.  Maybe...

Will they be the same as the ones I wrote in 1994?  Will I look at them when I am 80, and wonder why I wrote them in such a way?  Probably...but...I realized early on in this business that I must "let it go."  Yes...you have heard it before in a modern context, but at some point, we must say, "That's all I can do," and let it go.  Thomas Jefferson never got to that point, the perfectionist in him would not allow it.  There is a fine line between the need for artistic perfection through our rehearsal ethics and releasing it to the world for performance.

We set goals in our performances, based on what we hear in our mind's ear, but as I look back over my life as a choral director, I really wish there had been a few days in rehearsal when I could have just listened to my students...enjoyed blissfully what I was hearing...with no desire to analyze or change in any way....just listen and let it go.  I am not sure I was ever able to do that very often.  Let's make it better, better, better!  True, but at some point, the joy of participating in music should be able to flow through us as we just let it go...and listen.

Yes...we can restructure lesson plans and rehearsals...try harder...be better...do better.  For those things in life where no "do overs" come easily, let's make peace with the journey, and know that for that time, in that place, with those singers, we were in the quest for something beautiful.  Only time will tell whether the effort led to something good.  My guess is that you, too, will receive a note from a former student or colleague one day letting you know...then...let it go.




Tuesday, November 15, 2016

New website!

A New Website!


The long-awaited day has finally arrived!!  Our new website launched last week!  Please take a look, and enjoy browsing through many titles, voicings, and styles.

Earlene Rentz Online Publications, LLC, will be the sole source for my music from now on. Purchasers obtain PDF files of my music, and may make as many copies as they choose for their choirs...for as long as they own the file. The prices are the best in the business:  Unison voicing:  $20...2-Part (any combination): $25...3-Part (any combination):  $35...4-Part (any combination) $45.  Keep the files on a disc, and make copies as needed in the future.  It works great!

Accompaniments, accompanying obligato instruments, pronunciation guides, individual voice parts (as noted in the descriptions) are free with purchase.  All of these materials will be sent once the transaction is complete.

After January 1, 2017, my blog will move totally to the website.  At the top of the Home Page, there is a link to sign up for the RSS feed.  Go ahead and sign up, and we will make the transition in a few weeks.  I like the colors available to me on this site, but in order to streamline the process, I  need to use only one site, so I encourage you to sign up on www.earlenerentz.com.

 

You have not heard from me often over the past few weeks, because I was totally engrossed in getting ready for the new launch.  You will find many new titles, and I will talk more about them later.  There have been so many changes in the nation and the world lately, and I cannot wait to begin addressing many of these issues in my choral writing.  Yes, everything in the world contributes to our creativity in choral music.

You will hear from me often in the days ahead.  In the mean time, visit the site, and know that we are all in this world together, creating music for and with each other.  I think we can all make a difference as we go forward.

Have a great day!!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

"Extra-Musical" Warm-Ups: Part V

A FEW IDEAS 

How can we get class started on time, when we have created a totally joyful, social atmosphere in our music classes?  Creating a warm-up exercise that "gets the voice going" and "serves as a cue for class to begin" might be helpful….a warm-up that "reaches out" to connect the students quickly, so that all become a "team" quickly… for an hour or so.

Because of increasing educational demands, students and teachers need all the help they can get in all classes…not just music.  Of course, choral music educators (and many others) truly believe in the value of our subject matter, but for the most part, the population at large has no idea as to the complexity of our art….the nuance….the analysis….the on-the-spot "fix-it" demands….the list goes on and on.  Neither do we know the complexities in most "other" subjects, which we (and students) also need in order to live a fulfilling, happy life.  Have you ever stopped to think about how delighted we all should be that others find joy in different professions?  Maybe one must live "in rural areas" (as I do) to appreciate this fact with a similar level of gratitude.  And…while all who assist us say, "this is my job," their eyes light up when I tell them I write music.  While I see their occupation as the most needed element in my life at "the time," they see it as….nothing special.  I could not live as contently…or do what I do without them.

I am not certain that we ever express gratitude as much as we should for music and all things "music" in our lives.  We are fortunate to be able to attend concerts, create music for performance via ensembles, and "write music for others to teach ensembles who perform for concert attendees who choose to experience the joy of music."  You get the idea….it is a circle of respect….a circle of appreciation and gratitude for others in the mix of our lives….not the least of whom are those wonderful educators who teach other courses that are not as "known" to us, yet equally important in order for our students to become well-adjusted human beings in a complex world.  That's where the "Extra-Musical" warm-up comes in.

At some point in the daily warm-up component, you might want to select a warm-up that assists your fellow educators in teaching something about their classes that might be helpful to your students.  It really can be a good thing to have your name mentioned around your school as giving respect for math, science, geography, history, language arts, and other fine arts subjects.  You can do this in the warm-up, with a little cross-curricular instruction.  How do you know what your students might be studying?  You ask.  At that point, I am certain your memory will take you back to your undergraduate studies and "other points of interest" in your history.  Capitalize on this knowledge, and assist the students in possibly making a better score on future tests….because they have sung their way to "the facts" in your warm-up!

Frankly, the reason I became interested in cross-curricular warm-ups….my good friend Gayle Box works in Adult Education for the Commonwealth of Kentucky.  She and others have established a curriculum to assist our state's adult population in furthering their education in some way.  Gayle's colleagues have found that the use of mnemonics is helpful to students as they prepare for required entrance exams, etc.  You likely have used mnemonics at some point to remember facts (i. e., "HOMES" to remember the Great Lakes, etc.), and this process of recall can stay with us for our entire lives.  I still think of some facts with a mnemonic.

As I was searching the internet one day, I noticed a mnemonic to remember the reigning Royal Families of England.  To my amazement, I remembered that very question on the SAT from 40 years ago!  That information would have been so helpful to me at that time….under pressure, wanting to get every question correct, etc.  That's when I realized that if cross-curricular melodies would have assisted me, wouldn't others have benefited as well?

An important fact regarding Cross-Curricular Warm-Ups for Choral Rehearsals:  They are written to be sung by choirs of varying voicings.  That is, your young singers who sing only unison or 2-Part music can just sing the top line in warm-ups….your 3-Part Mixed choir can sing the Bass Clef, and not worry about the optional bass notes…your SATB choir can sing the warm-ups with ease, including the divisi at cadences.  The set is very versatile.

Most importantly:  Enjoy your School year….or Church year….or Community Choir season!!

Best to all!!

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Warm-Up: Getting it "right" - Part IV

WHAT ABOUT "STYLE?"

One of the things that caused me distress as a choral music educator was the fact that even though my warm-up might have been marvelous and beautiful, with high B-flats ringing from sopranos, rich A's from the altos, incredible B-flats from the tenors, and a maturity beyond words came from the sounds of basses….and….students were more focused during rehearsal….and….students were listening with incredible ears….and….the warm-up would have brought a tear to any eye any time, any day….for the absolute beauty that one might have heard from my group….even though all these things might have been the case while participating in the warm-up….once the rehearsal repertoire began, my choir sounded like a totally different group….a group who did not make all the beautiful sounds of the previous 15 minutes!!  It was incredible….I had no idea what to do….and yes, I know it was my problem….not theirs….mine.  I reminded students to transfer those things experienced in the warm-up to the repertoire, and though the sound improved….it never "happened" in the repertoire the ways it "happened" in the warm-up.  Sigh…..

I am not certain as to why this might have been the case, but I think now that it might have had something to do with the style of music to be studied that day in choir.  I think the "jump" from warm-up to repertoire was a bit too much.  I needed to find some short warm-ups in the styles of every piece I was going to sing that day in choral rehearsal….I needed to include all the elements I had taught in the warm-up that day….and I needed to have them sing this style-specific example just before I began the repertoire selection.  If the piece of rehearsal repertoire were in a Baroque style….I might have written or selected a short 4-8 measure example in Baroque style.   I needed to teach them the Baroque choral style with a short phrase, perfecting it with repetition, before going to the repertoire.  If the Baroque piece were scheduled first in the repertoire section of my rehearsal, my students would need to perform the exact style appropriate for the repertoire the last thing in the warm-up….then move immediately to the Baroque repertoire.  At that point, the style is "in the ear."  And yes….I needed to find the beautiful vowels, crisp consonants, and Baroque style in those 4-8 measures, before I try to find beautiful singing in a 68 measure Baroque choral composition.  It is likely that the vowels experienced in warm-up are going to feel differently (in the voice), when singing in a different style.

In short, if we can't find what we want from a choir in a short example, why would we think we might be able to have it "appear" in a longer version?  However, even if it does come together in the study of an 8-measure example, we will likely find it is necessary to remind students "over and over and over again" to transfer….not that our students lack intelligence….it is just a new way of thinking in the choral process, and it takes….time.  It is an awesome thought:  we are actually teaching students how to think in different ways.

You might find some helpful materials in either the Cross-Curricular Warm-Ups for Choral Rehearsals or in the Rehearsal Preparation Sheets on the EROP site.  The first set has warm-ups that teach academic subject matter (we'll talk about them in a future blog), and they are intended to be sung in various styles.  You can "hear" the styles of Broadway shows, Hebrew folk songs, Native American folk songs,  Calypso folk music, Jazz, etc.

The truth is, if I had my own choir today, there might be times when I would need to write my own warm-ups in various styles.  See blog posts beginning November 29, 2014, to get some ideas as to how to begin.  There is a four-part series on creating Rehearsal Preparation Sheets you might find helpful in writing your own warm-ups.

It's that time….again.  If you are a music educator in school or church, please know that you are appreciated more than you can imagine.  Enjoy the new year!!