Saturday, February 22, 2020

Texas Music Educators Association Convention - A Great Experience!

 Wanetta Hill (left) and Earlene Rentz

If you are interested in networking, meeting new colleagues, seeing the work of others in your profession, or just seeking out fun with friends, the best place to find it is at a convention that focuses on your specific area of expertise. Those who understand the joys, challenges, and frustrations of your profession are there. I am a music educator and I write choral music, so naturally, a music educators convention is the place where I find "home." Last week, a convention of the Texas Music Educators Association did not disappoint. How wonderful to see former students, colleagues, new choral music educators, and future choral music educators in the beautiful city of San Antonio for several days of quality performances, exploring new ideas and materials in music, and in general, re-connecting with others who are making music daily with their students in elementary schools, middle schools, junior, high schools, high schools, and colleges/universities. You will find music teachers from all of these areas from many, many states...not just Texas. They came from up North, out West, the Midwest, the Southeast, and everywhere in-between. It was amazing....13,000 of us. Whoa!

As I listened to others talk about their lives, they included shared joys, shared frustrations, shared sorrows, and many quality musical experiences. Wonderful music was everywhere, but in all situations, people really wanted to support their friends, fellow students, colleagues, and fellow teachers in the effort that everyone knew so well. Many wanted to be in attendance to be a support as much as wanting to observe and enjoy performances. It was great to have a "place" where I could see many persons who have meant so much to me in my life. I had a booth and a terrific booth-mate. Wanetta Hill, one of EROP's lyricists, assisted me at the booth during this convention. It was so incredibly kind of her to invest her time and energy in the sale of EROP music and in sharing information. I took some pieces of music for direct sale, but we also shared the beauty of online publication: flexibility of key, condensed or open score, simplified accompaniments, and additional voicings. Online publication provides almost any adjustment needed for every choral octavo. Quite delightful!!

Before the mad rush.....

One of my former students, Cammy Burkhalter, now teaches at East Texas Baptist University. I was such a proud "Mom," hearing all the wonderful things Cammy is doing at ETBU! Thankfully, I was also able to assist a few of her students interested in composition in finding a contacts in the publishing world to "send them on their publishing way." When the contact is made, it is out of our hands. At that moment, the next step is in the hands of the person who wants to pursue the journey. They can follow through, if...they...choose. Another student (Vincent, a student at UT-Austin) came to my booth to talk about writing and publishing choral music. I was reminded that the goal is not to create another person just like me or anyone else. We all must find ourselves in the music world, and sometimes it just isn't easy. My job is to be available for that initial contact to assist others in "beginning the journey." My job is to provide a springboard that launches a student high in the air to dive into the world of music publishing. Only time will tell how effective the launch pad might have been. My journey is not for everyone.

 Bryce Gage (Choral Director - Marble Falls High School) and me!

Wonderful music and support are going on at Marble Falls High School in Texas! Bryce Gage is their incredible choral director, gentleman, and friend. Bryce visited our booth, and it was wonderful to re-connect with him. He has a wonderful men's choir, and he totally loves teaching and his students. It is always great to know that my pieces "work," and Bryce is wonderful to communicate with me in his supportive, caring style. Marble Falls is so fortunate to have him!

Here's "Pippa!"

Wanetta Hill has a sheepadoodle named "Pippa." She is an adorable dog, and when Wanetta played and sang A Pippadoodle Day for Pippa, she put her paws up on the piano bench and began licking Wanetta's face. The fur babies know! They know! This piece was one of the best sellers at TMEA. It is for young singers, and concentrates in teaching the major scale, octaves, 16th notes, etc. There are so many musical elements taught in this octavo. 

Rehearsal Preparation Sheet

My company is quickly becoming known for a unique service. For each octavo sold by my company, customers receive a Rehearsal Preparation Sheet (RPS). It's not just that I think they are useful. I actually use them when I rehearse my women's choir at church! To date, every piece I have conducted with them has been accompanied by an RPS, and so far, the choir has been ready to perform on short weeks of preparation. The minister of music remarked that we got ready for performance in three rehearsals, and I suppose that was right. These RPS materials maximize your rehearsal time in a huge way. I won't "leave home without it." I hope you will allow Earlene Rentz Online Publications to at least provide opportunities for you to let us know whether they worked for you or not. It's really important to receive feedback to obtain.

And so....another TMEA convention came to a close, but I left the building and drove home with a very grateful heart. The word "successful" can mean many different things, not all having to do with dollars. Did we sell music? Yes we did! However, the connections with other professionals were the most important ever to me. My former students are now grown-up, terrific professionals, and I say with a heart full of gratitude, "Thank you, TMEA, for providing a moment to be reminded of all who have contributed to my happy life in music." Priceless....

Friday, January 31, 2020

A "Value System" for a Composer

There is so much going on all around us today, and at times I think, "How does that person sleep at night?" Of course, the only person I need to be concerned about in all such circumstances would be  me. I am the only one responsible for my actions, my beliefs, my spoken or written words, my ethics, and my values. As I look at the texts of some folk songs and older music sources, it really compels me to consider if I want to convey the meaning of some texts to our students during these days. Times have changed since my days as a student and as a teacher. 

Choral music styles have changed during my choral life on this earth. In fact, I think I can reasonably say that choral music changes in huge ways every ten years or so. Of course, these changes occur based on the educational structure in our society and current trends of respect for all of those in our school systems who enjoy singing in our groups. Those changes are at times based on the abilities of students as dictated by the skills they are able to attain in an ever-changing educational system (number of times choirs are allowed to meet per week, grade levels assigned to middle and intermediate schools, etc.). Because our educational system is in a state of flux, so are our choral programs.

As writers, we want to respect all groups who sing and enjoy our music. In addition, there must be a personal moral code and acknowledgement of values that run deep and profound in our being. Some of these values go to the very core of who we are as individuals, educators, and musicians. At times, I must look in the mirror and say, "I can't write those words. Those words are damaging. Those words may inadvertently give permission for behaviors that no teacher should encounter in the classroom." Yes, there are some folk songs and other public domain materials that conjure up attitudes and behaviors that are totally against my value system. So...I can't write those words. I am restricted because of my moral code. However, I love the tunes. So...I write other words

During recent years, there is a thought that has prevailed in my mind: At no time in my public school or higher education experience was I ever concerned with my personal safety. Yet, in the face of such possibilities, today's teachers go to the classroom every day of their lives What an example for those in government! 

Am I being too sensitive about the content of my music? I don't think so. I am responsible for every word that comes out of my mouth and every word that I ask others to sing. It is an awesome responsibility. 

What about authenticity? In research, I always find out interesting information. The realization is that folk songs were passed down and they have changed and morphed into many forms and texts over time. Why? Who knows? Maybe it was an issue of not having accurate recall abilities (we are assisted today via technology, notation, etc.). Maybe it was an issue of their value systems as well. Maybe they were trying to be sensitive to others in their midst. Maybe?

What am I saying? see the arrangement above entitled "The Rising of the Moon." It was a rebellion song in Ireland in 1798. It was actually a call to unity and a call to arms for battle. Do you think I would ever send this into the classroom? No....that is a definite. I would not. I want no students singing about weapons. I want no energy manufactured among students for participating in battle. I want nothing to do with anything that would be difficult for our fabulous, committed educators. You might disagree with me. That is your choice. I must live with me.

So...I choose to emphasize unity. The words in the above arrangement become "For we all must be together by the rising of the moon." You can look up the original text, if you choose. The tune is basically the same as "The Wearing of the Green." It is a great tune! Why didn't I use the "green" text? Well, as choral directors, we are always trying to get guys to become comfortable with their singing voices. After that huge voice change in middle school, sometimes it is a bit easier for the boys to sing with a bit more volume as they go through the randomness of the change. With the robust text I chose, they can sing with a full tone, and those in the midst of change can be comfortable with vocal demands. I retained as many words as possible that fit within my value system.

This piece will be on my website soon, but I wanted to talk about the piece today. For some reason, unity is on my heart. The need for unity is greater than ever. The moral center is more important now than ever. We live in an unpredictable world, where we actually can control very little. For all those things we can control, it is imperative that we incorporate goodness, sensitivity, kindness, and consideration into our music, as much as our value system requires.

We all must be together by the rising of the moon.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Do Something Different!

I did something I have never done before in my life. I headed to the beach for Christmas. I've never particularly wanted to do such a thing, but I simply did it because it was a different thing to do. I needed to do something different. I have learned a few things from my single-again status. I know I need to plan to be happy, and sometimes that takes a little more creativity than I am used to expending. I need to do different things. I need to follow through on my plan (for the most part...flexibility is good, too). In short, I need to be brave in this life (within reason, i. e., if affordable).

This was a trial, so I didn't head out too far...just an hour or so away...but it was enough to get a change of scenery and experience the calm of the ocean. It is amazing how calming a walk near water can be....visually and aurally. It rejuvenates the soul to continue on, knowing that the vastness of this great world can speak to a single soul. It really is amazing.

I found some "creativity" along the way, too....not from work-related thoughts. When I'm "away," I'm away. The choral world can get along without me for a couple of days. I just go to give it the "Ah....." sort of like a wonderful day at the spa. I guess I could get a song out of that phrase one of these days...just because of the rhyme that is present.

The creativity I found was in the chef's display of gingerbread houses. Take a look at some of these wonderful houses that were on display in the hotel foyer. Everything in the houses is edible.

I've always loved gingerbread houses, though I cannot say I have ever made one myself. I guess my childhood is incomplete. Ha! Time to get over that! Children and adults love these little abodes, and I love the creativity that goes on inside. It's sort of like the "Rose Parade" version of baking. Everything inside and outside is edible.

All the trees are decorated ice cream cones, and even the "plate" on which the house rests is edible. I thought the display of "night" was creative as well.

These little gems reminded me of the little miniature houses that we see in antique shops. Santa within, with a tree and toys. So cool.

What about these tiny reindeer? What patience the chef must have demonstrated, with numerous disasters (I would assume)! My solution would have been...start a year earlier, and make one a month. It would have been interesting to know just how long it took to get this display completed. Note Santa on the way down the chimney.

So now? I'm ready to "go" again! I've been away. I've returned to a really good life, with wonderful friends and wonderful possibilities. We go away, we come back after a very brief time in a different world. It's time to work now. Onward into 2020!

I hope you and yours had a marvelous holiday season. No matter the holiday tradition that you celebrate, try adding a little something different to the mix...a little something brave...a little flexibility...a little short...change it up a bit. I'll bet there is something impressive out there that you have barely noticed.

Monday, December 9, 2019

It's Still a Happy Time...

This year it is a tiny 3-foot real tree (some sort of pine) for me. The time has come and gone when I had incredible big trees that reached to the top of a tall ceiling. Now it is a tiny, tiny tree for me, but I'm happy to have it just the same. It brings me joy. There are no lights on the tree. It was so tiny, I could see disaster on the horizon with the added weight of lights. The tiny tree with no lights is appropriate, too, as Christmas has lost a bit of the "shine" of Christmases past.  It just isn't the same. But I keep on going through the motions...because I must. It really is necessary in order to reclaim remnants of joy along the way.

I was reminded of the joy of "Christmas Changes" in my life as I decorated this tiny tree (found it at Kroger for $20, but it works). While I was decorating, I was "opened" to a profound idea for me during the holidays. I have a second cousin who was a female glass-blower about ten years ago. Bill and I purchased several of her artistic products, and I love them. They remind me of her, but they are also a unique art pursued by only a few. One of the ornaments slid out of my hand, hit the floor, and broke into millions of pieces. I was so sad, as this cousin started her family and is no longer in the glass-blowing profession. Thankfully, I have other decorations she has made. So...I went to find a broom...get the big pieces and the tiny shards of glass on a piece of cardboard...but as I looked at the broken glass, something hit me. Even in the brokenness, there was a brilliance to all of those tiny, tiny pieces. They were really beautiful. Even though I couldn't begin to put the ornament back together again, everything that had gone together to create the beauty of a Christmas ornament was still there, bringing beauty in brokenness. That was a lesson to me. The beauty I had once found in life has been transformed into "something else." My choices now are to find beauty in memories, to support all of those for whom this season is delightful, and to do my best to find joy in memories and  "things" that have brought me joy for many years.

Things like these little guys...

Music brings me joy. Writing music brings me joy. I focus on the beauty of the music within...the music I seek to bring forth every day of my life.

Music has helped in my emotional healing through listening, creating, focusing my mind, and helping me sing again. The sounds and silences were wonderful in the healing process. I don't think I ever knew how to appreciate silence around me until it was needed for recovery. The music did not beg to be written. It was a gentle all-knowing nudge that introduced itself to me when I was ready to receive it.

So...the basic idea: Find happy "things" with happy memories, (places and people who were present during the darkness) and new places and people who have become a part of your journey...walking through this holiday season as friends and loved ones who care.

Look for the beauty. Look for the joy. Look for the "shine" in the brokenness, and sing!

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Spotlight on the Holidays: "Wexford Carol"

Wexford Carol is an Irish carol that originated in County Wexford in Ireland. The carol is originally written in Mixolydian mode, but many arrangements go back and forth from the original mode to a more major sound, particularly at cadences. The meter is 3/2, and this arrangement is intended to be an introduction to a different meter where the half note is the pulse. A good resource for all students, with exercises in meter variation is From Concepts to Concerts: Building Competence in the Choral Classroom, published by Carl Fischer. To become more familiar with this carol please listen to recordings of this carol by Alison Krauss and Celtic Woman. These performances are captivating and provide many performance possibilities.

When I began researching this carol, I was thinking about how I might introduce this carol into younger choral programs at the middle school and elementary levels. With that focus, I decided to alternate between the modal and the major sounds, but for brief periods of time. Of course, the objective is to get young singers to the point that the use of different modes in a piece of music are performed fluidly in performance, while successfully performing altered pitches of all modal qualities.

Many schools these days cannot sing holiday songs that are religious in nature. This carol is specifically about "the nativity," and it will likely not be appropriate for many school choirs who cannot sing religious words. However, I have provided "peace and good will" words that are appropriate for sacred and secular holiday concerts. In this octavo, sacred words are italicized.

Oftentimes, this carol is performed for Madrigal dinners during the holiday season. Because of that fact, I have also chosen the optional instruments of flute (or other "C" reed instrument), finger cymbals, and hand drum to be used with the keyboard. All of these instruments together provide a medieval atmosphere, and make it possible to use Wexford Carol in madrigal celebrations.

In Wexford Carol, we begin with an introduction that uses the instruments listed above. Take a look at the 3-Part Mixed voicing, and I'll break it down for you.

3-Part Mixed Voicing:

-Because of the range of the melody, I could not easily use all of the voices in singing the first presentation of the melody in Measures 8-16, so I used Parts I and II.

-Part III fit nicely when I got to the contrasting phrase in Measure 17, and I created a countermelody. Part II eventually joined Part III for homophonic harmony in Measure 19, with Part I continuing as the melody.

-In Measure 21, we move toward the major tonality, and continue in major until the end of the verse in Measure 24. At the end of the first verse, the instruments create the interlude again, unifying the arrangement.

-Measure 29: Parts I and III are in duet, while Part II has the melody.

-Part I regains the melody in measure 37, while Parts II and III are in duet below. They stay in duet until the end of that verse (Measure 44).

-In Measure 42, in Part I, there are some optional notes. These notes give us a "fuller" chord, and give your students a tiny bit of practice (one measure) in divisi. If you do not have enough students to divide, please ignore the optional pitches.

-The piece ends by having the voices repeat the very last phrase, and the flute ascends (a unifying motive).

The mood of this carol is unique. As you can hear in the performances by Alison Krauss and many others, it is an ethereal mood that takes us to the manger scene and brings us into touch with the mystery and the miracle of that night. I have attempted to do so as well with this Irish carol.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Spotlight on the Holidays: "The First Noel"

What does a choral music writer do to write a fresh, interesting arrangement of a well-known carol? For any traditional carol, whatever could be done has generally been done, so writers must work to find some unique element that can be transformed into musical interest. Writers must then develop it in such a way that the arrangement is unified. It is important to retain the familiar melody of the "source" in some way, while making it interesting in other ways. 

That leads us to the familiar carol, The First Noel. What could I do to make this piece come alive with a unique flair? There are at least a million things I could do, but I concentrated on two basic things: 1) downward stepwise movement of the bass vocal line to create interesting harmonies, and 2) countermelodies with longer note durations and "cascading" step-wise movement down, followed by step-wise movement going up. 

The harmonies created by step-wise ascending and descending motion are provided by different vocal parts in several different voicings: 3-Part MixedSSAASSA2-Part, and Unison.

So....regarding the 3-Part Mixed voicing (other voicings will have similar techniques):

There are a few basic elements of music that are woven together to make this arrangement a bit unique: the familiar melody, consistent use of harmonic change at the end of major sections (the G-Sharp), countermelodies with step-wise motion, countermelodies with longer durations, countermelodies in harmony with each other, homophonic textures, step-wise motion appearing in other voice parts, and optional bass notes for changing voices or older choirs.

A unique musical style can be developed with special treatment of some elements within the piece. The result will be a director's unique style, as we try to make the familiar come alive with energy, passion, and joy for the season of light and peace.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Spotlight on the Holidays: "Swingin' and Jinglin'"

This jazzy holiday tune is written for SSA and SSAA voices, and it appropriately emulates the "Andrews Sisters" (popular during World War II) style. It's fun...and it drives to the end. Opportunities for choreography are everywhere in the style and the vocal lines.

Wanetta Hill penned the lyrics for this swinging, joyful celebration of a Christmas dance with Santa and the Elves. The Key is E-flat, with a rather low tessitura at the beginning. By the time we get to the refrain in measure 22, three parts are solid in homophonic texture, with syncopation for the "jazz" effect. Rests (measure 30) are important to the style of the piece. Be sure that there is absolute silence in the rests.

In the SSA (you can apply all of this to the SSAA): Measure 39 begins with the little "doo-wop" phrase that will be heard as connecting material throughout. The altos take over the melody in measure 41, with SI and SII singing "doo-wop" phrases in the background, with an occasional "bah buh doo wah"....and don't forget the "fall off" on the last syllable. Then...everyone is in unison in measure 45.

Make the quarter note triplets in measure 48 really pronounced! Take your time and enjoy. Soprano I provides the percussive effect in measures 49-50. Really accent the syncopated passages. It creates the creates the fun! 

In measure 58, the refrain comes back, with the SI and SII in a independent melody of their own. There are also glissandi in measures 59, 61, and 63. Have fun with these.

Watch for the "subito piano" in measure 63....going on to page 8. Then...a very quick crescendo to "forte" in all parts. This is a great tune for using accents and dynamics to create amazing moments!

There's another "subito piano" in measure 72....and the dynamics and intensity builds and builds and builds until the very end. Quarter note triplets appear in measure 82 (time for drama)....enjoy them!!

You can be creative in the last measure (m. 83). You can perform it as written, with the fall-off at the end of Beat can let the singers "wail" on the last note, and hold it as long as you want (fermata).....then have the accompanist dramatically glissando up-down-or-up and down the keyboard, with a huge dance pose at the end.....maybe shaking jazz hands, etc.

You get the idea: have not stand still.....make this fun piece come alive with joy and delight. Santa would be very pleased with you, and your audience would just have the time of their lives, seeing students enjoy themselves. Yes....they can clap right along with your performance.

Listen to the recording of The Lodge singers in Indianapolis as they sing this holiday SSA voicing of "Swingin' and Jinglin'"!!!! Feel free to slow to your choosing. If you need me to send you a slower accompaniment file, no problem! I'm happy to do so. 

Enjoy! Enjoy!