Monday, November 12, 2018

Choral Director Tammy Benton is So Much Fun!!

Tammy and Me in Her "Workshop"

On a recent visit to Texas, I visited Tammy Benton, choral director extraordinaire at Midway Middle School...probably the most FUN person I've ever met in the entire world. Tammy can find fun or create her own in every situation imaginable. Everyone has a great time around Tammy, and......she LOVES her job!  As her husband told me, "You have created a monster." Her time commitment to her job is truly amazing...hours, and hours, and hours...daily.

Tammy makes us all feel younger, more energized, and we join in her fun times. In my secondary methods class at Baylor University, trust me, I only thought I was in control. The "Spirit of Tammy" spread quickly throughout the classroom, and pretty soon, I had lots of Tammys (of course she was the ring-leader). I was hanging on by my fingernails. I provided mere suggestions...they "took the class." As a person who wanted to be in control of her classroom, this was a "stretch" for me, but I really got used to it over the semester, and truly enjoyed it.

I love this photo of Tammy. It reminds me of the day I was visiting a school to  supervise her in student teaching, and she was trying desparately to get the students to sing an "Ooo" vowel correctly, so Tammy came up with a word that provided a marvelous "Ooo" vowel for the students to emulate. HOWEVER, I heard her say, "Give me a wonderful, round "Ooo" vowel....just like the "Ooo" in "Coors." that moment, I choked...and thought, "I did not just hear that. I think I heard that, but I am wrong. I did not just hear that." I immediately began thinking of other places where I might enjoy working. Luckily, Tammy caught herself, saying, "Oops...that's not a good one"...then she pulled another "Ooo" word from her vocabulary. Lucky us. Gayle Box, the supervising teacher, smiled, we got on with it. My BP was elevated only 40 points by then.

Tammy and Me - Creative Angle, Huh? This photo says it all...

Tammy is a fantastic choral director for any group, but it is my opinion that her strength is in teaching middle school boys. Did you hear me? Middle School Boys! People run and hide from middle school boys in the choral profession. They don't want to deal with them, but Tammy loves them...totally loves them! And...because they know she loves them....they flock to her in multitudes, wanting to sing in her choir....and they sing...beautifully. Tammy had a great foundation for loving these boys and understanding their "boyishness." Her husband Gary was an All-American baseball player, a baseball coach (now AD) for decades, and she has been around guys, guys, guys. She also has a son, so she knows the mentality of every age...she has lived it! The boys in her choir don't try to "pull" anything. She's "been there, done that," and she knows what's going on at the moment and coming next. I think she has 140 or so of them in the program. They are everywhere, in droves, and the high school choral directors love her for it, I'm sure. She takes them all sorts of places....they perform at National and Regional ACDA Conventions, TMEA Conventions, the White House, Texas Ranger baseball games (National Anthem)....this is not a group of students who are afraid to perform. They live for it! And...their parents are just fine with all the opportunities their children experience in choral music. WOW!!!

Me, Tammy, and Gary

Thankfully, Tammy has some help these days from an assistant (Zack Owens) and a marvelous student teacher from Baylor (Heather Boswell). They are both "in there" with Tammy, working with all of her students (and please know her girls' choirs are wonderful and huge as well), trying to teach young singers the fundamentals of choral music, so that they are always singing. They all do a wonderful job...working together.

Heather, Zack, Tammy, Me

At this point, you need to know that Tammy is a fabulous person, always looking beyond herself to others who might benefit from a kind word, and caring gesture, and total goodness. While I was there, she also took it upon herself to jump through the processes to see that Earlene Rentz Online Publications was added to the Midway School District's vendor list. Totally unexpected! Thank you!

The "family" of choral music is a fairly small family. In the afternoon, Heather Boswell and I began talking, and we both eventually realized that her middle school choir had been one of the choirs performing in a very special concert I conducted at Hurst United Methodist Church (TX) several years ago (thanks, Greg Shapley)! WOW!! Such a small, small world. Heather remembered the piece they sang (The Turtle Dove), and we both had "a moment" remembering a very special evening. All good...all good.

Tammy has "been there" in my best and worst moments of life. When I walked into my husband's memorial service in 2017, I looked over, and saw the most beautiful bouquet of white roses imaginable. Tammy and Gary Benton had sent them to me, and I immediately was filled with the knowledge that I was not alone and was being uplifted by precioius friends near and far. It was a moving experience for me. I was strengthened to continue through that tough hour of saying "farewell." the way...a little explanation as to how I was able to visit Tammy in her school a couple of weeks ago... another friend who had scheduled fun times for us in Waco fell ill in the worst way for 3-4 days, with a very contagious virus. When I called Tammy, she said, "You can't stay in that! I'm coming to get you!" Okay....that's a true friend (and no...I never got ill with the "stuff," but we had a plan to quarantine me, should that have happened)). Someone who puts my well-being and wellness ahead of her own and that of her household, is definitely someone who borders on sainthood (Okay...maybe a "stretch"...but it is still true).

I just love Tammy and Gary Benton. They have created an incredible partnership in their lives and with their son Taylor (I just received a "thank you" card from him today for a little gift). There are good and right things going on in that family, and amidst every facet of their lives, Tammy never loses sight of this one fact: Life is to be enjoyed with others! And...I have never seen anyone in my entire life who jumps in, makes it happen, and spreads the joy more than my friend and colleague Tammy Benton. 

Tammy, I am so proud of you and the marvelous professional you have become. The person you have become is equally impressive as well. You are an inspiration to all of us, and I wish you only the most tremendous things in life. You deserve them, Dear Heart, because you have created them.

I'm still hanging on by my fingernails!!

Thursday, November 8, 2018

The Silo District - Waco, TX

The Silos - Waco, Texas

I recently visited a friend in Waco, and she had a great surprise for me when I arrived. We went to the Silo District, made famous by the Fixer Upper duo, Chip and Joanna Gaines, for the bi-annual Silobration...a fun and wonderful evening. I could barely believe how the area had been transformed! When I was there in the 90's, the Silo District was (in my opinion) an eyesore. It was not attractive at all...but in the hands of the masters of design and renovation, it has become totally beautiful! I was amazed. The silos were aglow, and people roamed the streets, enjoying a wonderful fall, eating, laughing, listening to music, and just being together. The area had come alive with joy!!

There was a gallery/store of sorts where things were sold just like the things Joanna used to decorate all the "fixer uppers" on the show. It was no surprise that they were beautiful things, and all of the rooms were tastefully decorated to show off the beautiful merchandise. 

My friend Melanie and I were talking and laughing, and she began speaking to a guy...then introduced him as Clint Harp, the wordworking genius of the show. How cool was that?'ve gotta know...he was just as nice in person as he seems to be on the show. addition...all of the Fixer Upper gang was there at the Silobration...Shorty and all the others from the show. There were people in attendance from all over the world. We waited on Chip and Joanna as if they were royalty...and indeed...they are Waco royalty.

The band played and sang, and Clint, Shorty, and the gang spoke to the crowd. One of the things I loved about the evening was to hear how Fixer Upper had changed lives. It was also great to hear the guys' thanks for the fan support they had been given during the years the show aired. Shorty talked about how the show had changed all of their lives for the better. I'm supposing that they lived rather modest lives at one time, but when the fame of Fixer Upper came into their lives...Wham-o! Life changed. It is so heartening to know that life can change in the most positive of ways, leaving them really busy even now. The effects of the show remain...and they are grateful.

During all of this, Chip was watching from the rooftop of the gallery/store. Not only were the main characters of the show around, but there was a special area for all of their employees from the store to be a part of the evening. I thought it was really cool that Chip and Joanna had taken care of those who make their lives wonderful. Chip listened for a  while, and then he left the rooftop. What? Well...wouldn't you know it? When he appeared again, he was on stage in the shortest green and gold Baylor running shorts you could imagine (he is as funny as the show implies), and Joanna was in jeans and a ballcap. There ya go....royalty at its finest. They are who they are, and they seem to be real people, enjoying their contribution to the fun-loving lifestyle that is the Magnolia Silobration.

So...what do I make of all of this? I guess I think about music, music education, and students in classrooms and choirs. Chip and Joanna became who they are through their daily routine of work and creativity. Every day, they brought their own expertise, personalities, humor, quirks, family, and love for each other to the set. They somehow learned how to incorporate it into an unexpected opportunity called "Fixer Upper." They stayed with the show until they felt it was time to go out on top, and when they did move on, they continued to contribute to the lives of a community (Waco) that had given much to them, making their corner of the world a better place. Of course, they now have the resources to do anything they want to do in the world, but they also have made others' lives better as well. They "pay it forward" in whatever way they feel appropriate.

Choral directors do this every day of life...we just do it with sounds...choral programs...and the "scenery" is different (rehearsal rooms). Through hard work and our own preparation and expertise, we create something beautiful, if we work really hard to exhaust every artistic resource within us. And when we do....if we are fortunate....some students may eventually look back at their lives, and express gratitude. We know we are fed every day by the opportunity to work with students to create something beautiful, but we long for the day when they themselves can look back and say, "We sang beautifully. I loved it. I always want music in my life. I want music in the lives of my children." 
At that point, we have entered into their value systems of adulthood in a new, wonderful  way. That is definitely a "celebration" for music educators!!

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The Morning After....

Okay...the elections are almost over. "Almost" indicates the few awaiting recounts, etc., that will finally determine the entire landscape of governing politics, starting in January. We'll see how the television fills its advertisements, etc. That's always amazing to me when they seem to find other businesses to fill that massive void. No more robo calls!! That's good, too. Time for all to "get a life!"

As you might guess, some of my candidates won while others lost, but on the whole I am absolutely encouraged. Why? Because in many cases, the population of the governing bodies looks more like the nation's population.

As I sat watching the results, the pundits continued to use the word "historic." YES! That means that things are changing. People are getting out to vote, instead of sitting home, thinking incorrectly that "it" doesn't matter if they go vote. "It" does matter. It matters very much, and when it matters, we change history. People are not allowing the same old people to do things in the same old ways...with the same old positions. Our nation is changing, so it is important to make certain that the bodies of government that provide laws and policies for this changing world also change.

As far as I can determine, that happened last night. Candidates that were considered a shoo-in barely escaped defeat by the skin of their teeth. People came from out-of-the-blue (no pun intended....just now thought about it) to defeat the establishment. Wow! Holy wow!! "It" can be done. It can absolutely be done. This is indeed a great country.

I was so heartened to see the long, winding lines. The results mattered to so many. However, don't let yourself get down because you didn't get your "win." Dang it, you got close, I'll bet! There is no sin in having more work to do. That's what I experience in my profession daily, and I would dare say you do as well. So, if the candidates want politics as a profession, there is no shame in having more work required.

Some people still came away angry, "it doesn't matter," and the like. Really? You can't tell me that a 2-point defeat doesn't sound better than a 70 point defeat!! C'mon! So....we'll see where we go from here.

I found myself very grateful that the system worked its magic. It is so important that we believe in the process. I am disturbed that in my state, the process was so slow in some cases and the lines moved so slowly (malfunctions) that some left in frustration. Really? Everyone and his "pet" knew that this was a biggie. Get with the program, election offices!!! However, for the most part, more Americans felt the mid-terms were important for the first time in decades. Hey....that's good. That's really good. Congratulations to all!! We all mattered in this election.....

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

It's Finally Here!!!!! Election Day!!!!!!! is finally here. Election Day! Such an exciting day for several years! Why? Because it REALLY matters. It becomes my patriotic hope for the values in which I believe and the beloved country in which I live. It just matters.

For many, this year seems to matter more than others...YES! I went to my precinct this morning to hear that the numbers were amazing, and I was delighted. It obviously matters. I'm wondering why it took so long to wake everyone up in regard to our democratic process. It took a long time for many people to take it seriously enough to make plans to participate...and is sometimes inconvenient to schedule time to be a part of such a process. Maybe the renewed energy comes from the realization that when we take this sacred privilege for granted, the results do not represent our thoughts, feelings, and ideas. For whatever reason, I am glad the numbers are amazing.

I am not certain that I truly "got it"...until 2012 when someone circulated a post concerning the sacrifices of Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and many other women who endured persecution for the privilege of walking into the booth. The women were beaten, jailed, harrassed, and treated like dogs...all because they wanted to vote in elections. However, nothing prepared men for their bravery, courage, and tenacity. Good for me!! Thank you, women!!

As I pondered this amazing sacrifice by the names I had learned in history classes, it became "real" from their photos on the posting. These were real people, they weren't just historical names. They had families, jobs, and everything else in their lives that could have created an inconvenience. Yet, they chose sacrifice as they embarked on a crusade for themselves and all those women who would come after their deaths...that would be

I was profoundly touched by this realization, and when I entered the booth in 2012, I felt as though I had attended a memorial service...a service where I could celebrate their lives and purpose, and give my response..."thank you." Thank you for thinking of me, even though my mother was not even on the planet at the time, much less me. I mattered to you way back then, and I thank you. I mattered in the most incredibly far-reaching aspect likely considered by this selfless, courageous team.

I write music to express many felt the need to write some music that reflected the profound differences all of these realizations made in my life. I wrote an arrangement of America the Beautiful for SATB and Solo a cappella voices (Optional Accompaniment). You're wondering why I included the men in a piece to celebrate women's sacrifices for voting rights? Because it takes all of included. We are all in this democracy thing together. Please listen to this arrangement, and take it to heart as we celebrate this day of sacred choice.

I love this little sticker:

For me, it is more than a little oval placed on the lapel after voting. It is a "badge of honor" I wear for those women to whom "it" mattered that I be able to enter a voting booth without persecution or harassment...cast my ballot without persecution or harassment... and depart without persecution or harassment....knowing that I mattered in my country's election process.

I am grateful...

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Sometimes, I'm just so, so proud...

CMT Artist of the Year Awards

Kimberly Schlapman...Amazing Lady!!

Kimberly Schlapman (pictured on the right at the recent Stand Up to Cancer event) totally surprised me one day in our South Habersham Junior High School Choir (I was the choral director)...she told me she was going to audition for the All-State Choir!! What? Kimberly was so shy and soft-spoken that she rarely could be heard, and when she told me her name was "Kimberly"....many voices in the choir came forth with a boisterous "Her name is 'Kim!'" Whereupon, Kimberly just looked at me, shrugged her shoulders, and mouthed, "Kim." I thought to myself, "Isn't this sad. This child would like to be known by her entire first name, and she is acquiescing to the demands of classmates." I would have been happy to call Kimberly anything she chose, but she knew that to respond too strongly against some "vocal"  classmates would have caused an uproar.

Well...Kimberly is causing an uproar these uproar of thunderous applause, cheering, awards beyond belief, and absolute admiration. Oh...and Kimberly did audition for the All-State Choir, and she was successful not only that year, but every year she auditioned! Yes...she surprised me then...and a few other times as well.  The next year, our choir sang for the Southern Division ACDA convention in Atlanta as a demonstration choir, and Kimberly was the soprano soloist for the Kyrie of Schubert's Mass in G. In the "Christe" section, I told her there was a certain passage that only professional singers could "hold over" and not take a breath.Well...don't you know...she had never made that phrase without a breath in our rehearsals...but come the performance, and Whammo! Done! What????!!!! that point I knew we had someone really special in our choir.

So...Kimberly went on winning international singing competitions, continuing her study of voice, and quietly doing just as she "jolly well" chose to do. She kept on achieving, achieving, and achieving. One day, I received a call from Bobby Ivey, her choral director for her senior year in high school, and in the phone call, he told me that "Kim wants to be a singer." Well....I totally didn't "get it." I said, "Okay...that's great...she is a singer"....but...I didn't know what he meant. 

Later on, to my surprise, I was singing with the Lexington Singers here in Kentucky, and I was on my elliptical exercising one day at lunch before a rehearsal that evening. I heard where a group called Little Big Town was singing in a Christmas concert with us. I thought that was the group Kimberly had in Nashville, but because the name was so "unique," I had been trying to find the band "Big Little House" on the internet.  Well...nothing turned up....Ha Ha.😩 I went to the Little Big Town website, and though I hadn't seen Kimberly in many years, I could tell it was she. I couldn't believe it! I had no idea!! Since it was a city-wide event with the orchestra, it seems that they frequently invited groups to share the stage with the orchestra and choir. Okay....this was somewhere around 2003. We re-connected, and it was so, so enjoyable to see her having a great time singing professionally.

Well..."the rest is history," as they say. I have watched Kimberly's achievements with great admiration and knowledge of her incredible courage and work-ethic. Her bandmate Jimi said it well, " She is one of the most "compassionate" human beings on the planet. Yes...I know first-hand. When my husband passed away, I receive texts from Kimberly, expressing her condolences, giving me strength for the journey ahead that was all-too-familiar to her. It was such an encouragement for me to see Kimberly smile, and know that I, too, might smile again one day. see Kimberly receive one of the CMT Artist of the Year awards Wednesday evening was a joy beyond words. I know she has worked like a trojan to get where she is at this point. Life has not been easy at times. She has more inner drive, courage, determination, love for music, love for people, and appreciation for the good things in her life as compared to anyone in the world. Yes...I am proud of all of my former students. Many of them are living beautiful lives, enjoying music, singing, directing choirs, encouraging their children (and grandchildren) to many are products of the best facets of our music education philosophy. Kimberly has delighted me in that she gracefully, lovingly, and beautifully embraces an international platform to "change the world." For many of us who do not have that opportunity, we are grateful for her voice as she spreads joy and light in a dark, dark world.

I am so thrilled to know that I might have contributed just a bit to her being able to experience life in all its fullness, and Kimberly, I want you to know that you have earned the right to be called exactly whatever you everyone...for the rest of your life. Congratulations, Dear Heart! Enjoy these days of musical bliss and all the wonderful ones to follow. Love you!!!

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Wexford Carol ("What Were You Thinking?")

The Holidays...

I just love the Wexford Carol. It is a beautiful Irish carol, and it is filled with musical substance. If you research a bit, you will hear many different versions of this carol. It was originally written in Mixolydian mode, but some versions go back and forth from minor to major tonalities. It is so interesting that I liked all versions. However, as a music educator, I must think about which version might be the most successful with younger singers.

In all my years of teaching elementary and middle school-aged children, I never sang the Wexford Carol. I didn't even know it existed. Why? I have no clue, guess is that Mixolydian mode was "not the norm" in the ears of elementary and middle school students. At any rate, I am glad that I continued to search, because I found that other arrangers "heard" a few changes in harmony that seemed to assist singers in finding a tonal center in this carol. The first time I heard "Wexford" came as the result of a request from a friend who wanted to make a fellow lawyer from Wexford feel welcome in his law firm. I wrote out the melody so someone could play it on the flute at the firm's holiday party. Interesting, huh? 

The text of the Wexford Carol is sacred...Mary, Baby, manger, Lord, etc. I realized that this text might be prohibited in some schools, so I wrote a secular version, and you can hear it on my website. I really think this is a beautiful tune, and I want students to sing it!

I "hear" this piece as a sort of medieval style....slow madrigal, etc., so I put some of the early instrument sounds in combination with the piano to create a special "effect." The hand drum ostinato moves the arrangement along. The flute plays several countermelodies, and is sometimes in harmony with the piano...all for effect. The finger cymbals (or a triangle is just fine, too) are a "punctuation" to phrases, creating a bit of expectation for the listener.

The Wexford Carol is available from Earlene Rentz Online Publications in voicings for 3-Part Mixed, 2-Part, and Unison.

In addition, I created a short video to assist teachers in teaching the singers.

Enjoy a holiday with the Irish!!

A Suite of Three Seasons ("What Were You Thinking?")

 Dr. Earlene Rentz

Wanetta Hill provided lyrics for this short three-movement suite celebrating the seasons. It is available in 2-Part Voicing from Earlene Rentz Online Publications.

The Movements in A Suite of Three Seasons are as follows:
Movement I - Winter Wonder
Movement II - Fall
Movement III - Spring

1) Winter Wonder - The form of this movement is a very succinct ABA. The first section creates the imagery of the delicate falling snowflakes of winter...soft, beautiful, gently falling. Section Two brings the more abrupt movement of the snowflakes as they are hurled, swirled, and twirled by the wind. Section A returns with the gentle snowflakes and with a "surprise" on the final chord. Winter always brings a surprise with the weather at some point. The final choral provides it in this setting.

2) Fall - The gentle rustling of the fall leaves is the scene I try to create with the music in "Fall." Also, the constant movement and circular feel is reminiscent of the raking of leaves and their movement in the air. Again, a "surprise" in the chord at the end to unify the work as a whole.

3) Spring - This is probably the most challenging of the three movements. In fact, Wanetta has included a French phrase, and the pronunciation guide is free with the purchase of the music. The accompaniment brings the sleeping plants, flowers, and trees to life, and color is popping out all over. Imitation is used as the compositional technique to create energy and total involvement from the ensemble.

Please listen to the wonderful singers from The Lodge Recording Studios in Indianapolis as they perform this suite of nature's wonders.

I also made a short video in the "What Were You Thinking?" series about A Suite of Three Seasons that may contain helpful information for your performance.

Enjoy this imagery-filled octavo from Earlene Rentz Online Publications!