Sunday, June 7, 2020

Difficult days...gentler ways...André Thomas

Dr. André Thomas, Me, Dr. Allen Hightower

In the above photo, you see two men who have served as my choir directors in my lifetime. While at FSU, I sang with André Thomas, and I sang in Allen Hightower's church choir in Waco, Texas. Both men are incredible musicians, and I was constantly inspired to be a better musician, choir member, choral singer, and yes...a better person.  It was a privilege to sing for both of these wonderful men. They both are extraordinary musicians and people.

This week, my thoughts have been on the contributions to my life by André Thomas regarding  inclusiveness, awareness of racial inequalities, and openness to dialogue. This has been a tough week for many, but most of all, for the family of George Floyd. With Floyd's death has come renewed visibility and protest of racial discrimination, along with a renewed commitment to ensure that justice and change come about soon. Thank God for cell phones and videos, as citizens are now able to document acts of violence, injustice, and racism in our society so that evidence exists. It is time for these horrible acts of injustice to end. It's easy....just STOP. These acts have never accomplished one good thing. I've noticed over my lifetime that anything that emanates from a place of hatred and bigotry works that way. It is bad in every way, so it must STOP. There is no need for hatred. There is no place for hate.

When I look at my friend André in the above photo, the timing of the photo was only a few months after my husband's death. We took photos, because in his words, "Portia needs to know that you are okay." Portia Thomas is André's wife, whom I consider a dear friend as well. André and Portia care about me and my well-being. We have been in touch with each other throughout our lives, each cheering the other on in every way possible. André and Portia know I am always "for" them, and I know the same good wishes are there for me as well.

When I look in my Bible, I find a letter André wrote me a couple of days before I had some serious skin cancer surgery several years ago....back in the 90s. Why don't I take it out of my Bible? I really don't know, but it comforts me to this day to remember the kindness of my friend. He was busily conducting Texas All-State,  but he went back to his hotel room and wrote a comforting letter to me. He is for me in every good aspect of my well-being.

In a private conversation during my doctoral years, Dr. Thomas discussed with me the fact that someone is unable to understand the effects of racism in our society, unless one has walked in the shoes of those on the receiving end of such. Isn't that interesting? As an educator, I have a need to understand. As a choral director, conducting African-American spirituals, I want to understand how one would feel to sing these songs as an African-American, but I will never know...because I am not an African-American. I will never know. It is sobering to realize that fact.

So...how have I proceeded? First, I acknowledge that fact. Then...I do whatever I am able to do to make a difference in my corner of the world. Sometimes progress begins with a conversation. This week, I have called, texted, and emailed African-American friends from Jacksonville to Los Angeles. One of the things that the situation this week has made incredibly clear to me is that silence must not be the response from the Anglo community. We don't know what to say, so we say nothing! No wonder our brothers and sisters are thinking their lives don't matter at all! We do not say anything! We just let it "play out." Really? That is not the way I was treated by Dr. Thomas.

This week has made me commit in a huge way to the fact that I will not be silentWhen injustice is present, I will not be silent. It will not happen. We are in this together with our brothers and sisters, and the truth is that my friend André Thomas has never stayed silent when I needed him. He was there. He was supportive. He listened with the most gentle tone in his voice, and he often encouraged me to think about a new way, a new day, a new beginning. Dr. Thomas has done this one person at a time, and I am certain that hundreds of choral singers in this world have unique stories to tell of his kind benevolence.

We give thanks for all of those teachers in our lives who taught us more than notes, rhythms, expressive elements, historical facts, stylistic elements. We give thanks for those teachers who cared enough about us to help us become better human beings. They teach us how to love and care, simply by demonstrating gentle kindness.

















Thursday, April 30, 2020

Just a Common "Zoom Choir"

Church Choir Rehearsal

"The times, they are a-changin'." A bit o' Bob Dylan for this Thursday morning...a beautiful morning, I might add. These words were penned in 1964, and times were changing in the USA. Changes are not all bad, as you know, but these days, we certainly must LOOK for them. It's an effort sometimes. So much data that comes our way is just tragic. We know so many who have been affected by illness, loss, and death in this pandemic. It is indeed heartbreaking. The times are changing, and we are reminded about the needs, biases, and discriminatory practices of our culture. We are also reminded of the amazing, indomitable strength of the human spirit within the culture. No matter what may come, integrity, honesty, professionalism, competence, love, care, respect, and a list of at least 1,795 additional attributes (relax, I just made up the number) may be found in the real heroes of "the day." It doesn't matter what others may do, integrity runs deep in many, many citizens of this country.

Has anyone "out there" heard of "Zoom?" Teachers are teaching, businesses are meeting, choirs are rehearsing, doctors are practicing, lives in our culture are being transformed by "Zoom!" Would the creator of this computer program ever have thought that he would be the universal "Scotch Tape" for keeping this country (and others) from possibly avoiding collapse? Eric Yuan (China) developed the software in 1987 (I was at FSU in doctoral school). The need?  He was a 10-hour train ride away from his girlfriend, and he wanted to find an easier way to "visit" her. Isn't that wonderful? That's exactly the thing we're finding out today...it is easier to stay in touch, visit, provide group sessions of any sort...with Zoom!

Last evening, I "attended" choir rehearsal. Okay, we didn't actually sing, but with Zoom, we could save lives, see our faces (even when things return to "normal," I'll bet we're in masks), share information with our fellow choir members, pray for each other, laugh together, talk about music, think about the future, and express love...with Zoom!

One thing we are not doing during this pandemic is "zooming" through it (speed reference). It seems that decisions are being made slowly, and with caution. Good! I am happy about that! There is no need to screw it up, and spend the next three years cleaning up after ourselves health-wise and economically. Maybe we could make thoughtful decisions before we "plunge into the deep"...again.

I am saddened to see that many are just plain tired of this thing. Some are depressed. Yes....I can identify at times. I am fortunate...there is no home-schooling going on in my home (grueling, I'm sure). I adjusted to working at home 20 years ago. Yes...it was difficult. Things "close in" on a person. It happened to me. Maybe it has happened to you. We are creatures of a nice, steady, incremental change in social/professional process. We didn't get to "do it" that way this time. We were thrown into a bowl full of chaos, and we have been digging our way out since March. That's where we are today...everyone is tired, complacent in some ways, annoyed, frustrated, and ready for this Zoomin'-Corona thing to be over!!!!

Well, tough....we don't get to "drive the bus" on this one. We are passengers on the bus, and we are important...but...others are driving. Some are good drivers. Some are horrible. This we know: for the sake of all of us, we just need to keep going, and going, and going.

What did I do? Of course, I wrote a song. My mom, a retired school teacher, was dealt a really tough blow by life...widow with three small children at 32 years-old, etc. It was not easy at all, but she kept going. At the time of her death in 2017, her students from the 1960's wrote to tell me how much one of my Mom's favorite poems had gotten them through tough times (as it did for my Mom). She was so inspired by the poetry of Frank Lebby Stanton (1857-1927; first Poet Laureate of Georgia, my home state), she had all of her students memorize Stanton's poem Keep A-Goin' for years. I shared it last Sunday evening with my church home group, and it seemed to help others. They found it useful enough to post it on their Facebook page the next day. Maybe you will find inspiration, strength, and comfort in it as well. This piece will be on my website in the near future. 

The poem as per my setting:

***************************************************************

Keep a-Goin' 
By Frank Lebby Stanton (1900)

If you strike a thorn or rose, keep a-goin'.
If it hails or if it snows, keep a-goin'.
There's no use to sit and whine when the fish ain't on your line,
Bait your hook, and keep a-tryin'.
Keep a-goin'.

When the weather kills your crop, keep a-goin'.
When you tumble from the top, keep a-goin'.
Supposing you're out every dime, being broke ain't any crime.
Tell the world you're feelin' fine! Keep a-goin'.

When it looks like all is up, keep a-goin'.
Drain the sweetness from the cup, keep a-goin'.
See the wild birds on the wing; hear the bells so sweetly ring.
If you feel like sighin', (singin') sing! Keep a-goin'!

*****************************************************************
I've seen "sighin'" and "singin'" used, so I give you the choice. Sighin' makes more sense, 
but I like "singin" better. Your choice.

Okay....so....we're going to make it through this stuff. Stay at home...you're a hero...you're saving lives. Don't give up....keep a-goin'. Say this poem to yourself over and over. I've said it all my life, and I pass it on to you. You might not be "happy" in the tough times (if possible, wonderful!), The key is to keep on going, regardless of anyone else's choices. Please...make it your choice.  

Keep a-Goin'!













Thursday, April 16, 2020

This, too, shall pass!


Don't you love the sentiment displayed in this wall decor? We all want to display this or something similar on our walls these days, because we want this isolation, restriction, and inconvenience in our lives to be over!! Not that we wanted to go any place specific, but we just can't even do the little things that we now know brought us sanity, peace, and joy (good to know, huh?). I looked at myself in the mirror before going to the grocery store. Only a space suit from NASA would have protected me more (the future?). However, we are all kind and smart enough to know the destructive path of this virus might also take us or our loved ones on a journey that would be much worse than the inconvenience of today.

The wall plaque above was a gift to my mother upon her retirement from 30 years of teaching. Some of you can relate. At a certain point, it really becomes attractive to "pass the torch." For some reason, a bit of the fun, joy, and strength just cannot be found to continue on, so we make other choices and do other things. "To everything there is a season." Mom was retired for 30+ years afterward, and she was busier than ever.

These are the days we would love to have "pass." If I heard my Mom say, "This too shall pass" once in my lifetime, she must have said it 1,000 times. It's life....there are some situations, seasons, and extended experiences that are just flat unpleasant. That's just the "long-short-fat-thin" of it! We don't know if we are doing the "right thing" for our health by....going for a walk, ordering carry-out from a restaurant, etc. My pastor said something a couple of weeks ago that meant the world to me. Dr. Steve Wells at South Main Baptist Church quoted Dan Yeary, his late father-in-law, who said: "When you don't know what to do, do what you know, until you know what to do."

That seems to be what we are all doing these days...to the point that we are actually re-inventing church, school, business, social gatherings, and any number of activities that involve other people. We don't get to actually share space with other people, but we can see them. Options for the day: We can grieve...we can whine...we can get angry...we can blame...we can respond to this inconvenience with any number of behaviors. Thankfully, I have several friends who are always looking for the "silver lining." In this experience, it might be a struggle to find it easily. However, to get through this, for the sake of sanity and health, I think we must find it.

Families are actually spending time together, looking eye-to-eye, and continuing to participate in many events together...in their living rooms. Leaders are re-inventing ways of doing things. My husband started using "Zoom" 4-5 years ago, when a seminary where he was teaching went totally online. He held class in the guest bedroom of our home via computer, and those students interacted with him just as if they were within walls together. I never dreamed that I would be "Zooming" one day, but Zoom has been the life-blood of social gatherings in these times of re-invention.

A couple of days ago, I was "Zooming" with Dr. Tom Shelton and his choir at Westminster Choir College as I discussed my 2-Part Playground Tunes with his 3rd and 4th graders in New Jersey. Sooo much fun. They were totally delightful. I was reminded that many, many aspects of who we are as choral musicians are taught by insightful, competent educators like Tom. He was teaching students how to listen, ask questions, and think about the music they are singing. They also sang it at the beginning of the session. I loved it.

So...how do we get through this season of life? Take a look at how our profession has changed already. Anyone "not so secure" with technology has turned over an unimaginable leaf that puts "technology" at the top of the list. It's true. This new direction is not only in the education community, but also in the church. The Sanctuary Choir at South Main just had a virtual choir performance of Handel's "Hallelujah" appear on NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt (Easter). I just happened to be watching NBC news by chance (I'm a David Muir fan), and was totally freaked out when I saw our church organist Yuri McCoy appear on the screen. It was a miracle! My computer and television somehow had become miraculously linked. Okay...I haven't put in the effort for such, but you can understand why I was totally confused. The point: it was a new way of doing things that was obviously unique enough to get some attention nationally. Notice, I did not say it was an easy way of doing things. It is too new at the moment. Everyone seemed to be stretched in their musical independence and technological abilities. Me? I had given away or discarded three sets of earphones a year ago before I moved to Texas. I had never needed them through THREE iPhones, so why would I ever need them?? Okay...I needed them. So...you won't see me in the virtual choir performance. It appears at the end of the Easter webcast at www.smbc.org.

One of the main things that might be of the greatest value in this isolation: we are discovering the gifts of those around us. Gifts we had no idea existed. Gifts that individuals are not hesitant to use for the "greater good." Maybe...just maybe...it develops a greater respect for those with whom we work...for those with whom we worship...and for those whom we see as leaders. In many situations, I have witnessed amazing leadership such as I have never witnessed before. It has been heartening.

What do we do going forward? We know that we can do this thing called social distancing, because most of us are doing it. We value our lives and those around us enough to sacrifice, because the unknown sounds so darn unpleasant. Until we have a little more clarity about the situation where we are in regard to COVID-19, "If you don't know what to do, do what you know, until you know what to do."

Life may never return to "normal," but in some cases, we must ask ourselves, "Would we really want that?" Outrageous demands that occurred after 9/11 have now become routine. Is it good? Of course! It has been necessary. We have felt safer because of many restrictions. So...we embrace whatever is wise to keep us and our loved ones healthy for the future. Changes in policies, restrictions, and impositions will become routine as well, I suppose.

So...we continue on until those who know more than we know make decisions based on facts from their expertise, experience, and moral regard for humanity.

Until then, we will celebrate the day when we can say:


















Tuesday, March 31, 2020

So....how is it going? Celebrating great leadership!


The Streets of Houston Last Weekend

I have been "sheltering in place" since March 6. Within that span of time, there have been so many changes around me: new procedures for day-to-day living, empty streets in busy cities, bare grocery shelves, hoarding of paper grocery products, jobs lost by many, businesses dark and dismal, businesses gone, bipartisan political decisions, political decisions to ease financial burdens, and many other such components of interest.

In the past three weeks, we have been observers to the best and worst of humanity. We have seen persons, supposedly with good sense, making some of the worst decisions possible. We wonder the source of such ill-advised, arrogant, less-than-bright decisions. Who are these people? We have heard of politicians who were likely infected who attended crowded events, teenagers attending parties in the name of this dreaded virus, churches who continue to meet as they ignore the recommendations of the CDC  and local government, golf courses that remain open, colleges that have resumed, choirs that have rehearsed, and other such poor decisions too numerous to count. I don't know why people do not "get it." Those in the position of knowing and understanding have told us over and over, "Stay home." In other words....When you stay home you save lives, and when you ignore these recommendations, you are likely contributing to illness and death. Period. The end. Enough said.

On the other hand, we have seen some of the finest leadership in the world during these days. You probably have someone in your life who has this virus now. I know of two people in my life (one doctor...one minister) who now have CV-19. There is real danger in "numbers." Of course, we know that, but it is indeed a "numbers game." Those who see more people are generally the ones who are getting the germ. Stay home. It makes sense. It is not stupid. It is inconvenient. It is a "snap shot" of your life and mine. The fact that I do not get to do what I want to do in my life is not a situation that most of us handle well at all. Want to "buck" the system? If so....be willing to pay the price, and "the price" is not pretty. It is frightening. It is real. Stay home.

So....for the positive side: I have chosen Governor Andy Beshear as a person who has shown incredible leadership during this crisis, and I will be interested to see how Kentucky (my home state for 16 years) fares because of his strength, stamina, encouragement, and outlook. Governor Beshear is positive, strong, compassionate, encouraging.....and the people of Kentucky love him. They love him enough to put some of the cutest postings on social media anyone could ever imagine.

Governor Beshear addresses his state population at 5 PM every day (you can watch his update for today on You Tube). He reviews all the mandates set forth by his office, he has other health professionals address the population, gives updates, takes questions, includes all ages (pre-school through adulthood) in the programming, and Kentucky is on board because of his leadership...not because of anything going on in Washington, DC. They are working together as a state. This man is incredible, and even though I'm a Texan now, I never miss a Beshear update. He drives, and drives, and drives home a point that he considers basic to Kentucky's survival. The state is mourning every person who passes with houses aglow in "green." Green is the color of compassion, and it represents growth and renewal. Governor Beshear wants his entire state unified to fight this disease, and they are fighting together like crazy. This. gives. me. hope.

Check out this cute photo, referring to the 5 PM daily briefing:

Someone is totally in love with her governor!




Okay...a little explanation needed here. Governor Beshear has been so aggressive, he sent law enforcement to surround a man's home who refused to self-quarantine. The officers were stationed there two weeks, while the man stayed home. In the situation with the above photo, Andy closed the Bingo Hall in Pike County, Kentucky, because they were continuing to meet to play Bingo (and pick up some cash, too). He went after them, and closed them down. Nope...not with Andy Beshear. He is protecting all Kentuckians.


Okay...this is not difficult to understand: The people of Kentucky love their governor. He leads them with a calm, quiet, pleasant demeanor, and one particular person expressed it this way. I get it. Don't you??




Oh....how Governor Beshear protects his people! He means business, and they are all in it together. I will be so interested to see if the curve flattens with the "internal discipline" he has created there in the state.



Aww....Kermit loves Governor Beshear, too. This is so cute. It says everything that needs to be said about this fine governor. He comforts his people during these tough, uncertain days. They love him, and they wait daily to be comforted.

Thank you, Governor Beshear, for showing this country the best of who we are. You have demonstrated incredible warmth, compassion, toughness, comfort, and tenacity. You really care about the well-being of your state, and if we all do what you say......It's going to be okay.















Sunday, March 15, 2020

I'm at Home....You???




I love the hymn God of Grace and God of Glory, and I particularly love the phrase "for the living of these days." That's where we are today, considering the challenges ahead. And....we should give the threat of coronavirus the highest importance and consideration. Exponentially, this could be the worst medical emergency I've experienced in my lifetime (I remember taking the polio vaccine on a sugar cube), and we should all do our part to be responsible citizens. It's the exponential factor (one person infects three....who infects three, etc.) that worries health professionals.

Is this my first quarantine? No...it isn't. Back in 1987 (or so) I was a doctoral student at Florida State. I was in the midst of collecting data for my dissertation to be completed in 1988, and troubling news came down the administration pipeline: The university administration declared a campus epidemic regarding measles (one case, undergraduate). Evidently, measles were so contagious that caution and alarm went throughout the FSU administration. Out of a campus of 26,000, I only gave it one thought, "What are the chances that I will have had contact with this undergraduate?" Answer: Slim to None....I thought. Well...lucky me. The girl was in my choir. I sang with Andre Thomas in University Singers, and she was in that choir! Okay...at this point I became a little worried. I knew I had German Measles in 1957 as a toddler.

In 1957, everyone had measles in their households at some point, and it was passed around like the common cold. When the first child contracted measles, you might have a trip to the doctor, but for all who followed, you just let them "take their turn" until all had overcome the terrible "inconvenience." Children overcame it much more easily than adults, who commonly die from measles.  So....Earlene had no documentation, and Student Health Services was unyielding. They were not moved by my explanation, and sent me home immediately. In the midst of writing a dissertation, I had to "go away" from campus for 10-14 days. This was no time for a vacation from class, but I had no choice.You see, there were 25, 599 students who needed respectful consideration. I couldn't go anywhere else either, because thankfully, I could not think of anyone I might like to infect.

As we sit in our homes these days, I'm reminded again that sometimes there are unwritten rules that cause us to consider others as a priority. Sometimes the rules apply to airplane loads of people (a friend's granddaughter is arriving tomorrow from Barcelona/London for self-quarantine), and sometimes it is just the right thing to do on two sides of the coin: we do not want to share or contract the illness. It is just right to stay home, with minimal risks to ourselves and others.

Here's what I'm finding: There really isn't much I must do. I know it is different for those of you with families and other obligations, but my life hasn't really changed all that much. I have worked from home for 20 years, and it is just the "way I roll" as a choral music writer. The only differences I am finding right now are 1) My social outlets of "church" and "singing in a choir" have disappeared, 2) I'm not "chomping at the bit" to run down to the post office for a package, 3) I think about how long a half gallon of milk will last me, 4) I am very aware of walking outside, making sure my mouth is closed, 5) I am washing my hands like a crazy person. They are red, wrinkled "dishpan hands," to say the least, and...6) I am cooking. Those of you who know me are howling at this point. You know cooking is not my thing, but....going to get a couple of meals for the week is not an option now. I could go out and buy food at a restaurant, but I don't, and I know why; because I have no control of the situation, and I'm not sure I trust others to take care of me the way I think they should. I know that sounds totally self-centered, but I cannot think of anyone who dislikes sickness as much as I. Now my focus is green tea, acai juice, other immunity boosting supplements and foods, and I am hoping beyond hope that I somehow avoid the coronavirus.

The thing that truly tugs at my heart is the price that has been paid and is continuing to be paid by our nation's athletes (March Madness), athletics fans, concert-goers, pastoral staffs, medical communities, and those in the elderly population (yup, some stats have me in the "elderly" group. Wha???). There are eyes opening all around us, and people are finally beginning to pay attention.

Sometimes I think that the only positive thing that is coming out of this is that things that did not matter two weeks ago matter very much now. The difference has been reality. The information has always been "out there," but until someone put that data and rationale in a meaningful form, it wasn't all that important, and someone in power had to do it. Now the information is out, and everyone feels at risk...and we are. Be safe, be smart, be diligent, and be considerate of others. We will get through this, and we will all be wiser because of it. Hang in there! Make good choices!





















Sunday, March 8, 2020

A Choral Director......Again!

Earlene Conducting...Years Ago

Well...I'm "at it" again. So...how does it feel? It feels great...different...but great. "How so?" you ask. Well...most of the "How is it?" begins with questions...my own. Here are some of the questions I entertained before and during the "stint":

1) Will I still be able to "do it?" Answer: Yes. That "bicycle thing" is real.
2) Will I still "have it?" (in regard to the pacing of a rehearsal, etc.). Answer: I improved.
3) Do the materials I have touted over the recent years really do as I thought? Answer: Yes!
4) Am I still able to inspire singers? Answer: I think so.
5) Is it enjoyable for me? Answer: Oh, yeah.
6) Is it enjoyable for the singers? Answer: So they say.
7) Where is it going? Answer: Who knows?
8) How long? Answer: Who knows?

Okay....maybe more thoughts will come to my head as I go along, but here's what I know so far (through the experience).

I'm not sure how I wound up with this gig. It is a gig at South Main Baptist Church, the church I regularly attend and sing in the Sanctuary Choir. You know how that goes...once in church ministry, always in church ministry (if you enjoy it). At any rate, I wound up saying "yes," with the promise that I would have assistance in music selection (so time consuming!). They came through...so appreciative.

So...in church work, we work for the enhancement of worship. We don't just say, "I really like this octavo." We ultimately say, "I really like this octavo, and it fits the worship theme 'here'." There is always a greater purpose other than the music. What can we say musically through music that helps others to "get it?" It takes some doing, so we do it.

I generally have 15-20 singers in Agape, South Main's women's ensemble. It has been a challenge to find our "direction" for this group. I am still not absolutely certain, but I think I am nearing the goal. This group loves "folk" arrangements. Of course, we also sing other things, but they and the church really enjoy the folk aspect of women's choral music. They really "bring it home" in such a way that others are drawn into their presentation, being blessed in a way that brings many responses and affirmations. One such Sunday performance occurred a few weeks ago when we sang "Morning Has Broken" and "Down in the River to Pray." The "folksy, earthy, down home" feelings that emerged really appealed to many in our congregation. It was a good thing.

Eyes were aglow as we all enjoyed doing well and others enjoyed listening. One story: I was recruiting for the group after Christmas, and mentioned that we would be reading music. One member wrote to tell me she couldn't be in the choir, because she couldn't read music. I was stunned. I wrote her back to explain that she could read music! She was reading music every week during the previous semester. The Rehearsal Preparation Sheets that I provide through my business were used weekly, teaching singers rhythms, melodies, harmonies, etc., to make certain that in this non-auditioned group, arrived at the same place together. Yes!! She could read music. She just thought she couldn't do so, because that is her history....saying "I don't read music." Knowing what I knew to be true, it was a compliment, because anything that was easy for her (Rehearsal Preparation Sheets) couldn't possibly be that thing she couldn't do....read music!

The good news is that music reading can be easy, if it is approached sequentially, using successive approximations. In other words, we don't move ahead to more difficult notes and rhythms until we perform the desired example and "reach the standard." When is it good enough? As choral directors, we get to choose the standard, and that is terrific. We determine what we can live with it, because that's usually as good as it is going to get. So...we do not need to mislead students as to when we reach it. I was also reminded of this facet of teaching in one Agape rehearsal. A choir member asked, "Did we get those two measures as good as you wanted?" The answer was "no," but I didn't want to discourage the singers, so we moved ahead. That was not a good move by me. My heart was in the right place, but once a standard is set for excellence, singers know when they fall short. That was a lesson for me. Church choir? Music reading limited? It does not matter...excellence is the goal! Reach that standard!


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....