Sunday, December 30, 2018

A Great Evening at The George Theater - Houston, Texas

The George Theater Lobby

I had an interesting experience recently on a holiday trip to Houston, Texas. The amazing and beautiful George Theater in Houston provided this unique opportunity, and I was thrilled to know that the arts are important enough to continue building gorgeous facilities in which to provide citizens a few hours of enjoyment and artistic expression. Yea!!!

The Jeannette and L. M. George Theater is the home of the AD Players, a group of actors in the Houston area that was formed to perform primarily Christian-based themes in theater arts. I attended an evening performance with a friend, and wouldn't you know? The play was entitled "It's a Wonderful Life." I thought I was seeing the "usual" production of this classic holiday story, but I was incorrect. It was definitely the same story as the traditional movie, but it was done as a radio show. The actors all had different voices for all the characters, and several actors might have had three or so characters to portray through their voices.

The "Studio"

All at once, I felt as if I were in touch with my Mom, who often talked about her experiences in listening to dramatic readings and "radio shows" with her family as a little girl. I took a trip to the 1920s and 1930s, enjoying the dialogue with a friend from Houston who had graciously invited me to a special evening.

All at once, I began to think about my music writing. This version of It's a Wonderful Life was nothing like I had expected, but it was the uniqueness of its presentation that brought a freshness to the old familiar story and filled it with life.

A Great Evening!

With every arrangement or set of lyrics, I am trying to find a new way to express the familiar melodies of public domain literature that might "speak" in a new way to my clientele. Sometimes it isn't easy, as numerous other composers have arranged many of the tunes and lyrics that appeal to me most. However, sometimes I find myself in a bit of a "whim" of creativity that has not been explored by others, yet seems absolutely natural to my ear (hearing a piece in 5/4 meter instead of 4/4, etc.). 

Whatever the creative "twist," at some point I must decide if the new twist is in-keeping enough with the traditional interpretation of the piece that listeners will not be "jolted." That is unpleasant for many. I can hear my mother say, "That didn't sound like any version of 'Down in the Valley' I've ever heard!" As always, I am looking for the right amount of familiar mixed with the right amount of different I head into 2019, I renew my interest in writing music, finding great joy and challenge in this delightful process that has become my joy and song. I strive to find that tune that speaks to me gently, uproariously, energetically, or amazingly.  I want to spend time with the familiar, giving respect and evaluation to any "out of the box" whim that might enter my brain.

That's my process...that's my joy...that's my song. is indeed a "wonderful life!"

The George Theater "Familiar" Tree

The George Theater "New Twist" Tree

Monday, November 19, 2018

The Road...The Journey

I'm probably the luckiest person in the world in terms beautiful places to live. My home before was a lake house. I loved it. My home now is a horse farm in the beautiful Kentucky Bluegrass. It is the most wonderful place you can imagine. Every morning I wake up to all sorts of "horse" events....mares teaching their little ones to run and take care of themselves, horses just "horsing around," horses that are just standing as if to say, "I know I'm gorgeous. Take a look." They eat, and eat, and eat, but they really do seem to enjoy their day and their "community." Just the other  morning, when one of the horses was returned to the pasture, they all came running to see the new ask him to join them in their community for the day. It sort of sounds like a choir, huh? A new person comes in, and we want to have our students greet them and bring them into the group. "Be one of us. We need you in this group."

The thing I like best about the place where I live is the road on the farm that leads to the exit. It is long and winding, and believe it or not...I get to think about life as I drive out "into the world." I love it. I see beauty all around me...particularly in the fall. The leaves are actually gone now, but I won't forget the beauty of fall. I won't forget that journey every least until that big wind came along and "did its thing."

Horses are so much like students in our choirs...if they get bored, they start doing "other things" to occupy their time. It is really being "off task," but...what is the task of a thoroughbred anyway? You stand there and look beautiful, and sometimes you just live in a beautiful place all of your life. Some thoroughbreds are sold to become race horses, but the focus of this place is primarily to bring horses into the world as foals, then sell them to someone who will develop the potential. There are 60 or so new foals brought into the world annually. To see a horse foaling is a beautiful thing...and it's an education as well.

Do I ride? No. At this point in my life, I'm afraid that would be a poor choice for me (traction, body cast, etc.). My job? I feed the horses peppermints. Yes...I'm the "Peppermint Waitress." They love their peppermints. Apples and carrots are good, too, but they love peppermints. They gently eat them from my hand, and they patiently wait on "their turn." The wait is nothing compared to the sweet taste of peppermint. And...they never know if they are going to get them. Sometimes yes...sometimes no.

At times I wonder, "Do horses worry about their fate on the farm?" Do they worry that they might be separated eventually from their friends and foals? The journey of their lives is determined by trusted caregivers on the farm, and eventually, no matter the fate, everyone seems to adjust. However, there is a "journey of the unknown" for the horses, and they aren't totally sure about how it is going to turn out. I wonder if they worry...

All of this sort of sounds like life, huh? There is a road to follow, a journey of life that no one really can determine in its purest state...not even the participant. There are some "detours" that come in the form of diagnoses, change of location, loss of friends, etc. The journey gets bumpy at times. It is a path that some would argue might be "predestined." No matter the source or development, we try to follow the path "assigned" to us with grace, dignity, and with an understanding that someone out there is overseeing the process to see that we are okay. It is an awesome realization.

Sometimes the road is winding...

Sometimes it is a distant goal...

But it's always there, beckoning us to travel on...with grace.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Lessons from a Puzzle (Musical Transfers)

As I was putting this very difficult puzzle together (I was working on it for HOURS....), I began to think about the puzzle as a work of art (...and WORK it was!). I began to see melodies, themes, motives, and all sorts of musical elements in "Las Vegas." I have enlarged the photo so that you can more clearly see exactly what I saw in terms of the individual pieces that came together to make the whole.

1) I began to consider the creativity of the person who could "imagine" such a scene as a puzzle (composer). The most frequently asked question for me as a composer is the following: "How do you come up with the idea?"....."How do you get started?" These are the difficult questions in my professional life. I can tell you truthfully, there has only been ONCE in my life as a composer/arranger when I just sat at my computer, not knowing what to do next. I have been writing choral music since I guess the fact that it has happened only once is somewhat remarkable. I can tell you...once was enough. It was really scary to me. I thought my creativity had just decided to end. In case you're wondering, that state of being lasted one day...only one. My best analogy is this (stay with rolling of eyes just now): Being creative is sort of like being allergic. If you are allergic, you simply are, and there really isn't anything you can do about it. One could move to the other side of the globe, and eventually, there would be something there that would be an allergen. Well....creative people are creative. That's how our minds work. It is my opinion that almost everyone is creative in their own area of expertise.  When I go to the doctor, I want the doctor to use every creative thought process imaginable (big word in creativity) for diagnosis and treatment of the problem. I want my banker to be creative in finding solutions to financial issues. I want my accountant to be creative, within the laws of small business operations, etc. I want my plumber to be equally creative in solving problems with pipes and water flow. You get the idea. I believe we are all creative, and I am delighted that there are enough creative people in the professional community "out there" to get all of my problems solved. Don't bring me a choral music writer to figure out the problems with my dishwasher. I need a creative plumber!!!!

2) Specifically, the working of this puzzle gave me insight into the visual representation of music:

--Color: This puzzle was ablaze with color. As you know, in music we use the word "color" to describe qualities of sound...dark, bright, rich, thick, thin...all referring to the sound we are hearing. However, I noticed something about all the colors in the puzzle...the brightness did not last forever. As the "theme" of the color was evident in the puzzle, it changed gradually sometimes, and eventually morphed into a totally different color. However, it was so gradual, it was hardly noticeable from piece to piece. So much like the human voice! We use so many colors to express the various emotions in one piece of music, and in many cases, we have moved through the various colors with so much expertise, no one could really say, "That person sounded really strange in making their sound different. We have learned how to move from one section of color to another in order to communicate better with our audience.

--Themes: I am not sure I would ever have completed this puzzle without finding certain "themes" within the whole...fences...parking lots...domes of buildings...street lights...styles of windows...colors and styles of rooftops. The themes were the only things that gave me even a glimmer of hope for completion. It allowed me to at least get the similar pieces into the appropriate areas. And no...I was not always right. Even though the themes were there, they were not without a surprise every now and then. Sound familiar? I'm thinking of orchestral symphonies, with the presentations of the themes being presented just a tiny bit different every time (key, mode, octave, instrumentation). Familiarity and variation...the inherent interest of most symphonies.

--Unifying Material: I see the trees in this puzzle as non-descript visual material that is necessary to the total picture, yet somewhat insignificant as to providing real interest to the eye. Wouldn't you know? The trees were the toughest part of the entire puzzle for me. It was so difficult to find the exact "shade" of green to locate and place in context, but some of the same shades of green were used throughout the photo itself. I could only use "trial and error" to get the puzzle completed. I could gradually see the number of pieces decreasing, so progress was being made.

--The Lines of Design: In music, we call these phrases. Take a look at the visual lines, some are square, some are diagonal and intersect the squares. In some cases the dovetailing lines are obliterated by the trees that are underneath. The "theme" had arrived and was woven into the puzzle without our realizing it.

On another note:

I am not a person who generally looks at the "sample" photo of the puzzle. I just start trying to make the pieces fit. My co-creator was just the opposite. He referred to the puzzle many times during our work. We can make a transfer from this tendency into how one goes about finding their own interpretation of music. Some choral directors listen to other performances by other choirs, pick the one they like the best, then begin to move their choirs toward a similar product. I am not critiquing this process one way or the other. I am just aware that even in writing choral music, I determine where my piece is going...get it almost to the point of completion...then go online to hear what others have done. It is a different way of doing things. It's all good, trust me.

We all have our process for creating our works of art in the classroom. One thing I know for certain: we are all wired differently. I am now writing music I "hear"...I am not concentrating as much on "market demands" as I did at one time. I'm not sure if that is good or bad. I just know that life is short, and I am trying my best to write whatever music I choose to write, before physical "stuff" starts to become diminished. My hearing is so important, but so is my sight. We have a history of loss of both in our family. Not good.

When we see art, can we see the beauty of the completed work and enjoy it? Are we so wired to be analytical souls who are concerned with physical components that we can't really enjoy a work at all. I sat through a lot of beautiful music...analysis, analysis, analysis. In my younger years as a professional, I truly lost some of the joy of hearing others' remarkable works of art. I really have no opinion about such to say "right or wrong," I just think I lost a bit. I listen differently now and enjoy it more.

We are all striving to make beautiful works of art that are meaningful. We are either trying to solve the puzzle through composition, or trying to understand the puzzle as we study the process, getting students ready for performance. We cannot do everything at once. Both approaches have a final product swirling around in their heads, and we must select pieces of the puzzle to solve in a meaningful and sensible order as we move toward whatever it is that we hear in our heads.

Being a choral director is a fun gig. Being a choral music writer (composer/arranger) is a fun gig, too. We are all solving, creating, performing, and moving toward an imagined goal of sound. One thing is for sure...we are very fortunate to be in this beautiful profession of creating sound. There is no "puzzle" within...not at all.


Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Life lessons from...a puzzle?

Take a look at the most difficult puzzle I have ever had a part in solving. This work of art "ate my lunch" for days as I visited a Texas ranch, where it was raining for a few days. No...I didn't do it alone. Another person got the edges done, and all the sky was done as well. In addition, I had a partner in "construction" there at the ranch. In fact, at least a third of the puzzle had already been completed before I sat down, but all of the Las Vegas night life still "ate my lunch." It was as long and tedious a process as I have experienced in a while.

For some reason, I was determined to complete this puzzle before I left the ranch. I had not attempted a puzzle in decades (except for my beloved crosswords), but as I spent time with my friend and foe (the puzzle), I began to see the puzzle as LIFE...not as a puzzle. It was life, dotted with my profession, my attitudes, and my life's structure as related to a "deadline" (Saturday...departure day!). When I first looked at the puzzle, I thought it wouldn't be difficult at all, but when I got into it, I realized I was terribly wrong.

Call me weird, but I had some thoughts on this challenging phenomenon, and I was determined to "get it done." You and I both realize that this did not matter to anyone else in the world but me. However, I was gaining insights about life as I worked the puzzle.

Here are my "Life" revelations:

1)  Friends all around may assist, but there are some things in life that are just plain hard to accomplish...and many do NOT happen quickly.

2)  Some pieces of our life's puzzle make absolutely no sense at all. For the life of us (no pun intended), we can't tell where some of the pieces might fit, until we see the pieces in context. Then we say, "Ohhhhhhhhhhhh." Got it! How clever of the Universe...How cool was that!?

3)  Sometimes we cannot see the pieces of our lives with clarity, when they are right in front of us. We vow and declare absence, lack, ill fit, forced fit, and until we readjust many pieces of our lives and change the angle of approach, the entire whole cannot come together into a beautiful work of art.

4)  No matter how hard we try to keep things orderly and in the right "boxes," sometimes a stray piece comes into focus that shouldn't be there at all. We try to keep these types of things to a minimum, and make adjustments. They don't fit.

5)  One may look at the options, saying, "There must be at least 20 missing pieces," but the truth is...the exact "fit" was there all along. We were looking for the wrong thing in the wrong way, and the perfect fit was unrecognizable to us. We find out that very few pieces were missing. We, however, needed a different perspective and a more creative way of dealing with it.

6)  Even with wise counsel, sometimes we must implement "trial and error." It is time consuming and annoying, but the process gives the information and...resolution.

7)  Even when life is filled with pretty colors, lights, flash, gleam, and perceived fun, it may still be terribly difficult. Enough said.

8)  Conquering a puzzle is satisfying when life has presented us with much we could not conquer. I had a really tough year with loss in husband, my mother. There wasn't one thing I could do about cancer or advancing age. However, dealing with both of these situations prepared me to label most of my life's problems as "minor glitches." My friends and I are heard stating frequently, "...hey, it's not cancer." Of course, we know fully that one day it might be cancer. All to say, illness gives us perspective as to what is and is not important. As two-time cancer survivor said to me, "Cancer eliminated my tolerance for pettiness." In other words, "focus your complaints on the things that really matter."

I was determined to conquer "the puzzle," and I did so. I completed it before my departure! It was a personal goal. I did not want this puzzle to defeat me.

Life throws out many challenging experiences. Not all of them are good, but...we still have life. We can still participate...until we can't. It is in this period of having choices during daylight hours that we get to make the most out of life. What a gift of time and choice!

The more academic, musical side of puzzle solving will come next...stay tuned. Until then, go find a puzzle...a difficult puzzle, and allow it to teach you about life. You have time...

Las Vegas...

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, baseball games (National Anthem)....this is not a group of students 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!

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Considering Matthew Shepard

What an Evening!!

Last night was an absolutely incredible evening! Craig Hella Johnson and Conspirare were in town to perform Craig's amazing composition Considering Matthew Shepard. I have known Craig since 1990 when we both arrived as "rookie" professors at The University of Texas at Austin. I also sang in the very first "Conspirare" group...though it was called the "New Texas Festival Chorus." I have worked with many, many gifted musicians over my more-than-six-decades, but Craig Hella Johnson stands out as one of the...very...most...gifted. He is totally incredible. Whether we were singing Bach's "Mass in B Minor" or Brahms' "Ein deutsches Requiem," it was all a journey in unique interpretation and new emotional responses to a familiar score.

Many of you may remember the tragic story of Matt Shepard, a beautiful gay man in Wyoming, who in 1998 was left to die by a fence in Laramie. After fourteen years, much extensive research with those most closely connected with Matt's life and legacy, and emotional, gut-wrenching thought, Craig finally put the "pen to the paper" and created a unique, powerful work of art, the likes of which I have never seen or heard. Amazing voices (a former student...Kathlene Ritch was one of those incredible voices), gut-wrenching, real, and artistically tasteful descriptions of a night that changed the nation...with a subsequent discussion that explored the reality of "improvement," legislation achieved as a result of the work of Matthew's parents, and the need for more work to be done in hearts and legislation to eradicate hate and bigotry. We must replace those negative components with love....pure and

Conspirare is on tour this year to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the tragic event concerning Matthew Shepard in Wyoming. My point in writing: to encourage all of you to attend this performance and enter into an evening of introspection, sorrow, conviction, and bold empowerment to change those things that can be changed in our corner of the world. You will hear more musical styles than the heart can fathom...avant garde, jazz, hymn, gregorian chant, pop, country...the list could go on and on, and every style speaks to our hearts as we are able to understand and respond. As one of the attendee's said, "Some of our students were attending this to get 'concert credit,' and I could tell they were blown away by what they heard."

The good news about Considering Matthew Shepard is that everyone to whom I spoke following the concert was "blown away" by this extraordinary composition and performance. We all arrived with uncertain expectations, and left with hearts that had been filled to capacity over and over during the evening...tears flowed, anger seethed, love and pain entered. In the end, I think we all departed, inspired to be better, do better, and love... more.

Thank you, dear friend...

Friday, October 5, 2018

Three New Chorals from EROP

The three EROP chorals listed below are brand new. I haven't even had time to get to the studio to record these with "real" voices, but I wanted you to listen to them as possibilities for your holiday or spring concerts. I'll get to the recordings soon.

Go Tell It On the Mountain
My students really inspire me. One of my wonderful students, Tammy Benton (a've probably heard her Middle School Boys' Choir at national and regional ACDA conventions), told me that arrangements of Christmas carols for TTB/TB are began with Go Tell It On the Mountain (TTB). There is a voicing for TB as well. This arrangement is in a jazzy, gospel swing style, with some easy syncopation. There is a slower middle section that sings of the manger, etc. The last section mirrors Section I in its rhythmic style. I think your guys will enjoy singing this fun "toe-tapper."

O Come, All Ye Faithful
I've always loved this carol. I wanted to write this arrangement for males, but when I started working with it, it only "worked" for treble voices...SSAA, SSA, 2-Part, and Unison. I have no idea why that happened, but I learned a long time ago that I should not force a setting in one particular voicing, if I didn't really like it. I wanted this piece to be strong and convictional, and the treble voices made this happen for me. There are some unique harmonies, because I have learned that my arrangement must be different from everyone else's. So...I "go with it" now. I like the descant I added for SSA, 2-Part, and Unison voicings. In the SSAA, I worked the descant into Soprano I. A powerful arrangement, and it works for large or small groups. It works for most church choirs. The "season" is on its way!

The Skies Remember
"He and she, separated by the sea"...Katia Madsen wrote these lyrics, inspired by a friend whose husband was deployed in the military. These days, there are many reasons for couples to be away from each other...employment, family illness, opportunities elsewhere that require commitment for a season, etc. In these very challenging times, families find courage in knowing there is a common sun, moon, and many stars that are visible to both individuals. We wish you courage... Available in SATB, SAB, and SSA.


I hope you will visit our website, listen to these brand new pieces, and also browse the entire site for your choral needs.

The website sells PDF files of choral and instrumental music (orchestrations). Directors may make multiple copies for your school or church choir. Keep the file for replacement copies for those precious souls who inevitably "misplace" their music (as I get a bit older, I'm understanding those singers much better!).

Happy Singing, Happy Lives!! Enjoy EROP....

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Over the Moon in Love (What Were You Thinking?)

Wanetta Hill created the lyrics to this jazzy setting of Over the Moon in Love, available in SATB, SSA, and SSAA. We have all heard someone describe incredible happiness as being "over the moon." Wanetta took this idea to use many "space" terms (orbiting, gravity, spinning, etc.) to describe her love for her man. It is written in "big band" style, and drives with energy until the very end.

Take a look at the video I created to help you think of creative ways to present this piece in class. One of the main characteristics of the music involves imitation and independent lines. The harmonies come as a result of independent lines, with a middle section in homophonic texture. The piano gets in the act as well, imitating the voices in some places.

If you choose to sing this piece with the recorded mp3 accompaniment, but you find that the current accompaniment recording is too fast for your students, just write me at "," and tell me the exact tempo you need. Following your purchase, I'll be more than happy to e-mail the revised accompaniment back to you "within the day" in most cases.

Okay....check out the You Tube video for "Over the Moon in Love!"

Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair (What were you thinking?)

I am beginning a new video series to assist choral directors in "climbing into my brain"...all in the effort to teach my pieces with greater ease and understanding. I am going to be posting these on You Tube. They will be advertised on my business Facebook page as well.

In this new video series, I am actually going to discuss my thought process as I was creating a specific piece of music. In my case, it will either be an original setting of choral music or an arrangement. As I have presented clinics over the country, I have noticed that when I tell the singers exactly what I was thinking, they sort of crawl into my head, and as a result... they sing better! They "get" it, because they are "with me." Choral musicians, are frequently drawn to the text. In my case, the text determines whatever is going to happen in the piece. What drew me into this text? Where should it go? How can I make that happen? These are my questions and concerns as I write.

I understand that for most of us, when we get in front of a group of singers, we all actually give "composer's intent" a hit-and-miss attempt... we can't possibly know what the composer intended, unless they tell us.  Musicians also bring their own unique interpretation and understanding to the podium, and I love that. It is important to me that all musicians who sing my music retain their own uniqueness, while also considering my thoughts as well. Then...a choice can be made. We are all creative ...we are striving for excellence in choral music performance. Bring your individual interpretation! When I hear Donald Neuen's interpretation of my music via the Hour of Power choir (he is retired now,) I always think, "Why didn't I think of that?" Depending on your group, chances are that the text will "mean" different things to different groups, depending on their history and experience.

Sometimes there are interesting stories and thoughts that have gone into writing music, and I try to use every available creative thread in myself to bring out all I can possibly drain from the text. I start with the text, and text is "king" for me. Without the words, I would probably write no notes at all. I must have the text to get started and move the piece toward the most important moment in the text, given my own understanding. Other choral music writers/composers/arrangers use a different process, and it works! I am not passing judgement on anyone's process that might be different from my own. I am just suggesting that we must know what works with us individually to make our pieces effective in regard to the choral sound.

So...bring your musicianship, understanding, creativity, and love of music to the "interpretation table." With that said, take a look at this video where I discuss the writing of Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair (SATB) to gain a bit of insight into the writing of the arrangement.

Thanks so much!!

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Lessons Learned from Quilts

My Mom loved beautiful quilts, and we enjoyed receiving her wonderful "gifts of quilts" at special times in our lives. She labored diligently and lovingly in her retirement, as she tried to decide the design, bemoaned the stitches that were just not quite up-to-par with others' beautiful stitches (I couldn't tell the difference!), and appreciated handwork of others through the eyes of a knowledgeable, well-taught student of folk art forms and traditions. She had grown up in the Great Depression, and it was necessary to learn to make or grow things her family could not purchase: bedding, clothing, food, etc.

My Mom went through various "seasons" in her life, demonstrating various handwork skills. There was the Embroidery Phase, when she enhanced pillow cases, sheets, handkerchiefs, and many other "blah" items with her flowers, leaves, and designs. There was also her Crochet Phase, a time that was very present during her youthful years, and somehow returned with a vengeance during my doctoral studies (I received a magnificent crocheted bedspread as my Ph.D. gift). Then there was the "Quilt Phase" in her retirement, when she began making all of us quilts as remembrances of her life, skills, love, and talent.

I loved my Mom's quilts. I remember receiving one when I lived in Austin, Texas. The UPS truck arrived on December 24th in the late, late afternoon. I was spending Christmas away from home in 1992, but remembered by friends. Still, to have something arrive for me from home was a thrill beyond words. I wrapped myself up in that pink quilt, watched Hallmark movies, and got through the day just fine, well...untarnished, and able to do that same thing today, if necessary. I also remember receiving a new quilt from her on my wedding day. She had made a beautiful quilt for Bill and me, and sadly, we totally wore it threads. We loved it, and used it daily.

Mom began slowing down about four years before she died in August of 2017. The years had taken a toll, and I could tell that at 88, she was unable to do as much for as long as she had been able to do previously. Then...the TIAs hit on her 90th birthday. She eventually became confused, and got to the point that she was unable to live alone. So...she went to an independent living retirement home where she enjoyed several years as an energetic, cute resident, living her life and recalling her childhood more and more every day, as the aging population is prone to do.

So...last year I was on vacation, and received "the call." Mom had left this world to become a part of "the next world".....marvelously happy, I'm sure. Life had become difficult for her. She had taken great care of herself for years and years, but the years take a toll. We cannot avoid the ultimate. I was so grateful that I had always stayed in close touch with her, the relationship was up-to-date in every way, and I knew I was one fortunate person just to have been her daughter. I was glad to have made the choices I made to have her in my life, and I knew I was blessed beyond words.

Several months went by, and I was eventually able to meet my brother to go through Mom's house, making decisions about items we found. There really wasn't very much that anyone would call "valuable"....except for us. I found loads of handwork that I had forgotten even existed...handwork from the 1940s that I remembered from my earliest years. I also found three large trashbags full of quilting materials, squares and designs. Some had been pieced together in small ways, and some were just squares cut for later placement. Loads, and loads, and loads of quilting materials.

I knew only one woman who was still quilting: a high school friend, Susan Peacock Gibbs. Susan took the materials, and made quilts for me...the same quilts you have seen on this blog post. Beautiful...precious...quilts.

Mom intended to "one day" put all of those quilts together, but the TIAs would no longer allow her once organized mind to sort through exactly what needed to be done and how to do it. Such a frustration for Mom! Her "school teacher" remembrances knew what she was once able to do, but her post-TIA condition would not allow it.

The lesson for me? I love music. I write music. I must piece together my arrangements and settings of choral music exactly as Mom had always designed, pieced, and quilted her handwork. In music, there is design, and there is also substance beneath the motives, melodies, sections, keys, and harmonies. I can't wait until the "TIA" hits to begin to express all there is to express within me as a musician. Today is the day to write the most wonderful, fabulous piece I have ever had within me as a composer. Never Today is your day, be the best teacher ever, to express that one phrase the most musically it has ever been expressed, to make that strawberry shortcake the best it has ever been made! It is our time!!

What if the music is within me and I cannot "get it out" onto the page? Will I be frustrated? You bet! Will I be annoyed with life? Maybe. But one thing I do not want to be is "regretful." I want to know that I have used every fiber within me to create the fabric of my life and work as a beautiful outlay of handwork...just as Mom and our angel-friend Susan created something beautiful of "squares."

The miraculous awaits...