Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Personent Hodie - TTB

Earlene discusses Personent Hodie

I loved working on the 14th Century Carol, Personent Hodie, for TTB Voices. When an arranger writes for TTB voices, we are generally thinking "Middle School," though many adult choirs could sing this piece effectively as well. Why? Accessibility...and because the primary concern of most middle school choral directors is holiday music for TTB. 

There was an initial problem with accessibility in creating the piece for TTB. The range of the entire melody was not accessible to all TTB middle school voices, so I passed it around to different sections, according to accessibility. In the "refrain," all of the voices come together, using lots of unisons and duets. In other words, the arrangement is indeed accessible to middle school.

As you know, Personent Hodie is a carol from the medieval period, which generally means that accompanying instruments like hand drum, recorder, and finger cymbals also come along with it. Every arrangement I heard used these instruments, it seemed. I could have written out a part or ostinato for these instruments as well, but I wanted my arrangement to be different. For once, I wanted you and your students to choose improvisation! I did not give my students opportunities to improvise as I taught middle school and high school. I regret that fact. Actually, I was better at providing improvisational opportunities when I taught in elementary school! I was an Orff instructor, and many of the performance possibilities with Orff involved improvisation. When I "moved up" (I LOVED elementary school...I didn't want to move), I found myself more rigid and less likely to let students sing anything in choral music that was not on the page. So....now is your chance to allow students to improvise a bit, using the medieval instrument effects provided by a recorder, hand drum, and finger cymbals.

At first glance, Personent Hodie appears to be in the key of e-minor, but wait...there is a constant C#. The key is actually in Dorian Mode, and more specifically, this piece is in E-Dorian (E, F#, G, A, B, C#, D, E). Have students sing through this mode a few times to get the sound of Dorian "in the ear."

Now the recorder: I have written this arrangement with open block chords at the beginning. I think it would be great to allow a recorder player to improvise in E-Dorian with all sorts of fun scalar patterns for Verse 1. Because the piano becomes more active in the subsequent verses, the recorder might play some imitative five note patterns in Dorian Mode. Another option: The more active the piano gets, the recorder might want to play longer notes....whole and half notes, etc. Your choice. I just want students to have fun performing this piece with their own improvisation. You are actually creating your own performance. 

Have fun with this arrangement! Is it right? Yes, it's right! It's your performance product, and during these days of the "unconventional," you can create your own "norm." Enjoy!!!

Friday, October 30, 2020

The Day is Almost Here!

This is such a strange time in our personal and political lives. Of all the issues I thought we might have in the past four years, a pandemic was not one of those. It was one of those things, when mentioned, I sort of always passed off, saying, "Oh, we don't need to worry about that. We'll be fine." I wasn't even entirely sure what it meant, and the "meaning" was something I could not envision. I never dreaded a pandemic. These situations have always been remedied. Well, that's just how short-sighted I was in understanding how global effects of disease might "come home to roost." We're still "stuck in the yuck." And, yes...I'm tired of it, too.

As far as politics might go, I don't think I've ever seen such paranoia, fear, mistrust, corruption, uncertainty, anger, frustration, unkind and scary behavior, etc. The effect of all of this on friendships has been an interesting phenomenon. People have seen their social media "Friends List" shorten by half, and in the quest for tolerance, we find that we have very little tolerance for differing political views. We have heard our friends provide such labels and "un-American," and worse. So...in short, I'm ready for "it" to be over and done with. Lots of "it"s. This period in history has been exhausting.

So...we will soon get to exercise our personal indictment on "how things are going." That is our privilege as an organized democracy, and I must say, I am totally delighted to know that so many are participating in the process. It is heartening beyond words. That has been the best part to me...to see the length to which regular people like me will say through their actions, "I'm important. I'm a member of this democracy. My opinion counts. If you want to see me in action, watch me stand for TWELVE HOURS in this line to tell the whole world EXACTLY how I feel about things going on in government! You cannot silence me, though you may try. You cannot intimidate me, because some of my family members gave their lives to give me this privilege. And....you will NOT prevent me from voting!"

That's who we are, folks! We are STRONG, and we will not be bullied into believing that we do not matter. We are seeing "attitude" from so many, simply by standing in line. THAT is the most effective form of silent protest. 

I am proud of this country. The numbers of people voting are amazing. Not all of the people standing in the lines will vote for the candidate I support, but please remember, the joy of this process is in the right to stand. That right was secured many years ago. I am grateful beyond words, and no matter what might happen, I have seen a marvelous demonstration of caring from the American people. I have not heard the dialogue of 2016. I have heard support of values that have been in hearts for decades. We are Americans. This is what we do.

I am an American...and these days...I'm a proud American.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Velvet Shoes - Text by Elinor Wylie


The popular poem Velvet Shoes by Elinor Wylie inspires yet another creative choral setting describing a quiet winter's walk through the snow. With "velvet" steps, we are surrounded by the white lace of snow on trees, shrubs, and other gifts of nature.

This setting is available for 3-Part MixedSSASAB2-Part, and Unison. Imitation and easy harmonies are used, emphasizing "We will walk through the white snow." 

•Solo versions of this composition (with accompaniment) are complimentary with purchase (High, Medium, Low). 

•Complimentary Rehearsal Preparation Sheets also come with purchase. 

•As always, purchase the Octavo file of your choice (PDF), then make as many copies as you choose for your choir.

In the following video, Earlene Rentz discusses her setting of "Velvet Shoes," with insight into its performance:

Velvet Shoes - Insights

Visit Earlene Rentz Online Publications to see the latest choral octavos published for your choir: SchoolSacredHoliday

Hang in there during these tough COVID days! I'm cheering you on!!

Monday, October 5, 2020

EROP Chorals for Veterans Day


Choral directors, thank you so much for all you are doing in your classrooms and churches these days. You are doing an amazing job with online and in-classroom teaching and online worship services. You have blessed millions with your creative approach to an undesirable situation. Hang in there, and know that I'm your biggest fan!!

Oh...my...goodness. Life just keeps getting crazier and crazier. There are so many conflicting reports about every situation these days, but I think we can all agree that throughout history, human sacrifice for freedom has been valiant, appreciated, necessary at times, and is a constant reminder that our country should learn from history. It is always a good thing to "remember," and somehow, in loss it comforts us to know that others remember our losses. We cannot change history, but to know that others have not forgotten "the sacrifice" is a wonderful thing.

Earlene Rentz Online Publications has a variety of patriotic publications to call to remembrance the difficulties of war and the hardships of those who are left as a result of war's toll on families. Take a look at the various titles and voicings you might find accessible for your groups. 

The Willow: This SSA setting for voices and piano incorporates the wonderful lyrics of Pamela Stewart, and a willow tree is the "narrator" in the song. A young boy plays beneath a willow tree as a child, and as he grows into an adolescent, young adult, and adult, he cherishes the willow tree as a symbol of love and comfort. The willow tree feels love for the boy as well, and a friendship unknown to the boy is expressed in this setting. The young man falls in love, marries, goes to war, dies in battle, and the willow tree remains to grieve with the young widow. This video might assist you in preparing this octavo for performance. 

"The Willow" Insights

In Flanders Fields: The wonderful poem by John McCrae has been set for voices, piano, and optional French Horn. It is a miracle these words made it into history, as McCrae had discarded this poem to the trash. One of his fellow comrades retrieved it, and we thank that person, else our society could have forgotten the sacrifice of World War I young men who were serving in Belgium...in the Flanders region. I think your students will enjoy these settings: SATBTTBBSAB3-Part MixedUnison. Check out the following video, as it might provide some ideas for your rehearsal.

"In Flanders Fields" Insights

When Johnny Comes Marching Home: The familiar American folk song is arranged for voices and piano, using lots of countermelodies and obligato material. The independent countermelodies will be easier for students than homophonic material, as they create harmonies in their independent presentations. Check out these recordings and Previews: SATB3-Part MixedSABSSATTB 

Son of Liberty: The text of Lynwood Cash recalls military events from Washington Crossing the Delaware through the Afghanistan War. The style is robust, with many expressive elements included for moments of reflection. TTBBTTBTB

"Son of Liberty" Insights

The Rising of the Moon: A call for unity! This piece is actually from the Irish Rebellion of 1798, but is a great way to encourage your men to sing out! We can "fix" the sound if we can hear them. There is lots of unison and the harmonies are consistent per verse. Check it out! TTBBTTBTB

The Rising of the Moon - Insights

Okay...as always with purchases from Earlene Rentz Online Publications, you purchase a PDF file, and make as many copies as you choose for your choir. 

A complimentary Rehearsal Preparation Sheet for teaching the music easily is included with each purchase.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Over the Moon in Love


Earlene discusses "Over the Moon in Love"

Over the Moon in Love is an upbeat, jazzy tune, with "celestial" terms appearing throughout. Wanetta Hill's lyrics are wonderful for any light concert selection, and the style can be enjoyed by small ensembles, large ensembles, and show choirs. High school and community choirs likely the age group to be more successful in performing this piece, but certainly, there are several middle schools who would be successful in performing the SSA Voicing.

It is available for purchase on my website, and is voiced for SATBSSA, and SSAA.

During these days of our "unique" school structure, I am happy to write low, medium, and/or high voicings for you, compliments of Earlene Rentz Online Publications, LLC. Write me at "earlenerentz@yahoo.com" to request Solo Editions. They will be sent following purchase of the choral voicing.

Our website is the sole source where music from my online company may be purchased. The copyright appears at the bottom of the page, and grants the purchaser the privilege to make multiple copies for his/her choir. Keep the purchased choral file in a safe place, and even if you must use the Solo Voice Editions this year because of COVID, the purchased voicing (SATB/SSAA/SSA) will be there in the future. The copyright privilege continues for as long as you own the file.

Recordings of voices are on the website for SATB and SSA. As you listen, click on the "Preview," and follow along. 

If you have questions, feel free to write "earlenerentz@yahoo.com."

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Easy Arrangement for Choirs in Fall/2020 ("A Mountain Medley")

Earlene Discusses A Mountain Medley

These are difficult days in the choral classroom. This arrangement of A Mountain Medley includes three folk songs with the "mountain" theme.

For these days of distancing ourselves in choral rehearsals, countermelodies might be a good solution that will teach musicianship with short, independent melodies in voice parts. They will all come together to create harmony, but the tough homophonic textures that require so much listening vertically can be replaced with an easier, linear alternative. This arrangement has limited homophony and lots of independent melodies.

These three folk songs are familiar, fun, and fresh. They come together as components that compliment each other, yet stand alone. 

Available in 3-Part MixedSSA, and 2-Part. If you are interested in having a Unison voicing, or if you want Solo Versions of this arrangement, just send me an email at "earlenerentz@yahoo.com" (on the website, too), and once I see that you have purchased an octavo for your library, I'll get you the Solo Versions for these "days of Covid." Keep the purchased file for the "Glory Day" when we return to singing as in "the old days," and make as many copies as you choose for your choirs. There is a complimentary Rehearsal Preparation Sheet (RPS), too. Send your students the PDF file of the RPS, and they can rehearse from home. 

Let me know how I can assist. We will figure out a solution for your choral groups. If you have questions, just ask. 

Be safe, wonderful folks! These days won't last forever....but it surely does seem like it sometimes! We need each other!!

The Ninety and Nine


Earlene Discusses "The Ninety and Nine"

One of the hymns I learned in childhood was in the old Broadman Hymnal. There were some pretty "involved" hymns in that old hymnbook (some 2-Pagers!), but our little country church of about 100 people sang them anyway...with gusto. I remember as a child seeing The Hallelujah Chorus in the back portion of the hymnal, wondering if we would ever sing that hymn. We didn't...but we did sing Peace, Be Still and some other fairly impressive hymns. Those hymns contributed to my life in huge ways. They were the foundation for my musical life and my life of faith. 

I loved going home from church as a five or six-year-old, and "picking out" the hymns from Sunday morning on our old upright piano. It was sooo old (the crusty black stuff). After I began taking piano lessons at six-years-old, Mom purchased a beautiful Kohler and Campbell spinet piano, and I thought I was great stuff. The only problem was that the piano could only do what I was committed to bring to it. In other words, I had to practice, and that was not enjoyable for me...the person who wanted to "get it done" so I could go on to more important things. 

The problem I had with the piano lesson bit was that the concepts of rhythms (durations in time) and lines and spaces (pitches) were really not concrete enough for me to understand at such a young age, much less apply those concepts to another object (the piano). It was just too much. I had a really good teacher, but it was more fun to "not worry about such stuff"...then I would trick my piano teacher into playing it for me....whereupon, I would just play it back to her while I looked at her. Success!! Ah....the days of really good ears! She kept telling me to look at the music, but that was a real hindrance to accomplishment. I "had it going on" for a while, but she called me out, and would no longer play anything for me. If it was going to "happen," I was going to have to figure it out and "make it happen."

It was only a few years afterward that I began to be able to play almost any hymn in the hymnal, and because the old hymns in The Broadman Hymnal spoke to me, I had a great time practicing the piano. They were not what I should have been practicing, but they were fun to play. They were meaningful. My mom always washed dishes while I practiced, and she enjoyed my hymns. All good.

The Ninety and Nine is a hymn about the parable of the lost sheep (Matthew 18:12-14). The parable primarily meant that even though a person might be "astray," the Shepherd will leave the 99 in the flock to search for the one sheep that is lost. Of course, the point was that we are all of the greatest value to the Shepherd...every last one of us.

This arrangement is written for a cappella voices, but feel free to use the optional accompaniment, if you choose. The voices provide the introduction on "Ah," and the same type of connective material is used between verses. 

Take a look at the webpage on Earlene Rentz Online Publications, and see the visual of the sheep in the photo. That sort of brings you into the imagery of the parable. As you will note in the descriptors, I have also written Solo versions for Low, Medium, and High Voice. Listen to the audio, and follow along on the Preview

With the COVID restrictions of late, you might not be meeting as a choir just yet, so use the Solo Voice editions now and save the SATB Voicing for later, when our choirs return. 

As a friend said to me, "When I hear this arrangement, it takes me back to the old Fox Theater in Atlanta, Georgia." For those of you who have been to the Fox, you remember the clouds floating by and the ornate surroundings. That is exactly what I "heard" as I created this arrangement.

I hope you will enjoy singing this piece. Please watch the video above to have a better idea about the entire pastoral scene depicted in this arrangement.

Enjoy...and please stay safe.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

God of Mercy, Lead Us Home

Greg Funderburk, Lyricist

One of the things I learned from a dear aunt's journey through Alzheimer's disease was that she was always looking for "home." When she would actually go to her house, she was still looking for "home:" Always, always, always in a search. There was a huge sadness to the restlessness created by the disease, but I wondered sometimes if she were aware enough "somewhere in there" to have the desire to be out of her confusing existence and in her final "home." The misery of the present realization of "no return" to the past was the cruelty of the disease...the loneliness...the frustration.

As I composed settings of prayers recently, I loved Greg Funderburk's thoughts on Maundy Thursday during Holy Week. He referred to "the night of darkened song," a phrase appropriate for that Thursday evening and during these COVID weeks. Holy Week occurred during the initial weeks of the COVID Quarantine, and Greg's prayer was a plea that God would lead us "home." Of course, "home" had so many meanings during Holy Week that had nothing to do with a "place." In our country, we were becoming faced with the realization that something awful was "out there," and we knew nothing about this enemy....COVID-19. During those initial weeks, everyone was making real-life adjustments and doing things differently. We had no sense of security, so the prayer to "lead us home" gave us a sense that Jesus had "been there" before, and could be trusted to accompany us through all of life's crises, including this pandemic.

God of Mercy, Lead Us Home is the SATB choral setting that used Greg's words and ideas to create a composition of emotional inspiration and serenity. It also reminds choral singers that there is nothing we would love more right now than to be able to sing together again. Lead us home. The tune is an Appalachian folk song, with a cello obligato enhancing the poignant feelings and lyrics brought about by unsettling uncertainty. The lyrics do not stop there, however, as they remind us of the security found in our Lord and his promises.

As always with EROP purchases, I created a Rehearsal Preparation Sheet for the octavo in order to save time for choral directors as they teach this piece. It might be a while before we can rehearse as choirs, so I have also created Low/Medium/High Solo Voice Editions that are complimentary with purchase. The Solo version will be performed on August 16 during worship at South Main Baptist Church, where the Sermon topic from The Beatitudes will be "Blessed are the merciful."

Take a look at the Rehearsal Preparation Sheet:
Have a great week, filled with mercy from above! Lead us home!

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Prayer for the Graduate - Words by Greg Funderburk

Congratulations, Class of 2020!

What a unique Commencement for the Class of 2020! In my opinion, graduates for 2020 will likely retain a label, identifying them for years to come. Sacrifice. Disappointment. "Option B."  "Option A" was not possible amid the COVID-19 Pandemic. The Class of 2020, our amazing "Pandemic Graduates." 

Though disappointing, there were likely unique revelations of human compassion, human nature, and general kindness that will be forever a part of graduates' lives, in addition to this global health crisis that made such revelations possible. I hope the Class of 2020 will remember that though the final concerts, banquets, parties, celebrations, trips, and gatherings were unable to happen, many people did their level best to make the day special for them. Creativity beyond comprehension found its way to Zoom, HUGE celebration yard signs, drive-by graduation (and retirement) parties, commencement speakers such as a former president, a former vice-president, professional athletes, music, movie and television stars, and other prominent humanitarians and business people...all seeking to do whatever they could to make Commencement 2020 memorable for graduates, most of whom they had never met. The most amazing part was that members of the Class of 2020 made it happen themselves. Leadership at its finest!!  It was memorable for me, too! I didn't miss anything! You were that important to me personally. You handled a horrible period in your history with grace and yes....."class." I was amazed, and watched all of the commencement celebrations on television and online. We will never be able to "make it up to you," but please know that prayers for your success will always be in our hearts and minds. You can handle anything in life.

Greg Funderburk

Greg Funderburk is a pastoral care minister, lawyer, and writer at South Main Baptist Church in Houston, Texas. Greg's poetic prayer style led to an SATB setting of his words in Prayer for the Graduate.  His unique descriptions of visual and aural elements of traditional Commencement exercises combined with melody to celebrate "a sonic blend of beginnings and endings.....a blend of music, prayer, and praise, and applause." He also caused us to respectfully admit the "bittersweet" content for this time in our graduates' lives.  When his words paired themselves with a cello obligato, the somber, bittersweet ceremony of 2020 came to life in our minds.

However, Greg did not leave the graduate to despair in the lack of all that "was not." His words encouraged all to "Rise. Let us be going. Let us commence in Your holy word on the road ahead. Let us rise to new life, to pray, give, and love, in this our ending, our beginning." In other words, "It is what it is. I don't like it. You don't like it. But...that's the way it is, so....let's move on!" One last prayer voiced for each 2020 graduate in the uncertain days ahead: "Quell our fears, soothe our worry, God of grace."

In these days when we really do not know if we will be back in large church choirs ensembles soon, Earlene Rentz Online Publications is happy to accommodate reasonable possibilities during these difficult days. In addition to the choral octavos purchased, all of our sacred publications now include complimentary High/Medium/Low Solo Voice publications. Save the choral file for the great and glorious day when a choir will once again be present in your churches to lead in worship. Until then, a soloist might be able to share Greg's wonderful words.

Commencement and graduation will continue to take place in our educational systems. It is important to remember that in 2020, we did commencement a bit differently, but with more creativity, compassion and gentle kindness than has ever attended our hearts during long speeches and mortar board tosses. Class of 2020, we salute you with respect, love, admiration, and hope for a beautiful future, filled with many days of glorious "Commencement." Congratulations!

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Beautiful Blessings in a Pandemic Birthday

Display of Birthday Cards

I was dreading my birthday this year. Yes, everyone has a birthday annually, but this year is a bit unique. I've never had a birthday amid a Global Pandemic and neither have you. This is an unprecedented birthday year for everyone. We also have birthdays in these days of attempted good decisions, quarantine, masking, and yes...amid the displays of not-so-good-decisions from time to time. Patience and tolerance are on the personal "prayer list" for most folks, and sometimes it is an all-day-challenge to have enough of those qualities. Some of my friends are struggling to "think on the bright side," while the rest of us search for evidence in our lives that "things are going to get brighter" in the near future. We're choral directors! We've gotta have hope! We want a choir! We want our routine back! ......and then we see people making the worst decisions ever that will eventually work against our goal of finding our "normal" again....any type of normal would be great!!
When we walk outside or into a building, patience and tolerance seem to run short, as we wonder how personal celebrations are being moved back because of others' decisions. For this year, "celebration" seemed to be relegated to picking up a take-out order, taking a drive to the local post office, checking on packages sent via ground services, most of which finally arrive....not all....just most, etc. When COVID prevention is foremost in the brain, all other things are modified in huge ways...and generally diminished in some way. Not to complain. As far as I know, I'm healthy, and I can breathe just fine. That's a good day in COVID-ridden Houston. The bar just isn't that high now. Feeling "fine" means "no COVID."

And so....my accountant called a couple of days before my birthday to ask if she might return some of my tax materials. You see, I gave the materials to her in February, and by the time my tax return was ready to submit, COVID had HIT! Wham!! She asked if she might return the materials, and said she would call me when she had a minute to deliver them. She called the afternoon of my birthday to say she would be by in 15 minutes. As she was getting back in her car, we waved and smiled through masks, and she just said the customary, "Have a good afternoon," whereupon I said, "I hope I will have a good afternoon. It's my birthday. I want to have a really good day."

My account has the heart of an angel. She truly cares about people, wanting everyone to feel special. Her daughter had a "big" birthday (with a Zero) during the Pandemic, and she was so sad not to be able to invite others to celebrate her daughter in a big way. She really hurt for her daughter. Later, I remembered that fact, but she was obviously busy thinking of me all afternoon, because all of a sudden, calls, Facebook posts, messages, private messages, and all sorts of communication "broke loose" and started coming from everywhere to wish me a "Happy Birthday." My accountant has never admitted it, and yes...there were other family members and friends who remembered my special day earlier, but I know something was done to make sure I was remembered on my birthday.

So...my challenge for days of COVID...."Be a little more aware, a little kinder, a little more patient, a little more tolerant, a little more willing to see that someone else has a good day, a little better friend for loved ones, a little more aware, and listen a little more, too."

We will all get through these challenging times, but it really will take our thinking of others in a more intentional way than ever before. 

Have a good day!

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 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:

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!

Friday, January 31, 2020

A "Value System" for a Composer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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