Category Archives: Choral Conducting
Since my last post in June, things have happened.
I was told that our 3rd Spanish position in our school was excessed. We would go back and teach 36-40 students each period, which meant I would have to teach a minimum of 350 students per school year. During that same time, I applied for a position for a full-time Director of Music position in Ankeny, Iowa. I honestly believed my interview, while it went well, I thought it was a long shot. I was proved wrong. They were thrilled about my interview and wanted me on board. I had a difficult choice to do. Continue and work with an insane amount of students, teach my first language and culture to 350 + kids with my friend, Sam or go back to basics and go be in a full time music position. I went with the latter.
As of middle of July, I am the Director of Traditional Music and Worship at Ankeny First United Methodist Church in Ankeny, Iowa. I am in charge of all traditional music and adult worship in 3 sites, which includes an amazing music program that includes handbells, band/orchestra, choir, and praise teams. While still in a learning curve, it’s been a awesome start! As of right now we are in the finishing touches in reorganizing and beginning a concert series, getting musicians and ensembles to perform in our spaces, and community outreach with our music.
Here’s to new beginnings, to refreshing, restarting, and reconnecting!
I’m a music teacher. I’m a Spanish teacher. I am a both. I am a Native speaker. How do I reconcile both in my classroom? These were my thoughts throughout #CIIA2018 this month, especially when Laurie Clarcq was speaking in her breakout sessions.
As a Spanish teacher, I constantly use music in my room. Mainly in a indirect way for my non-native & non-heritage students (if you are ACTFL fan they are Novice to Novice-low, rarely a Novice-Mid as a Second Language learner because of contact hours). I mostly use my Spotify playlist “Songs in Spanish” to keep playing in the background. All. The. Time.
When I have commented to my coworkers about this during the school year (mainly a music teacher) I told them that it grounds me. It keeps me connected to music, but there IS a method in my madness.
My first 2 years as a Middle School, MYP teacher in an International Baccalaureate school, I have 35+ students. Every class period. Yes, that means that in 2 days (we’re in an A/B schedule) I teach a max of 400 students. In my classroom, I have free seating & “you have a phone, ok. Use it to your advantage.” Policy. Meaning, that if a student has a phone, I do not go “phone-Nazi” and take them away. I purposely teach focus. I did not realize that I did this, until our technology teacher told me that she did the same thing. I want to teach focus. Intentional focus. This is hard at the middle school brain.
I start the school year telling all my students that I am a music teacher, I conduct choirs, I sing in choirs, and that I conducted choirs in Puerto Rico, my home country. They are always “shook” and as one student told me this year “show me the receipts Brenda, or it didn’t happen”. I show them the “receipts” and they’re impressed (to say the least). Honestly, that was the point of “the art of musical poetry” when this blog began: how does music, language and culture works. As a Spanish teacher, while the core is still there, it’s been tweaked as I teach Spanish.
How do I use the madness to my advantage
Using my Spotify playlist, I put on music that I will teach during their 3 years in the program, music that is fun/different, music that my students (mainly my native speakers) choose to share to the “gringo students”.
It opens up conversation that yes, in Spanish-land you have as many musical genres as they listen to in English. From Taylor Swift-like pop, to hard metal, to Spanish covers of their “omg this song gives me life” favorite songs.
While it takes them some time (mainly new students and incoming 6th graders) to adjust, they LIKE the culture in the classroom. They KNOW that if they don’t have music playing something DIFFERENT is going to happen in the room. Students BEGIN to WITHOUT prompt sing the songs in Spanish, learn their favorite songs in a Spanish cover, and even better? ASK for SPECIFIC songs. This year Corazón sin Cara, Andas en mi cabeza, and La Gozadera were huge hits.
We go back to the Why? Why would I do this? I do know that most teachers would think I am crazy for doing this. Well… I might be. But it goes back to who I am, what I do, and what I want my students to achieve and feel successful. In 3 years, in an A/B schedule, my students will NOT be awesome superstars with their output. I know that. I’ve accepted that. Now, this year’s 6th graders (next year’s 7th graders) might make me reject that reality. If so, #ChallengeAccepted.
In my room, silence needs to be important. Just like music. It has to have MEANING. It reminds me of what Laurie Clarcq said at CIIA (I’m paraphrasing)
“The Teacher is the conductor of the orchestra. They know (or should know) the music, the theory, and each student must bring their “instrument” or kill so that they can continue to improve.
But let’s be real, most of the students do not have some skills, what ever skill you’re looking for (reading, writing, social-emotional, etc) so we have to address it and teach it.
How do I teach it
1. Student’s who are notoriously late: Conversations.
As of this year, students have a grade that directly ties their attendance. It’s a small rehearsed conversation: Hola Maestro. Me llamo ____. Como estas? Now while it was surprisingly spanish (Sam Finneseth) who started this year, I followed suit and it gave me a lot of rewards. Students who are shy and are more receptors rather than “sayers” they have at least 1:1 interaction with me. Most importantly it teaches students that they need to be on time, is simple and parents are supportive.
2. It can be used as a warm up.
3. I use it to actually remember students and their names. (I am horrible with names)
4. Students with phones: Teach self-control
I am a phone-a-holic. I am. I let my students know this. I even check my phone (sometimes) while they are working. It’s part of life and these kids never lived in a time where people have smartphone (and I feel old about that). So I have to teach them, just like a part of the orchestra, they do not need it at the moment. IF you are grabbing the phone its to check time, listen to your OWN music when SPANISH music is not plating (which is almost never), using Quizlet in class (when we need to), etc.
5. What to do with silence
If we have silence in the room, we are using it when we play mafia (listen to be understood. Listen to comprehended), when we are reflecting on our process, when I am talking about our CFA’s, Scales, and/or “big things” like real-life connections of culture and what we are reading, etc.
Would love to hear from you, what are some things that some peers think is “unorthodox”, “crazy or mad ideas” or simply how do you mix music, culture in your classroom that might be out of the norm?
A dear friend of mine, who shall remain in anonymity, once showed me e.e. cummings’ i carry your heart with me (i carry it in my heart). As clichéd as it sounds, I loved it. In the course of this past semester, I enrolled in a composition class. In this class put my big boy pants, and I set this poem to music. It was an uphill battle (choosing the singers, rehearsal time) in short, a battle. I won the battle and the war! Here is the finished product, while not perfect, it is pretty darn close. I hope this a start of a new, complementary chapter in my life.
If you want to commission me for a choral piece, do not hesitate in doing so! Without further ado, i carry your heart with me (i carry it my heart).
Ethan Q. Ivey
José Clavell, conductor
And this week passed… It was a very intensive week for me. 4-5 hours of sleep, 30 pages of a paper that was due, a presentation for my choral literature class, 7 schools visited, 2 Church Concerts, 3 days of Recruitment Tour with the Western Illinois University… let’s just say you have 1 very tired graduate student. Nevertheless, I enjoyed each nervous breakdown, screaming because WHY WOULD I WANT TO INVESTIGATE 9 SCORES, each time we got to sing, in short I liked the experience.
In this week, the choral grads got a lot of time together, and we noticed that we can actually relate to many things, one of them being our love for choral music. Overall, this week as been intense, but good. Just another test so that I can show if I can handle the stressful life of Academia, specially the life of a Choral Conductor.
A good thing that happened in this week is… the culture shock (educational shock) that I had when we visited all seven schools. I was constantly reminded that I am not in Puerto Rico anymore. The sheer size of the auditoriums, theaters and students in each choral program was a minimum double of what I am accustomed. It is nice to know that somewhere people actually support the arts, even more than what they do back home. Here in the United States they say how much they are cutting money from the arts, but from coming from a Department of Education where everything has to come from the conductor (scores, renting a space for concerts, etc) this Educational System is, well paradise. I’m still on the fence if I want to go back to Puerto Rico to teach, but the fact that going back home means, leaving good choral programs that have at least twice as support as the programs they have in Puerto Rico is tempting…
In the music world, everything is simple and complex at the same time. When you start to think about grad school, well… it’s just plain complex. You need to take the GRE & TOFEL (for those of us who English is not our first language) pre-audition, then submit the graduate admission essay (or Goals Statement as some universities call it), submit a thousand letter of recommendations, then the audition (if the pre-audition doesn’t cut it), then do everything everybody else does. In short: one big crazy roller coaster and by osmosis a big crazy me.In all this craziness, people transform in two categories. cheerleaders or nagging-antagonists-who-try-to-sunk-you-into-depression (a bit dramatic, but it’s the truth!). Generally the people who fall into the first category are friends, co-workers, and professors. The latter? Family and some of the people who call themselves “friends”.
I won’t post the pre-audition video I submitted to three universities (Florida State University, Westminister Choir College & Western Illinois University), but I will share my graduate admission essay. Why? Just like River Song says in Doctor Who: “Spoilers, sweetie.” Just sit back and use this as a pre-screening for my next post!
Without further ado, my Goals Statement!
When I was 12 years old, my parents took me to a recital of the Ponce Municipal Band where I saw Ruben Colón Tarrats, conductor of the Ponce Municipal Band and the Concert Choir and Chamber Choir from the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico, for the first time. From that day on, I have made it my life’s goal to become a choral conductor. Since this experience, I have devoted all of my time and energy into studying music. After seven years of studying in the Juan Morel Campos Music Institute, I started my bachelor’s in music education where professors such as Prof. Rubén Colón, Prof. María Ondarra and Mons. Abel Di Marco helped me polish my abilities in choral conducting, voice, harmony, and counterpoint, respectively. It was there that I discovered a new, profound passion for choral conducting. In the past five years, I have learned that a choral conductor is far more than just that. Choral conductors, along with their choirs, recreate and celebrate moments from history in order to captivate and mesmerize their audiences.
To study my master’s in such an important institution would give me the opportunity to focus my energy into my life-long dream. The Puerto Rican government perceives the arts in general as insignificant in comparison with the core subjects, as well as unnecessary for the integral development of the island’s students. Currently, the Department of Education of Puerto Rico has enacted a policy that authorizes school principals (of both elementary and secondary level schools) to decide whether or not they wish to offer music, visual arts, and even physical education classes to their students based on two criteria: first, if the principals deem the classes necessary to the integral development of their students, and secondly, if the school’s budget allows space for teachers specialized in fine arts and/or physical education. We are living in times in which the idea of “education” here in Puerto Rico is, in my opinion, not extensive enough to produce truly well-rounded individuals who can then contribute their talents to the improvement of the island’s conditions, in every aspect. After completing my master’s degree in choral conducting, I plan to come back to the island and work to repair the damage done to the fine arts programs in the schools here.
This is why finishing a post-graduate degree in Choral Conducting would give me the chance to effect change in Puerto Rico’s Music Education programs in secondary and post-secondary institutions. The opportunity to study in an acclaimed institution would allow me to share my cultural background, as well as my knowledge from my bachelor’s and embrace the latest methodology, assessment, and vocal coaching techniques. It would also give me the chance to work with a project entitled “The Art of Musical Poetry”. This project is a book in progress, a personal endeavor of mine, the aim of which is to marry the processes of musical composition and creative writing into a single form of art.
My vocation in life is that of a teacher, but I fear for the future of the fine arts programs here in Puerto Rico. To better the programs is to better both my students and myself, and in doing so, I will help to build a culture of peace here on the island.
As the song states… Nobody said it was easy!!
Lately, I’ve been overthinking. More than usual. I’ve been pondering in my relationship. I’ve ben pondering in my relationship with peers, friends, and professors. I’ve transported myself back to the time where it felt just like this one. I call it the Great Depression of 2008. But (there is always one, isn’t there?) it’s not. The circumstances are not the same. Many things are similar, financial problems, for instance is one of them. Also, it reminds me when I started in studying music in 2002. In short, I rediscovered or should I say reaffirmed that everything is a cycle. The good things and the bad. But in everything that has happened to me. In all these almost 24 years, there has been one single common factor: Music. My One winged Angel.
When I started studying music in 2002, I was bullied. I never wanted to accept it (as many things about myself, my reality or my life), but I did struggle with it. My defense mechanism is to over-work. So I became more of a workaholic (if it can be possible). I also became (more than ever) distant with my reality and the people who were close to me, and acted as if everything were peaches & cream. My family (who I believe never noticed anything, I am a good actor when I need to be) finally let me take music classes. So, I poured myself into the only thing I could. Music. I also did my academics, but who cares! I had MUSIC from 4:30 to 6:30 from Monday to Saturday. I made my own little universe of pitch, tones, harmonies and I stayed there. I did it so much that it was the only thing I could think of from when I got woke up until I would fall asleep. I attended Concert Choir, Chamber Choir, Plucked Strings Orchestra, Guitar. Cuatro, Theory Classes, in short everything and anything I could musically. I also founded a Music Club in my school so that I could think about music at school too. After doing all of this, did it work? Did it seclude me from my reality, and most important my problems? I can say yes. Did I learn from it? Yes. Did it help me? Absolutely. Was it maybe a bad way to manage my problems? Yes. Which is why I have tremendous empathy for people who have battled with depression. Everybody deals with depression, rejection, and anxiety in different ways and every case differently. My escape is (and always will be) Music. Sometimes it frustrates the hell out of me. Hell, sometimes it gives me a migraine! Sometimes I take it very, very, very personal when other musicians do a crap job (or don’t care). Maybe it’s the perfectionist in me but I can’t help it. Music has giving me so much, that I just want to do the best.
I struggled, but survived High School. I thought that everything would get better, and for a moment it I was under the aloofn
This time I wasn’t really that good at acting. Mainly my brother was the one who noticed. I lashed out on everybody in my family, but kept a happy face and my strong demeanor in my college life. I have basically no social life so (I believe) they didn’t noticed. I was the same (even more) nerd that I was on my freshman year and continued to do so. My bachelor is in Musical Education, so I majorly focused on my studies and vowed to “get out of this place and promised myself I wouldn’t do what I was living to myself or to my loved ones”ess that everything would. Untill 2008 rolled in. I was in college. I had a good freshmen year. I was getting to know my peers, making new relationships, new friends like Sheila, Glorimar, and Yolimar. And just like “The Last Airbender” scene: “Every thing changed when the fire benders attacked”. Everything that was dear to me changed, was grabbed like a lolly from a baby and I was down, again. And I was on the floor receiving kicks. Life intervened again, and just like that self-defense mechanism did too. I had to move from my house (to my sisters and then to the apartment where I currently reside). I had to basically sell (most) of everything I owned, because it was “no longer mine”. Everything changed, and so did I.
During my passage through the Music Institute I was always keen in Conducting (especially to Choral Conducting), and my musical mother Fombe, noticed. She basically took me under her wing for the past decade, and she made me a chorister, a singer but most important a teacher. When I was in college my passion for Music Investigation was Prof. Laracuente. My love for writing flourished tenfold thanks to Doctor Mercedes Torres. My love for Choral Conducting (and the one who gave me as much opportunities to cond
uct) is thanks to Prof. Ruben Colón Tarrats. But there was one professor who taught me the most about musicianship. That was Professor Freddie Feliciano (AND) Aponte (because I have a mother!).
Professor Freddie Feliciano (and) Aponte is the one who basically told and taught me to believe in myself. He was the one who told me that if I have a talent I must share it, the one who told me one day that I must love and let myself be loved. The one who basically flat out told me (very sassily) that I have all the passion, talent, but “most importantly the drive, and motivation” to do anything I want in my life is Prof. Freddie Feliciano. Freddie is an amazing person.
Freddie (because that’s one of the things I love about my music department, the professors encourage you to call them by their name) showed me who a musician is, how a musician should act, and how a musician reacts to to the world around him/her. Freddie taught me not to give a damn about what other people think about you. Freddie taught me and rekindled (just as did Kevin) my love for languages, especially the French language. It never occurred to me HOW much he taught me. And the only thing I can think about is the same question I have to all the professors mentioned above… “You’ve taught me so much. More than I have ever imagined. How can I repay you?” I read an article a week ago. In the article Dr. James Jordan from Westminister Choir College asks this to his mentor. Her reply was “Light a candle in every student you meet. That is more than enough.” I can say that I met Freddie in a crucial part of my life. And I can say that he’s another One Winged Angel I have in my life.
When I finished my bachelors’ degree I knew I learned a lot. From my personal life to my personal life. What I can say from both is that no matter what may happen to me, how I feel or what life can throw at me… I have Three One Winged Angels: Music, Freddie, and Kevin. In my life, these two people and music have done so much to me that they can’t even imagine how they have changed my life for the better. Kevin, Freddie, and Music literally and figuratively they have saved my life. I only wish Kevin, and Freddie have One Winged Angels as I do. As for Music? I believe she’s an angel who has saved many and still has more people to save.
“No hay nada más poderoso, aterrador, hermoso y fascinante, estar en un teatro (del tamaño que sea), suban el telón y de repente, todo el mundo vea cada uno de tus movimientos, mientras ese silencio aterrador nos consume y nuestro estómago vacío quiera virarse de donde está, y con solo un movimiento de manos, una respiración, un gesto, viole ese silencio y por varios minutos, el mundo gire alrededor de nosotros, controlemos los sentimientos, el espacio,el tomar control de cada fibra de los demás (para bien o para mal) luego de trabajar tanto, solo por un momento. No importa si lo graban, si lo publican… Ese momento intimo entre tu y yo, eso es lo que cuenta… Porque esa es mi vida, no importa cuanto escriba, cuanto suspire, cuanto yo gima y suplique en una obra o canción de amores pasados o presentes, de lo que paso, lo que fue y lo que será… ese momento es de nosotros. Porque mi vida es la música, porque vivo por cantar, vivo por tocar porque vivo… para tí”
|—||– José A. Clavell ®|
i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
When literature intertwines with music, it creates a whole new world that can be a fertile ground in which both musicians and writers strive to experiment. As composers, we look for amazing and out-of-the-ordinary texts. Inspired by this, we can create or bring to life the world that the writer imagined. As choral conductors, we look for poems with outstanding word choice, energy, gaps, and leaps. These poems must evoke emotion(s) in the audience when they read them. After the composer adds music to this poem, and when a choir sings and the choir sings the poem –now song– it will transcend time and space, while reality shatters for a moment.
In this post we are going to see how Eric Whitacre (choral conductor, composer, and arranger) was inspired by Charles Anthony Silvestri’s poetry. This post will only expose the concept of what the philosophy of The Art of Musical Poetry is about. The pieces we are going to explore are: Sleep, Leonardo Dreams of his flying machine and Nox Aurumque.
Here’s an example of when Choral Conductor/Composer/Arranger Eric Whitacre (http://ericwhitacre.com/)makes a poems take flight (Charles Anthony Silvestri’s poetry) by adding music.
The first one we are going to examine is Sleep.
The evening hangs beneath the moon
A silver thread on darkened dune
With closing eyes and resting head
I know that sleep is coming soon
Upon my pillow, safe in bed,
A thousand pictures fill my head,
I cannot sleep, my minds aflight,
And yet my limbs seem made of lead
If there are noises in the night,
A frightening shadow, flickering light…
Then I surrender unto sleep,
Where clouds of dream give second sight.
What dreams may come, both dark and deep
Of flying wings and soaring leap
As I surrender unto sleep
As I surrender unto sleep.
Charles Anthony Silvestri, 1965-present
For the story behind this piece go to: http://ericwhitacre.com/music-catalog/satb-choral/sleep
Another one is Leonardo Dreams of his Flying Machine. This choral piece portrays a young Leonardo Da Vinci tormented by his visions of a flying man.
Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine
Leonardo Dreams of his Flying Machine…
Tormented by visions of flight and falling,
More wondrous and terrible each than the last,
Master Leonardo imagines an engine
To carry a man up into the sun…
And as he’s dreaming the heavens call him,
softly whispering their siren-song:
“Leonardo. Leonardo, vieni á volare”. (“Leonardo. Leonardo, come fly”.)
L’uomo colle sua congiegniate e grandi ale,
facciendo forza contro alla resistente aria.
(A man with wings large enough and duly connected
might learn to overcome the resistance of the air.)
Leonardo Dreams of his Flying Machine…
As the candles burn low he paces and writes,
Releasing purchased pigeons one by one
Into the golden Tuscan sunrise…
And as he dreams, again the calling,
The very air itself gives voice:
“Leonardo. Leonardo, vieni á volare”. (“Leonardo. Leonardo, come fly”.)
Vicina all’elemento del fuoco…
(Close to the sphere of elemental fire…)
Scratching quill on crumpled paper,
Rete, canna, filo, carta.
(Net, cane, thread, paper.)
Images of wing and frame and fabric fastened tightly.
…sulla suprema sottile aria.
(…in the highest and rarest atmosphere.)
Master Leonardo Da Vinci Dreams of his Flying Machine…
As the midnight watchtower tolls,
Over rooftop, street and dome,
The triumph of a human being ascending
In the dreaming of a mortal man.
Leonardo steels himself,
takes one last breath,
“Leonardo, Vieni á Volare! Leonardo, Sognare!” (“Leonardo, come fly! Leonardo, Dream!”)
Charles Anthony Silvestri, 1965-present
And last but not least, Nox Aurumque.
This piece is the continuation of another piece titled Lux Aurumque. Whitacre wanted to create a second part to Lux aurumque and asked Silvertri to write something in Latin whose lyrics in Latin could be easily manipulated when sung. For all the background information, on how this piece came to be you can go to: http://ericwhitacre.com/music-catalog/satb-choral/nox-aurumque
Tarnished and dark,
Singing of night,
Singing of death,
Singing itself to sleep.
And an angel dreams of sunrise,
Tears of the ages.
O gilded blade!
You are too heavy to carry,
Too heavy for flight.
Tarnished and weary,
Melt from weapon to wing!
Let us soar again,
High above this wall;
Angels reborn and rejoicing with wings made
Singing of wings,
Singing of shadows.
Charles Anthony Silvestri, 1965-present
As you can see from these past examples, when Literature and Music intertwine, one can create worlds we can not imagine we could create, making the reader/audience forget about their reality and “abduct them” to the reality one creates when we are making music/reading/sharing a piece of literature. If only we took the chance to actually try and pursue this, just as our friend Eric and Charles, we can with “flying wings and soaring leap” create worlds that will forever stay… in our hearts… and minds.