Thursday, May 7, 2015

Do One Thing Every Day That Scares You

There is a quote attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt that reads, "Do one thing everyday that scares you."

I don't do it everyday, but one thing I've done a lot this past year that scares me is teaching a children's choir. Getting up in front of people intimidates me, even (and sometimes especially) when they are kids. This past year I took a two semester course in vocal methods for organists and choral conductors, which taught me a lot about the workings of the adult voice and helped me to build my confidence in instructing choirs and leading choral warmups (which I've also learned this past year is the MOST important part of any choir rehearsal, professional or non).

Then this past spring I took a course in the basics of running a children's choir, which included learning about the child's voice, how to structure and lead choral warmups for children, and learning how to teach music education using the Kodaly method. The class also included workshops with conductors such as Melanie Malinka from the Choir School of the Madeleine Cathedral in Salt Lake City, and student teaching with the Notre Dame Children's Choir. Both were invaluable experiences! I also received some hands-on experience starting a children's choir at my own parish where I serve as the music director.

Two things I have learned about working with kids: #1) Don't baby them, don't talk down to them. Talk to kids the way you talk to adults. Even though they are far more honest than adults, they are usually far more forgiving. #2) Kids are musically capable of a lot more than adults think they are, and they will give it to you if you ask it of them. Yes, it will take time (months, even years), but they can sing Palestrina, Rheinberger, Gregorian chant -- real sacred music, if you ask it of them and you teach them well! They haven't had the complacency of mediocrity or self-doubt instilled in them yet.

My last final of the spring semester was for my children's choir course, and the final consisted in teaching a group of 7-8 year olds the difference between quarter notes and eighth notes). It was still intimidating and occasionally painful, and I'm still learning how to teach, how to be more confident as well as more demanding. But I have found that I love teaching music to children, and I am getting better with practice (funny how that works!). I hope to keep challenging myself and to keep improving as I get one step closer to my future parish chorister program! One step closer to teaching sacred music to the future of the church!

Choir School of the Madeleine Cathedral, Salt Lake City

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Life Updates: May 2015

Well, I'm back! It's the weekend before finals and I have three projects coming up, two due on Wednesday and one on Thursday ... but that didn't stop me from going to see Avengers: Age of Ultron with my flat mate, Cait, on opening night! I laughed much more than I expected to, I cried a bit, and I loved every minute! Hawkeye was fleshed out a bit more this time, which was appreciated by all since he got the short end of the stick in the last film. There were also a few classy music major moments : Bruce (The Hulk) is listening to the aria Casta Diva from Bellini's Norma in one scene, while another scene features the subtly sinister Kyrie from Arvo Part's Berlin Mass! By focusing on character development and a good story vs. just trying to top the first film, the Avengers team inadvertently outdid themselves and made a terrific sequel!

Also, as a bonus, the previews featured the new Star Wars trailer! That was a beautiful moment, seeing R2-D2, Han Solo, and Chewie on the big screen! :-) Oh, it was Christmas!

Forget about losing it when Han and Chewie showed up, I lost it at R2-D2!
Anyway, life updates: I had my first DMA recital last weekend and it went very well! The recital opened with Durufle's Fugue on the Soissons Cathedral Carillon, followed by J.S. Bach's lively Toccata and Fugue in F Major BWV 540. But my favorite pieces were the O Antiphon Preludes by Nico Muhly and Rheinberger's Passacaglia in E Minor! I had been wanting to learn Rheinberger's Passacaglia ever since I had heard my first organ teacher Paul Weber perform it as the finale to our schola concert in Spring 2010 at the Heinz Chapel in Pittsburgh. Thus, it was a fulfilling moment to be able to play it as the finale to my first DMA recital! The Muhly Preludes are a set of musical meditations for organ composed in 2010 for Westminster Abbey, and are based on a set of medieval chants from the office of Vespers for the last days of Advent! I am always eager to find new sacred music of good quality based on chant that is both enjoyable to learn/play and exciting to an audience, and Muhly's Antiphon Preludes are definitely both!

All in all, it was a good recital! My teacher was very pleased and so was I, especially considering I have had to relearn much of my technique this past year, resulting in some performance anxiety issues!

And I am one-third of the way through my doctorate, which if you divide it up into letters, I am currently a DO-. (Next year it will be DOCT-, and then in my third year I get DOCTOR, I.O.W. I'm the DOCTOR -- does this mean I get a blue police box? ;-) ). It's been rough, challenging, but I'm gonna stick with it! And hopefully it'll get easier the second time around... *fingers crossed*

In the meantime, my summer is kicking off with a two week excursion to Rome and Bologna with the rest of the Notre Dame Sacred Music program, and then I am taking French this summer to pass my language requirement as well as prepare for my dissertation, which is tentatively on 20th century French women organ composers... lots of qualifiers... I gotta run the topic by the head of our sacred music dept. before it's official, but my organ teacher suggested it so that's gotta count for some viability!

As far as fun things go though, I'm going to keep sane by:
 #1) watching Doctor Who (which I just started season 5, but I am still mourning Tennant but it's not Matt Smith's fault);
#2) Hopefully finishing reading the biography of the Monuments' Men and Undset's Kristin Lavransdatter;
#3) Watch the trailer to The Little Prince every couple of days to a) remind me why I am learning French and b) make my heart happy! ^_^ My friend Mary Sullivan introduced me to The Little Prince a long time ago, and I've realized that it's every bit as necessary to a child's library as The Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, The Hobbit, everything Kate DiCamillo ever wrote, and The Secret Garden (to name a few)! Like all the best children's books, The Little Prince is about the most important things, so don't underestimate it or lose faith if you don't get it the first time! (I had to read it twice!) I should probably blog about it someday...  but for now, got to dash! Long day tomorrow! Thanks for reading!

The Doctor meets the Little Prince on Asteroid B-612
Reading: Sigrid Undset's Kristin Lavransdatter: The Cross
Listening to: James Taylor's Fire and Rain
Watching: Doctor Who Season 5, Once Upon a Time Season 4
Quote: "Books! People never really stop loving books. 51st century. By now you've got holovids, direct-to-brain downloads, fiction mist. But you need the smell! The smell of books, Donna! Deep breath!" Doctor Who, Season 4: Silence in the Library.