I just got done with the Wednesday all-school Christmas practice rehearsal for WLA's annual sacred Christmas concert and I thought to myself, "I should write down what we got accomplished so far so I remember for Monday what we did this week."
So, after rolling two boxes of black folders back to the choir room on a dolly, I sat down at my computer and started to think about how I should write down what we've done. A stickie note? An entry into my electronic lesson plan software? An entry into my choir blog?
It struck me yesterday as I read the announcement of the EduBlog awards that I've been using my choir and music tech blogs more as a bulletin board than as a writing log. As I looked at the winners of the Edublog awards, I thought of how I've been experimenting with keeping blogs in music tech class for the last two years (thanks to David Warlick) and in choir this year. I can learn something from these winners.
Christmas practice always starts after Thanksgiving break, so the week before Thanksgiving break is full of finalizing the mass choir pieces for the Christmas concert and getting the black folders ready. My choirs help me out tremendously with the latter. They go through every folder, making neat piles of the old music and inserting the new music in the correct order. This used to take me a whole week to do–now it takes one day!
I threw the entire school a curve on Monday, asking them to sit on the east bleachers in the gym instead of the west bleachers where we normally sit for the concert. I did this for three reasons: (1) to do something new so that it wouldn't just be the same old thing, (2) to capture the student's attention by explaining the Christmas concert theme ("Tidings of Comfort and Joy") and, (3) to serve as a holding pen so I could make a new seating arrangement on the west bleachers.
So Monday was purely introductory and procedural. But students and teachers knew what we were preparing to proclaim (Comfort and Joy) and why we were going to proclaim it (to comfort the audience with news of Jesus's birth) .
Yesterday was the first singing practice. The kids knew where to sit on the west bleachers and excitement filled the air. I'm running a new seating arrangement this year: basses on the top, follwed by tenors, then altos, then sopranos on the bottom. I've always been leery that the sopranos and basses couldn't hear each other when separated across the entire bleachers in a top down section by quarters of the bleacher seating arrangement.
We started acapella reviewing the South African song "Freedom Is Coming". Two things I'm trying to improve on this year are (1) holding out the last note of each phrase, and (2) reassigning the Fr/So S2 part from last year to the Jr/Sr Altos this year. It's really an alto division on "Freedom is coming, oh, yes I know". That's what you notice when you go back and look at the music again!
"O Holy Night" was next. In performance we've had soloists start each verse, but I really like the sound of the whole choir singing. Plus, everyone knows the solo part, so just in case the soloist gets sick on the day of the concert, everyone can fill in. I reveiwed the part assignments (e.g. senior sopranos on "Glory in the Highest") and reviewed the straight bass rhythms on "oh, praise his name forever." We then sang the entire song with Charis Scharf accompanying on piano.
Finally, I introduced "Comfort, Comfort All My People" to the students. I explained how I had made a slightly different arrangement of the Paul Bunjes setting (pitched in F, v. 1 text matching Christian Worship, v. 2 rewritten to be more personal). We had just enough time to listen to a recording of the first verse.
We started today with a quick review of stretching the last notes of each phrase on "Freedom is Coming", but I didn't want to kill the piece, so we just sang the first phrase and then sat down. I really wanted to get back to "Comfort".
Mr. Thiesfeldt played a recording of Comfort so that everyone could hear where we were going. Then I asked everyone to sing along with the first verse of the recording–safety in being able to try something new without sticking out. Then I sang each phrase for the students, starting with the basses, then tenors, then altos, and then finally sopranos. The goal was to learn the first two phrases of the piece, which was easy because the second phrase was really a repeat of the first phrase, only with different text. I related the starting pitches for each voice to the scale (Bass: mi, Tenor: so, Alto & Soprano: do) and we were off singing the first phrase! I was very proud of the students for tackling new music and learning it so quickly.
Since "comfort" went so well, I went on with playing a recording of David Haas' Carol of the Child, which we sang for the first time last year. The text highlights prophecies from Isaiah with the joy of their fulfillment in Jesus' birth. After listening once to the recording, we sang along with it the second time around, but I was already noticing kids singing along the first time–especially sopranos on the descant! :)
We finished today's rehearsal with the Hallelujah Chorus. I played the piano and the kids sang start to finish–no explanation, no review, just haul off and sing! I never looked up (as I'm guessing neither did they), but it was obvious that the students remember their parts well from previous years. It will not be hard to put the piece back together again.
Due to the Children's Theater presentation of Robin Hood on Thursday and Friday of this week, there will be no mass Christmas rehearsals until Monday, Dec. 3. Then we will review "Comfort", start learning the 3rd phrase, and get on with the rest of the new music.