Friday, November 30, 2007

WANTED: Christmas Carolers

Christmas Carolers
Small groups (4, 8, 12, 16)
Students, Faculty, Parents, or Alumni

Sat. Dec. 8, 2007
11:00 AM – 1 PM
in half hour shifts
Strolling between 2nd & 4th St.
by National Exchange Bank, Team Sports, & Main Exchange

Get some friends together and tell Mr. Witte ASAP when you can sing!

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Helpin' out another WELS High School

I just got an email from a friend of mine, Mike Goede, who directs the choirs at Kettle Moraine Lutheran High School in Jackson, WI. They've got a great choral program (they are also going to sing for the Wisconsin Choral Directors Association State Convention!) and have entered a Christmas Choir Contest on WMYX. Voting is Friday, Nov. 30 only. Go vote for them! His email explains it all:
On a whim, KML's Concert Choir entered a recording in a local radio station's Christmas Choir Contest. There were 36 entries, and they paired this down to 12. We were fortunate to be one of the finalists. They now make a bracket of three schools, and the choir receiving the most votes that day moves onto the next round.

Our bracket competes tomorrow against two of the best programs in the state. We're asking for any and all people who can to log on and vote for KML. The winning choir receives $1000 for the school and performs live on the radio.

Go to and find the Jane and Kidd Tab Christmas Choir Contest.

We will have a clipped played on the radio tomorrow morning around 7 and voting lasts all day. You can only vote once so forward this to as many people as you can. Help the "little Lutheran school" prevail.

Remember: vote tomorrow (FRIDAY) from 7am-11:59pm and spread the word. Let's see if we can pull this off.

Thanks for all of your help.


Christmas Concert 2007 Recordings

Carol of the Child
Comfort, Comfort Ye My People
God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen
Hope for Resolution

Practice Files: Download the Scorch plugin first
Gloria S1 S2 A1 A2 T1 T2 B1 B2

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Christmas Practice: Days 1-3

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.

Monday (11/26/07)
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) .

Tuesday (11/27/07)
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.

Wednesday (11/28/07)
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.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Solo/Ensemble Lists

WLA is hosting the Flyway District WSMA Solo/Ensemble Festival on March 1, 2008 (Vocal & Piano) and March 8, 2008 (Instrumental & Piano). To help my students start their music selection process, I've linked the music lists below:

See the entire 2007-2008 Music Festival List.
See all the Vocal Solos
See all the Vocal Ensembles
Read the WSMA Festival Rules

Sunday, November 18, 2007

E'en So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come

Here's how it's supposed to work:

I want my Traveling Choir to be able to click on any Scorch link below (download Scorch plug-in) and view and hear the music for each voice part of Paul Manz's most famous anthem E'en So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come. I've extracted each vocal line and typed in the solfege to help my Traveling Choir learn their parts, but I can't figure out how to make the .htm link just show up in your browser when you click on it. For me I have to download both the .htm and .sib files to the same location on my computer (my desktop) and then open the .htm in my browser. The .htm and .sib have to appear in the same folder, so I put them both in the same folder on my website.

Soprano solfege .pdf .htm .sib
Alto solfege .pdf .htm .sib
Tenor solfege .pdf .htm .sib
Bass solfege .pdf .htm .sib

UPDATE (Sunday, Nov. 18, 11:56 AM)

I just got an email from a former student (Thanks, Buddy!) who read the above post and offered a solution. I think my .Mac account iDisk automatically compresses files that I store on it and then forces you to unzip them after downloading them. Buddy is going to temporarily host my E'en So files until I can figure out a solution with my web space.

Try these links instead: (make sure you have downloaded and installed the Scorch plug-in first!)

Soprano solfege
Alto solfege
Tenor solfege
Bass solfege

Now why? Why use solfege (a.k.a "tonic sol-fa", a.k.a. "do, re, mi"). Why stick something else, another language as it were, in between reading notes and singing them? Well, the short answer is to help the singer find the notes they are supposed to sing. The long answer is to help the singer understand how their notes fit into a major scale, relate to the other voices of the choir, fit in the harmonic structure of the composition, and sing in tune.

Four years ago, when this year's seniors were freshmen, I programmed, taught, and led a shape note hymn festival with the choirs from Winnebago Lutheran Academy. Initially I was interested in the melodies of the shape note hymns. What I discovered after teaching my students how to read the shapes of the notes was that solfege (technically "Fasola" when referring to shape note singing) was a very powerful teaching tool. Students could look at the shape of any note on the staff (square, diamond, triangle, or circle), know its syllable (fa, so, la, fa, so, la, mi) and be able to correctly pitch the note. I was amazed!

Then this past October I attended the 2007 Wisconsin State Music Conference in Madison, WI and listened to James Jordan give three presentations (The Choral Rehearsal Warmup, Rehearsal Techniques for Choirs at All Levels, and The Musician's Walk). Once again, I heard of the power of singing solfege in the process of learning a new piece of choir music. It was a gentle reminder to change the way I was introducing new music to my choirs and to return to a layered approach to reading music: concentrate on one musical element at a time.

How do you use solfege to learn your part? First off, you have to know where "Do" is. "Do" (pronounced "doh" or "dough" by most people, but pronounced "doo" by James Jordan) is the first note of the major scale. Most people know the song Do-Re-Mi from the Sound of Music. You usually can find "Do" by reading the key signature and determining the tonal center of the music. Once you know which note "Do" is, you can sing your do-re-mi's for that scale and find the starting note of your part. From there on in, "when you know the notes to sing, you can sing most anything!" (Point for Julie Andrews!)

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


This is an interesting idea...

Can you write a hymn text (i.e. sacred poetry in a regular meter) about false doctrine? If you can, and it is the winning entry picked by a panel of judges, you could win $300!

The purpose of the HYMNWRITERCHALLENGE contest is to "develop new hymn texts on Bible teachings not typically found in hymns in our WELS hymnal."
"The theme for the contest is false doctrine; we would like a hymn text that teaches these two contrasting truths:
  1. Even the "smallest" false doctrine is a great danger to a person's saving faith.
  2. Even churches that tolerate plenty of false doctrine can bring people to saving faith through the gospel of Christ."
The contest runs from October 8 - December 14, 2007. Only hymn poetry should be entered, no melodies. See the HYMNWRITERCHALLENGE website for a contest entry form and additional references to help you get started.

Monday, November 5, 2007

40th National WELS Choralfest at Wisconsin Lutheran HS Nov. 9-11, 2007

Every year since 1967, the high schools of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod have gathered for either a regional (East/West) or a national choral festival. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the first WELS choral festival hosted by Luther HS, Onalaska, WI. On the weekend of November 9-11 over 400 high school students from 23 WELS high schools will descend on Wisconsin Lutheran High School in Milwaukee, WI to present two concerts, one sacred and one secular, under the theme "From Age to Age"

The Pops Concert will be Friday, November 9, 2007 at 7:00 PM in the Wisconsin Lutheran High School gymnasium, 330 North Glenview Ave., Milwaukee, WI.

The Sacred Concert will be Sunday, November 11, 2007 at 2:00 PM, also in the Wisconsin Lutheran High School gymnasium.

Both concerts are free of charge and open to the public. A freewill offering will be taken at each concert to help defray the costs of hosting.

The 16 members of the WLA Academy Kids will represent WLA at Choralfest this weekend. They will be performing a medley of songs from High School Musical for the Pops Concert. For the Sacred Concert they will be in the Exultation Choir under the direction of Mr. Adrian Smith, one of the weekend's three clinicians (Mike Goede and Mary Prange are the other two). Their host families for the weekend are the members of Woodlawn Lutheran Church, West Allis, WI, where they will be singing on Sunday morning for the second service.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Traveling Choir sings at Trinity, Dundee and Immanuel, Campbellsport

The WLA Traveling Choir will sing this Sunday, Nov. 4, 2007 at Trinity Lutheran Church, Dundee, WI (8:00 AM) and Immanuel Lutheran Church, Campbellsport, WI (10:15 AM). The morning's schedule is as follows:

6:15 AM Students arrive at WLA to board the bus.
6:30 AM The bus leaves WLA
7:00 AM The bus will arrive at Trinity, Dundee. Students driving their own cars should be at the church at the same time.
7:00-7:45 AM Warmups in the front of church.
8:00 AM Service at Trinity, Dundee
9:00 AM Board bus and cars. Drive to Waucousta Lutheran Grade School for breakfast.
9:30 AM Board bus and cars. Depart for for Immanuel, Campbellsport.
9:45 AM Setup at Immanuel.
10:15 AM Service at Immanuel, Campbellsport
11:30 AM Snacks at Immanuel.
11:45 AM Board bus to return to WLA
12:15 PM Earliest possible time back to WLA

Music for this Sunday:

Before the Sermon, in place of the Hymn of the Day: (at the beginning of the service at Immanuel, in place of the 1st hymn)
This Is My Word (Pepper Choplin)
O Christ the Same (Craig Courtney)
This Little Light of Mine (arr. Dale Witte)

After the Benediction, in place of the Final Hymn:
Witness (arr. Jack Halloran)
O Love of God, How Strong and True (arr. Michael McCarthy)

Driving Directions:

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