The Best Laid Plans

Well…hello.

It’s been a bit since I wrote here. In fact, from what I can see of my publication dates, it has been almost a month. A lot has happened in that time. Here’s a quick run-down:

  • Thanksgiving 2018. I had actually scheduled a post for this day, but I never finished editing it for publication. The gist of it was this:

I am thankful for my loving family and friends, for the actors and musicians I’ve worked with over the last year, and for the incredibly fortunate life I have to to be able to do this and to pursue it.

  • Church Organ at Advent Lutheran Church. This has been a big focus of my life in recent weeks. As I begin working regularly, I’m having to spend more time developing skills and picking up repertoire for Preludes, Postludes, and Offertories. This was quite a challenge at first, but I’m finding that my pace has increased as I’ve gotten familiar with the instrument.

  • Application to Arizona State University. I submitted my application on the afternoon of November 30, just before the December 1 deadline. I am still waiting to hear back. One of my references sent me a copy of her recommendation letter and I was really honored by the glowing terms she used to describe my work.

  • Magnolia West Choir Concert. This past Thursday was our annual “Merry Mustang Show and Auction” at MWHS. This concert is a huge undertaking, as it is one of our main fundraisers for the year. In addition to the longest concert of our year (about an hour and a half), we present a silent auction of gift baskets made by our students (and constructed by the head director), and a live auction of decorated Christmas trees by parents. All of this money goes toward student scholarships. It’s a genius idea, and I’m always excited to see how it goes. This year was quite stressful, as we seemed to be a little behind the curve on things. The two days leading up to the concert I didn’t even have time to stop for lunch between paperwork and rehearsals.

  • Pride and Prejudice at Fourth Wall Theatre Company. I returned to my favorite local professional company to see “Pride and Prejudice” in an adaptation by Kate Hamill. I still haven’t read the book so I can’t comment on comparisons, but my two companions were intimately familiar with it and seemed to have a good time. It took some liberties with the plot in the interest of time and comedy but it was, as always, well-acted and exciting.

  • Application to Shenandoah Conservatory. Last night, a friend helped me re-record the interview portion of my application to SU. I’m hoping to edit that together with video of myself leading rehearsals so that I can submit in the next few days. I know it’s well ahead of their January deadline, but I’d rather be done with it so I can enjoy my holidays.

Upcoming events are of course Christmas 2018 and New Year 2018-2019. I have Christmas eve services at the church that I will put on the calendar as soon as I have sorted out the repertoire. I need to make a Christmas list to send to family this weekend. I need to start making plans for the new year.

Oh and I need to continue to post here regularly…

Busy Few Days

Thanks to my faithful reader for reminding me that I’ve been lax in posting on here. It’s been a busy few days and I’m still recovering. I’m not sure I can coherently reflect on what’s going on in my life. I feel like I’m still running ahead of things, and I will finally have some recovery time this week and weekend.

In the meantime, here’s what’s going on:

  • Last weekend I saw “Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train” at Fourth Wall Theatre Company. There was a lot to reflect on, and I hope to do so more at length soon. My main impressions: an incredibly compelling show and an excellent cast and production. I highly recommend it.

  • My students performed a concert last night, which was well-received. I’m glad to have a first performance behind us, and a second one coming soon. We sing at the football game next weekend, and then we have been invited to Men’s Choir Festival at Sam Houston State University in a few weeks.

  • I’m preparing for a trip to visit one of my options for graduate school. That will be next weekend, after the football game performance.

  • Teaching is going well. My students are progressing as expected, and even ahead of my schedule.

  • I’m continuing to practice piano and prepare for my graduate auditions. I’m also assisting a friend with his college voice lessons. I’m generally trying to do more

I thought I would get less busy when my last show ended! But between this and a social life, I feel barely able to stay on top of things. I already feel sleepy.

Seriously, though, I intend to get back to writing somewhat regularly around here very soon.

Post-Show Thoughts

Its’ been a bit since I posted. Part of that excuse is the busy schedule of a show, plus a full time job. But now that Seven Brides for Seven Brothers has closed, I have time to reflect.

Looking Back

It’s been a fairly crazy (for me) summer. I had an ill-fated trip to the Grand Canyon, a micro-vacation to Austin, and an eventful, extensive rehearsal process for a musical.

The last one was of course the biggest part of my schedule. Rehearsals 4 days per week left little time for anything else in the evenings. The show was a massive success, selling out more than half of our 10 performances. I’ll update the show page soon with pictures and more info.

Toward the end of the summer, I made it a goal to have one new artistic experience every week. Previous sights included trips to the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Island ETC in Galveston, and my first show at The MATCH.

Of course I also inaugurated this blog. Now that the show has closed, I have time to stop and think and reevaluate.

Looking Forward

For the first time in nearly three years, I don’t have a show coming up. It’s still taking a time to settle in.

I’ve been music director and/or pianist for 12 shows since fall of 2015. In that time, I’ve gained a lot of knowledge and experience on how to work with singers, directors, musicians, and the challenges of a musical theatre score.

I still have a lot of room to grow, and I’m looking forward to trying that now that I have a little time to focus myself. I want to do more score study, more piano practice, and more observing of other musicians.

I’m back in piano lessons, and after a recent exciting day as an organ substitute, I’m thinking of getting back in to organ lessons as well. I also recently came into possession of an accordion, so that may be in my future too.

I’m looking at attending graduate school if I find a program that I like and that will let me in. Doing some campus visits this fall, and applying. I will know by March or April of next year.

In the meantime, I have a choir to direct and I’m seeing another show this week. I made recordings of my playing piano so I can do some self assessment. I just bought a new score. The Woodlands Chamber Music Project is going to pick up. I’m reading more and exploring more.

So look forward to seeing new posts here!

I'm Back! (To School)

It's been a bit since I posted on here. Frankly, I've been distracted and there haven't been many developments in most of my projects. 

What's happened this week?

  • Professional development and classroom planning at the school. School starts tomorrow!
  • Continued rehearsals and set building on Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, which opens August 31 (Click here for tickets)
  • I had a piano lesson and spent time at the gym.
  • I spent Friday in downtown Houston, having a really enjoyable conversation with a friend from college. In fact, there have been several really interesting conversations that I hope to reflect on here, when I can get my thoughts into writing.
  • I saw The Mousetrap at The Alley Theatre in Houston. Fabulous play, exciting twist. If you get a chance, you should go see it, though my performance was virtually sold out.
  • Some time to relax and to reflect today before school starts.

On that last note...

What's coming up this week?

  • More rehearsals! Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is going into the final stages of the show, and it's time for things to come together. This week I hope to add microphones and see the sets come together.
  • The first week of school! I'm excited to see the students come back and begin the new work this year.
  • I'm going to see another show this week. I need to decide what to see. I want to write more about the shows that I see and reflect on the work I want to be doing with my life.
  • More piano practice and time at the gym.

The year in advance

During this first week, I'm going to ask my students to reflect on two topics: what are they looking forward to this year and what are they the most worried about this year. In the spirit, I want to go through the same exercise for myself.

This year, I'm most excited for the chance to push the men's choir. We are instituting evening rehearsals for the first time this year, and that will give me a chance to really dig deep. This is also the first year I will have a group made up entirely of students that I taught. I'm interested to see how this will be different from previous years.

I'm also excited for the chance to expand my piano courses. Last year I offered a second year course in piano; this year that course will have its own class period. It will be more structured and hands on. I'm excited to see what happens.

I am most worried about my personal growth this year. On the one hand, I feel more confident in some things than I ever have. Especially where my teaching is concerned. On the other hand, the long talks that I have been having with friends and colleagues in recent months have left me doubtful of where I stand as a musician.

What I do know is that I need to be practicing piano a lot more, and watching TV a lot less. I'm still figuring out what my path will be, but those are both things I know.

Work helps ease my worry. So back to work it is!

Picking Music for High School Choir

For the last three days, I have been back at work. After brief meetings on Monday and Tuesday mornings, I've been pretty free to work in the classroom and prepare for when students return.

Today, I spent several hours working on selecting what music my group will be studying. This is a massive and very individual task, as everyone I've talked to goes about it differently.

My typical process is more or less like this:

  1. Determine what constraints there are on the piece. These might be things like "must be in a foreign language" or "must be three-part harmony"
  2. Consult resources. At my desk, I have on hand three primary resources for pieces: The UIL Prescribed Music List, the library of music my choir program owns, and the textbooks and anthologies we sometimes refer to.
  3. Select a handful of pieces to examine closely. I apply the constraints from step one to the music in step two. I usually end up finding at least 3-4 out of a dozen pieces that seem like possibilities.
  4. Listen to the work. This is one of the steps that is somewhat controversial. Some directors refuse to listen to the work. Others find as many different recordings as possible. My typical tactic is to take it to the piano first, or sometimes to go to YouTube or the JW Pepper music company website for a performance.
  5. Final selection if possible. In recent months, the steps up to this point would result in maybe one piece that fits my needs. In the event that more than one fits, it's a matter of determining which one I'd prefer to work on, or would appeal more to my students.
  6. Repeat as needed. If I don't find any results, I pick a different resource from step 2 and go again. I may have to reach out to other teachers or other trusted musicians for further ideas.

Today, was a lucky day. My constraints were that I wanted pieces that were of moderate difficulty, but no more than three-part harmony. Ideally, the voicing would be TBB (Tenor, Baritone, Bass, meaning the middle voice is written in bass clef) because my guys will be sight-reading in that layout in the spring.

I wanted pieces that sound harder than they are, but that have tricky moments for us to work on. And above all, I want to be able to work particularly on tone. To be successful, we need a mature, masculine sound. And the sooner the better. Last year, we got the sound but it wasn't consistent enough and we lost it in performance.

My group sits in an odd spot in the choral world. Most serious, demanding men's choir music is in four parts (TTBB). My group is too small to do that consistently, so I prefer to keep them in three. But a lot of three-part music is written for junior high men. These tend to be too high for high school guys to be comfortable. They also tend to be cheesy and boyish.

Today, I found three pieces that fit my needs! On top of an arrangement of The Star-Spangled Banner, that will give us almost all of our fall music taken care of. It only leaves me with about 6 pieces left to pick for the rest of the year. Those can wait, though.

When I luck out like that, I get really excited. Quality music that fits my guys is rare. I don't want to spoil the surprise in writing, but feel free to send me a message and ask me what I found and I'm happy to share!