I am so proud of my little girl who grew up to be such an amazing teacher!
This Title I middle school had lost its Band, Chorus and Orchestra teacher in the middle of last year. The program had been suffering. In fact the students felt like they had been abandoned and were convinced that they were not good kids and that no one liked them. My daughter applied for the job last Spring. During her sample lesson as part of the interview process, some of the kids told her that "nobody likes us because we are bad kids." Once she was offered the position, Cami told me that her main goals were to help those kids feel good about themselves and to convince them that they were just as "average" as anybody else, that everyone has both bad and good days, and that they can succeed by putting in an honest effort.
This fall, she began rebuilding the program from the ground up. Nearly all of these students were beginners. Many did not have any exposure to participating in a band, orchestra or chorus program previously. Many have very little support from parents or family at home. Yesterday was their first concert of the year. She had 70+ combined chorus students from three classes singing four 2-part songs. The 30+ orchestra students played 2 songs, and the 100+ combined band students from two classes played "Jingle Bells" for the finale. The main goals were to keep the rhythm together, attempt to play and sing the right notes, and display proper concert etiquette. My daughter was not even sure anyone would come to the concert -- performers or audience (parents, grandparents or friends.)
The student body population of the school is made up of of many low-income families (whose parents have to work odd schedules), and students of all ethnic backgrounds including refugees who speak other languages and are just beginning to learn English. Language and cultural differences can be big communication barriers. I admire my daughter for having the stamina to work within these constraints as well as try to convince these 12-14 year-olds that they can learn fingering, embrouchure, breathing, rhythm, musical notation, tone quality, and concert etiquette fast enough to put on a concert. That is a tall order for any teacher, but multiply it by 200+ to give each student individual attention, and you have a job of epic proportions! And she is expecting her first baby to be born in just a couple of weeks!
Fortunately, the student performers showed up and also a good crowd of parents and other supporters. I even heard a lot of parents comment about how impressed they were by how many students were participating in the performance and how well they did. I even heard some of the kids mention how surprised they were by how "cool" and "fun" giving a performance was.
I am so proud of my little girl who grew up to be such an amazing teacher!
The Utah Valley Church Service Mission Choir gave a satisfying performance on Sunday at the Christmas Devotional for the missionaries and their families. We have been working for many weeks on learning the five songs we were to sing. This has been no small task. These missionaries work and serve in many locations and have staggered shifts. These young people live anywhere in Utah County from Payson on the south to Eagle Mountain on the North and anywhere in between. Many have to rely on other people for transportation. Finding a time and place to rehearse has been a real problem.
So, we decided to have weekly Saturday afternoon rehearsals for anyone who could make it in a central location, and other rehearsals on the north end of the mission or on the south. But what turned out to be the biggest bang for the buck was taking weekly rehearsals to one of the on-site locations during the midday lunch/prep-time. We were able to augment the small core group of 8-12 singers with 15-20 more from that single on-site location. I think we gave a pretty good accounting of ourselves. We even had 2 vocal soloists and a wonderful cellist. We also shared the program with a family of singers (and 2 violinists) who provided some nice variation.
Because there are many more young men serving Service Missions, I had many more young men than young women in my choir. We had about 20 young men and 6 young women. (Fortunately, for the performance, some of the Senior Couples augmented not only the Bass section, but also our Alto and Soprano sections.) We just had one short rehearsal to put all of the satellite groups together for this concert, and we had never been able to do a run-through to work out the logistics of the moving parts in a building none of us had ever been to before! Aside from a few hiccups and miscues (and the instant rearranging of where people could stand to perform because the Visiting Authorities needed to sit the entire time on the stand), I thought we did very well.
The theme of our concert was about finding Enduring Joy at Christmas. The main quote was taken from Elder Bednar's talk in the December 2019 Ensign:
"President Russell M. Nelson frequently has extended an invitation to the people of the world that includes the promise of joy: 'Our message to the world is simple and sincere: we invite all of God’s children on both sides of the veil to come to their Savior, receive the blessings of the holy temple, have enduring joy, and qualify for eternal life.'
"Enduring joy is not a blessing reserved for a select few. Rather, every member of the Lord’s restored Church who is striving to remember and honor sacred covenants and keep the commandments can receive this gift, according to God’s will and timing. In this Christmas season, may each of us strive to appreciate more fully the supernal gift of joy. As we do so, may we begin to see with new eyes and hear with new ears as 'saints and angels sing,' as we 'repeat the sounding joy,' and as we 'ever worship God.'”
The closing number of the concert was "Joy to the World - SATB with Violins" sung by both the Family Singers and the Mission Choir accompanied by piano, organ, two violins and the cello. For the last verse, we invited the congregation to join us. What a joyous feeling was present during that song. The Spirit was strong and we went out of the gathering edified and ready to enjoy a wonderful Christmas Season.
The Church Mission Devotional script is now available for free download.
One of the most hopeful, praising, thankful texts I have ever found is "Come All Ye Saints Who Dwell on Earth" by W.W. Phelps 1792-1872. In the 1985 L.D.S. hymnal, this upbeat, cheerful text is paired with a very plodding hymn tune in duple meter while anyone who reads the text separately from the music will instantly see that the meter needs to be in triple. Besides that, the melodic phrases don't match the imagery in the text. So, a few years ago, I decided to write a 3/4 melody for this text and make sure it supports the word painting.
Yesterday, my home ward choir sang this piece, in the SSATB version. We have an unusual choir because we have many fine singers in every section, plus several renown music professors, instrumentalists, composers, solo singers, and choir conductors. (Living close to BYU campus does have its perks.) The performance went well, and I was pleased. (What a nice Birthday present to me!)
The program listed not only the song title, but had my name credited as the composer. So after the meeting, many people came up to me and gave such ecstatic comments about our performance. Most of them said things like, "I recognized the text, remembering that it was in our hymnal, but I didn't recognize the melody." One man said, "I had to look in the hymn book just to make sure! Wow! Then I realized that you had put that text to a whole new melody. That hymn really needed a facelift and you did it! The words came alive! Well done."
Later in the evening the sweetest thing happened. About 25 of us were gathered for a noisy family birthday celebration dinner in my house, when unexpectedly, the doorbell rang. A bunch of kids ran to answer it, so I went too. A neighbor and two of his sons (ages 13 and 10) were standing there holding out a plate of cookies. One of the boys said, "We really liked your song today in Church, so we made you some cookies. Thank you. That really made our Sunday."
I don't think I have ever had a more tender and sincere compliment from young boys! I was really touched.
Enjoy "Come All Ye Saints Who Dwell on Earth" SSATB and Piano with Piano accompaniment.
Variety is the key to programming a successful concert. I have been to so many Christmas Concerts where the selections were beautiful individually, but because so many were the same style, tempo, color, and message, the concert put me to sleep. I love the example of Haydn in his "Surprise Symphony" -- do something every so often to keep the audience awake.
So, I know the selections I have chosen for my Church Service Mission Choir. We have two numbers that are lively and two numbers that are slower and more lyrical. I chose them weeks ago before I knew what else would be on the program. Come to find out, a family of performers has been asked to join us in the concert. Their numbers are three lullabies (two chorals sung in parts and a violin duet) and "O Holy Night" sung as a solo power ballad.
How to arrange these pieces for optimum impact? Fortunately, the colors of sound will be very different from a 25 voice choir compared to a 10 voice family ensemble that includes some children. Our choir will have two soloists and a cellist. The family will have a vocal soloist as well as two violins. So, even when the pieces have similar tempo and style, the colors will be very different. I'll just have to put one of our lively pieces in the middle of the program to change the pace.
Narration can be useful, too. Skillful use of key scriptures and quotes can provide needed punch and bridge gaps to cover set up time between numbers. It can also break the tonality enough in case some of the pieces are in unrelated keys.
But every good concert needs a slam bang finish. After the final remarks, I decided to do a version of "Joy to the World" that can feature all of our groups and instrumentalists and bring in the congregation on the last verse.
There, that should do it. Mission accomplished. Another Christmas Concert programmed.
Seeing swans swimming on lakes, ponds and canals in Europe was a new experience for me. I had seen swans before, but only at Disneyland. They were as common as ducks and geese in Germany and the Netherlands. I guess I have admired swans from the time I learned to play "Swans on the Lake" in the John Thompson 1st Grade Piano Book when I was a child.
But after going to visit Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau castles in Bavaria, and learning about the Swan Prince legend of Lohengrin that was painted all over the walls of the castles, seeing swans swimming elegantly on the nearby lakes --- well, it all just made sense.
I had to refresh my memory on the details of the mythology of Lohengrin. He was a knight who went to provide protection to the Princess Elsa when her father died. Lohengrin arrived crossing the river in a boat pulled by a swan. He kept his identity and place of origin a secret and, although he marries the Princess, she is told she can never ask where he came from. Here is a brief synopsis of the tale as told in Wagner's opera:
"In 1848, Richard Wagner, drawing on the contemporary work of Ludwig Lucas, adapted the tale into his popular opera Lohengrin, arguably the work through which Lohengrin's story is best known today. While King Henry the Fowler tries to assemble forces in Brabant to combat the Hungarian invasions, Lohengrin appears on the Scheldt River to defend Princess Elsa from the false accusation of killing her younger brother Gottfried (who turns out to be alive and returns at the end of the opera). According to Wagner, the Grail imbues the Knight of the Swan with mystical powers that can only be maintained if their nature is kept secret; hence the danger of Elsa's question. The most famous piece from Lohengrin is the "Bridal Chorus" ("Here Comes the Bride"), still played at many Western weddings."
Other famous music came to mind as I saw more swans swimming around in the Netherlands. The ballet music of "Swan Lake" by Tchaikovsky started playing in my mind, and also "The Swan" from Saint-Saens from his "Carnival of the Animals." And then of course, being that close to Denmark, I also thought of the "The Ugly Duckling" song sung by Danny Kaye in the Hans Christian Anderson movie.
Swans really are elegant birds. I sure enjoyed seeing them in their natural habitat. I also really enjoyed reviewing the great music that has been written inspired by swans.
While traveling in Austria last week, I was privileged to visit the house where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) was born and lived as a child in Salzburg, some churches, palaces and concert halls where Mozart actually performed, the apartment house where Mozart lived during the height of his career in Vienna, and the cathedral where Mozart's unfinished Requiem was played as a memorial service after he died. I saw manuscripts and letters in his own handwriting. I even saw a few of the instruments he owned and played and used to compose his incredible music. This painting shows the boy prodigy accompanying his father and sister when he was so small his feet just dangled from the bench.
Mozart lived in a time when musicians usually depended on having a patron or sponsor who provided work and a stable income for them. Mostly, the patron dictated what kind of music the composer would produce. Composers also needed some kind of post such as choir master of the local church or conductor of the court orchestra in the palace of the local duke in order to survive. They wrote music for the particular group or organization, and tried to thrive and be happy within the confines of their situation.
This type of arrangement was too restrictive for young Mozart. His genius could not be confined to particular parameters for very long. As a young man, he set out on his own to Vienna to work as a freelance composer --- a novel idea at that time. He wanted to write the music he wanted to write when and for the voices or instruments he wanted. There in Vienna he composed the great bulk of his music. He sometimes even hired a hall and the musicians himself to premiere his new works. He actually acquired quite a following and became famous in his own lifetime. Too bad he lived beyond his means and racked up debts which contributed to his early death.
I feel like I can understand his music better as I absorbed the setting and culture of where he lived and worked. Mozart lived during a time when Baroque ornamentation was literally everywhere --- in the highly decorated painting and statues in the cathedrals and palaces, to the flowery embroidery on the clothing, and yes, particularly in the music. Heavy embellishment had been THE fashion in the Baroque Period (1685-1750). During the Classical Period (1750-1820), fashion began to dictate that the lines be lighter and clearer, but there were still a lot of notes and performers with egos who clung to the Baroque styles. Mozart, being a transitional composer, left no room for the performers to take liberties with his music. He wrote out just what flourishes he wanted and did not allow for other interpretations. In fact, some say that he even foreshadowed the Romantic Period for his later works had more depth of emotion and extended harmonies. He was a composer way ahead of his time.
The most amazing displays to me were the original design concepts for the scenery and costumes of Mozart's many operas. I wonder if any of those original sets were actually made. I could not imagine how the "magical" effects indicated in the sketches could be accomplished without modern technology. They blew my mind! Wow!
Sometimes when writing music, it is difficult to decide how many clues to interpretation to try to notate. Do you just put in a few dynamic marks here and there? Maybe you should try to dictate every phrase or every time changes in dynamics, feel, or tempo occur? Or do you leave most of the "interpreting" up to the conductor and performers?
I recently watched a television program on PBS where a violinist went in search of how to interpret Bach's Violin concerti and partitas. He had been avoiding playing Bach in his performance repertoire because he felt that he just did not understand Bach's music well enough to give it the right interpretation. So, he decided to go to Germany to immerse himself in the places, history and culture of Bach's time to help him understand the "riddle" of Johann Sebastian Bach.
To most musicians, J.S. Bach might as well be God. His genius is truly monumental. What Bach did for music in his own day and for generations yet to come was enormous. Not only did he write incredible music, he figured out the system for even tempering of keyboards so that those instruments can play equally in tune (or equally out of tune) in every key. He left a body of written music that literally wrote the book on the system of theory we use in Western Music today. But, no audio recordings exist from 1685-1750. So even though we know that Bach himself was known as a great performer in his day, we don't know exactly how he intended his music to be interpreted. During the Baroque Period, interpretations were done according to cultural conventions and not well notated in the score.
What the Violinist in the documentary did was go to visit and learn from Bach scholars working in the towns, palaces and churches where Bach's influence has been passed down from generation to generation for nearly 300 years. He learned, for example, that Bach enjoyed the melodies and violin virtuosity of Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741). He also learned that Bach wrote a lot of music for Court dancing -- the style of dancing made popular by the French King Louis XIV and had spread all over Europe during the Baroque Period. After learning about these influences and hearing and seeing examples demonstrated, the Violinist finally felt that he knew enough background details to channel the spirit of Bach into his own performances of Bach's works.
We owe a great debt to scholars who make it their life's work to document, record, and otherwise keep alive the works and interpretations of great masterpieces of the past. So until some scholar makes it his life's work to document how to interpret my music, I will continue to try to strike a balance between "enough but not too much explanation" notation in my own musical scores. I will say that I am delighted that "Ring! Glad Christmas Bells" which definitely possesses a bit of Baroque panache, has been rather popular this Christmas musical season. I am happy that especially the flute quartet version will be performed in many far-flung places in Europe and Australia as well as in Northern America. Hope my notations leave room for some personal interpretation but include enough to breathe life into the work.
Last night I attended a creative writing workshop. The teacher, Ann Dee Ellis, spoke about how to begin writing your memoirs. She shared quotes and encouragement from famous authors, and even had us do some free writing exercises. She said that mostly we just needed to begin. Start with writing a few lines or pages in long hand early in the morning to help organize your day. It doesn't have to be good, coherent, or inspired, the writing just needs to start. A thoughtful thread will emerge.
As we wrote our little three minute exercises, her point was proved over and over again. Through writing, thoughts begin to emerge that we may not have even expected were there. She had a few of us share our 3 minute masterpieces. The one I shared was on the prompt about "shoes." I told about how I had never had a good relationship with shoes. I find it impossible to find shoes that like my feet. And even after wearing braces as a baby and taking ballet as a child to straighten my misshapen feet, I still have problems with shoes. It doesn't seem to matter if the shoes cost $15 or $150, shoes hurt my feet! I guess I'll have to go barefoot.
Now that is a thread that is constantly going on in my subconscious. I walk into the house and instantly, the shoes get kicked off. I find myself only buying shoes that can be slipped on and off at any time or place --- under the desk, in the pew, at the restaurant, in the car. And yes, occasionally, the shoes come off accidentally while I am walking. Not good!
Oh, well, back to the topic of writing memoirs.
When my husband died earlier this year, I made a goal of writing down as many of his stories as I could remember. I have written about 80 pages worth so far. Last night, we were cautioned to "Be yourself, write freely, and think small." In other words we shouldn't try to revise and edit the writing so much that the "voice" of the person whose memories we are recording doesn't come through. We need to use the language that they used as much as possible and not worry if we are trying to write the next "best seller." I am glad that I heard Ellis tell his stories so many times. It has made writing them quite easy and so natural. I have a hope that these stories can be compiled into a book that I can give out to each of our families maybe for Christmas. Ellis died too young at age 63, and many of the grandchildren won't grow up having memories of him. I am hoping that these stories will continue to be passed down through the generations so that Grandpa Ellis will be remembered and honored.
The other project that I have been doing has been writing and illustrating Picture Books featuring each of our seven children. Three are completed, and the fourth is in the painting process now. Each of these stories may center around one of the children, but really, they include the entire family (at least all who were born by the time of the story). As I look at them now, I realize that these stories have really become another way to honor Ellis' memory and what a powerful force he still is in our family.
Here is a glimpse of one of the pages of the new picture book.
The other day I attended a Music Reading Workshop. The attendees were each given a packet of titles that we would look at and sing through. As I perused these pieces, I was hopeful to find something new and interesting for my Church Service Missionary Choir to sing for Christmas. At first glance, I saw a few Christmas titles. So I was anxious to get to them in the sing-through.
But as we began singing, I grew concerned about these new songs and arrangements. I knew the ranges and limitations of my current and former choir members. These new pieces demanded some very strange requirements of the singers. The Altos would be very happy because they regularly got to sing low G's and F's below Middle C and rarely jumped up towards Treble C. However, the Basses often had to jump from singing down on the lowest notes of the Bass staff to suddenly sing up on Middle D or E with no preparation, even. (You try jumping the interval of a 13th and nail it every time!) The Tenors jumped all over the place to sing as low as the basses and high as the Altos. Then I was blown away when the Sopranos were to sing with the Altos below Middle C on low F's and G's and in the next verse sing up in the stratosphere above the Treble staff. (Sopranos don't like singing below Middle C, ever, but then in the next song jump up to High C above the Treble staff? Crazy!) Hadn't these composers taken any classes in part writing for choral singers?
Generally, common writing practices allow for each choral part to span no more than one octave and a fourth, with rare exceptions. These songs at the Workshop required the singers to have virtuoso comfort ranges of more than 2 octaves each (with the exception of the Altos who rarely sang a span of more than one octave). And the songs were mostly contemporary sacred popular tunes -- not even in sacred style where the trained singer could show off their classical chops!
Suffice it to say that I would never consider any of these pieces for my choir. My Basses complain at having to sing anywhere near the top of the Bass staff. My Tenors don't like to sing low notes. Neither do my Sopranos. Okay, my Altos would have been delighted to actually see written low F's in their music, but they are happy to sing any notes between low G and Treble C. Guess I will continue to look around for good Christmas songs for my group. In the meantime, I have some great tried and true songs we can learn. "Hear the Angels Singing" SATB by Lloyd Larson is upbeat and fun. So is "Good Christians All Rejoice" 2-Part by Beryl Red. These pieces maintain decent ranges for all of the voice parts. And I just love the piano accompaniments for both pieces. They come highly recommended!
If you ever want a topic to blow your mind away, try contemplating canons in the Baroque Period of music. Many composers in that period must have thought it was clever (to save on paper or something) to come up with ways to allow the players to just play the same line of music over and over again AND all read off of the same piece of music lying flat on a table between them. (Think Pachelbel's Canon in D Major)
Polyphony or multi-voiced music with each voice or instrument playing complimentary but different melodies at the same time was very fashionable in the 1500-1700's. Much of polyphony was imitative in nature such as canons or fugues. Motives or melodic ideas were imitated throughout the piece sometimes directly a few bars apart as in a Canon or even beginning on a different starting pitch as in a Fugue.
The simplest of this type of imitation canon is called a Round. Think of "Row Row Row Your Boat" or "Three Blind Mice." The short melody is faithfully imitated in three different voices one measure apart.
But there are so many different types of canons! It blows my mind to think of the mathematical ability of composers who can come up with a musical line that will work when played simultaneously upside down, forwards or backwards or out of sync. Try writing a Mirror Canon or perhaps a Crab Canon, anyone?
A Mirror Canon has Part 1 part exactly mirrored in Part 2 interval for interval. Notice in the example above how the second voice plays the same "shape" of melody but in contrary motion.
Here's a little exercise whipped up on the fly by J.S. Bach on a theme given him by a dignitary. These few measures of the Crab Canon were intended to be played forward and backward at the same time! (Notice the upside down key and time signatures at the end above his signature.)
"For example, in The Musical Offering (a 1747 collection of mostly canons and fugues based on a theme given to him by Fredrick the Great), the “Crab Canon” is a single line of melody that acts as a retrograde canon (i.e., the melody played in reverse creates the counterpoint). Essentially, it’s a musical palindrome." (---quoted from Ian Davis in the FlyPaper)
I actually did okay in counterpoint class in college years ago, until I hit a brick wall at writing an original Fugue. However, once I did write a little Round as a warm-up piece for my choirs "Sing Alleluia." Years later, (I must have had something to prove) I did come up with a sacred piece utilizing some of the counterpoint I worked on in that college class. "Come Unto Him" is built around a single melodic and rhythmic motif repeated over and over again with the different voices entering at different measures on different pitches. That was enough of a counterpoint exercise for me! It still blows my mind to contemplate true canons in all of their different forms!
My name is Betsy Lee Bailey. I enjoy singing and writing all kinds of music. I have performed and directed or taught music all of my life. This blog is dedicated to all of the people who have been encouraging me to write about my experiences.