I did not expect to blog today and, while this is not tour related, it still relates.
Today, I had the privilege of clinicing the choirs at Columbia Middle School in Aurora. Aurora is a suburban area on the east side of Denver. They did not invite me to come out, but rather, I invited myself about a year ago, when I heard them perform at a choral festival that I judged. They were by far my favorite choir of the day, and were up against many fine schools, ranging from middle school to high school. The minute they walked in, and then began to sing, they "lit up" the room. I just stopped talking and writing and sat back and listened. Now, I hear a LOT of choirs, and I KNEW there was something special about this one! In the written feedback that I gave them, I indicated that I would love to come out and work with them- not so much so that they could learn from my "expertise," but so that I could watch them in their normal course of rehearsing. Well, we were finally able to make it work out, schedule wise; boy, was I in for a treat!
These students were well behaved, yet incredibly passionate about their singing. There was a great deal of respect for their teacher, Mr. Pope, and toward me, as I made commentary on their singing, finding ways to tweak it just a bit more. Once again, they lit up the room, with a seriousness and intensity toward their singing that was beyond their young years. All the while, I kept thinking to myself, "what makes this group so special?"
As I suspected, Mr. Pope is what I call a "kid-magnet." He is genuinely caring and nurturing, in a very understated way, yet maintains a definite high expectation. The boys were absolutely incredible- every voice on pitch, singing out with confidence, as the choir solidly sang through their repertoire. The three part mixed repertoire sat nicely in their voices and, of course, he made changes when needed to accomodate the boys' changing voices. (Flexibility is the key). Their warmups focused on good tone, all students solfeged and used Curwen (some were two-handed with their Curwen gestures!). Every student was engaged and seemed to want to do well. There were no less than 8 singers who had solo lines, each of whom "nailed" every note, and did so with a tremendous sense of pride! To top it off, they were SO appreciative that I had come out and they took pictures, videotaped, and gave me the royal treatment. Toward the end of my session with them, when I asked them if they had any questions for me, a girl in the front row raised her hand and asked me "...would you please sing for US?" After they colletively pursuaded me to do so, I asked them, "What would you like me to sing?" One of them piped up: Sing "Tomorrow" from Annie. I agreed, and Mr. Pope asked, from behind the piano, "What key would you like it in?" (OK MUSIC ED MAJORS....PAY ATTENTION TO THIS- he was a STRING BASS major and could hardly play piano at all when he started teaching 6 years ago. He as since learned to chord, transpose, etc) When I said "G major", he played a few chord progressions to get into the key, and then he just started playing a beautiful accompaniment. As I started singing, their eyes grew wide, and there was almost a reverence. I looked around and intentionally made eye contact with each of them as I sang/ they remained glued to the very last note, then burst into loud applause! Then we all celebrated by smiling for pictures, hugs, etc.
I have decided that this choir exemplifies the Helen Kemp quote..."Heart, Mind, Spirit, Voice, it takes ALL to rejoice!" 1. Heart: They truly love what they are doing; 2. Mind: They are well trained; 3. Spirit: They are truly excited to be singing and tap into an amazing amount of positive energy in their singing, honored to be a part of something this significant and larger than themselves; Voice: They not only have "found their voice" in singing, but this choir has allowed each of them to "find their personal voice- it is a place where each of them has a very special and important significance.
In talking with Mr. Pope afterward, he also affirmed that the principal was incredibly supportive of the arts, and was willing to make changes in schedules, etc, to accomodate a successful arts experience for his students. An incredibly dedicated teacher and an incredibly supportive administration leading to an incredibly transformative experience for these kids.
So, how does this relate to our upcoming tour? Sometimes we work so hard to get everything "absolutely perfect" (MIND), that we forget to allow the music to just "do it's thing" and transform us (HEART, SPIRIT). Whether it be the intricacies of an expertly woven contrapuntal texture (Le chant, Haec dies, Non vos relinquam) or the harmonic journey that Bruckner takes us along, whether it be shimmering close dissonances (There will be rest) or the stained glass window section of O Sun, it transforms us! Let's allow it to do so, and allow ourselves to experience transformation through our music and through our wonderful unifying experience of making great music together. I for one can say that I was unexpectedly transformed today:) Thanks, Columbia Middle School Choir!
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