Friday, May 12, 2006

Mixed Feelings About Chorus

I love music. I am also a Mr. Holland type, a frustrated keyboardist. I formed a chorus at the elementary school where I teach. This year I am the director and I have a parent who is the piano accompanist. Chorus members must meet certain criteria:
1. A permission form must be signed by a parent.
2. The child needs to be able to fog a mirror.

My chorus performed for our school this week with two performances. I directed and accompanied three soloists on songs I arranged myself. There were 82 kids on the risers and we sang for forty minutes. One of the emcees was absent so the other emcee took over and did a splendid job. I am SO lucky I chose to have two emcees!

Our program went like this:

1. If I Had a Hammer
2. Putting on the Ritz
I believe this to be one of the greatest, if not THE greatest, song where the melody and lyrics are complimented by and appropriate for each other. Irving Berlin was an incredible, prolific talent. We had a lot of choreography in this song, with the kids struttin’ around “with their noses in the air.”
3. Old MacDonald
Not your standard version. One of the extremely talented and charismatic boys in the chorus directed the Chorus. He held up signs to guide the Chorus with all the animal noises. Then, on purpose, he would “accidentally” fall down, thus spoiling the ending. The Chorus would make all the animal noises in a raucous display, and then our director got control of them for a very rousing ending.
4. Little Rabbit Foo Foo
One of my favorites because of the great acting. One of the girls dressed up like a rabbit and would grimace and have a ferocious look on her face as she bonked the field mice on the head. The Good Fairy sang nicely, and was all dressed up with pink wings.
5. Missin’ Recess Blues
Sung to the tune of “Folsom Prison Blues,” the punch line of the song was
“I’m spendin’ time with teacher
For throwin’ spit balls.
She never would’ve caught me
But they stuck to the walls.”
I made the kids sing that last note as low and as loud as possible.
6. Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head
The kids love this one. During the interlude in the middle of the song, I had frequently asked for smiling faces while we stood there for a few measures waiting to pick up the lyrics again. For the show, I made a doofy face. It worked. They grinned.
7. Young at Heart
I reused an idea I had thought of six or seven years earlier. We sang the song through, then the accompanist picked up the melody while the kids in the chorus did “kid things” for the audience. These included jump roping, hula hoops, “heelies”, cartwheels, etc. Then we sang the song through again. My favorite.
8. Bare Necessities
Sung by a quartet of boys who did a decent job.
9. The Second Star to the Right
Sung by our chorus’ best vocalist, a fifth grade girl. I thought my arrangement of that song was solid because I had never heard the song as originally recorded until after I did the arrangement. We didn’t copy it; our arrangement was unique.
10. I Got the Sun in the Morning
Another Irving Berlin classic, written for a female vocalist. We had a girls’ quartet sing that one. It is a rambunctious number and my most difficult arrangement.
11. We Will Rock You
This was an a cappella piece that probably everyone knows. Our talented boy directed the Chorus and sang lead. The kids didn’t sing it “hard” enough. It needs more work for our final show for the community and parents.
12. Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu
Lots of choreography, dancing, and a swaying ending (swaying back and forth towards the audience). This was the audience’s favorite. I told the kids “…go wild” and they did. It was exuberant.
13. Emcee says goodbye. Show’s over!

I have very mixed feelings about this show because it is my last. I have to quit because I am burned out and exhausted from all the work. The amount of time required to find an accompanist if I direct, or a director if I accompany, choose music (important work), organize a show, write scripts, figure interpretation and choreography, train soloists, paperwork, receipts, arrange field trips, make announcements, write newsletters, train a riser/electronics crew, attend every hour and a half rehearsal, etc. is excessive. There are Chorus Directors at schools, and that is all they do for a living! That’s their only job! I do all of it on the side in addition to teaching. Sometimes I feel like a chump, a person who has been taken advantage of because the school has stipend money and has never paid me a penny. This year they paid over fourteen thousand dollars to teachers at our school to do paperwork. I do get Middle School Initiative funds for running an “after school program.” I get paid $720 per year, much less than even minimum stipend money. I could take two piano students on Thursday instead of Chorus practice and triple that Middle School money and not have a tenth of the work….or the heartache and stress.

Yet this was my last performance, my last directing job. It was so satisfying and wonderful to perform, but so sad to know that the chorus program is in jeopardy. However, It will not die………yet. Five years ago one of the chorus members and a frequent soloist was named Lauren. She was taken with performing, took voice lessons, joined her high school chorus, volunteered to assist me with soloists last year, and took over the soloists this year. I have convinced her to direct the chorus next year. She is extremely mature for her age and is qualified to do the job. She is actually capable of being a better director than a teacher I once conned into directing for a few years. So the program has a chance if the administration at our school will find her some backup………teachers who are willing to do all I did. I have warned the principal that I will give directing/leadership/musical teaching advice to this high school girl, but I will not help with chorus. If they allow her to take over the chorus, it will be for two years at the most. When she leaves, I am sure the program will die because I won’t do it again. I am wracked with mixed feelings: relief and loss.


Laura said...

Oh, man, what a treasure that school has in you: maybe they'll give you more $ when you actually quit doing the show?????

I never laughed so hard: fog a mirror.

K.A. said...

We had music programs in my school, but I don't remember them being like this. I have read your archives and you have good teacher.

Jack said...

You're a chump. But you liked doing it. Are there parents who "challenge" the chorus director? If not, it sounds like you should quit teaching and get the job as choral director.