SubscribeStar Saturday: SCISA Music Festival 2023

Today’s post is a SubscribeStar Saturday exclusive.  To read the full post, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for $1 a month or more.  For a full rundown of everything your subscription gets, click here.

T.S. Eliot begins The Wasteland with the memorable line “April is the cruellest month….”  It is, indeed, one of the busiest times of the year for yours portly, and while I love work, I love intentional, deliberate work.  Hasty, panicked slapdashery is not my cup of coffee, but for many years, it was—by dent of necessity and my own personal shortcomings—a necessity.

In order to minimize that panicked rushing, I’ve forced myself to become incredibly organized.  That, too, is born of necessity:  with over twenty lessons each week, ladled atop my normal schedule of classes and my Town Council duties, requires that I keep a detailed schedule—and do a great deal of prep work in advance.

It took me into my thirty-eighth year of life to get it down—finally!—but I seem to have some semblance of a grasp on my schedule.  If I could just find time to do the dishes, I’d be thrumming along like a well-worn-but-maintained performance engine, stretching those oil changes out a bit longer than proper, but getting the job done.

As for April, yes—it’s a hard month.  March, however, is something of the rapid build-up, the grand accelerando into the end of the academic year.  After the drowsiness of January and the yawning indolence of February, March, indeed, comes in, roaring, like a lion.

For you see, dear reader, it is in March that I embark—along with forty-odd students—on an annual pilgrimage to the University of South Carolina to engage in the South Carolina Independent School Association (SCISA) Music Festival.  It’s an event that tests the very limits of my organizational and logistical skills (such as they are), but that work and preparation reap dividends in terms of musical experience for my students.  It is an event that does more to sharpen their musical skills than any other throughout the year, and is second only to our major concerts in edifying their confidence as musicians.

To read the rest of this post, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for $1 a month or more.


Chapel Lesson – Taming Your Tongue

Last week I was invited to give a brief lesson or sermon my school’s weekly chapel.  Our usual chaplain was due to be out that day, so the associate head of school asked me to deliver a message.

Earlier in the academic year I gave a short talk on listening intently and graciously, so I thought that a good complement would be to talk about the power and danger of our words—our fiery tongues!

I blog daily, and I know I’ve let my waggling tongue (in the form of a digital pen) get me into hot water.  It’s never a good feeling, and I’ve certainly written—and said!—things I regret.

For hot-blooded teens, it’s even more of a problem.  Rather than condescend to them with another jeremiad about “bullying”—such an insipid word—I decided to go directly to The Source

With that, here is my brief chapel lesson from Thursday, 2 February 2023, “Taming Your Tongue”:

Read More »

Open Mic Adventures XVI: “Please Come Home for Christmas”

I finally got around to writing the detailed review (it’s around 2200 words!) of my school’s Christmas Concert this year.  The full review is over at my SubscribeStar page, and includes the video for this performance andO Holy Night,” which I wrote about last week.  It was a really stellar performance, and I am super proud of the kids.

This week I’m featuring the video of our grand finale, “Please Come Home for Christmas.”  Most readers will be familiar with the version by The Eagles, which was the version my High School Music Ensemble used as its primary reference.  The song goes back to 1961 and Charles Brown, a blues pianist.

It’s also quite challenging, with a lot of secondary dominant chords and a slightly irregular structure.  For example, sometimes students would hang on the B7 chord for four beats before resolving to E major, which shifted after two beats to a delightful E augmented chord.  Other times, though, the B7 would only play for two beats, followed by E major (or E7), before resolving to the tonic, A major.

A number of my private lessons leading up to the concert involved diving into some of the nuances of the piece in more detail (naturally, quite a few of the students enrolled in High School Music Ensemble also take private lessons with me after school).  The barre chords are challenging for guitarists, and the different ways of playing that fun little E augmented chord also provided some educational mischief.  For my bassists, we worked quite a bit on the various walkdowns, such as the opening A->Amaj.7/G#->A7/G sequence.  That’s not hard to play, but there’s a lot a budding young bassist can do with it.

Regardless, as you’ll hear, this piece brought the house down, and the young man singing it was a hero the rest of the day—I heard him greeted to wild applause and cheers upon arriving to his first period class after the morning concert.  The video here is from the same mother who took the “O Holy Night” video, so if you see her lingering on a particular guitarist/bassist for an extended period of time, that’s why.

Read More »

Delayed SubscribeStar Saturday Delivered!: Christmas Concert 2022 Review

Today’s post is a SubscribeStar Saturday exclusive.  To read the full post, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for $1 a month or more.  For a full rundown of everything your subscription gets, click here.

I never got around to writing about the annual school Christmas Concert last Saturday, so subscribers are getting a double dose of SubscribeStar Saturday today.  Despite this past week being exam week—historically full of free time—I was quite busy with a number of things related to closing out a semester of school.  Some Town Council things came up, too, so it was a fairly productive week.

All excuses aside, I’m finally getting around to it.

The short version is as follows:  it was amazing.  The kids performed extremely well.  Some of them gave what I would consider to be career-best performances.  There’s something magical about the stress and excitement and anticipation that bring out the best in students.

It wasn’t without glitches, but those small bits aside, it was fantastic.

To read the rest of this post, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for $1 a month or more.

TBT^4: O Little Town of Bethlehem and the Pressures of Songwriting

It’s another Exam Week, a welcome respite after two weeks of madness.  Proctoring exams is a pain, but it’s the kind of tedious pain that we’re all used to enduring from time to time.  Fortunately, it’s basically two hours of boredom at a time, followed by frantic grading.  The sooner that’s done, the sooner Christmas Break can truly begin.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about how pressure creates diamonds.  I was incredibly, almost superhumanly productive in the two weeks after Thanksgiving because I had to be.  I was putting in twelve-to-sixteen-hour days to get everything done, and while I was exhausted, I felt like a champion.

Then this last Saturday I had an endless day before me, and accomplished almost nothing.  Part of that was recovering from the craziness of the week before; part of it was woman problems (the greatest drain on energy and resources); part of it was the lack of anything to do.  I understand why retirees die within six months if they don’t find something productive to do—I was starting to think that all my endeavors meant nothing (maybe they do mean nothing, but as a Christian I know they do; if they didn’t mean anything, it’s all the more reason to keep myself moving so I don’t have time to dwell on The Darkness).

Anyway, that pressure can create Beauty.  All this pressure has had me thinking about Neo’s comment on my post “You’ll Get Everything and Not Like It“: “I always remember that our soldiers in France in 1944 had a saying, ‘The road home goes through Berlin’. Berlin is on all of our ways home.”  That’s the end of a very long and poignant comment, but those two sentences say it all.

With that, here is “TBT^2: O Little Town of Bethlehem and the Pressures of Songwriting“:

Read More »

Open Mic Adventures XV: “O Holy Night”

My favorite Christmas song of all time is Adolphe Adam’s “O Holy Night“—so much so that I wrote a subscriber-only post analyzing the song way back in 2019.  Naturally, it’s a perennial standard in my school’s annual Christmas concert.

In the interest of changing things up and preventing listening fatigue, I don’t program it every year, but it shows up just about every other year, so it’s fairly ubiquitous.  If I a particularly gifted singer, it makes for even more poignant performance.

This year I have been thus blessed.  Not only is the singer great, but the band is, too!

Of course, this video is not from an open mic night, so the title is (yet again) a bit of a misnomer, but it certainly fits into the spirit or ethos of the proud open mic tradition I so cherish.

Read More »

Phone it in Friday XXVIII: Christmas Concert

Today is the day of our big Christmas Concert at school.  It’s both my favorite and least favorite day of the year, because while the concert is incredibly fun, it’s also incredibly stressful.  It’s worth it, though, to see the kids singing and playing and having a good time.

As I’ve grown older, fatter, and achier, I’ve scaled back a bit of the theatricality and bombast of the Christmas Concert to something a bit more manageable.  Gone are the days of singing while standing on a piano (I did that once, years ago).  I also strive to make the concert focused on the kids (well, and Jesus).

Still, it’s a lot to pull together, with not only my two classes (the middle and high school ensembles) but also two choirs, three dance classes, and six Foreign Language classes.  I’ve completely eliminated solos (outside of soloists on songs within these classes) to streamline it as much as possible.

I’ll be doing a full write-up one Saturday (possibly tomorrow) covering it, but for today, just pray for yours portly.  I’m confident it will be a good concert, I just gotsta get through it!

Merry Christmas!


Homecoming Week Grind

Today’s post is a SubscribeStar Saturday exclusive.  To read the full post, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for $1 a month or more.  For a full rundown of everything your subscription gets, click here.

The end of The Age of The Virus has brought about a return of “normalcy,” as then-candidate Warren G. Harding famously said during the 1920 presidential election.  Normalcy is good, and I welcome it.

Granted, the world of today is not the same as the world of The Before Times, in the Long, Long Ago.  Widespread lunacy seems to constitute “normalcy,” and the sane among us must do our best to endure it.

But if the The Virus fundamentally transformed the assumptions of our civilization—fear trumps freedom; coercion trumps liberty—the outward trappings of “the good old days” still stretch a thin facade of fun over the face of a conquered people.

So it was that my school celebrated its annual Homecoming this past week.  It was fun, but fun can be a grind!

To read the rest of this post, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for $1 a month or more.

Phone it in Friday XXVII: Virtual Learning Hurricane Holiday

Hurricane Ian has been battering Florida, and South Carolina should be experiencing the effects of said battering today, albeit to a vastly diminished degree.  The weather is calling for high winds and lots of rain, but nothing that seems (to me, anyway) particularly dangerous.  I just wouldn’t recommend hanging out underneath any old trees.

Naturally, the slightest degree of inclemency prompts the shuttering of all operations for those of us in the cushier fields like education.  Fear of the “L Word”—Liability—means my administration has opted to close the school today, lest some witless teen driver find himself, wheels spinning, in a watery ditch.

Of course, in this post-The Virus era—here in The Days After The Age of The Virus—there are no longer inclement weather “holidays,” as there were in The Before Times, in the Long, Long Ago.  Now we can hop seamlessly online, teaching and learning from the comfort of our couches.

Read More »