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Entries in choir (13)


Photo 62/365 (series: Harry Potter with the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra)

At the Holiday Pops Christmas Concert last December we noticed an ad in the program for a Night with The Music of Harry Potter, a concert offering from the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra. It sounded good to us so I made a mental note to look into tickets. Thankfully, I forgot to put that task in my journal, because a month or so later we were told that the Boychoir would be performing in said Harry Potter concert, no ticket for the singer necessary. So while Jon and I procured tickets, Calvin procured music and a magical frog (you can't sing in the Hogwarts Frog Choir with one, after all).

The night started with fun in the lobby, which Calvin got to participate in (including his very first selfie as part of the baffling Horcrux search) before ducking backstage for his Frog Choir debut. We were able to keep him away from the prying eyes of the Ministry and out of Azcaban, so I think we did a good job of wizarding.


Photos 46-49/365 (series: ACDA Honor Choir weekend in Chicago)

Last fall Calvin auditioned into the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) Honor Choir. This is a selective choir assembled annually of auditioners from all over either the region or the nation, in alternating years, to sing at the ACDA conference in February. This was a regional year, and Calvin, along with three other boys from his choir, were accepted into the Elementary Honor Choir. Music arrived in January and practice began in earnest—the performers were expected to arrive with their music learned and memorized because their time to rehearse together with the director is limited. Very limited. In fact, the elementary choir had just one and a half days, though long days they were. 

The weekend awakened something in Calvin. Beforehand he practiced with his usual ease—he learns music quickly, and tends to take its simplicity (to him) for granted—and he arrived well prepared and eager for the event. These were things I expected. What I had not expected was the way he took to the intensity of the weekend. He may have come out of each several-hour-long rehearsal glassy eyed and melting, but he basked in the weight and responsibility of it all.He loved feeling important, with both parents going to obvious lengths to make sure favorite meals were served up at his leisure, and whisking him to and from rehearsals and social gatherings (a pool break after dinner and a lunch date before the concert) with friends. His joy was especially visible in his drama—the back of a hand wiping an exhausted brow, or the sighing plea for a stress relief tea. That was when I realized that he enjoyed acting the part of the pressured singer as much as anything else. He ate it right up.

The trip was challenging, but also rewarding for Calvin on many levels. At nearly 100 kids strong this was a large group for him to work with, and the music was different from the usual Boychoir program. The director of the Elementary Honor Choir this year, Francisco Núñez, a MacArthur Fellow (recipient of the 2011 Genius Grant) and the founder of the Young People's Chorus of New York City, proved to be an energetic conductor who loves music and children. In the Friday afternoon rehearsal, he happened to pick Calvin out of a sea of hands to answer a simple question. Calvin answered so well that he was asked to answer all the rest of the afternoon's questions, no subsequent hand raising required.  

Jon and I also found much to enjoy over the weekend. Required to stay in the fancy conference hotel as chaperones but not required during rehearsals, we were free to fill that time as we pleased. We filled it with pastries, coffees, a walk out on Navy Pier, a dinner for two in the upscale hotel bar, and lots of rich together time. And our weekend didn't actually begin and end with choir, either. We love to travel as a family, from the car trip and stops along the way, to nights spent visiting after dark in a shared hotel room. Plus we actually started the weekend a day early with a delicious and entertaining Chinese New Year dinner at Duck Duck Goat with my brother and his wife, and then, following the Saturday concert, ended it with wine, sushi, and Olympics at their always relaxing West Loop loft. They know how to show visitors a good time. 

But the best thing about our weekend, aside from the coveted couple time alongside the chance to see our son blossom in a new environment, was the concert itself. It's amazing what a group of very talented kids can do with just a day and a half. 

A very foggy Chicago

A room with a view

Chinese New Year Pris fixe dinner at Duck Duck Goat

complete with Chinese New Year dragon visit

Bright bushy tailed for rehearsal

Relaxing during lunch break

While the kid was away, the parents at play...

Photo op with famous director at the end of afternoon rehearsal

pool party during dinner break

A little bleary eyed for the last rehearsal of the night...

Parent alone dinner time...

An autograph at the end of the full day of rehearsal

Rehearsal came early on Saturday morning

Lunch before the concert, kid version...

Lunch before the concert, adult version...

Beautiful snowflakes to end the weekend

One last stop on the way home...


10 influential people from my life

All good things must come to an end. We know this truth in life, we just don't always truly know it until we are faced with it, and as this school year closes we are saying goodbye to a man who was not only influential in Jon's life, but thankfully in Calvin's as well. The director (and founder) of the Boychoir of Ann Arbor has been shepherding boys, offering vocal and life training, for thirty years now, and he is retiring. Jon's experience in the Boychoir was important to him, and I feel priviledged to have had the opportunity to meet the man and witness the effects the choir has had on Calvin. Not only has he learned a lot about singing, he has learned a lot about coming together as a group, about honor and tradition, and about shaking hands (strong grip, look them in the eye!).

As we've spent this year, especially the past month or so, saying goodbye to this man who has been profoundly influential for so many, I've spent some time thinking about how formative these years are for children, and the importance of early role models and leaders. And that led me to thinking of my own formative years and the people who saw me through them. Parents aside, of course, because their influence is obvious and special, I have come up with the following ten:

(1) My parents. Yep, let's get the obvious out of the way. I'd say it's a given, but not every child respects their parents or takes their lessons to heart, so I put them first and foremost here because I learned so much from both of my parents, and continue to learn so much from them, that the top of this list is where they belong.

(2) My grandparents, and other extended family members. Another gimme, I'm sure, but my maternal grandmother especially imparted a lot of wisdom that I have carried with me. And beyond verbal lessons, time spent on her hobby farm when I was little I'm sure helped form some of my love for nature. I remember it so vividly. My Godmother taught me to ski like a woman (we have hips!), and later how to sew. My paternal aunt aroused in me a curiosity about my history that fed a later obsession with the broader subject of human history, then evolution. All of my larger family have quietly and influenced who am through our many years.

(3) Early friends (and frenemies). Yes, I realize this is a kind of nebulous list item, but specific names, even the specific people, from so long ago aren't what really matter here as much as the idea of them. The first half of elementary school is a maze of social learning that leads kids down many paths, some of them ending in disaster. I had a few friends who meant the world to me, some who stuck with me, even have stuck with me, through many years, and others who definitely led to hurt. 

(4) The young Authors program at my elementary school. Again, this isn't a particular person, but the program and the team that ran it were invaluable in developing my love for reading and writing. I can't even remember now if it was an in school special, or an after school club type thing, but I remember attending writing workshops where we received encouragement and constructive advice while we exercised our creative writing sides. 

(5) My fourth and fifth grade teacher. She was the kind of teacher who took a personal interest in each and every student. In her class(es, because I had her twice), we put on amazing plays, shared full thanksgiving meals where we learned about etiquette, and earned special Friday night dinners at her house through good behavior. She read aloud to us every day, which definitely deepened my love for reading.

(6) My middle school advanced math teacher. He was terrible—the worst—but I didn't say this list was all about positive influence, it's just a list of the most influential, and he was influential for sure. After a partial year in his class learning, above all else, that math is not, under any circumstances, meant for girls, it took me until my adulthood to regain any confidence in the subject. And you know what? I'm pretty darn good at math.

(7) My high school band director. He was taking no flack from anyone. None. Wasn't having it. And because of that our band was pretty good. But he was also jovial, and very supportive. I definitely remember whole class hours spent discussing important and difficult current issues, and those times were as valuable to our development as the music was. The life lessons I learned in band have never left me (like how to properly hang dress pants on a hanger, for one).

(8) My high school drama coach. Yes I was a band and a drama geek, and it wasn't as IN then as it is now. And it might be that my involvement in the club was as influential as the drama coach himself. I wasn't an actor, I was everything else behind the scenes, and I learned a lot back there, like how to wield a power drill or operate a table saw. Plus you can't beat theater for teaching self respect and confidence.

(9) My high school psychology teacher. This is another one on the list that is not entirely rosy in my memory. He was a difficult teacher, and not particularly nice, but that might be why I learned so much that really stuck with me in that class. I have several "flashbulb memories" of deep discussions in that classroom, including the one that taught me the term "flashbulb memory".

(10) My ninth grade literature teacher. When I got to high school I already loved to read, but my freshman english teacher taught me to read in a different way, opening up a whole new amazing world in my mind. That is a lesson I believe I will keep building on all my life.


Performance Week, culminating in a spring piano recital, age 10

Spring isn't just about the birds and the bees. Spring, for parents of children everywhere, is also about year-end activities, and for parents of performers, that usually means a lot of activities. If we measure this as an eight-day week, running Saturday to Saturday, Calvin had six performances. That's one choir gala (Saturday), one tap assembly (Monday), one band concert (Thursday), one play (Friday), one talent show (Friday), and one piano recital (Saturday). 

The week kicked off with the Boychoir of Ann Arbor Gala 30th Anniversary and Farewell concert. It was a special one for our family because Jon was a part of that choir thirty years ago, and Calvin is the first performing child of an alumnus. The concert was a beautiful program, and because some numbers included alumni, both of my boys sang, and both of them had solos that they knocked out of the park. I can't quite describe how eagerly I awaited this concert, or how much I enjoyed it when it arrived. 

The tap performance was actually a dance demonstration assembly put on at a local elementary school (coincidentally the school Jon attended in his youth) by Calvin's dance studio. Since it was during the day not all of the kids in the class could participate, but the bare bones dance was a special treat for Jon and me because the studio's spring recital will take place during the Sunday matinee of Calvin's YPT show, meaning he'll miss it and we won't really have a chance to see him perform what he learned in either tap or ballet this year.

Thursday night was Calvin's first band concert on a stage. I realize I sound here like the Olympic announcers looking to hyperbolize everything, but his very first ever band concert ever was in the gym during school hours, his first major band concert ever was in the bigger high school gym along with all the other area bands, now this is his first band concert on a stage. It makes a difference. So did the year of learning and practicing.

Friday's performances, the play, then clarinet and piano in the talent show were with our homeschool group, so they were pretty low key. Nuff said.

And lastly, on Saturday was Calvin's second ever age 10 spring piano recital. Second ever because last year the spring recital took place after his birthday, more in the summer, really, so that makes this his second age 10 spring piano recital. And he just about nailed it. 

Sonatina (Op. 20, No. 1) - Friedrich Kuhlau


10 reasons to include performing arts in (home)schooling

There are all kinds of articles and studies out there right now in support of keeping fine arts in the schools. This comes at a time when the greater push is to improve and intensify academic learning in an increasingly homogenized and student saturated environment, all with fewer funds, so the battle to defend (or, on the flipside, defund) the arts is real, and it's a brutal one. 

A few months ago we were at the GP's for Calvin's anual checkup. His doctor, a young man whom I for speaking to me like an equal and Calvin like a capable human being, went over Calvin's list of "out of school" activities with us. I think he was just curious, or he may have been checking in because he knows that Calvin is homeschooled, and although we seemed to pass any test that might have been administered, we also seemed to flummox him with regards to Calvin's arts involvement. That's a lot of music, he said. It wasn't said with any kind of tone, so I don't know if it was meant as a judgement or merely as an expression of surprise, but it got me thinking. 

Calvin has choir rehearsal twice a week, band rehearsal twice a week, dance class twice a week, and a weekly piano lesson. He participates in anywhere from 2 to 4 theatrical performances a year. We study fine arts (drawing, painting, sculpture, and art viewing) at least twice a week. This is a lot, especially when I see it typed up here in front of me, and by no means do I think this level of involvement is right for everyone. But Calvin does the performing arts the way other kids do sports. He is trying several of them, and the amount of time he dedicates to them over the year is not really more than a child involved in team sports dedicates to those. Yet his involvement in the fine arts elicits a very different response than a child receives who is heavily involved in sports. 

Why this unequal respect for the two main paths of "extracurricular" involvement? Sports are heavily lauded for the benefits they bestow upon their participants, and rightly so. A sense of teamwork, self-respect, and physical fitness are just three of the many important things they are charged with teaching kids, and I don't at all doubt the veracity of those claims. I do, however, think the same things are taught through participation in the performing arts. I read an article recently that urged people to stop defending arts in the schools, the argument being that they need no defense, their value speaks for itself. If that were true, though, the battle for funding and support wouldn't be raging as we speak.

So in defense of performing arts in schooling (home or not), here are some of the things kids will learn or gain from that study:

Self discipline
It won't come right away. It might take years to achieve, in fact, but practice is self-discipline, and all arts require it. I've always told Calvin at the piano that music practice in particular is self-policing. Practice is sitting down to play a small part of a song over and over again until the whole family is going crazy, but you can finally play it right. You can't fake it, it's either right or it isn't. If it isn't, keep practicing. 

The point of practice, or self-discipline, is to perfect a skill. In the days between classes or lessons, kids are responsible for putt their best effort into this achievement. It's a little like homework in that a parent can make a kid sit down and play their scales they way they can make them finish their math, but arts practice is less mechanical in nature, and the resulting achievements are assessed more fluidly. Ultimately, students practicing the fine arts are more responsible for the value of their practice time, and, thus, more fully accountable for their achievements or lack thereof.

The skill of public speaking
This is an obvious benefit from stage performance, but the ability to get up in front of others is taught in any and all performing arts. It's in the performing part. In preparing works to share with others, be they piano songs practiced for recital, or vocal music to be performed in a choir concert, children are learning the skills of selection and preparation with an eye toward communicating with an audience. Then they actually get up in front of that audience. Not everyone who practices performing arts will be a talented public speaker, but I'm willing to bet that they will all at least improve in this area.

Confidence and Self-respect
Similar to the skill of public speaking, kids who go through years of performing arts education gain a level of self respect from lessons learned about preparation and performance. Youth performance environments are designed to be supportive and encouraging. The main goal of youth recitals is to help young performers gain confidence in their skills and in themselves. A secondary lesson is: put your best into it, get your best out of it. Everyone applauds at a child's recital, which is supportive and encouraging, but kid will know when they've truly done their best, and many will learn to respect themselves and the process enough to the work in between.

Nothing is more frustrating than a section of song you can't quite get, or a line you can't remember correctly, or a step you keep tripping on. And nothing is more rewarding than finally getting it right. Practice may not always make perfect, but done correctly it does always improve capability, and that reward teaches perseverance.

Duets, ensembles, stage performances, dance troupes...though many people think of performing arts as producing divas, the truth is that, as in sports, there are more team players in the discipline than individual rising stars. Get your instruments in tune, set up group practices, follow the director as one, don't miss your entrances. Collaboration is key.

Self expression
All kids long for self-expression. We see this in the child singing at the top of their lungs in the shower, or in the three year old screaming at the top of their lungs on the grocery store floor. Performance arts, any fine arts, really, provide a healthy means of self-expression.

Social exploration
Any collaborative approach in any performing art gives kids a common goal and asks them to set differences aside to achieve it. As part of team work, kids will learn ways to overcome social obstacles together. More literally, kids participating in theatrical arts are given the opportunity to play-act a wide variety of social situations. Kids do this on their own in imaginative play, but here they'll do it with the benefit of coaching.

Cultural and global exploration
All of the arts are celebrations of culture and heritage, and many performing arts programs seek out pieces from world cultures for students to try out and learn from. 

Health and fitness
Especially true in theater and dance, but to some extent in all disciplines, the arts require a healthy life style and encourage physical fitness. While this necessity is obvious in dancers, think also of the need for great breath control and capacity in singers and wind instrumentalists, and also posture and fine motor control for all musicians. Piano players have some really strong arms and amazing abs.

Expansion and connection of all other subject areas
We've probably all heard about the studies linking music in particular to improved mental acuity and performance in other subject areas, like math. Reading music can help students improve their language skills as well. But we also try to include music, literature, and visual arts in our history and culture studies as we go. Since the arts are a celebration of culture and heritage, arts through time can be considered primary sources—snapshots in time—and there is a lot to be gained from studying them.