Choir Festival

It’s been a very very very long time since I’ve written a blog post. Not because of a lack of inspiration, which is normally the reason, but because things have been a bit crazy round here in the world of music teaching, and I have been too busy to even think. Last night, however, was an event worth writing about, so I’m taking time out to do it, even though the to-do list is a mile long, and getting longer by the minute.

There is an annual Choir Festival here in Gaborone, organised by a local primary school. Five schools are invited to perform three numbers each, and then there are two combined songs that all five choirs perform together. It’s always a stressful yet rewarding event as a music teacher, and I have always enjoyed being part of it, not least because I know my choir is good. Last night was the first time, however, that I haven’t been present as a primary school music teacher.

The PPC National Youth Choir were invited to be the guest choir at last night’s Festival! We have only been going since October, and on an hour a week of choir practice, I think they did brilliantly.  They looked smart and neat, and they (in general) behaved themselves in a decent manner, and we got a ton of compliments afterwards. And what’s even better is that now there are kids at those primary schools asking how they can join! So it seems as though our next audition session will by more fully attended than previously, and maybe my ideal number of 70 in the Choir isn’t that far away!

I am hoping that some kind and fond parent has taken photos or video of last night for me to post, but in the meantime, have this one. I am a VERY proud music director

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The Madness of Clarinetists

The construction of a clarinet. Edited from th...

Tomorrow I will be doing my Grade 8 Clarinet exam.  But this is not a post about nervousness or preparation or any of those good exam-like things.  It is a post about the madness of musicians, and of music teachers in particular.

You see, exams are things that we traditionally associate with school.  As things that you have to do while you are at school, while you are of school-going age.  We also make the assumption that no one chooses to do exams, that normal people would avoid them like the plague.  Enter the first sign of a music teacher’s madness.  I chose to do this exam.  I chose to put my mouth, my fingers and my ears through this, so I have no one to blame but myself.  Except for my teacher.

We have known each other now for 20 years.  She was my primary school teacher when I was in Standard 4, then she became my clarinet teacher, then my teaching mentor, then my colleague and now my partner in crime.  We coach orchestras and choirs together.  We transformed a music department together.  And now she wants me to do this exam.  Don’t get me wrong – of all the people that have influenced my life, she is one of the greatest.  She is an incredible musician, an incredible teacher and an even more incredible friend.  But she is even madder than I am, which is saying something, considering that we are both music teachers.  And clarinetists.

My reasons for doing the exam are all very admirable, I think.  Firstly, Grade 8 is the highest one, and I went off to university and things before I could finish it off.  I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.  I did my Grade 8 Ballet when I was 23, far too old to be dancing like that, in that clothing that makes curvy women look like elephants, even when they’re not fat (wish I still looked like that though!).  I did my Grade 7 Clarinet when I was 26.  So it’s taken me two years to work up to finishing it off.  I also think that somehow, it sets a good example to all my students, that you are never too old to learn, and that you should never stop learning and developing as a musician, or as anything else.  I also know myself quite well, and I wasn’t going to get any better as a musician just by picking something to play and working at it. I needed a tangible goal, preferably one that was a little scary, to make me do it.  However, now that my fingers are falling off and I can’t sleep because I have the Mozart Clarinet Concerto (I’m playing the 3rd movement tomorrow) in my head, I’m wondering about the wisdom of it all.  Already the butterflies have begun to flutter, and I still have a day of teaching to get through.  At least I am doing mine tomorrow, and all my students are doing theirs on Friday.  I might have a peaceful night and be prepared to make all kinds of mistakes in the accompaniment for my children.  Oh well.  Such is the life of a music teacher.

The madness continues.  My teacher and I are already planning the next exam.  Maybe finish off the piano, or another violin exam?  Or maybe I should now focus on preparing the children I teach for their exams.  One thing I do know, though.  They will all end up as mad as I am.

A Musical Adventure

And so begins a new chapter in my musical adventures.  The PPC National Youth Choir had its first practice last night.  With 20 founding ‘youths’, we will be a small choir for a while, but what a sound there will be!  It was fantastic to hear these kids singing together, knowing that 2 months ago, when they auditioned and I last heard them sing, I made the right decisions about who I picked.

We spent most of our first hour together getting to know each other.  I seem to be very good at making children play silly games, which immediately breaks the ice.  To sing well together, these youngsters have to like each other, know each other and trust each other, so last night was step 1 on the road to being an awesome choir.  I did, of course, have the assistance of the estimable Neelo.  Neelo has been one of my flute and singing students for about 3 years now.  She is nothing but a ball of smiling, welcoming, friendly energy, and she bounced around the room making everyone feel as comfortable as she was.  Even the shyest individual cannot remain so after a Neelo onslaught!

In terms of training the choir itself, I have the unwavering support of another Lynn, the Lynn who has been my music teacher for close on twenty years (she taught me at primary school, so neither of us are as old as you think!)  Lynn is always an inspiration and an incredible accompanist, so she will be helping me make sure their general musical education is not neglected in the midst of too much fun at choir practice!  I also have Celeste, who has already been working with Lynn and I for a couple of years.  Celeste will be in charge of being organised (for the best chance of success, I cannot be expected to organise anything, except what we’re going to sing) and has made an excellent impression on all the students.  Celeste will also be a conductor in training, so hopefully, not too far from now, she will be standing in front of this choir and directing it.

It is an incredible privilege to work with this talented bunch!  I made all sorts of resolutions about taking photos, but I only get a very few, very bad ones, so I’ve learned my lesson and next week Celeste will be in charge of the camera too.  That way, maybe we’ll have some pics to share on Facebook and some videos to post on YouTube.  I look forward to sharing our progress with you!