Wednesday, August 14, 2013

My Musical History, Part One.

Hello folks,
First of all, I apologize for not writing in a few months.  I remember when I was student teaching, my supervising teacher had a handheld recording device, and occasionally, he would whip it out and utter something into it.  Something he needed to remember later.  I share that little story because I'll bet there have been about twenty times in the past few months where I had random thoughts of blog topics, only to either forget them, or just never get to them.  Middle age must be setting in!

I've decided to document the events of my musical life.  Perhaps so that, if in another decade, or two, I have trouble remembering which things happened when, I can revert to this document.  Hopefully, some of you find it at least moderately interesting.  One thing is for sure.  There are a few key events/occurrences in this story.  Things that if they had not happened, I would NOT be where I am today.  I suppose that's true with everyone, but I hope you enjoy mine.  Here we go!

As far back as I can remember, I have been fascinated by music.  Drawn to it, really.  I remember receiving my first transistor radio in 1973, at the age of six.  I enjoyed listening to WLS out of Chicago, and their Top 40 format.  Shortly after this, I began asking for records for Christmas and birthdays.  I was a big fan of the K-Tel compilations and I probably own twenty or more (still have them, too).  This was also the time I started listening to Barry Manilow with more interest.  I acquired about four or five of his albums during my elementary years.  I also remember really enjoying Disco music in the mid 70s.  I have to attribute that to the fact that it's incessantly simple beat (bass drum on all four beats) was easy for my young brain to latch onto.

It must have been in about fourth grade when I learned that in order to play drums in middle school band (and that's what EVERYONE wanted to play) you needed to take piano lessons.  So, I started lessons with Tim Oonk when I was in the fifth grade.  I believe he was a Freshman in college at the time.  I was a terrible piano student.  Basically, I started lessons much too late.  By this time I had already written my first song and was learning how to figure out songs by ear.  Being forced to slow down and read the notes, was incredibly frustrating and far from musically rewarding for me.  Today, I cringe at the thought that I quit lessons after only one year.

Sixth grade came and during the first week, anyone interested in band was to sit down and chat with Mr. Brouwer for a bit and be "fitted" with an instrument.  When he asked what I WANTED to play, I, of course, replied with, "DRUMS!"  I remember him asking about piano, but he must not have heard my reply clearly, because I believe he was under the impression that I had no (or, not enough) piano to play drums.  So, he said, "we'll put you down for trumpet, and we'll write 'drums' really small over here in the corner."  I left feeling confused (I was eleven).  When the schedule was posted, I was determined to attend percussion class and not brass class!  After the first brass class met, some of my friends told me that my name was called and that Mr. Brouwer wondered why I wasn't there.  I went to see him later and was given a Cornet to take home.  When I got home I spoke with my mother and she knew I was extremely disappointed. Here's when one of those key moments happened.  I inherit my non-combativeness from my mother.  Yet, she went to school the next day and spoke with Mr. Brouwer to make sure he understood that I had taken piano lessons, and, as a result of her conversation with him, I was allowed to be in percussion class!!  I played percussion in band until graduating from high school.

Middle school is also when one of my best friends introduced me to the band Journey (those close to me know this to be my all time favorite band).  He had an older brother who was into music and knew what was good as well as what was cool.  My first memory of Journey was hearing Lovin' Touchin' Squeezin' on the radio which was actually Steve Perry's second album with the band.  I remember saying to my buddy, "I thought their singer was a girl."  My friend pointed out to me some TV shows (Saturday Night Live, Midnight Special) where Journey was playing.  I tuned in and immediately fell in love with the band and have been a fan ever since.  I remember trying to sing along with their material, and because it was so high, I needed to use falsetto (a high, breathy sound often used for effect by men, but rarely used for regular performance. Exceptions are Frankie Valli and the Bee Gees).  Because of singing in falsetto a lot, that part of my voice really strengthened and I ended up using it a great deal singing the high harmony parts in the bands I played in later in life.

 In high school, I continued to play drums in band, particularly enjoying marching band, where the drummers were often showcased.  I enjoyed both field and street marching, but felt that marching in parades was the most fun because of all the people.  It made you feel like a mini rock star for an hour!  In the tenth grade, a class called Jazz Band appeared on my radar.  The cool thing about Jazz Band was that the drummers played a DRUM SET!  Problem:  I did not own a drum set on which to practice.  I saved up and purchased my first set.  A used Sonar kit from Jim Ritenour, a guy who sold drums out of the screened in porch in his home in Allegan (Jim would later go on to found RIT Music with several stores in the West MI area.  There is still one in Holland).  I went on to play drum set in Jazz Band in both the eleventh and twelfth grades.  Jazz Band was easily my favorite class as a Junior in high school, but it would ultimately become tied for that rank my senior year.  In the fall of my eleventh grade year, our band director, Mr. Ritsema, picked out a song for Jazz Band that had a vocal (here comes another one of those pivotal moments in my life).  The song was Flashdance/What a Feeling from the movie Flashdance.  After giving us the music, he looked right at me and asked, "Cos, do you want to try the vocal solo?"  He had my mother as a student and knew she was a great singer who sang Climb Ev'ry Mountain (from The Sound of Music) at her high school graduation.  In hindsight, I can't believe I didn't respond with, "well, I don't want to go FIRST!"  But, I didn't.  I got up, grabbed the microphone and sang.  Scared to death!  The class was made up of mostly seniors, which made it even more scary, given that I was a junior.  Surprisingly, more than half the class ended up auditioning that morning, but I was ultimately awarded the solo.  I will never forget the first public performance of that piece.  It was in the cafeteria of the middle school where I currently teach.  The middle school that I attended a couple years prior.  The engagement was during lunch and was a Jazz Band tradition.  I remember most of the instrumental songs going well.  Some of the middle school audience seemed attentive but, as is typical with middle schoolers, there was not a great deal of focus on the performance.  That is, until we did the song with a vocal.  Apparently, I sang pretty well because I will never forget the applause afterwards.  Specifically, the screams from the girls.  That was a turning point for me, and a huge confidence boost (and another one of those pivotal moments).  Later that school year, I pointed out to Mr. Ritsema that the Sergio Mendez song, Never Gonna Let You Go, that we were already performing as an instrumental, would also work well with a vocal.  He allowed me to give it a try and I ended up performing it as a vocal duet with a female member of the band.  If you remember that song, the final chorus goes way up.  This gave me a chance to use that falsetto that Steve Perry helped me start building about four years prior.  We were rehearsing on stage for a concert later that evening, when Mr. Ritsema said, "wait a minute you guys," and left the room.  He returned with Mr. DeBoer, the choir director, sat him down and said, "listen to this!"  We performed the song again and at the conclusion of class, Mr. DeBoer called me over.  We chatted a bit and he walked me into the choir room, sat down at the piano, played, and had me sing some scales followed by My Country Tis of Thee.  He then said, "Well, the audition results for Madrigals (the top vocal group in the school) will be on my door in the morning.  You might want to come take a look."  I walked out completely bewildered and said to myself, "I think I just auditioned for Madrigals." (That was another REALLY pivotal moment)

As fate would have it, I was on the list for the 1984-85 roster for the Zeeland High Madrigal Singers (another one of those life changing moments)!  I had NO idea what to expect, having never sang in a choir and I have to admit, it was challenging at first.  I hadn't really played a pitched instrument since piano lessons (the girls always played the mallet parts in percussion), so learning to read vocal music was tricky at first, but I eventually got better.  I had a great time in "Mads" my senior year and earned several solos throughout the year.  Looking back, I wonder if I offended some of the long-time choir students.  I wonder if they thought, "Who is this new guy coming in and getting all the solos?"  Today, I am very thankful that they accepted me as one of their own and extremely thankful to Mr. James DeBoer for taking the initiative in my audition process.

Near the end of the first semester of my senior year, I was really not getting much from the computer class in which I was enrolled.  The bulk of the class was BASIC programming.  Very tedious and not for me.  I must have whined about my situation to Mr. Ritsema because he suggested I become a practicum (teacher's assistant) for Freshman Band, second semester, which I did by dropping Computers.  That raised my schedule to FOUR music classes!  I had to promise my guidance counselor that I was planning to major in music in college, in order for him to allow the addition of a fourth music class.

The musical highlight of my senior year occurred at the Tulip Time Salute.  The Salute was an event held at the Holland Civic Center (a 2500 seat venue) during Tulip Time.  A professional sound and lighting company was brought in to make it look, and feel, very professional.  The performers were all the local high schools' top groups.  That year, I had a drum solo with Jazz Band, a vocal solo with Madrigals on the song God Bless the U.S.A. (the first time it was a hit), a solo with the mass/combined choir, and my barbershop quartet brought the house down with Goodbye My Coney Island Baby (I had the high, falsetto note in the end!).  At the conclusion of my senior year, I was voted Most Talented, in the senior elections.

As a middle school music teacher today, I feel compelled to add the following as I have had several students, over the years, who struggle with the issue of "sports vs. music."
During ALL OF THE ABOVE (until very late in my high school career) my dream was to be a professional athlete.  Such a common dream for youngsters (boys especially, it seems).  It wasn't until near the end of my high school years that I realized music could, and would, take me MUCH further than sports could.


Wednesday, March 27, 2013



Why is it that some people seem to have too much of it, while others don't seem to have enough?

I'm sure we've all had run-ins with someone that ended badly, simply because of pride and principle.  That's not always a bad thing, but sometimes it can be.

I also see people who don't seem to really have any pride.  They don't seem to take pride in anything they do or create.  Why is that? 

Well, for an adolescent (remember, I've been teaching middle school for seventeen years), it can be difficult.  It is much easier for a middle school kid to take no stance, than to take a stand.  For, or against, anything.  just ride the fence.

I see it with their artwork.  We have students who create beautiful artwork, yet seem to be embarrassed to take it home on the bus.  Why on earth is that??  They should be proud of their work.  Especially, if that work has won some sort of an award. 

I remember once, after an awards assembly, finding one student's award for poetry crinkled up in the trash can.  What's up with that? 

It's because of what they think is cool, or not cool. 

What I don't see are sports trophies in the trash.  It's cool to be good at sports.  Most of the athletes are quite popular and beam with pride and self-confidence.  Shouldn't the kid with the starring role in the school play behave in a similar manner?  I sure think so.  But they don't.  Singing and acting, although loved by everyone as a SPECTATOR, simply doesn't receive as much respect, it seems.  At least in my small community, they don't.  Especially for the boys.  I constantly have to remind our male musicians to take pride in what they do.  Because they are GOOD!  They SHOULD be prideful.

Like with many things in life, there is a balance.  A delicate balance between not enough, and too much pride. 

Saturday, March 23, 2013


The older I get, the more lists I have.  No, these are not the normal type of lists that remind one of things needed to be purchased or accomplished.  Rather, these are lists of things you "cannot tell people."

Not things that are inappropriate to say, but rather things that people won't fully understand at the time.

For example...

I have a list of things you cannot tell a 12 year old.  Cannot, that is,  because a 12 year old does not possess the wisdom and experience to understand the point you might be trying to get across.  I also have a piece of advice.  Do NOT tell them that they do not understand and will not until they are older and more wise.  Trust  me, this won't help the situation.

I also have a list of things you cannot tell an 18 year old.

A 25 year old.

A 30 year old.

Wisdom is something that combines knowledge, experience and maturity.   Until one gains a certain about of it, one just simply will not understand.

Mike Izzo said something similar today, at the conclusion of the MSU/VCU basketball game.  He said that until his team believes that they possess the talent and skill to go all the way, they will not.  He also said that he cannot be the one to tell them, because they won't believe him.  He then made the analogy of a 12 year old looking at you like you're crazy after telling them something.  He said, "you know, they look at you like you're the dumbest person in the world."

Have faith.  Someday, they will get it.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Time Flies

The understatement of a LIFETIME!!

Time flies.  

I remember my father's mother (may she rest in peace) telling me, 20 years ago, "Jeff, every year seems to go by a little bit faster than the one before it."  Grandma Cos was a very wise lady, for sure.  She is still dearly missed today!

Recently, I heard a few advertisements on TV that made me sit up and question, "Oh my God, where has the time gone?"  These advertisements were for shows that started near, or shortly after, the beginning of the "Reality TV" era.

One was an ad for the talk show The View.  Now, to me, The View is a "new talk show."  It's obviously something that started long after Oprah started, as well as all the ones we remember from childhood (Mike Douglas, Phil Donahue, Merv Griffin, and later, Jerry Springer, Montel Williams, etc. etc.).  What boggled my mind was that the advertisement for The View stated it was their SIXTEENTH YEAR!  WHAAAT?  How can that be?  Like I said, I consider this to be a "new daytime talk show."  Now, I suppose Ellen would be a bit newer, but come on!  Holy cow, I just checked.  Ellen has had a talk show for TEN years.  Where has the time gone?

Another one was Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?  In learning that they have recently announced a new host in Cedric the Entertainer, I also learned that show first aired in 1999.  Fourteen years???  Really??

Then, the kicker.  The straw that broke the proverbial "you've got to be kidding me" back.
Dancing With the Stars is starting its TWELFTH SEASON!  Come on now, NO WAY, I thought.  Then a colleague pointed out that they basically do two seasons per year, so it's not exactly twelve years old.  That made me feel better.

But, I'll tell ya what, kids...
If you lead a busy lifestyle...  If you have kids that you have to transport to many and varied activities... PLUS, If you have hobbies yourself like bowling, golf, softball, fishing, hunting or crafting... the "middle years" of your life will simply FLY BY!

One day, you will be thirty (or younger), with two (or more) kids in daycare (which involves a ton of work and money, even though they are in daycare!).  And suddenly you will wake up and be in your mid to late forties and your youngest will be a teenager!  It's then when you'll ask, "where did the time go?"

It's crazy, this thing we call life on Earth.  Enjoy it while you can, kids, because it's wonderful, awesome and sacred.

I am secretly hoping my grandmother was wrong in her statement that each year goes a little faster.  I'm hoping things will slow down a bit as I get older, especially in retirement.  In reality, I'm betting Grandma was right.

So, as the kids say, "live while we're young!"

Monday, March 11, 2013

Classic Rock (with a dash of Heavy Metal)

What makes rock classic?  Why is rock from a certain era considered classic?

I tell you my opinion...
Because it's good.

Folks, there is a reason why the majority of music radio stations feature some sort of a "Classic Rock" format (this statement is purely based in opinion and not research - to me, it seems like they are the majority).  It's just simply GOOD MUSIC that stands the test of time.

When I listen to one of the four West Michigan Classic Rock stations I have programmed in my car stereo, I hear approximately one 1990s song for about every 50-100 1980s song.  Even songs from the 1970s, get more airplay.  Is it simply because they are older, and therefore, "more classic?"  No.  They are just better music.

The 1970s really saw the music industry take shape, in my opinion, thanks to a concept known as Artist Development.  Most bands in the seventies went through a lengthy period of "paying their dues," by playing clubs and simply working on songwriting, before every being allowed to go into the studio to work on a full length album.  Listen to almost any band from the seventies and you'll hear well executed music from talented and SCHOOLED musicians.  Oh, and no Auto-Tune.

By the time the eighties came around the record labels had the classic rock sound down to a science.  Back then it was called many things.  Formulaic.  Corporate Rock.  Faceless.  In other words, generally it was not critically acclaimed.  However, bands like Jouney, Kansas, Styx, Boston, Foriegner and REO Speedwagon sold out 20,000 seat arenas night after night, all across the country, and around the world.  Little did they know, they were creating a genre of music that would go on to stand the test of time far longer than the majority of other styles of Contemporary Commercial Music.

A couple years ago, on a 14 hour drive, my family and I heard Journey's Don't Stop Believin' nearly once an hour by bouncing from station to station as we rolled through different broadcast markets.  Later that year, it was announced that the song was the most downloaded song in the history of music downloads.  I thought it was so cool that a song that was on the radio when I was in the 8th grade was actually MORE POPULAR two years ago, when my daughter Kacee was in the 8th grade, than it was when it was originally released.  The song peaked at only #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1981.  I'd say, it's definitely been a "bigger hit," in the past five years than any #9 single.

In the latter half of the 1980s, things got a bit out of control, unfortunately. The sub-genre of rock known as Heavy Metal became very popular, thanks to many videos receiving heavy rotation on MTV.
As a result, Heavy Metal became a few things it wasn't prepared to become:
1. Extremely popular worldwide
2. Overexposed
3. WAY too overdone and over the top

As a result of #1, businessmen rushed in to make a quick buck by signing hundreds of bands that fit the mold.  "If you had a drummer with two bass drums and a singer that sang high, you got a record contract."
                 -Frankie Banali (drummer for Quiet Riot)

The above caused #2 to happen, while we were all enjoying the party.

#3 happened because, as a result of #2, bands felt the need to outdo each other in aspects such as... um...
HAIR, for one.  Lights.  Amplifiers.  Stage shows.  Pyrotechnics.  Budgets for videos, etc. And more Hair.

All of this lead to the crash and burn that the harder edged rock from the late 80s suffered as a result of bands like Guns and Roses, Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains.  Gone, was the big hair.  Gone, was the makeup.  Gone, were the Marshall stacks and banks upon banks of pretty chrome stage lights.  BOO!

And, those bands completely disappeared for about fifteen years.  They were laughed at.  Considered a joke of the music world.  Meanwhile, guys who played de-tuned guitars where you could play an entire chord by holding down ONE FINGER across four strings, were dominating the airwaves and selling out those same 20,000 seat arenas.  The musicians of the world were aghast!  How could this be?  They didn't even sing high (or well, for that matter).  They had no harmony vocals.  Their guitarists didn't even play solos!!!  This was the rock that was popular???  It just didn't seem plausible.

Today, and for about the last eight years (thankfully), many of the 1980s bands, as well as some from the 1970s have reunited and are enjoying success as the quality live acts that they were, and still are today.  Some are even playing those same 20,000 seat arenas again!

As an aging rocker myself, every time I hear a concert advertisement on the radio for Def Leppard, Journey, Styx, Loverboy, Motley Crue, Pat Benatar or REO Speedwagon, I can't help but feel good for them.  I also feel vindicated in a way, as you may have guessed.  This was a style of music that I fell in love with in the late 1970s when I discovered Journey when I was in the sixth grade.  It makes me feel good to know that "my music" is a style that has stood the test of time.  I would also like to call out Mr. Aris Hampers on this one.  In 1995 Paris Blue participated in the Hometown Rock Search at the Orbit Room (then, Club Eastbrook) in Grand Rapids.  We made an eleventh hour decision and decided to play our 12 minute Journey medley instead of a couple originals because we felt it showed our strengths:  Our musicianship and our three-part harmony vocals.  Well, that decision didn't fare well with the judges (especially in the category of originality).  In a discussion with Aris (the local legendary DJ who hosted the event) after the show I asked him if he thought "my music" would ever come back into style.  He said he didn't think it would.  Well, I believe he was wrong with that prediction.  Classic Rock is alive and well today.

Now... If the fans would only "allow"' those bands to record new material...

Monday, March 4, 2013


Tonight at parent teacher conferences, I heard some things that surprised me.  The most surprising, and sad, story was of the girl who has been raised by her grandparents because her mother has a serious drug problem.  We were told that mom has had several overdoses and usually ends up in jail.  She now has brain damage and epilepsy, as a result of doing so many hard drugs.  Mom is currently in jail.

This 12 year old girl was also subjected to a nasty divorce/custody battle where dad took her away from grandpa and grandma for a year, without allowing them to see her.  Then, upon the finalization of the divorce, dad handed the girl over to grandma and grandpa and left the state.

This young lady is not blessed with a great deal of intelligence, but she is a sweetheart, is always cheery and is a joy to have in class.  I'm guessing that might be because school is where she is most happy.

Grandma then shared with us that the girl's birthday is soon approaching.  Her golden birthday, at that.  She said that the one thing her granddaughter wished for was a big family birthday party like the ones her friends talk about.  It broke grandma's heart to remind the young lady that she is an only child and that most of her extended family lives out of state.  At that point, I jumped in and asked, "when is her birthday?"  I assured grandma that we would have a party for her at school.  Plans are already in the works.  I spoke with our counselor later about it.  These things can be delicate though with middle school aged kids.  They LOVE attention, but not TOO MUCH attention.  I'm sure it will be great.

The final heartbreak moment of this conference was when grandma confessed that she had dropped out of school in the tenth grade, and that she prays that her granddaughter didn't "inherit this from her," as the young girl is currently struggling in many of her classes.  Before she shared this with us, she paused.  I could tell she was feeling uncomfortable.  After sharing of her dropping out, she confessed, "that was really difficult for me to say."  We comforted her and thanked her for sharing.

There are millions of kids like this in this country.  And millions upon millions more outside this country.  Many of them living in situations far worse than this young lady who has a nice home with her grandparents.  I just read a statistic that said 50% of the world's population is under the age of 30.  Let's help these young people.  Volunteer.  Get involved at church, a youth center, anywhere you can.  Time is quite possibly the most valuable thing you can invest in young people.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The American business model

I am not a businessman.  I know next to nothing about the business world.  But I know one thing.  According to the American business model, a business is considered "successful" if they make more money this quarter than they did last year, this same quarter.  PERIOD.  This is not the case in all other cultures.  If you don't believe me, do the research

Well over a decade ago, upon discovering this piece of "business knowledge," I immediately wondered, "how much is too much," and "how far will this go?"  

Well... It appears as though that for some companies, there is absolutely no limit.  In fact, some corporations appear to be demonstrating that the desire for profit greatly outweighs the desire to "do good."  When I say, "do good," I mean many different things.  Doing good can be something like NOT selling out to the big corporations, because you know they would eliminate your current employees.  

On a grander scale, there are huge corporations in the food industry who have made decisions that, according to some, are the equivalent to "genetic roulette."  I'm referring to GMO foods.  Genetically Modified Organisms, again, according to some, can cause serious health issues.  Probably the most likely being food allergies.  It's no great secret that there has been a drastic increase in food allergies in the recent past.  Does anyone in their 40s remember a classmate with a "deadly peanut allergy?"  

Research is starting to indicate that the body doesn't recognize GMO foods as food.  Because it is comprised of a different DNA strand than "normal food," the body, instead, rejects it.  In many cases, it responds to these foods as allergens.  Many say that this is part of the reason why there are so many more food allergies today.  

My wife, several years ago already, once did a research report for a college class involving Wal-Mart and Toro.  The short version is that Wal-Mart informed Toro that "we will sell your snowblowers at THIS price."  Toro's response was that this selling price was lower than their production costs and, as a result, this "American Made company" was forced to have the "Wal-Mart version" of their products manufactured overseas.  

So, if you are a business owner, will you have the business ethics (I believe that is a college class ALL business majors are required to take) to do what's best for the greater good of humanity?  Of your employees' families?  Or, will it come down to the one thing that seems to drive most corporations...

Monday, February 18, 2013

Choral Festival with Defense

As a follow up to my post pertaining to concentration and focus, I would like to share a story from early in my teaching career.

It was about the year 2000, if memory serves (yeah, right).  I was in my 3rd or 4th year of teaching and Choral Festival was to be held at the West Ottawa HS Performing Arts Center, a short 8 mile bus ride from our school.  I was particularly proud of how my 8th grade choir was sounding that year and really looked forward to our experience and was somewhat confident that we would receive a First Division (I) rating, if we had a good performance.

Choral Festival is an adjudicated event and in Michigan, choirs perform two contrasting pieces from a required list, and also sight read a selection of music.  The judges scores are combined into an overall rating of I, II, III or IV (representing Excellent, Good, Fair and Poor, respectively).  Although some folks may view events like this as a form of "competition," there isn't a "defense."  In other words, there isn't supposed to be another choir trying to "block" you from scoring your best.

I will never forget what happened shortly after our performance began, and continued throughout.  As, I looked to certain sections of the choir to give cues, I immediately noticed many of the kids were not watching me, but rather, their eyes were going past me, into the audience.  EVEN GOOD KIDS!!  I couldn't believe this was happening, as we had worked so hard for the past nine weeks and we had talked about focus, concentration and eyes on the director!  A LOT!

Between our two numbers, I walked closer to the group than a director normally would and emphatically expressed to them that they needed to keep their eyes on me.  "But Mr. Costello, one of them mustered up the courage to say, they are staring at us and talking about us!"

Many directors require their students to sit in the auditorium and observe a few performances by other groups at events such as this.

At this point, I turned around to see a choir of about 50 kids, sitting in the first four or five rows of the auditorium.  Because the judges sit in the house and need to see to write, the house lights are rarely brought down at these events.  Therefore, the performers can easily see the audience, especially the faces of those in the first few rows of seats.  Well... what do most middle school kids do while watching other middle school kids from different schools?  Why, they point at them and whisper to each other, of course!!  They size them up.  They comment on their uniforms, their hair, their makeup, etc. etc. etc.  Some of them may even comment on their sound, but I doubt that's very many.

The actions of the kids in the first few rows had a profound impact on the concentration and focus of the choir performing on stage.  Because middle school aged kids are, by nature, incredibly self-conscious, they all automatically assumed the other kids were "talking trash."  One can hardly blame the kids for being distracted, but this is one of the many things we talk about in class when discussing FOCUS.

Needless to say, we ended up with an overall Second Division (II) rating that day and we chalked it up as a learning experience.  I mentioned the issue to a few other directors, including the ones running the event, but I'm not sure there was ever a rule instituted stating that choir members shouldn't sit in the first few rows, as that turns it into...

Choral Festival with Defense!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Concentration and Focus

OK, would you like to really know what I teach?

I teach concentration.  And, Focus.

That's really about it.  It doesn't take a ton of God given talent to sing your part accurately in a choir (although, it certainly helps to have a few kids who are blessed).  What it does take is concentration.  Concentration is not something that comes easy to a great majority of adolescents.  For those who don't know, I teach middle school choir in a small, Midwestern town in Michigan.  Once the music is learned, I feel the most important ingredient to a successful performance is concentration.  Concentration by every individual in the group.

A typical piece of choir music is less than three minutes in length.  Countless times I ask my students, "can you concentrate 100% of the time for the next 2:30?  If we can ALL do that, we will sound great!"  As adults, you'd be amazed how difficult a task this is for MANY middle school aged kids.  Their brains are VERY active.  Often TOO active.  They are constantly bombarded by media.  It is our job, as adults in their lives, too channel that activity.  Sometimes, to even reduce that activity to a point where they can concentrate on only a few key things.

Recently, I typed out a few thoughts and put it up on the big screen in my classroom and showed it to all my choirs.  I told them that if I had a blog (and that I probably should), this is the type thing I would put on it.  It was titled, Without Distraction.  It came to me in D.E.A.R. class.  At both middle schools in town, we have a 20 minute Drop Everything And Read period in our day (reading scores have improved, too!).  I was reading a book about the science of functional singing training called Voice:  Psyche and Soma by Cornelius L. Reid and I was completely drawn in, at the moment, to what the author was discussing (I know.  Very "voice geek" of me).  Then, it happened.  I was distracted by a student who wasn't doing what he/she was supposed to be doing.  I felt as though I'd been robbed.  "The moment" was suddenly ended, and not by my choice.  I didn't do much more than send a firm, nonverbal gesture to the student, but immediately after that, began typing Without Distraction.  I don't have a copy of it in front of me, but this was the gist...

Without Distraction

When you're in the middle of reading a GREAT book and you are completely drawn into the story.  You are suddenly transported to another time and place and it's awesome!  Then, someone sneezes and instantly you are brought back to reality.

When you're in the middle of a trance-like daydream.  Complete euphoria.  Then, someone taps you on the shoulder and instantly the feeling is gone.

You're watching a movie in a theater and, like the book reading experience, you are completely drawn into the story and are transported to another time and place.  You forget where you are for awhile.  Then the person behind you bumps your seat and you are immediately brought back to the present.

Concentration isn't easy.  Especially, the 100% kind.  Focus!

I have a BLOG!!!

OK, so I have a blog.

Welcome to anyone interested in reading.

It seems the older I get, the more opinions I seem to have.  So, I figured I should start a blog.  I've actually thought about it for quite some time, but now it's a reality.

This blog's content will run the gamut from topics of education to politics to issues in music and singing.  Of those four topics, three of them I feel that I can safely claim to be an expert on.  However, I'm actually quite new to having an opinion on politics, so you all are encouraged to help me grow in that area.

Speaking of politics, as of starting this blog, I will make it a goal to have my Facebook presence contain LESS political information and stances.  However, that becomes challenging for me, at times, due to the current Education bashing that permeates our society and our elected officials.

This blog will also free me up, so to speak, to address a wider variety issues than I would feel comfortable addressing in a public forum such as Facebook, due to my career in public education.  This blog, being an "audience by choice" environment, will undoubtedly "loosen me up" a bit.  Therefore, the opinions just may be a bit stronger and more "colorful" than they would be on Facebook.  It is not my intention to lace my posts with profanity, as I also place a high priority on not offending people (folks close to me have always known that).  But, forgive me if I feel the need to use the occasional accent.

I will also occasionally blog on my own personal issues, mainly those regarding the struggles I've had with my singing voice, over the past 6 years.  As many, but not all, know, I have struggled with a condition known as Muscle Tension Dysphonia.  I could type for a year on what it is, what it does, how it feels and how it sucks.  For now, I'll describe it with a simple analogy:  It's like stepping on the gas and the brake at the same time.
Stay tuned.