London Part III

A fine  day in London with as little planning as possible.

12-11-09 11:00 PM


When I was first planning this day I was thinking to take it in two pieces. Go out in the morning and look around (which I did), come back to the residence around lunch and maybe use the wifi at Prett Manger (sp) to catch up on some things (which didn’t happen), and then go explore more in the afternoon and evening (which I did). I never made it back to the residence mid-day. I left the residence and stayed out until after I came home from seeing Les Mis.

I don’t want to make an overly detailed description of this day. It was a wonderful day, but might have been more wonderful with my wife and some more family and friends along.

In the morning I took the tube down to Trafalgar Square. I had seen this on Thursday evening, but wanted to look it over in the day time. All the environmental protesters were still camped out. The National Gallery opens onto Trafalgar Square and I made a much-too-hasty visit.  It was Art made by Artists you studied in Art Appreciation. (Caps intentional.) I would think you could spend several days there if you had the time and interest. Then I walked down towards Parliament. I passed 10 Downing St. and saw the Queens Life Guard. (Here is someone else’s’ video: I didn’t actually see the guard changing.) I got a picture of myself with one of the guards on horseback.  The guard was on horseback, not me.
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I took a picture of the Clock Tower of the Palace of Westminster (Big Ben is actually the name of the bell) and then I walked to Westminster Abbey. Since I was limited on time, I decided that Westminster Abbey would be the one place I would take my time and really try to see. There is a recorded tour that is free with admission narrated by Jeremy Irons. Probably the high spot for me was to see Handel’s memorial… He is buried there along with other composers and authors and, of course, British Monarchs. When I walked out the door after the tour I snapped a picture of Methodist Central Hall, although I did not get any closer than that.  I have heard the Sunday morning music is excellent.
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From there I walked over to the Thames and walked back in the direction of Trafalgar square (as far as I could tell) both enjoying the view of the sights along the river and looking for a place to have lunch and visit the lavatory. I snapped a picture of the London Eye. I ended up eating at Garfunkel’s.
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After lunch I proceeded to Leicester Square (short tube ride) and, after some consideration, bought a ticket at the discount booth for Les Mis later that evening.

For the next bit I hiked around that part of London. I found the Queen’s Theater, where Les Mis was playing, and I headed towards St. Paul’s Church Covent Garden (WC2E 9ED ) to meet Paul Ayers, the conductor of the City Chorus, for dinner. St Paul’s Covent Garden is known as the “actors church”. Paul Ayres was playing harpsichord for a performance there. He had to leave the City Chorus concert early and I had gotten there late, so we never had a chance to visit. We decided I would catch the end of his rehearsal and then we could find some place to eat.

I had quite an adventure finding this church since I managed to walk past it twice. I could not print anything on the computer at the residence so I had a hand drawn map that turned out to be correct. But the entrance to the church, which was a large structure on the satellite map online, was actually a smallish gate out on the street. I got frustrated and stopped a cab, figuring I would just pay him to take me there. He smiled and told me it was right up the street. So I figured I must have missed the entrance. I am not a very visual person, and it is entirely possible for me to miss something much more obvious than the church entrance. In the meantime I had an extensive (though rather unplanned) walking tour of the Covent Garden area and the West End.. I passed a number of bookstores on Charing Cross Road, took a stroll through China Town, passed a number of theaters, and just enjoyed the ambiance. I don’t know how anyone else reacts to London, but I felt like I might run into the ghost of Charles Dickens at any time. It all looks so… so British everywhere.

When I (finally) arrived at the church I listened to the final part of a rehearsal for the Christmas portion of Handel’s Messiah. It reminded me of home.  I thought it was odd the trumpets were out of tune until I saw they were for real baroque trumpets. There were some ensemble problems that were dealt with (just like home).  I found out afterwards that their rehearsal space was acoustically dead and putting the entire group together in a worship space with typical hard surfaces was challenging. (This happens at home too.)   I managed to take a picture inside before an official looking man asked me to stop.

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After the concert he asked if I would like to eat with some of the singers. I was more than happy to do this. One of the singers had a number of tokens for a personal pizza for five pounds at Pizza Express. I had passed a couple of these during my wanderings. I said I was good with it. We hiked to three different Pizza Express stores only to find them all packed full . Perhaps everyone in London had a token for a pizza for five pounds… Paul and I talked during this entire time about all manner of things musical and not. While we were checking on the last Pizza Express, we were crowded into the door by a large group of people dressed as Santa (Mr. and Mrs.) who were making merry, to say the least. More about this later.

We had just passed a Thai restaurant that appeared to be deserted. So we had a committee meeting with the group and decided to eat Thai food. It was a little disconcerting to enter an empty restaurant. The little voice in the back of one’s head keeps suggesting that there must be a reason, and not a good one, for the place to be deserted. As sometimes happens, the little voice was completely wrong about this. The food was excellent and we had a great meal and excellent conversation. I have not been able to figure out where this was, in spite of some creative Internet searching. I was glad to get to know Paul a little bit, since his decision to program my piece had led to this adventure. I also enjoyed getting to know the singers. One of them has a music publishing business that involves making modern performance editions of early music. I got his card.

One of the women, a soprano, was recounting her experiences as part of a group of younger singers that were joining forces with an older, perhaps established, group for a performance. Some of the more senior singers were making a lot of noise about the younger singers necklines and hemlines and dangly earrings. I told her about the alto that was in our church choir when I first joined who was very possessive of her seat. When the new choir director came in (before my time in the church) he swapped sides with the sopranos and altos. Rather than move to the other side, my friend decided she would just sing alto and keep the same seat. The singer said, “Do you mean she actually refused to move to the other side of the choir loft and instead switched parts?” She was a very sweet lady and friendly as can be, but, yes, that is exactly what she did. It looks like these sorts of problems can happen anywhere.

After dinner, Paul took me to a corner on Charing Cross Road so he could point me in the direction of the Queen’s Theater. I probably could have found it by this time, but I didn’t want to be late for Les Mis. We had our picture made by a double-decker London bus and parted ways.

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I have never been to a musical of any sort by myself before, and this made for a different experience. I really enjoyed Les Mis. It is a great show, in my humble opinion. I thought the cast was a little slow warming up to things in the beginning, but the energy level kept unfolding in a marvelous way. As in all Cameron McIntosh shows, the pacing is excellent. The cast was wonderful top to bottom, as one would expect. Anyone has seen this show is going to remember the moving set piece(s). The story, as in the original prose, has a lot to say about redemption, love, giving of one’s self, and persistence in well-doing. As in all great works of art, it left me a lot to think about This and several other things that happened before, during, and after this trip have left me with the idea that I am going to have to write some things down about my current life philosophies and theologies at the end of this journal. Life is so full of miracles that we tend to accept them as a part of every-day life and don’t even notice them. That is all I will say for now.*

For some unknown reason, I turned to the right when I left the theater and walked to the corner. Looking down the street I saw a holiday lighting display over the street. I knew that this would lead me to the advertisements for A Christmas Carol that were suspended over the street at Oxford Circus. I knew it would be quite a hike at the end of a long day of hiking, but I decided to make it my last experience as a tourist in London. It was just the best end of a long day. I saw more lights, more people, more London architecture, and altogether had a very satisfying walk. I was grateful at this point for all the time I have spent in the past year trudging on a treadmill at the fitness club. My body just kept finding more cardio-vascular capacity. According to the map, it looks like it is almost 1.5 miles from St. Paul’s Church, Covent Garden to the residence at 9 Deans Mews if you actually take the shortest path.

Sister Eva heard me come in and came to my room to talk about getting a taxi in the morning. We talked about the timing of things and decided that I would need to bounce out of bed at around 5:45 AM to get to Heathrow the recommended time before the flight. I called for a taxi, using a number Eva gave me, to take me to Paddington Station to catch the Heathrow Express.No automatic alt text available.

This is Eva Heyman, my amazing host.  She is amazing.  It is worth googling her life story.


I have a lot of gathering and packing to do. I have an extra tuxedo with accessories to fit in the same two bags with the rest of the stuff I brought. Ah well…..

More soon.

*The Happy Rock Way blog is partly the result of this trip.  I began to see that I needed to write things down. I don’t journal all the time.  But I find myself referencing the same stories often when I talk to people and I thought it would be nice to have them available online for after the conversation was over.   I hope you enjoy reading.


A Trip to London -Part 2

The Saga of the Luggage


The Big Concert

December 11, 2009 12:00 Noon
It is the big day! The concert is tonight at St. Pancras Parish at 7:00 PM. My bag has still not arrived. I called the 800 number they gave me which turns out to be the Heathrow baggage counter. They said that the bag had indeed arrived on the previous night and was put on a truck at 8:00 AM and hmm I wonder why you haven’t gotten it yet…..

So Heathrow called the courier and then called me back to say that the truck had needed to deliver some urgent medical supplies first and they were now promising my bag by 3:30 PM.
December 11, 5:00 PM.
Just a quick note. My bag is still not here. The Heathrow people finally gave me the number of the courier to eliminate all the calling back and forth. My bag is supposed to be delivered by 5:30 PM but I am not optimistic. If it isn’t delivered by 5:30 PM I am going across Cavendish Square to John Lewis again and by something to wear to the concert. I was on the phone for a long time to United Airlines baggage in the USA and they said they would pay for clothes if I needed them and I really need something to wear. I think if I wait any longer it won’t be possible to get the clothes picked out and paid for and then put it all on and take a taxi to the concert.

Since the Sisters have been in-and-out during the day I have had to stay put so I can take possession of the bag if it arrives. Someone was here for awhile around noon so I did leave for about an hour. I found a nice Italian restaurant that appeared to be fun by actual Italians. I had Parmesan encrusted chicken with some kind of really delicious cheesy pasta. Other than that I have been checking email, reading my book, and just kind of hanging here waiting to hear the door bell ring.
December 12, 12:00 AM
(I confess that I this has been severely edited after the fact to make sense, maybe, of my ramblings)

I am back at the residence (I have never heard them call it a convent) after a great concert. The performance of “Close By Me Forever” went just great and I had a great time meeting the members of the choir, the musicians, and the conductor afterwards. More about this later…

I went to a pub after the concert with some of the choir members. Rahul, who is the treasurer who actually paid for my music, invited me to go with them. We left when the pub closed and here I am. It seems like pubs close early. (I know there is more to this..) {Edit: This dates back to WWII, I was told.}  It also seems like a lot of people visiting London are here for a good time and they start drinking around sundown. Since it gets dark by 4:15 PM, that makes for quite a party.

My bag was not at the residence by 5:30 PM, so I took off for the John Lewis store which was a short walk across Cavendish Square. I talked to the first guy I found in the men’s department and told him what I needed to do. We looked at a lot of dark suits but we couldn’t find an acceptable size in both coat and trousers for any of them. So we looked at tuxedos and found a coat/trouser combination that fit great. The pants were about 2” long… During all this the sales guy had to go to some place where things were stored to check sizes on things, so this took quite a little while. While he was off looking for things I picked out a tie and talked to another guy about a shirt and found socks. They went off to look for sizes of shirts for me too, and then after we had found everything else and the guy was looking at shirts I went to pick out shoes. We narrowed it down to two choices and then they had to get the right sizes of those as well!!! They just display one size. They go through this door and wait for the box to come up a little conveyor belt which seemed to take forever since I was in a hurry. After I tried on the tux jacket, the only things that didn’t have to come from some mysterious other room were the suspenders, bow tie, and socks. The shirt came with studs in, thank goodness.

At last I had tried everything on and it looked like I was getting close to having an ensemble for the evening. I came out of the fitting room with the trousers in my hand and got ready to pay. The one remaining hurdle was getting the pants pinned up in some fashion since they were too long. John Lewis doesn’t have an in-house tailor. By this time there were two more men helping me, one that appeared to be another sales person and another who was older, wore glasses, had less hair, and appeared to be something of a supervisor. I still needed to pay for everything and time was growing short. So the older man said I should take the tag from the pants along with all the other merchandise and get in line to pay. He kept the pants. This line was too long, but it moved quickly. Of course there was no tag on the tux jacket so I had to wait for a price check. (110 bps) Finally I paid for everything with plastic money and went back to the fitting room to retrieve the pants. Mr. Supervisor had found a woman who worked at the store who sewed. She had stitched up the pants well enough for me to wear them for the evening. The supervisor must have had an excellent eye for clothing, because he pinned them up and the woman put in a temporary hem and they fit just right when I put them on. In fact, they let me put the entire tux on in the fitting room. I thanked everybody and gathered up the clothes I had worn in, which I ended up taking to the concert. It was about 6:30 PM.

The supervisor man took me out to the curb and showed me the taxi stop. It took me a while to figure out that I wasn’t actually standing in the taxi line. In the UK, lining up is a high courtesy. So I had to get in the back of the line when I figured out where it was. Of course there was one taxi about every seven minutes or so. It was after 7:00 PM when I finally caught a cab to the 7:30 PM concert. The cabby spoke with a heavy cockney accent and it was really tough trying to communicate. I finally was pretty sure he knew how to find St. Pancras. The Friday evening London traffic was about what you would expect. I was wondering if they choir would be nice enough to repeat my piece after the concert was over if I missed it. I was sorely vexed at United Airlines and their baggage courier. If they had just told me that my bag would be late….. I could have bought a ticket on the Heathrow express and gotten my luggage much sooner. As it was my luggage got a tour of London and I spend a day in a wonderful city waiting on it. I was thinking how disappointed everyone who had helped make it possible for me to make the trip would be. We turned a corner and just stopped! It took us three lights to make a right turn, which is the British equivalent of a left turn. We weren’t there, but we were on Euston, which I knew was the right street. He let me out across the street from the church to save some time. I gave him a ten-pound note and told him to keep the change, picked up my new bag of old clothes, and booked it down to the light. It was about 7:35 PM. I figured that you never put a world premier piece at the very beginning of the concert, but who knew?

I went in through a door that was so large that I would not have guessed that it was a door except there was a wheelchair access ramp leading up to it. It was only about a 3” step. So I gave a push, it opened, and a hugely loud siren started outside which I was letting inside. So I kind of helped the door close and went over to the ticket table. I gave my name and the woman at the table fished out an envelope with my name on it. I took the ticket and went to the door. There was no singing happening so another woman, who was manning the door, let me in. She had an interesting Slavic accent that was a surprise after the plethora of British accents I had heard so far. She never took the ticket. I still have it for a souvenir. She asked if I was supposed to be singing since I was wearing a tux. I said no, that I was, in fact, Robert Reck. This elicited nothing but a quizzical response from her.

I found a set behind two of the Sisters, Pamela and Jean, who were at the concert to hear Eva and Lotte, the two Sisters who were in the choir. They looked happy and relieved to see me. I finally had a chance to look around and take things in. During the breaks in the songs I took some pictures of the crowd and the church in general. (Probably being an uncouth American, but ah, well, I had to have pictures.)

The concert was excellent. The choir did a great job and the rhythm section sounded like they had played over a hundred concerts with the Swingle Singers. (The bass player had, in fact done just that.) The trumpet player rocked as well. Paul Ayers’ arrangements of Handel were a lot of fun. At last it was time for my piece, and he took a little time to announce that it was a world premier and that Robert Reck,the composer, had come from Tulsa, Oklahoma to hear the performance. Sister Pamela kept pointing at me and trying to get me to stand up, but I finally managed to convince her that it was normal for this to happen afterwards. I did stand up after Paul turned around so that I could shoot the video that is posted on Facebook.

It was just the best. After all of the hassle and stress of the day, to finally be in the hall for the performance was a mixture of relief, joy, expectation, and anticipation. The bass notes, which lead the listener into the piece. started, the choir began to sing, and I finally was listening to the first performance of Close by me Forever. I had finished this piece in 2006 after writing the basics of the song over a year earlier, and I had traveled across the Atlantic Ocean, survived the whole luggage/tux buying adventure, agonized through a cab ride that seemed to last an eternity, and here it all was. The choir did a great job. You could tell they really liked singing the piece. I had written chord symbols into the parts for this performance since there were bona fide jazz musicians playing the parts, and the pianist put a really nice hype on the last chord. Very tasty.

After the sound died away the applause started. Paul got on the mike and asked me to come forward and “take a bow”. Wow. I was just expecting to stand, smile, and wave. I walked down the side aisle to the back of the church and walked up to Paul at the front. I gestured my appreciation to the musicians and to the choir and turned around. To my delight and surprise, the applause was still enthusiastically continuing. I was a stunned. Paul leaned toward my ear and said, “Take your bow….” (You have to imagine the British voice….”So I did.

Then I returned to my seat. I don’t know how to describe the feelings I had at the moment. I didn’t know whether to cry or shout “Hallelujah”. So I just sat there and enjoyed the rest of the concert.

At the end of the concert I was called back to the front for another bow. The rhythm section players and guest soloist and I all got a present, which turned out to be a bottle of French wine. (I immediately thought that it would have to go into checked baggage, for some reason.)

It was just the best talking to the choir and the rhythm section after the concert. Paul had told me that the piece was a favorite of the choir, and many of the choir members said that it was their favorite piece on the program. The mince pies were small but delicious. I had two since I had missed dinner during the tux ordeal. When I went to throw away the pie tin I learned that they don’t have trash in England, they have “rubbish”. The woman with the Slavic accent was all happy too. Paul had to leave early to put his son to bed and relieve the baby sitter. So we made a date for dinner following his rehearsal for Messiah on Saturday.

Then, Rahul, as I mentioned, invited me to go a pub and hang out with some of the singers. I had emailed with Rahul because he was the choir treasurer and he had paid me for the music. The pub was fun too. I sat next to a woman who was working on a PhD in papyrus restoration and talked to a tenor from New Zealand, among others.

Tomorrow I finally have a day to explore London. Kind of like “One short day in Emerald City” in Wicked.


I should add that the bass player was Alexander L’Estrange.   He is a first call bass player in London and a great arranger and composer as well.   He writes for everything from children’s choirs to the King’s Singers. You can do an internet search.

A Trip to London

I am keeping the original sections of my trip journal.  I hope you enjoy.

London Part I

I am going to post my journal notes a little at a time. I get kind of wordy. It was quite an adventure and I wanted to get it all down. If you really want to know about my trip, read on

Here is the first installment:

December 9, 7:15 PM As I write this I am headed for Chicago O’Hare International Airport from Tulsa. The flight from Tulsa was delayed and I was told I would miss my connecting flight. The guy at the gate was pretty busy since he had another flight leaving from the same gate. So I pulled a large number of papers out of my bag and found the one with the flight information and reservation number. I set the rest of the papers down because it looked like I was going to be there for awhile. I called the United Airlines 800 number and finally got through to an actual person who was as helpful as she could be given the circumstances. She said she could get me out on a flight the next day and that she had held the seats for me in case I needed them.

I then called the trip insurance people to find out if I was covered for any expenses if I got stuck in Chicago or if I needed to book on another airline. Turns out I do have some coverage if the flight is delayed more than six hours. The customer service agent I talked to transferred me over to a guy who was in “reservations” who could help if I could get out of Chicago on another airline. I was waiting for him to pick up when they announced that the ground delay on my original flight had been lifted and were leaving as soon as they could stuff us on the plane. I wasted a mere moment for the guy on the phone and decided I had better get moving. So I shut down my laptop (which had steadfastly refused to connect to the airport wifi network), shoved it in the bag, grabbed the laptop bag, carry-on bag, and the stack of papers, and headed toward the stairway out to the plane. There was another plane still at the scheduled gate so we all got to go down the stairs the old fashioned way. I spoke briefly with the gate agent and he said I should be able to make my connection now. (We will see about that…)

I went down the stairs. And pulled my boarding pass out of my pocket.. I still had all of my papers I pulled out of my bag to find the flight information in my hand. When I was trying to had my pass to the gate agent when my cell phone went off. It was the travel insurance people calling back to see why we had lost connections. Good for them! While I was answering the phone, I managed to drop all of the papers and the next guy in line helped me pick them up. I gave the guy my boarding pass and hustled out to the plane. After giving the baggage guys my “carry-on” bag (you carry it out to the alpine and they put it on) I fairly bounded up the stairs and into the plane. When I was trying to get down the aisle I managed to drop all the papers again. As soon as I was situated on the plane I called United’s 800 number again and I tried to make sure the person I talked to the last time had not given my seat away on the flight from Chicago to London. He said he couldn’t help me since I had called the “wrong number” and I said that it was the same number that had worked the last time. And he hung up on me, as nearly as I can tell. I tried to navigate the voice mail and get back to an agent but I got the “turn-off-your-phones-and-other-electronic-devices” announcement before I could get in touch with an actual person.

The aggravating thing was that I didn’t have time to get my book out of my “carry-on” bag before I gave it to the baggage guys, so I am typing this instead of reading.

So now I am ensconced in seat 5B of this little commuter jet. We well see how the adventure unfolds.

(Note:  The members of the choir were asked if they could provide lodging for the guest composer.  And several volunteered.)

December 10 8:26 PM London time and 2:26 Tulsa Time
I have just finished having dinner with the three sisters who are at the residence this evening, Eva, who sings in the city chorus and is my contact, Pamela, and Jean. Jean cooked dinner this evening and the main course was chicken tarragon. (Yum). I have been shown about the place and I think it will be good for the next few days.

After last nights entry the plane pulled up to the gate at Chicago O’Hare about ½ hour later than the gate agent had said when we left. It was an amazingly smooth landing after the bumpy flight. When we got close to the terminal you could see the snow blowing across the tarmac and hiding it from view. As we got close to the terminal you could see large pulsating robot-looking sprayers de-icing the planes that were preparing for take-off. A very bizarre sight, to be sure. It looked like a movie scene. I think there was lots of air traffic flying in circles over the lake that all arrived at the same time. I got off the plane and checked to see if my connecting flight had departed. It had not.

Originally the flight from Tulsa was to land in Concourse C, which was the same as the departing flight. Perhaps because of the weather, my flight landed at Concourse B and I had a to go fast. All of the time on the treadmill at the health club seemed to pay off. I kept a brisk pace, even on the people movers. I did rest on the escalators which was just enough recovery time. When I got to gate C15, the plane was still there and the walk-way had not been pulled away. The were trying to radio whoever was supposed to move the walk-way back. It took some serious pleading, but the gate attendant finally called to see if they would open the door of the plane and let me in, since the walkway wasn’t going to move back any time soon. The did!!!! So I hurried on to the plane and found my seat which had not been taken by anyone, thank the Lord.

The flight was long and uneventful. I did manage to get my large carry-on taken away since there was no storage room in the back of the plane. I was glad it was on the plane but, again, I didn’t get my book out to read. Ah well.

At Heathrow, I was in the show-us-your-documents line behind a blues singer and her guitar player from Birmingham AL. Didn’t get her name. We had a nice chat since it turns out we were all Eric Clapton fans. When I went to pick up my checked bag it never came around the carousel. As luck would have it, the computer automatically rescheduled my flight when I was so late getting into my Chicago. My luggage, not realizing this, waited for the next flight out. They are supposed to deliver it to me tomorrow AM.

I took the Heathrow Express to Paddington station and a cab the rest of the way to the Society of the Holy Child Jesus community off Cavendish Square. Eva had said that it is “tucked away” and it surely is. Deans Mews is not much more than an alley. Made me think of Diagon Alley. Sister Eva Heymann took me to my room and took me to lunch at a cafe in a building on the alley. I had a nice visit with her. She is a very interesting person. You can google her name if you want to find out more about her. She showed me a store where I bought a shirt and a pair of khaki’s to wear until my luggage comes. I finally got to take a shower and a nap before dinner.

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Deans Mews

In a bit I am going to go see the Christmas Tree at Trafalgar Square and perhaps find a wifi cafe. I can use Eva’s computer to email but I hate to be on it for any time. I am feeling much better after a shower, a nap, dinner, and evening prayers with the sisters.

The accommodations are interesting. Sort of a cross between church camp, band camp, and a decent hotel. The food was much better than any of those places.
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The residence of the Sisters of the Christ Child Jesus

More to come!

Knowledge Should Serve People

This piece was written in response to a post on the ChoirThoughts blog, also on Word Press.  You may want to read that post in order to get some context for this one.
This post does not fit well on either of my two blogs, so I will probably post it on both of them.

Here is the post referenced:
Choral Elitism – It’s Real

I think “Elitism” is not the best term..  Humans tend to organize themselves in hierarchical systems.    Every level of the hierarchy is important.  People at the top naturally tend to think they are the essential ones….


It seems like many years ago that I had an exchange with Tom Carter as a result of an online discussion. Mr. Carter wrote a book called Choral Charisma that I recommend highly to choral directors. (I checked saved email – it was 2006.) As an instrumental music/orchestra teacher I found that not everything applied 100% to what I did. As is mentioned in the article, a singer’s instrument is their entire body.. Singers react much differently to certain kinds of criticism because of this. They still respond to correction, but it requires some consideration. Carter points out how emotionally dangerous the music rehearsal can be to students. This is especially true in choral rehearsals, but it is true any time we are performing. It is up to directors/conductors to mitigate the emotional danger rather than contribute to it. I found the book to be enlightening.

I also read another online comment that I took to heart. I can’t remember who made it. The writer said, “Music was meant to serve people and not the other way around.” The more I thought about it the more I thought about it. One sentence. Lots to consider.

Not everything in Choral Charisma would apply directly to my middle school orchestra classes. But I began to work and encouraging students to get better no matter what level they were on. Personal growth was more important. Top level achievement was encouraged. A lot. But so was any achievement. I stopped giving chair tests. We played tests until we passed them. Anyone who wanted to know who was doing the best could see who was passing the most. But there was no chair shaming. I paired students who had greater skills with students who were struggling on the same stand. Often (in middle school…) the violins worked on both first and second parts. But everyone had something appropriate for them to work on at any given time. I also began to become more empathetic to what students brought to class. I was more likely to work with students’ parents to figure out how a student could do better at school and at life.

Some interesting things began to happen. My program grew in numbers. I still had students that went on to high honors and to graduate school. But I had more students participating and learning and everyone seemed to become more excited about making music together. Teaching was still a lot of work and took a ton of preparation and energy. But I found that in addition to teaching physical technique and an understanding of the musical written language (etc) I was doing a much better job at teaching children to LOVE MUSIC.

When I see poorly attended concerts of great music I wonder if we should perhaps make this a national priority instead of a curricular list of skill sets. Teach children to make music and thereby love making music and love the music they make. The aesthetic appreciation follows all of this.

How does all of his relate to the blog post linked? I could have gotten more recognition and made higher ratings if I would have run off the weak players and focused on the gifted students. On retired director I know called this “teach the best and shoot the rest.” That would have enhanced my professional reputation. I stopped shooting anyone and did my best (such as it was) to teach everyone except for those who were toxic bullies. (There were a very few.)

The author of the article is right about so many things. Elementary teachers are highly undervalued too much of the time. Good ones do so much to impact students’ musical abilities as well as the quality of their lives. The same for middle school teachers. It takes a really special person to teach this age level when students often look more grown up though they are still in many ways children in transition. It is rare for a middle level or elementary teacher to gain high honors as much as high school. I can’t see this will change. Those who do a great job are going to have to be intrinsically motivated, as they have been for so long. It should change. But life is not always based on “should”.

To the author of ChoirThoughts I would say that you have to define your own success. It heartens me to know that directors are still dealing with this issue. You can decide how much of your success is determined by others and how much is determined by your own values. The contest system can provide valuable feedback when it works right. So can bringing in clinicians and recording your group.. Using the system when it works for you and avoiding it when it doesn’t may take courage. But it can result in a lot of personal growth and satisfaction. Choose your game.

Some Empathy for Music Teachers

Folks may not be aware that there is no real off-season for music teachers.

So… I basically travel the locality calling on band and orchestra directors. Since I sing (a lot) I often drop by the choir classes as well.

And I can tell you this:

If you are a band or orchestra director you are trying to figure out how to get everyone who needs to be entered in solos and ensembles entered and matched up with music. And eventually accompanists but hey, Rome wasn’t built in a day. And that P.O. that has to be in place to pay for the entry… that has to get done before you enter to keep the auditors happy.   And if you are also a high school director in OK making sure everything is set for All-State or other OMEA stuff.

If you are a choir director you have OMEA and ACDA to deal with in terms of getting everyone there for all-state groups and p-slips and and and, but in the mean time you are working on sight reading big time and sometimes you even have the kids working on sight reading while you look at email or text parents or other directors about all the other stuff. And same as everyone getting ready for solos and ensembles.

And it would be nice if the parents involved in all that would just read the information you send home and understand that you have LOTS of students to deal with this time of year but you will go ahead and patiently explain things to them in calls and emails because being a parent is hard too.

And in the mean time the rest of the school things you have nothing going on right now because the concerts and contests are later and you must have it easy as pie in January, lucky you.  Sure.

It brings back a lot of memories. Hang in there, folks.
Eventually you can retire. Your parents and students don’t really need to know how crazy you go making it all look easy.

With Malice Towards None

This blog is intended to be uplifting and encouraging.  I felt the need to leave this post here. Perhaps it will fulfill the same role.  My apologies in advance if it fails.

Those of us that live in the USA have had a lot to consider lately. For some reason, four words from the final paragraph of  Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address came to mind.  It is simple enough to find such things these days.   The Civil War was not over, but the end was in sight and there was no expectation that the South could win.   Lincoln could have celebrated, even gloated.   But he chose to frame the war as a divine consequence of the entire nation.   Today one might say, “karma.” His intent was to unify a nation that had been violently torn.  He did not point the finger of hate   His speech was four paragraphs long.  It is packed with meaning because of his stinginess with words.

Here is the final paragraph.

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Even if one does not know the historical context, the modern implications are stunning.  (I am sure I didn’t need to point that out.) I would highly recommend reading the entire speech.  It will not take long to read.  It might take longer to consider.  Go ahead and have a look.  If you choose you can finish this later.

There are many ways for humans to discount other humans.  We seem to have an innate ability to consider that another creature that appears to be a human is, for some superficial reason, not human at all. Not really.  The chief mechanism for this is to label another person as part of a group.  A less-than-human group.  It is easy enough to think of groups that are subject to various kinds of mistreatment.  If a group can be successfully defined as less than human, little else needs to be done to seemingly justify the resulting inhuman treatment.

Given a label as the mechanism, there are several power sources.   But a quick, efficient, and easy power source for the labeling machine is hatred.  It is OK to treat someone as less than human because they have a less than human label and they are bad and evil.  Hatred has great power to overcome rational thought.  Oddly, to be consumed with hatred is to become less than we were meant to be.

As much as we do not want to admit it, there seems to be a force in the world that has a desire for us to be separated by our hatred for one another.  Whether this is s supernatural force or a result of the evolution of the human brain is a point of modern contention.  But people have a tendency to     Besides the obvious labels revolving around race, religion, and politics, I have seen people treated as less than human because they had a speech impediment, they were nerds, they lived in the wrong side of “the tracks”, or because of any number of physical characteristics.  There always seems to be someone who, for their own reasons,  wants to empower hate.

I started to make a list of reasons humans hate other humans, but I was embarrassed and discouraged about how easy it was.  The list can quickly get long.  There is no need to include a list.

I have decided on some responses.

First, endeavor not to confuse disagreement with hate.    I have deeply held political beliefs and I have spent significant personal resources in supporting them.   But that does not excuse hating the “other side” or immediately deciding they are evil.  Or even evil AND stupid.   There is plenty of evil to go around in politics and not all of it is on the “other” side.  The “evil and stupid” is just one example.  If you ever dehumanize a person you place your own  humanity in jeopardy.  And, in my belief system, this also damages your relationship with God.  But it is also wrong if you subscribe to a humanist philosophy. Hate expends too much personal energy that could be

Next, I choose to actively an intentionally resist the efforts to convince me that hating certain groups of people is OK, whether in my personal life of through either mass or social  media.

From this point, the decisions get more difficult.  I do not to pretend to give solutions in every instance. The best thing that can be done is to develop a personal decision process that involves deliberate thinking rather than quick emotional judgements.  I outline some of my process, but I would prefer that you be challenged to do the same rather than accept mine whole cloth.

When hate is directed your way it is nigh impossible to be coldly rational, especially in the heat of the moment. But making the effort is good.   We are not expected to be a doormat in the face of verbal or physical violence, nor of violent threats.  Sometimes it is a matter of avoiding negative situations or people..  But sometimes we must take steps in defense of ourselves or others in our circle, whether it be family, friends, or people who are in our care.   We are allowed defense.  Hopefully we can make the right decision when it must be made in fractions of a second.

It is hard enough to draw this line for ourselves.  It is doubly hard to draw the line for people we have never met about events that we have not seen when we are considering if the actions of others are appropriate.  It is really so easy to make up an explanation when we really have none.   A better path is to reserve judgement when facts are not known.  Virtually any “hate” incident also generates competing narratives about what happened that also build hate, and it hardly seems accidental.  Rather than accept a a lie that fits our personal believe situation, just stay out of the fray.   You are not required to voice your judgement when there is no way to be sure.

Reserving judgement when facts are in question is difficult.    But it is good to make the attempt to wait for better information.   It is good to break the circle of hate.  That does not mean you must avoid judgement entirely.  Or even usually.  It is about waiting until more facts are in.  And, truth be told, sometimes we do not get everything we know to construct a truly accurate opinion.  It is a human characteristic to form an opinion instantly when no facts exist.  (Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahnman)  But it is so worth the effort to get into thinking mode rather than reacting mode.

Revenge is a different story.   And those that call for vengeance are as guilty as those who through their own hate choose to actively kill, injure, or engender more hate.  Revenge is an ineffective and inappropriate solution, especially on the personal level.

It is a most vexing challenge to avoid the temptation to join the hate war.  Too often it sounds something like this: “We should end all hate.. Except for the people I hate.  That is OK. Because they are so bad.” Or, “Say no to hate.  But you can hate _____ because _____.  But no hate for anyone else.”  Sure.

So in the end I can offer no final solution.  But becoming aware of the hate machine is a start to resisting its influence.   I don’t know that humans are capable of perfection in this matter. But most all of us are capable of doing better.   So maybe make a start  towards living life with “malice towards none.” Even if we fail, we seek to fail upwards.

I have attempted to work out my thoughts on paper an they are in a form that I am ready to share.  But they are far from final.  I reserve the right to revise and/or extend my remarks.

Lincoln did better  with his paragraph.

Rob Reck
July 9, 2016
Tulsa, OK
Revised 9-21-2017  Probably not for the last time.

Small revision 6/30/2017


Per my usual practice, this is subject to revision.

Oklahoma Education Reality Check

A  note from a group member about who we are and what we do in OKPE4PE.

We have a lot of new members in Oklahoma Parents and Educators for Public Education. This is awesome. There are some real concerns that keep surfacing in discussions that I thought I would attempt to address. I do not pretend to speak for the group leadership or for everyone who has been helping in the fight. So if what I type is not helpful maybe one of the list leaders can just delete in a hurry.  Civil feedback is appreciated.

Here is what I have come to understand about this group and why it is working. And it is working, I am sure of that. We may not be where we want to be, but we are far better off because of the efforts of the members of OPE4PE.
1. We support public education…

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Are You Ready?

We do a concert with a hired orchestra every spring at my church. A few years ago we did Elijah.   My son was singing the “boy” solo.   We had just finished with our warm up and were waiting for the word to leave for the choir loft.   I had half an ear on the conversation between the soloists who were standing to my right. I was listening to see if my son joined in with the chatter.  He did not.

I believe it was the tenor who asked the bass, “Jeffrey, are you ready yet?”  Dr. Jeffrey Snider is a large bear of a man who has a huge voice.   He replied, in his resonant bass soloist voice, “No, but it has never stopped me before.”  Everyone who heard it had a good chuckle.

During the concert, Dr. Snider certainly sounded like he was ready.   Maybe he was trying to be funny.   Maybe not, though.   I am not sure if we are totally “ready” to perform music.

I think it is more about being “prepared.”  I believe we more naturally understand preparedness in terms of degree.    Being prepared is not a yes or no thing.  It is possible to be more prepared and less prepared. Sometimes the music is more challenging.   Sometimes the are more people auditioning.  Sometimes less.    Even people who are very well prepared may not be perfectly ready.  But the more we practices (and practice right) the better we perform and the more our standards grow.  One high school student realized that the Freshman at his high school weren’t really getting worse every year.   He was getting better and was more able to hear smaller and smaller mistakes.  You will take your improved skill set out of the audition room and into the next adventure no matter how the audition plays out.

Musicians sometimes have performances or auditions that loom in importance.  You may have something important in the near future.   How prepared are you?  I would venture to say that a huge number of those who audition are far more prepared on audition day than they were when the first audition pieces were.  Far, far more prepared.  But given their improved musical sense most students auditioning do not think they are perfect yet.

Once upon a time one student walked our of his audition and self-proclaimed it “acceptable.”  Not awesome-super-good-amazing.  Not the best run ever.  But acceptable given his level of preparedness.   When the list was posted he was principal on his instrument in the all-state  orchestra.   It was a successful audition, even though it was not perfection.

So after all the practice is done and you are waiting to play it is most productive to mentally review what you are doing and go for your personal best.  Your personal best as well as your personal average are going to be much higher since you have practiced.   Are you “ready”?  Maybe not, but it has never stopped anyone.   The practice time is over.  You are as prepared as you are.  Go perform!  Make music.  Go for tone.  Even mistakes sound better with good tone.    Keep your head in the game.  If something happens like, say, a mistake, for get it and keep going.  People actually make the gig after making actual mistakes.  If  their practice has increased their performance standards they will be more able to hear mistakes.   And so if you make a perceived mistake just go on and perform the next thing.   Keep your head in the moment of performing, concentrating on the moment and perhaps the near  future.

There is no room in the mental apparatus for reviewing the performance during the performance.   So perfomr and have fun and make as much music as you can.  There is another day after auditions.  But if you have prepared at all you are going to be a much better player for the next thing, whatever it is. Auditions are as much about learning as they are about the outcome.  If you learn from auditions and, yes, performances, you will continually hone your craft.

Ready or not, here it comes.   Go for it.

Practicing 101

Taking it to the woodshed…..

We talk about a lot of things to do to bring your “A” Game to the audition room in my class at SWOSU Band camp. For those that have not been (and to remind those who have) here are some practice basics that might be helpful in the big final push for a performance, jury, or audition.

1.  Work on fundamental issues in your warm up.  Five to fifteen minutes spent working on tone production, fundamental positions, posture, breathing, bow hold and  bow stroke, articulation – both correct technique and speed, can work wonders.  Brass players need to work flexibility studies.  Everyone needs scales, at least some every day..  .   I always had to work a lot on tone and flexibility because those were my biggest problems.  Others might have to work scales and other figure speed exercises more. It is impossible to have a tone that is too good.    A few minutes concentrating on your “worst thing” in warm up can pay off through the entire practice session.    If you are not sure what your worst thing is, ask your teacher.  Keep the warmup period short unless there is a big issue that is holding you back.

2. Spend the most time on the worst places. This is not something anyone does naturally.  We like to sound good and we want anyone hearing us practice to hear good things.  Get past all that soon! Slow painstaking practices on the measures or parts of measures (sometimes just three notes-sometimes just two back and forth-sometimes the attack/tuning/tone quality for one note) that are the most pesky will pay off. Sometimes intentional, focused, accurate* practice at a very slow speed will actually cause it to be better the next time you run the piece at a much faster speed. Use a metronome. Speed up gradually. If you reach a daily tempo plateau then back down to your accurate speed, play it really well at that speed, and let your brain process. (It takes the brain some time to process your practice each day. Remember to get some rest.)

3. Spend some time running longer passages focusing on tone and musical expression.  Some suggest that you go back and forth between small practice and large.  I think this is a good idea.  Since most auditions are cuts, pick some cuts and practice playing them without stopping. You can to this with an entire etude etc. Since there are cuts in all-state auditions in Oklahoma you should practice cuts. When you are doing this you keep going no matter what as you will in an audition. It would be silly to stop after a mistake, work on it for a bit, and then take up playing the piece from there. So when you are practicing a run-through of piece you should do it audition style. People who make all-state make some mistakes. So you need to practice staying on task when there is a mistake. If you run a section several times you will have a better idea of which places need the practice. So go back and circle the places you missed and practice them separately. Again,alternating between micro sections and macro runs can be highly effective.

There is some more to this, but this is a good over view.

4. For Oklahoma All-State, there are specific scales and ranges in the audition. Remember to practice these scales. Band students need to remember to work the chromatic scale up to speed and not just the major scales. You can do micro practice on scales if you need to. but they usually come around faster than etudes.   Your state practices may vary outside Oklahoma.  The sooner you get this done the better.  You can review a lot of scales in a hurry after you know them.

5. At least once a day the week of the audition  practice an entire mock audition. Warm up. Leave your practice space. Stand outside the door and do calming breaths and focusing exercises if you know how.  (There is more about breathing on this blog if you do not know how.)   Re-enter and arrange your music on the stand. Pick and play scales for your instrument as required. Play cuts from the music with no stopping. (No talking or swearing!) Stand or sit – which ever is right for you. Imagine a judge asking you for each thing. Then leave the room. Forgive yourself for any mistakes. Next, go back in and review any issues this uncovers.

6.  This is actually a big deal:  You must get away from it all for awhile.  Get your practicing done.  Then spend some time with friends.  Walk the dog.   Read a good book.  Meditate. Sleep. Dance to the Wicked cast recording and sing along, especially with “Defying Gravity.” Whatever works for you! We are all different. Your brain needs to process and store everything you processed.  The little IT guy in your brain may have to upgrade or add new wiring.   Give that little guy half a chance to use the information from your practice session to upgrade your neural circuits.

During the run, focus on the moment. I could list a million things to avoid, but I don’t want to give anyone ideas. If you are playing and you notice yourself not into the music just easily move from wherever you are back into the music. You can think about whatever you want after you leave the room.

You can also do mental practice of the audition any time and place. Riding the bus home or to a performance. Waiting for the teacher to answer questions from kids who are not in band or orchestra and never understand anything. Anywhere. Mental practice is a good thing. But practice a good audition that goes as intended.

*About “accurate”
Accurate means practice on getting everything right when you go slow. Everything.
Bowing/Articulation – Correct technique and musical attacks and releases.
Breathing (for winds)
Good tone (and everything involved in that) on EVERY note.
Position (of everything)
Make sure the instrument and everything about it (strings/reeds/valves- stuff like that) is in top shape.

If you develop good habits about these things when you go slow they will stay with you when you are playing faster and, ultimately, become part of your every day playing.

Getting In Touch With Your Inner Nerd

It just seemed like time to remind everyone about this.

The Happy Rock Way

happyrockonblackbgurinner nerd

This happened:
It was the last few minutes of the last period of the middle school day.  My seventh and eighth grade orchestra students were putting their instruments away.  One student, Aundrea, was still seated and putting her violin in the case while most of the rest were putting their instruments in storage or lining up to take them home.  Aundrea was a delight to have in class.  She worked hard on her music and had exceptional manners.  It was obvious that there were high expectations in her family.  On the other hand, she also had a purple streak in her hair, which was a little wild in a way that seemed to work for her, and a pierced eyebrow.   She seemed surprised when I told her that some of the sixth grade beginners who met her on their way out of orchestra were a little scared of her.   (I…

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