The end of the year is the time where virtually every online publisher and podcaster releases a “Best of 2019” in hopes that you will want to look back and read/listen to their successes. While that can be helpful, I have found that some of the blog posts I’m most proud of are ones that were least successful.

Perhaps a specific blog post title wasn’t “catchy” enough or it wasn’t released at a time where it would be most useful to my readers.

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Teacher First, Blogger Second

I am, and will always be a teacher first. I began public school teaching in early 1997 and have been working at the same high school since September of 1998, in addition to having side stints conducting a middle school choir, professional choir, senior citizen choir, inter-generational choir, and temple choir. Now-a-days, besides being a husband and a father to a sweet 5-month-old boy and an adorable 4-year-old girl, the Choral Clarity blog/website and one-on-one online coaching are my other “side choral gigs”.

This blog is a product of a “work in progress”; a teacher never knows it all and is always learning. I write the Choral Clarity Blog to share what I’m doing as I’m doing it and why I’ve chosen do it. Even when I re-post a previously released article, I’ve likely modified it to adapt my evolving philosophy and growth as an educator.

My 2019 Teaching Accomplishments

As I completed my 21st year and began my 22nd year of teaching in the Plainview-Old Bethpage School District, I have several 2019 accomplishments that I’m super proud to share; each accomplishment has improved my choral program and benefited my students greatly.

Here are my teaching highlights of 2019

1. I created a senior solo vocal recital

I have always believed that every singer is a soloist first. In my self-selected choral program, every singer must be willing to sing by themselves (not necessarily in front of the choir). I teach lots of solo repertoire in varied languages and voluntarily send virtually every singer in the program to perform at our state’s annual solo adjudication festival. This festival is the determining factor of whether students are accepted into NAFME’s All-County, All-State, and All-Eastern ensembles for the following year.

These potential accomplishments are big carrots for our singers but I realized that in their senior year, students lacked the motivation to prepare for the adjudication festival; not only is there no reward, since they will be in college the following year, but they’ve already had the same experience for the previous 3 years.

I wrote a blog post on the 10 Reasons Why I Created A Choir Senior Solo Recital, just as we were about to have it. Our first senior recital was a big success and will be a big staple in our program from this point forward.

2. I created a teacher-led a-cappella group

Our high school choral program consists of two curricular self-selected choirs and 8 student-run a-cappella ensembles that meet after school and on weekends. 90% of the singers in the a-cappella program participate in the one of our two curricular self-selected choirs.

In our student-run a-cappella groups, the students choose the members during our three group audition days (September, January, June), rehearse on their own, choose their own songs, write and teach their own arrangements, choose their own soloists, create their own blocking, etc.

In an effort to improve the student-run a-cappella program, I decided to create an opportunity that would strengthen our musical leaders. I decided to create a teacher-led a-cappella ensemble, modeled after J.D. Frizzell’s One Voice.

After consulting with Dr. Frizzell, a master of his craft, I decided to hold auditions, only open to members of my curricular choirs. In choosing singers, I wanted representation from all 8 student-run ensembles. From there I followed Dr. Frizzell’s 5-day rehearsal method into a 3-day rehearsal structure.

Check out Dr. Frizzell’s A-Cappella Rehearsing Method!

Unlike our student-run groups, I chose the members, selected the music, hired a professional arranger, brought in a professional coach, and required the students to be prepared with their parts learned for the first rehearsal of each song. Interestingly enough, the students in my select ensemble felt the teacher-led ensemble ended up being more collaborative and involving of it’s members than their own student-led ensembles. I wrote an article on this experience and how it positively impacted the student-run a-cappella program.

Our early 2019 start-up ensemble, “Vibe”, flourished from the very start. Since the initial group was made up of seniors-only who have since graduated, the current group is comprised of all new members.

Here was the very first song “Vibe” performed/recorded in 2019:

arranged by Rob Dietz

Here was the second song we performed/recorded in 2019

arranged by Ben Bram

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3. I improved upon my teaching method for Aural/Ear-Training

What I enjoy most about writing a blog is my continual opportunity for self-reflection.

I have written numerous articles supporting the concept that everyone can learn to sing; nobody is tone deaf.

With that bold statement came my desire to create a formal method to improve the aural/ear-training skills of ALL levels of singers, including the singers who are perceived as “tone-deaf”. Over the past year, I have improved my system of teaching by creating positively-framed individualized rubrics for every step needed for a singer to move from “learning to match pitch” all the way to having a well-developed ear that’s ready for successful sight-singing. I share each rubric on my website:

  1. pitch-matching rubric
  2. scale-singing rubric
  3. simple alternating solfege pattern rubric
  4. aural training assessment rubric (and materials)

While the majority of this information is found in my series of aural-training blogs, the entire step-by-step method that I use in the form of tangible pdfs and editable documents is available in one download. In essence, my system takes a student who cannot match pitch and over the course of the year gets them to the point where their ear/vocal technique is strong enough to hold their part and be able to sight-sing effectively.

This system is not just for beginning singers. In fact, I have worked with countless above-average singers with significant deficiencies in these skills; those deficiencies prevent them from holding their vocal part and/or successfully being able to sight-sing, even though they have great instruments.

What has happened in my choral program as a result of creating these step-by-step rubrics is that all levels of students have recognized specific things that were lacking and now have more tangible aural skills to work on.

I am putting the finishing touches on a new edition of my sight-singing developmental rubric, which includes all of the aural training rubrics and method, along with the sight-singing rubrics and resources. I am super-excited to use my improved method in the following school year, where I collaborate with Sight Reading Factory!

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Closing out the 2019 Year with Clarity

This has been an exciting year for Choral Clarity. we have published well over 100 blogs, over 100 downloadable resources and choral works, have active Facebook community with over 1100 members, thousands of email subscribers, and have made choral friends across the country and around the world, some of whom have received one-on-one coaching via Skype.

I am inspired by the work you all do, and continue to grow as a teacher through the interactions with my readers. I learn from your posts and re-evaluate my own teaching choices based on your successes.

I thank you from the bottom of my heart for continually igniting my teaching flame and hope Choral Clarity can do the same for you in the coming year!