Thursday, February 26, 2009

Music for the Lenten Season

Music for Lent doesn't always have to be restrictive and funereal. While we are in a penitential state of mind, our music can reflect that state. The Alleluia may be omitted, but our voices raised in song can still inspire us to spiritual introspection. As we journey through these forty days, here is a an excellent website to help with your Lenten music meditations: Cantica Nova. Don't forget to click on the link at the bottom of the their page for a very comprehensive listing of links of suitable choral pieces for Lent with accompanying reviews and specifications.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Hey Now...It's Mardi Gras!

Before we enter into the solemnity of Lent, how about a little party music for Fat Tuesday. Here's what I'll be listening to while I enjoy my Chicken and Andouille Sausage Gumbo followed by King Cake:

And if you're celebrating Carnivale, you can samba to this classic:

Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez!

(P.S. The King Cake and Sugar Mardi Gras Mask Pictured at the top of this post are my Aunt's from our joint blog, Diva Delights Cake and Sugar Art: Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez! and More Mardi Gras Madness)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Liturgical Music Musings

Why has the music in the Catholic Church gotten so out of hand? The musicians play and sing as if they were putting on a show at the local theater, with music that is written as if it belongs on Broadway, rather than leading the congregation in song in the solemn celebration that it is supposed to be. The music is so rhythmically complex and the melodies disjunctive and discordant that the people cannot and will not sing. As Liturgical Music Directors and Musicians we need to curb this trend and return to the guidelines set forth by Church Doctrine.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the purpose of liturgical music to be prayerful, to include the participation of the congregation and to be mindful of the solemnity of the celebration.

The musician should be mindful of this as well. His or her role at the organ, or the cantor stand, should be to lead and guide the congregation in song. This is not a performance; facial expressions and body language are key in setting the proper tone for the solemnity of the Mass. The organist should keep in mind that HOW the organ is played should be taken into account.

In her blog post, Why I rant, Anita Moore, Esq., OPL says, “At Mass, we are literally at the foot of the Cross...So then, when it comes to deciding what is appropriate at Mass and what is not appropriate, all we really have to do is ask ourselves one question: would this be appropriate at the foot of the Cross?”

Below are my tips and suggestions for both the Liturgical Musician and Musical Director. These were put together after watching and listening to colleagues execute their duties as church musicians.

Tips for the Liturgical Musician:
  • Mistakes are human; be sure to give yourself enough time to review and discuss the music with the organist/cantor before Mass.
  • Knowing your music is very important. Review it, making notes and highlighting your trouble spots, thereby making practice more efficient.
  • Regular attendance at rehearsals and practice on your own is crucial.
  • You have to be comfortable in front of the people.
  • Have a clear and consistent communication with the people.
  • Articulation in your speaking and singing is vital.
  • Be sure to have a straight posture that is both conducive to singing and shows command.
  • The object is to lead the people, not to make it a performance.
  • Facial expressions should be kept to a minimum and should be reverential.
  • Gestures for inviting the people to sing should be clear and appropriate to the Mass.
  • Play and sing the music like a prayer.
  • Dynamics, when used correctly, help to make the music more like a prayer.
  • The organist/pianist should support the cantors and the people; this is Mass, not a concert performance.

Tips for the Liturgical Musical Director:

  • Know your Choral and Solo Voices:
  • Children and teens tend to have very high-pitched voices that are frequently off key. While a children’s or teen choir is very nice, the cantor should be an adult with experience.
  • Intonation and pitch problems will result when the voice has too much vibrato and starts to warble. Conversely, the voice without vibrato is not controlled.
  • Encourage singers to use their head-voice, rather than belting with the chest-voice. Belting will result in intonation and pitch problems.
  • Encourage your singers in the choir to listen to each other for blending and tuning.
  • Know your instrumentalists
  • No matter what the occasion, the instrumentalists should be aware that this is a Mass, not a performance.
  • Make sure that the instrumentalists are playing in tune.
  • The instruments (including the Organ) should not be too loud or overpower the singer(s).
  • Select music that is friendly, not only to the musicians and singers, but to the people; they will close their books and mouths if the music is difficult.
  • Make rules and ensure that your musicians and singers adhere to them.
  • Encourage your musicians to attend rehearsals regularly. Do not play favorites; use your discretion when rewarding your musicians, based on talent and conformity to your rules

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Orchestra Lesson Planning Help

The orchestra can be a fun-filled lesson or unit depending on your material. There are many resources to help you put together a lesson on the orchestra, but you have to be creative in your planning to keep the lesson interesting to your students.

There are many websites that can help students to discover the orchestra through exploration. If your students have access to the Internet during class time, then I would recommend doing a self-exploratory lesson with the following websites:

Books, with accompanying CDs, tell stories of the orchestra with a symphonic backdrop and can be read as a group or individually using various reading techniques. Here are a couple of examples:
There are famous orchestral works, which may be used to introduce the orchestra. You can play a recording of these pieces and use pictures of the instruments or the characters the instruments represent to establish the basics of the orchestra. These works have also been made into various films; I have provided links for the information on these films from the Internet Movie Database.

Sergei Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf is a good one to use since it also tells an engaging story about a young boy and his encounter with a wolf. There are many versions of this loveable tale including puppet theater, animation, and ballet performances that students will enjoy. The following are links for other ideas and lessons using Peter and the Wolf:
In the musical suite Carnival of Animals by Camille Saint-Saens, instruments mimic various animals through tone painting and the use of a narrator. The following links may help you to put together a lesson using this masterpiece:

Based on a Theme of Henry Purcell, Benjamin Britten’s The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra is widely used to examine the orchestra because it highlights the instrument families as well as the individual instruments of the symphony orchestra. If you are interested in forming a lesson around this great work, the following links can help you:
The art work inspired Pictures at an Exposition by Modest Mussorgsky origionally was composed as a Piano Suite, however, there is an extrordinary arrangement for the orchestra by composer Maurice Ravel. To use Ravel’s arrangement in the classroom, you can consult the following links:

Tubby the Tuba is not an orchestral work, but rather an animated feature film, based on a song by Paul Tripp and George Kleinsinger. Tubby is young tuba who, after being ridiculed by the other instruments in the orchestra for his low and slow voice, takes a journey through many lands to find a song that fits his voice. Below are the resource links to include this tale in your look at the orchestra:

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

My Websites

Over the past few years, I have compiled an extensive list of internet resources for music teachers and music students. These resources, organized by category, may be viewed at The Music Classroom. Lately I have been compiling lists of film musicals and other movies related to music. These pages are still under construction but are available to view.

In addition to The Music Classroom, I have an extensive list of resources about musical theater, opera and other related topics. These resouces may be viewed at Musical Theater World

As you are perusing these pages, if you experience any problems or would like to see something that is not included, feel free to leave me a message.

Monday, February 16, 2009


Welcome to the unveiling of my Music Notebook where I plan to comment on various topics relating to my music interests. Hopefully I will be able to impart not only my love of music but tips that can be helpful to the amateur musician, particularly the vocal one. Please check back periodically for my updates.