Tag Archives: Anna Wentlent

The Importance of Including Women in Music History

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By Anna Wentlent

Most music educators can wax poetic on the lineage of male composers from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century. Even elementary school students have enough knowledge of classical music to offer up interesting facts about the famous men in music history, such as Beethoven’s deafness or Mozart’s mysterious death. Yet, how many of us can even name more than one or two female figures from the history of classical music? Hildegard von Bingen, Clara Schumann . . . the list often stops there. And with good reason: the history of classical music is the history of Europe and North America, and within those societies women have traditionally stayed at home, out of the spotlight.

That history makes the accomplishments of female professional musicians all the more remarkable. These were women who defied tradition and familial pressure in order to lead rich lives as teachers, composers, conductors, and performers. Despite being denied the educational and performance opportunities given to their male counterparts, they persevered. Until the eighteenth century, women were not allowed to sing the female roles in operas. And it is only during the last 100 years that women have been admitted to symphony orchestras. Even as that imbalance has gradually improved, little progress has been made on the conductor’s podium. There are very few female orchestra conductors. In 2007, Marin Alsop became the first woman to lead a major American orchestra when the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra hired her.

Simply achieving some level of professional success would be admirable enough, but many female musicians have made real and vital contributions to their respective fields. Consider the innovations of Hildegard von Bingen, a Medieval nun who wrote the earliest-known musical drama, or Maud Powell, a professional violinist who made the first recording of a solo instrument. Weigh the impact of Nadia Boulanger, a teacher who molded many of the great composers of the twentieth century, or Patsy Cline, a modern-day country singer who set the tone for an entire genre of music.

In the course of researching The Women of Western Music , I made the wonderful discovery that many female musicians have made a point of supporting each other’s careers. Marian Anderson performed the songs of Florence Beatrice Price at her concerts. Amy Beach wrote a piece specifically for Maud Powell to perform at a conference for female musicians. Germaine Tailleferre studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday were known to be friendly competitors.

In recent years, contemporary music historians have rediscovered the contributions of these women and begun to give them their proper due. But historical articles and biographies are not enough. For these and other female musicians to truly receive their proper due, they must be introduced to the masses by inclusion in K–12 general music curriculums. We owe it to these women for the sake of historical accuracy, and we owe it to our students for the sake of the future women of western music. My hope is that my young female students will see themselves in the lives of the musicians they study.

ws_authorphotos_wentlentAnna Wentlent is an educator, music editor, music education author, and piano accompanist. She attended the Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam, York St. John College, and Boston University. Over the course of her career, Ms. Wentlent has worked as a choral and classroom music editor for Alfred Music and taught choral and general music in both New York and Massachusetts.


 

Hands-On Learning in Choir Rehearsal

By Melody Easter-Clutter, Teacher and Author

When I first began teaching middle school in Indianola, Iowa, I recognized that my students didn’t truly understand the rhythmic concepts in their performance music. They could echo me and learn by rote, but they had difficulty reading rhythms off the page and grasping the “feel” of more complicated patterns. So, I began to experiment with movement and hands-on learning, in an effort to stimulate sight-reading skills and develop rhythmic comprehension in my students. I wanted to keep the activities short enough to incorporate into my regular choral rehearsals, as well as “fun” enough that my students wouldn’t immediately tune out the information. I used everything I could think of—hand motions, body movements, tennis balls, beach balls, composition projects, etc.

My students loved the lessons! Not only did their reading, notating, and composing skills improve, but my enrollment was impacted as well, almost doubling in two years. Teachers often forget the value of learning by moving and creating, something that is very common in elementary school but fades as students age. I found that young men particularly enjoyed the movement-based activities, and they themselves ended up recruiting other young middle school men to join choir. It was such a joy to see my students excited to come to chorus!

These lessons became the basis for my book with Anna Wentlent: Ready, Set, Rhythm! It is comprised of 80 lessons, which develop sequentially through the basic concepts of rhythm. Each lesson is about ten minutes long, and is specifically designed to be inserted into regular general music classes or ensemble rehearsals as a warm-up, “break” in the middle of class, or concluding activity before dismissal. And the timeline is flexible as well. You may choose to work through a lesson a day, every other day, once a week, or on an as-needed basis to practice particularly troublesome rhythms. Each unit concludes with a reproducible student assessment, as well as all necessary supporting documents, such as student grade sheets. Click here for more information!

The International Phonetic Alphabet

Anna WentlentBy Anna Wentlent, Managing Editor of School Choral and Classroom Publications

For developing and mature singers alike, the International Phonetic Alphabet—commonly known by the abbreviation IPA—is invaluable. This standardized system contains a symbol for every vowel and consonant sound, precisely stipulating the way the sound should be formed by the mouth and tongue, voiced or unvoiced. It is a singers’ greatest tool for understanding the sounds of foreign languages.

The uniform and un-biased approach of IPA allows singers to develop a feel for the unique differences between languages. And in doing so, it far surpasses the usual method of spelling words phonetically using English-based sounds (such as “meh-nee” for the word “many”). This method is compromised by the endless dialects and variations of the English language. For example, every English speaker does not pronounce the word “boat” the same way. Further problems arise when trying to represent sounds that don’t exist in English—how does one spell out a French nasal vowel or a trilled R?

Using IPA with your students has many benefits. To begin with, the teaching process will be easier with a standard pronunciation system. The symbol [e] means [e], no matter the language. Having such a system in place will also help with motivation—your students will begin to feel that foreign language pieces are more manageable and approachable without the language barrier. What’s more, you will be endowing them with a valuable tool to take forward into future choral and vocal experiences. What a gift!

Whether you are just now learning the system or looking for a refresher, Alfred’s IPA Made Easy is a straightforward reference for the symbols used in IPA: what they look like and how they are pronounced. Example words for every symbol are included in English, Latin, Italian, German, French, and Spanish. And an online listening lab includes recorded demonstrations of every sound. It’s a clear and concise tool for singing in foreign languages, equally useful in the choir room and the vocal studio.

Selecting an Elementary Musical for December

Anna WentlentBy Anna Wentlent

There are many factors to consider when selecting a December musical or program: music, script, overall length, specific casting requirements, ensemble size, and—probably the most important—subject matter. As we see it, you have five options: Winter, Santa, Multicultural, Traditional, and Sacred.

Winter

To avoid all mention of the holidays, choose a musical about winter. The choice is especially appropriate for the month of December, when everyone is hoping for the first big snow fall (and snow day). An excellent example is Bring On the Snow!, a variety show of songs and sketches for a “snowlarious” winter. Skits include a pair of wisecracking reindeer, a snowflake ballet class, and a directionally-challenged family of geese. Songs include “Blizzard on the Way” and “Hot Chocolate!”

Santa

A Santa musical will appeal to almost every member of your audience by highlighting the secular aspects of the holiday that we all loved as children—Santa, Mrs. Claus, and the rest of the gang at the North Pole. Crazy Christmas is a series of nine Santa-themed songs that can be programmed individually or staged as a complete program using the optional script. Songs include “Santa’s Job Is a Snap” and “The Reindeer Rock.”

Multicultural

A multicultural musical in an inclusive and educational option for December. This choice allows you to acknowledge the “reason for the season” in a broad way with an overview of all of the holidays—Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. The plot of December Nights, December Lights centers on a group of young students who learn about the ways that people celebrate with their families in different cultures. Songs include “Light the Candles (For Eight Nights)” and “La Fiesta de la Posada.”

Traditional

If you teach in a conventional school district in a predominantly Christian community, consider programming a traditional musical that tells the Christmas story with an educational (rather than worshipful) approach. Our Annual Christmas Pageant is a classic story about the frantic final rehearsal and last minute auditions before the annual Christmas pageant. The score is comprised of traditional carols, such as “Silent Night” and “We Three Kings.”

Sacred

For Christian schools and churches, a truly sacred musical is appropriate. Funny yet touching, Miracle at the Christmas Café tells the Christmas story from the perspective of Polly Porkchop at the Christmas Café in Bethlehem. Songs include “Everlasting Light” and “The Hope of All the World.”

As you make your decision, remember that one of the reasons for producing a December musical is the feeling it will bring your students and audience members. What type of musical will leave a smile on their faces as they walk out into the snowy night after your performance? You know your own school or church community. Choose accordingly!

Additional Recommended Musicals for December

Winter:
Freeze Frame!
The Big Chill
Snow Way Out
Stormy, the Singing Snowman

Santa:
Broadway Santa
Santa’s Rockin’ Christmas Eve
Santa’s Stuck in the 50’s
A Christmas Line

Multicultural:
Fiesta! The Legend of the Poinsettia
A World of Christmas
December Gifts

Traditional:
The Christmas Dove & the Woodcutter
The Shiniest Star
A Minibeast Christmas

Sacred:
Noel Critter Motel
The Christmas Cobweb

Building Community Support During the Holidays

Anna WentlentBy Anna Wentlent, Managing Editor of
School Choral and Classroom Publications

Your room is organized, classes have started, and now you’re looking ahead to the first concert of the school year. For most teachers, that concert will be in December, a month of holidays, stress, performances, stress, and PR opportunities! Over the course of the month, you will encounter administrators, other teachers, new students, parents, and community members. Take advantage of this opportunity to showcase your program! Here are a few suggestions for building school and community support during the upcoming holiday season:

  • Invite a community ensemble to participate in your December concert. They could perform in the lobby beforehand, between school groups while the stage set-up is being adjusted, or even in a joint performance with your students.
  • Ask audience members to join in a sing-along at the end of your concert (a Christmas carol, the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah, or similar well-known work).
  • Visit a local nursing home to sing carols or perform selections from your upcoming concert.
  • Invite members of the community to speak to your choirs and classes about the holiday traditions of their culture and/or religion.
  • Plan an “impromptu” flash mob performance by your high school jazz, a cappella, or show choir in the hallway or cafeteria.
  • Organize a weekend caroling event (stay at a set location, such as a square or park, or go door-to-door if you’re feeling ambitious). Choose familiar carols in simple arrangements to avoid extra preparation time.
  • Take a few select students to perform at the local elementary school. Many elementary schools have a “morning program”—the perfect opportunity for a short performance of one or two holiday songs.
  • Invite senior citizens to attend your final dress rehearsal for free. Carry the event one step further by following the performance with coffee and cookies in the cafeteria.
  • Stop by a meeting of the booster club, PTO, or school board to wish the members a happy holiday season in song with your small ensemble.
  • Create a concert display or handout that explains the many ways in which a student can be involved in your school music program. Oftentimes, students are unaware of the opportunities available to inexperienced musicians. And even if they are in the know, they may fail to communicate those options to their parents.
  • Ask a student to write and submit an article to local newspapers and blogs about the upcoming December performances at your school.

Have another idea? Share it below in the comments section!

Favorite Resources for Middle School Chorus

Anna WentlentBy Anna Wentlent, Managing Editor of School Choral and Classroom Publications

Middle school. Those two words convey so much: energy, attitude, emotion, potential, change, diversity, development, acceptance, sensitivity, drama, peer approval, curiosity, creativity . . . the list could go on and on. Today, let’s focus on just one of those words: potential. While this age group can be difficult to work with, middle school is where future choral musicians are born. Here are a few resources to help you along the way.

Warm-Ups and Sight-Singing
As you know, this is the most important part of your choral rehearsal. There comes a moment in every school year when the calendar suddenly shrinks: there’s only a month left until the concert, and two rehearsals are going to be taken away by assemblies, not to mention the possibility of snow days! In those moments of panic, it’s easy to breeze by sight-singing and dive directly into note-learning. But the note-learning will happen much more easily if your students are properly prepared to read music, and to sing that music with healthy technique.

A choral rehearsal is no different than any other practice. Think about a basketball team: a good coach doesn’t spend two hours of practice playing full-court five-on-five games. Instead, they use that time to develop the skills, strength, and agility necessary to play the game well. So it should be with a choral rehearsal. (And if your music is causing that much stress, it’s probably too difficult. Don’t forget about unison and 2-part literature—setting up a successful and musical performance is far more valuable than slogging through music that is too advanced for your singers).

So take time at the beginning of rehearsal to completely warm-up. The Choral Warm-Up Collection and The Complete Choral Warm-Up Book  are indispensable resources. Focus your students as they walk in the door with a few familiar exercises, and then move on to specific warm-ups that address issues from their performance music. End with a few rounds or vocalises. Round We Go and Rounds for Everyone from Everywhere are both teacher favorites. And Andy Beck’s new collection, Vocalize!, offers 45 accompanied vocal warm-ups that actually teach technique. A few clever titles: “Drop Your Jaw,” “Take Time to Breathe,” and “Listen and Blend.” This instructional book is just right for middle school singers.

Then devote as much time as possible to sight-singing and rhythm exercises. In addition to the standard method Sing at First Sight, consider supplemental exercises from Ready, Set, Rhythm!, a collection of 80 sequential lessons that teach the elements of rhythmic notation through movement-based class activities—perfect for breaking up the middle of a long rehearsal! Each 10-minute lesson is presented in lesson plan format with National Standards.

Changing Voices
Middle school boys arrive at the choir room door dealing with two important issues: changing voices and motivation (which really boils down to confidence). Middle school students desperately want to be good at something. Help them to sing their best by assigning them to the correct voice part—soprano, alto, or baritone. If you don’t make a big deal of it, your students won’t either.

If you have time, single out some time to work with the boys by themselves, whether it’s during scheduled lessons, monthly afterschool rehearsals, or sectionals during regular class. This will allow you to focus on their particular needs, monitor voice changes during the school year, and work without the distraction of the opposite gender. Jill Gallina’s For the Boys is a fantastic collection of songs for boys and young men. It includes classics such as “Buffalo Gals,” “The Drunken Sailor” and “John Henry” in singable arrangements for developing male voices.

Preparation
Attention spans are low in middle school, and that means that you have to come to rehearsal prepared with a detailed plan. Leave very little down time with your middle schools singers: start class on time and quickly transition from one activity to the next. University of Florida professor Dr. Russell Robinson models rehearsal techniques on his DVD Middle School Singers: Turning Their Energy into Wonderful Choirs. It includes examples from a convention appearance and regular classroom.

No matter what, end every rehearsal with a positive musical experience. On the first day of the year, that may be as simple as singing a four-measure unison phrase in tune. Later on, it may be the performance of a passage of harmony with shaping and dynamics. You know your students; set achievable goals and work towards them, bit by bit, taking pride in each success along the way. As your students walk back out into the hallway after class, they should take with them a feeling of accomplishment and self-worth. And that feeling is what creates lifelong musicians.

The History of the Christmas Carol

Anna WentlentBy Anna Wentlent, Managing Editor of School Choral and Classroom Publications

Not a holiday season goes by that we musicians are not involved in a performance of some kind, whether it be a professional concert, school performance, church pageant, or sing-a-long around the piano at home. Undoubtedly, carols will form the bulk of the repertoire. More than any other time of year, the holidays are distinguished by music. We have a shared repertoire of music that is known and sung by people of all ages and ethnicities.

Hymns written specifically for the holiday of Christmas first appeared in fourth-century Rome. These were Latin statements of Church doctrine, such as “Of the Father’s Love Begotten,” which is still sung in churches today. In the twelfth century, Adam of St. Victor, a Parisian monk, began to derive music from popular songs, introducing something a bit closer to the traditional Christmas carol that we know today.

Under the influence of Francis of Assisi, a tradition of popular Christmas carols in native languages began to develop in England, France, Germany, and Italy. The first documented appearance of English carols is seen in the work of chaplain John Awdlay, who lists twenty-five “caroles of Cristemas” that were sung by groups of “wassailers” who went from house to house. Derived from traditional drinking and folk songs, these songs were often accompanied by dancing (in fact, the word “carol” comes from an Old French word meaning “circle dance”) and were probably written for many important celebrations, such as New Year and the harvest, in addition to Christmas.

Originally, carols were festive, up-tempo, and followed similar Medieval chord patterns; classic examples of this are “Good King Wenceslas” and “The Holly and the Ivy.” Amateurs outside easily sang them. But by the Victoria era, carols were being sung in churches and performed by local orchestras and choirs. This time period is when many of the carols that we sing today were first written and published. New carols in varying styles were added to the repertoire, such as Gustav Holst’s “In the Bleak Midwinter” and Franz Gruber’s “Silent Night.”

“Silent Night” was first performed on Christmas Eve in 1818 in the small town of Oberndorf, Austria. The young priest of the parish church, Father Joseph Mohr, brought his lyrics to organist Franz Gruber just before the evening service and asked him to compose a melody and guitar accompaniment. Since that first performance, “Silent Night” has become one of the most well-known Christmas carols of all time. During the World War I Christmas truce, an unofficial ceasefire on Christmas Eve in 1914, it was one of the carols that British and German soldiers sang together between the trenches, each in their own language.

Today carols continue to be written and performed in both sacred and secular settings. We hope that you will include one or two (or more) on your program this holiday season, whether traditional or entirely new. Who knows what piece will be the next “Silent Night?”

Composition in the General Music Classroom

Anna WentlentBy Anna Wentlent,
Editor of School Choral and Classroom Music

In the midst of current education reforms, all teachers are working hard to incorporate the Common Core standards into their traditional programs of study. Music teachers have the advantage of a rich history of standards-based education using the National Standards for Music Education. And music itself is an integrated subject that naturally connects to other academic areas. In particular, music composition presents numerous possibilities for addressing the new standards within your established curriculum.

The fourth National Standard reads as follows: “Composing and arranging music within specified guidelines.” Composition is truly an integrated activity. Regular classroom lessons and projects can be designed to encompass the majority of the other music standards, as well as many English and mathematics standards. Mathematical concepts such as fractions, percentages, patterns, and sequences are addressed through the analysis of rhythm, melodic contour, and musical form. English literacy is addressed as students are called upon to self-assess their individual and ensemble performances and compositions in an articulate manner using appropriate vocabulary. Along the way, the students’ preparatory work, notated music, and class performances offer excellent opportunities for concrete assessment.

Composition should not be an activity reserved for the most experienced and well-trained musicians. Everyone is instinctively creative, and students of all ages should be given frequent opportunities to compose in the general music classroom. Don’t let your students’ limited knowledge of music notation hold them back. Composition is first and foremost a creative endeavor! And your students will have you to guide them through the creative process of making musical decisions, testing and revising ideas, making a written record of those ideas, etc. Young children without an understanding of formal notation can be asked to “notate” their composed work so that others might understand it, using self-designed symbols, musical drawings, and other visual representations.

Frequent compositional activities will hopefully leave your students with a greater respect for composers and the process of writing or arranging a piece of music, as well as an appreciation for music notation. I have found that students are much more motivated to learn about notes and rhythms when they are regularly exposed to practical applications of that knowledge, such as composition and performance.

Autumn Composition Project

Prep: If time allows, spend some class time listening to and discussing one or more of the following works of program music. Some tell a sequential story, some create a picture or scene.

  • Bach’s Suite for Solo Cello No.1 in G Major
  • Beethoven’s Symphony No.6 (“Storm” Movement)
  • Bernstein’s “Dance at the Gym” from West Side Story
  • Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” from Peer Gynt
  • Grieg’s “Sunrise” from Peer Gynt
  • Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain
  • Ridout’s Fall Fair
  • Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee
  • Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre
  • Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons

K-2nd Grade: As you play the piece for the first time, have the students close their eyes and just listen to the music. When you play the piece a second time, prompt them to let their imaginations run wild . . . Imagine a scene that might be happening while this music is playing. What do you see? What type of people and animals are there? What are they doing? Are they happy, sad, excited, or worried? Afterwards, have your students sketch a picture of the scene they imagined. Prompt them to include meaningful details to fill in the story.

3rd-5th Grade: Instruct the students to write down words or phrases that come to mind as they are listening. After the piece is finished, work together as a class to compile a master list of words and phrases. Challenge them to use similes, metaphors, and other literary devices they may be learning about in their English lessons. Use the master list to write a class poem that reflects on the piece of music to which they just listened.

Once the connection has been made between musical sound and the written word, you can guide your students in working from the opposite direction to create their own musical compositions. Select poetry with relevant themes and vivid imagery. At this time of year, you might use “Autumn Woods” by James S. Tippett (for K-2nd grade) or “Leaves” by Elsie N. Brady” (for 3rd-5th grade).

Begin by reading and discussing the poem with your class. Then provide an example or two of connections that can be made between the text and musical sound. Work as a class to isolate one line of the poem and create a musical sound that reflects or adds to the scene. In fact, if you’re just introducing composition to your students, you might do all of this preparatory work together as a class, coming up with a master list that your students can select from when they actually create their work. Examples for the above poems might be the sound of a person slowly walking through an empty forest, wind whistling through the trees, leaves falling to the ground, or a grandfather clock ticking. Older students can delve into more complex musical representations, such as the sound of a sunrise or a fall afternoon.

Separate the students into groups of a workable size, perhaps three or four students. The groups will then need structured classroom time to plan. Depending on the scope of the project, this may take an entire class or more. Each group should develop the details of their theme, brainstorm musical sounds, and design the musical form of their piece. It may be easier for younger students to actually tell a story through instrument sounds, while older students can be challenged to create a more traditional musical piece that reflects the theme of poem. Prompt them to consider musical elements that you may be learning about in class, such as texture, tempo, dynamics, etc. Then allow them to select classroom instruments. We all know that instruments can be both a motivator and a distraction. Saving them for the end of the compositional process will help your students to focus on their preparatory work! The parameters of instrument selection can be as wide or narrow as you choose.

I recommend creating “stopping points” within the project. For example, after each group has worked out the basic framework of their piece, allow them to perform a few musical ideas or even the first draft of their piece, soliciting constructive feedback from their peers. Testing and revising ideas is an important idea of the compositional process. The stopping points will also give you an opportunity to assess each group’s progression. When it comes to the final performance, consider displaying their written work, having the poem read aloud beforehand, or appointing a student announcer to introduce each group. Even if the students are simply performing for each other during regular music class, you can structure the event to impart mutual respect and importance. Create a positive experience that your students will enjoy and look forward to repeating in the future!