Hello Mahler Fans,
We are now just 3 rehearsals from Dress Rehearsal Week.
This is a LONG EMAIL—sorry. Please read it all.
We want to keep you well informed.
Thanks to those who could stick around with the kids until I arrived, later than usual. Generally we have the church open by 6pm so we have time to set up, but I had a crazy afternoon that involved Urgent Care, and we only have one key to the church. Thanks for your flexibility—everything turned out fine. (There was a cell-phone left behind—contact the MYC office).
If any of you would be willing to arrive by 6:15 or so, to help with the set-up, that would be great. We move furniture, piano, white board, etc. It would free me up a little more, to be more available to answer the weekly 47 questions from kids and not have to keep shooing them out of the way.
HOW ARE THEY DOING?
There are moments of brilliance. Many. I hope they are conveying to you the excitement they are showing me—even the most recalcitrant stoics often show genuine joy when the group sounds amazing. And we still laugh a lot.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that there is a growing divide between the kids who practicing on their own and the ones who aren’t. It’s pretty obvious now.
I think there is a sense that my weekly assignments are optional. They are not.
2. Review 1-4. Younger kids have little experience practicing choir music on their own. Some kids figure it out, others just don’t even bother to try (“I don’t play the piano—how could I possibly practice anything on my own?”). All they need to do is open their music, pick a starting note, and see how far they can get, on their own. That’s practicing, and will get their brains firing for what they DON’T yet know, which means they’re further ahead next week. Just opening their music and staring at it is practice.
3. Numbers 3,5, 6 are NOW COMPLETELY MEMORIZED (that means, “I can sing this at home, without the choir, and not forget what comes next”). Double check.
EXTRA ASSIGNMENT: “Mahler Endurance”
Each week of April, I’m giving the kids a special “Mahler Endurance” challenge, to build up….well, to build up their ability to sit and listen to Mahler for long stretches where they don’t sing.
This week’s challenge: the opening orchestral Prelude to Part 2 (Faust Final Scene).
It’s about 10 minutes of slow, quiet music. Über Boring the first time. But ah….the second time...
They know they should, ideally:
1) Do nothing else but listen (no homework, conversation, etc.)
2) Use headphones, if possible (for this excerpt, which is mostly soft and creepy).
3) BEST OF ALL: listening to it alongside a patient adult, to share your reactions when it’s done.
My questions for them: [This is actually secret information—I told them they wouldn’t know the questions ahead of time, but if you are reading this email, your kid will smile with insider information]
1) The scene is what? (Mountains, gorges, cliffs, solitude) Name one thing Mahler does musically to create that scene, since there is no visual.
2) The whole first 10 minutes is based on just a few tiny musical tunes (called “motifs”). Can you sing one of them?
3) The spooky orchestral mood is finally broken by what? (the men of the choir singing, spookily, “forests, rocks, roots”)
HOW YOU CAN HELP YOUR KIDS (as if you aren’t already)
Ask questions. Even questions that betray your own ignorance.
Use the ride to or from rehearsal to ask things like:
1) Explain to me: is there a story to Mahler 8?
2) What languages are you singing again? (Latin and German) Why those two?
3) Are there characters? Are you kids a character?
5) Is there a part you really like? Do you think Grandma is going to like this?
I’m trying to push my lifelong agenda with these kids: make them curious.
That’s about asking questions, and it needs to be modeled.
Screen culture has totally taught them to be passive receivers. (Sometimes I think I’m just another fast-moving, exciting—occasionally humorous—screen to them.) What screen culture has not done is taught them to speculate, to engage their own imaginations in free play, to wonder about things.
Frankly, the number of crazy things in Mahler 8’s text should prompt lots of questions, like “Huh? What?!!”
They are often quite passive and incurious about stuff that is meant to provoke (and on the surface makes little sense).
So please, engage with your kid. Compel them to ponder and wonder.
Having to “teach" you any weird detail will help them understand it better. Thanks!
Here’s to the joy of these unlikely partners, regular Madison kids and Gustav Mahler,