Abject Fear

If you don’t pass through a stage of abject fear on your way to the first day of school, you are in the distinct minority. Here are three reasons I have that fear on a rotating basis:

  1. Trying something new – what if it doesn’t work?
  2. Repeating past successes – what if it was only luck?
  3. Connecting with my students – what if they don’t respond?

My abject fear is balanced by a trust that my past experience will guide me through difficulties and help me solve new problems.

What about you? How does your anxiety for the first day of school manifest itself, and how do you face it down?

Not On Your Résumé

We are all more than what we look like on paper.

If you compiled a perfect version of your own résumé for the job you hold today, what wouldn’t be on it?

In other words, what do you bring to your job that can’t be clearly shown on paper?

Don’t overlook those things that can’t be quantified. Often they are the things that best separate you from others, and make you extraordinary at what you do.

Own all of yourself, not just what you can write down.


Spend a few moments in the next few weeks sending good vibes to the teachers about to start.

The new teachers are feeling every emotion, often in quick succession. Fear – elation – joy – apprehensiveness – anger.

The new teachers were overjoyed to get offered a job – I get to practice my craft!  – and then immediately were overtaken by anxiety – I have to be an expert in front of students every day!

Send good vibes to them, make them dinner, send a Starbucks gift card (they’ll need caffeine to make it through Year One.)

You want the new teachers to last until they’re the seasoned teachers, perpetuating a legacy. lean over and give them a hand, any way you can.

And keep and eye on them all this year.

Our Musical Hammer

Consider the old expression, “When all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.”

Almost always, my response to whatever challenge the world throws at me is, “Make music.” I am, of course, mindful that this makes me guilty of seeing every situation as a “nail” awaiting the “hammer” of singing.

But in the end, I think – no “hammer” has more weight, more power, more breadth, than singing out loud. Music can bring people together, music can heal wounds, music can make you feel others’ pain, music can soothe, comfort, anger, and inspire.

Our musical hammer is one heck of a multi-purpose tool.

In other words…

This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.

– Leonard Bernstein

Sing a song.
Let the world sing along.
Sing of love there could be,
Sing for you and for me.

Sing a song.
Make it simple, to last
Your whole life long.
Don’t worry that it’s not good enough
For anyone else to hear.
Just sing
Sing a song.

– Joe Raposo, Sing Sesame Street

The best way to spread Christmas cheer
Is singing out loud for all to hear.

– Buddy The Elf, Elf

People who make music together cannot be enemies, at least while the music lasts.

– Paul Hindemith


No one consents to fit in their box anymore.

Renee Fleming records jazz. Bobby McFerrin conducts symphony orchestras. Jim Carrey paints.

We, the audience, like boxes – genres – because they help us decide what we think of art. When we say “I don’t listen to jazz,” or “every music but Country,” or, “I’m just not a show tune person,” we are using genre as a tool to reduce the judgements we have to make. However, listen for very long and you find a favorite artist working in a genre you don’t do, or vice versa.

Guess what? No one has ever fit perfectly in a simple box. Or rather, our boxes are all uniquely shaped by a vast number of interests that are not easily consolidated to one thing.

We are none of us a single genre. We are all capable of many, and different, arts. Make them all.

Don’t force yourself into a box. You contain multitudes.

Joni’s Best Three Song Sequence

Like many people, Blue (1971) is my favorite album of Joni Mitchell. It’s a work of art from beginning to end, and never fails to move me.

But I think the best three song sequence she every laid down is the final three songs of her 1970 album Ladies of the Canyon.

10. Big Yellow Taxi
11. Woodstock
12. The Circle Game

These three songs, taken individually, belong on any greatest hits list. Together, they are a towering statement of protest, perspective, and individual power.

Don’t it always seem to go,
That you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.
They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot…

We are stardust, we are golden.
We are billion-year-old carbon.
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden…

And the seasons go ’round and ’round,
And the painted ponies go up and down.
We’re captive on the carousel of time.
We can’t return, we can only look
Behind from where we came,
And go ’round and ’round and ’round
in the Circle Game…


In word and tune, a perfect and powerful journey.

It merits a listen today.

When It Gets Tough

I’m looking ahead to when the rehearsals get challenging–intonation sags, notes aren’t learned, focus is nonexistent.

It’s a guaranteed part of being in a group of people.

It’s easy, in those moments to point fingers, blaming others in the ensemble. It’s easy to let progress stop, to let negativity rule the rehearsal.

But remember:

  1. We’re working for the same goal.
  2. We’re all human: capable of failure, desirous of success.
  3. Blame and recriminations are not productive.

And most importantly, the conductors – the leaders – must lead. We must stand up, show the group the way forward, and speak with words that guide, teach, and unite.

Getting Energy Back

Something to look forward to in final preparations for the start of the school year:

All year long, the energy you use is reciprocal – you get emotional energy back, in the form of responsive students, musical moments, and more.

The many hours of summer work don’t come with the same reciprocal energy – they are simply expenditures of energy, but with little or no return.

I’ve written before about building capacity for the next school year, but there’s something to be said for transitioning into the reciprocity of your emotional energy usage during school.

Hang tight, it’s coming soon!

Choir Teacher Pre-Assignment

You have your choir calendar with all the dates set.

What you probably haven’t planned for is the post-concert/festival/event publicity.

Realize, my friends, that local newspaper loves printing stories about great things happening in their community. If you write the articles, add a picture or two, and know the right email to send it to, it’s almost inevitable that it gets published. It’s good news for everyone!

Realize, too, that you can already write 90% of the article you’ll want to publish after the event. The details/achievements might change, but most of what you want to write is already clear.

Do yourself a favor and don’t wait to write the article until after the event – when you’re depleted from the work.

Your assignment is to write the articles now. Maybe pick two or three that you know will be hard in the moment. (I, for example, know that March is a struggle to juggle for me.) Save them in a document, and add a private event reminding you to polish them the day after the concert.

When the time comes, you’ll only have a few minutes work to get a perfect article in the hands of your local newspaper…and in front of the eyes of your community members.

We’ll Try Again Tomorrow

Sometimes the best thing to say today is, “We’ll try again tomorrow.”

It doesn’t always go right; things fall apart (thanks, Pema Chödrön); harsh words are spoken; sleep is interrupted; rehearsals don’t go as well as planned; tears are shed.

We’ll try again tomorrow.

You need to take the long view. Today isn’t the beginning, and it isn’t the end. You will have more chances.

We’ll try again tomorrow.

If you’re starting a journey, remember this mantra. If you’ve been on it for a while, you know the truth of its sentiment. When a Monday gets away from you, your students can’t sing in tune, and fire drills interrupt your every hour, remember…

We’ll try again tomorrow.