July 16th's Concert with Cape Harmony and Northern Lights - A Celebration of Plymouth North Vocal Music's (Recent) Past, Present & Future
The July 16th concert with Northern Lights and Cape Harmony is, truly, a celebration of the past, present, and future of Plymouth North Vocal Music.
A couple of weeks ago, at Northern Lights' Fundraiser Concert, I had the absolute joy of seeing Cape Harmony perform as an opening act. Cape Harmony is a professional all-female a cappella group made up of ten college-aged women from around the country who spend the summer living together in a house, and sharing vocal music for The Cape and South Shore almost every day for the entire season. Cape Harmony is a fantastic vocal group with a smooth, joyous sound that is doing the work that we need right now -- bringing happiness through great music. As I watched their set, I was beaming the entire time with a new sense of pride that I hadn't experienced before.
In March, I tweeted at the very end of the Les Mis sitzprobe. It looked something like this:
While much of this was due to a pretty spectacular night of music from the Les Mis orchestra and cast, I had just found at that two Plymouth North Vocal Music/A Cappella alums, Merin English and Julia McBride, were offered spots in Cape Harmony. They were going to spend the summer singing a cappella professionally, and living out my college dreams (but that's another blog post).
So with all of that backstory, let me tell you a bit about why this concert is a celebration of Plymouth North Vocal Music's past, present, and future...
Now, right in between years six and seven of my time at Plymouth North High School, it's easy to look at what we have happening in our vocal music program and feel like it just sort of.. happened. This could be especially true if you are a student who sings in a choral or a cappella ensemble, or a student who just enjoys the singing that happens throughout the school at events, concerts, class day, etc. Thinking back to when chorus was made up of 20 out of 1300 people in the school, I can tell you with absolute certainty -- This did not sort of just happen. This is due to the immense amount of time, effort, perseverance and passion from the incredible alumni that have spent too many hours in 142A. Julia and Merin are two prime examples of that. Merin graduated in 2014, and I still see bits of her personality in our program that have been passed down from year to year by the upperclassmen who make an impact on people new to our ensembles. While more current students may remember Julia, Class of 2016, it is safe to say that she was a key role in setting the tone for our program. Her undying, often unhealthily obsessive passion for vocal music permeated through every person she made music with in her time here, and is a walking example of the positive growth a person can have when they choose to let an experience change them.
Plain and simple -- among many songs that we'll be performing, this will be the last time you'll hear Thalles rip apart Unchain My Heart, Taylor tear into your soul with Can't Be Love, Chris, Kyle and Amber rock The Chain, and Nat riff your face off with Love On The Brain, which, if you didn't go to the Fundraiser Concert, you haven't even heard yet! This year's group has made some great music, and this is going to be the last chance to hear them make it together.
I find myself having occasional conversations with colleagues who are curious as to who I think is going to 'make it big,' or suggesting that someone auditions for American Idol, and so on. I love these conversations, because they force me to count how many of our PNHS Vocal Music alumni are studying music, making music, and leading music making with others. Success is a very, very relative term in the arts. Students who sing at Plymouth North are leaving Plymouth with the skills to not only sing with other people, but to lead their peers in music. They are taking whatever craziness they've learned here and are able to spread that to others from around the country. I'll take that over The Voice any day. This concert will feature two Plymouth North High School Vocal Music alumni who are being paid money to sing for people. They are actually doing a cappella professionally. Read that again if you have to, and then consider that Plymouth has actually had at least two other alumni that I know about who have sung or currently sing a cappella professionally (including incoming PPS Social Studies Coordinator Rob Powers, who sang with the Hyannis Sound years ago)
This is not to say 'Hey everyone! Come to this concert and go nuts for these two anomalies who are still singing after high school!' This concert will feature a small, local slice of the musical opportunities that our students are set up for when they graduate Plymouth North. If you are a current or future musician in Plymouth High Schools, this concert is a celebration of the opportunities that await you on the other side, and proof that graduating is an opening of new doors, not just closing of old ones.
I truly hope that you will be able to make it to this concert on July 16th. Whether you are in our music program, will someday be in our music program, have ever been in our music program, generally enjoy the sounds our music program makes, or the people that make sound in our music program, it will be an evening to celebrate Plymouth music.
Northern Lights & Cape Harmony, Sunday July 16, 7pm, Memorial Hall in Plymouth, Tickets are $12 and can be ordered right now at www.pnhs-sings.com
It's All Going To Be Okay
I've found myself coming back to this blog post the night before auditions again, and I have a few important things to add for those of you that find yourself at least a tad nervous/anxious/excited for this week's auditions.
1. Anyone who has told you "DON'T DO A BEYONCE SONG OR A SARA BAREILLES SONG BECAUSE THOSE ARE GROSSMAN'S FAVORITES AND YOU WON'T GET INTO A GROUP" is lying to you. Beyonce songs are hard to sing, sure. Sara Bareilles songs have their advantages and challenges. What matters is what YOU DO WELL!!
2. I did some digging into scores from prior years and found some interesting data that I think is important to share. Two of the top scoring singers in last year's auditions, who both sing with auditioned choirs at North and both sing with Northern Lights, and both have established themselves as musical leaders -- when they auditioned at the end of 8th grade, they had the 35th and 36th lowest scores out of the 40 girls that auditioned that year (In 2017 they were the 4th and 5th highest scores of the 60 girls that auditioned). I literally can not say this enough -- 5 minutes of singing this week does not define you as a singer, musician, or person!!
Okay, that's it. I am so excited to hear you all sing this week! Let's go!
As we're heading into a week of auditions, I know that many of you are feeling a variety of emotions. I found myself thinking about this last night, and thinking back on what it was like auditioning in high school and college. Considering I haven't used this blog in two and a half years, I thought that this might be a good opportunity to write to the ninety students who are going to put themselves out there this week to say: I've been there.
In high school, we only had auditions for theatre, but my friends and I made them count. After callbacks, we'd talk on AOL Instant Messenger (Wikipedia link in case you haven't heard of that) for hours, coming up with different scenarios of how a show would be cast, and of course always including each other in our desired roles -- we couldn't help but recognize the frailty in each other that forced us to keep each other's hopes high. I couldn't sleep those nights, and I would make it a point to be the first person in school, often before the arrival of the principal, to be able to take in a cast list by myself, whether it meant excitement or disappointment.
In college, I stayed awake at night thinking through my auditions for Ithacappella, the IC Choir, and The Hyannis Sound. I spent an entire summer working towards my first Ithacappella audition, learning vocal percussion, practicing sight singing every day, literally doing cardio training to help my breathing, spending hours pouring through my music collection to find the perfect audition song that had my exact range and would show the precise dynamic differences necessary while giving me an opportunity to demonstrate both my chest voice AND falsetto, and then find the right key to do the song in.... you get the idea.
When the day finally came for that audition, I had my song prepared, an entire binder of arrangements to show off what I had been working on for the past year, and the week prior had been spent trying to make connections with people already in the group to show them how cool I was (Please note: I wasn't cool). If any of this sounds like Benji from Pitch Perfect, that's because I literally was him. I got a callback that year, but didn't get in, so I tried out for the mixed a cappella group, went through the whole process and rollercoaster of nerves again, got another callback, and didn't get in. This entire ordeal happened again my sophomore year, getting callbacks for both groups, and not getting in, and at that point I was the only person on the Ithaca College campus who had auditioned for and called back for every group he could at every opportunity he could and never had his name on a list to show for it, except another summer to look forward to of freaking out about auditions again.
All of this is to say, if your past week (or weeks) have been filled with any nervousness, fear, excitement, doubts, confidence, some combination of these or anything else, and especially if you've questioned anything of what you've felt, it's all okay. I've been there, and so have your friends, and anyone you know who performs, plays sports, works a job, or anything. Anything that you are feeling is normal, and comes with the territory of putting yourself and your work out there knowing that you might not get the exact end result that you want.
So my advice:
-A lot of people instinctively think about auditions and all of the moments in which that they might make a mistake. Think about your audition as an opportunity to come in and make music! Try to isolate those 5 minutes as an opportunity to make some noise for a few people and bring some light to their day.
-You don't need to go into an audition with your eyes on one prize. An audition can open up doors for you, no matter what the outcome, if you look for the doors and make the choice to open them. After not getting into Ithacappella as a freshman, I ended up getting involved in student run theatre, where I met the woman who is now my wife. I got interested in teaching music and theatre by working at a local summer camp, which would not have been possible if I got into The Hyannis Sound. There's a world of great opportunities out there, and in singing, you have a plethora right here at North to dive into and see where they take you.
I am so excited to hear each of you sing this week, even if while you're singing, I look like I hate literally everything (apologies in advance for that, it's my thinking/listening face, and it's not very comforting, but I'm working on it). Breathe, relax, come in and have some fun making noises with your face (and all of the other muscles needed in singing).
A message to Plymouth High Schools student musicians (and really, everyone else for that matter, because the fact is--our lives are full)
As we head into the new year and a new month, and as we are all doing everything possible to make the most of the final hours of what has been an extended, and much needed vacation, I find myself looking at the calendar for what is to come over the next few weeks, and in turn, the next few months. Going through all of this, one thing is incredibly clear--
You guys put in a lot of hours.
Sometimes you put in entire days, entire weekends, entire afternoons after school, and entire weeks.
So as you look ahead at what's in front of you and begin to get overwhelmed about diving back into it all after sixteen glorious days of break, take some time tonight and think about why you do what you do.
The next couple of months are going to be a whirlwind. Concerts, rehearsals, festivals, competitions, auditions, MORE rehearsals, EVEN MORE rehearsals, EXTRA rehearsals for the groups that you're already rehearsing for, tech weeks, performances, the list goes on. On top of that, some of you are called upon to lead rehearsals and arrange music. Others are working to balance jobs and other activities with what their ensembles and shows call for. You ALL are working to keep your grades up and strive academically throughout everything, and about a third of you are applying and auditioning at colleges. Some of you are doing, quite literally, every single thing listed here. You are all insane.
The reason I'm writing more than a tweet here is to say, I know that the next few months are crazy. Your efforts are noticed, acknowledge and appreciated. As a program, we will take it day by day and get through the insanity together.
However, it's not enough to come out alive. You have two options when school starts tomorrow, and as it starts every day for the rest of the year:
1) Be afraid, intimidated and stressed by what's on your plate and let it defeat you
2) Take on every day, rehearsal, class, application, workshop, performance, audition, shift, appointment, meeting, assignment, song, line and note as an opportunity to improve as people and musicians and prove that not only can you make it through without burning out, but you can let everything affect you for the better
What you do for the rest of this year can have a lasting impact on our program long past your own graduations. What you do each day has the potential to make an impact on our community, both large and small. When you look at your schedules and it seems like way too much to handle, take a moment and remember why you put in these hours. You've all experienced or seen the result of full commitment.
Let's hit the ground running and see what we can achieve together for the rest of the school year
First of all, welcome to the brand new pnhs-sings.com, the internet home of Plymouth North Vocal Music! There is plenty of information to get from this website for students, parents and community members involved in our program here!
In launching a new website, I thought it'd be good to have a first blog entry here to accompany all of the information. And, in announcing our 2015 musical on the same day, I went to Facebook to express my excitement towards our selection, but felt that I could go on for much longer than anyone would want a Facebook post to be. So, here we are!
I am incredibly happy to announce today that this March, the Plymouth High Schools VPA department will be producing Rent: School Edition. This an exciting and, at the same time, a somewhat terrifying endeavor for all of us, and we can not wait to take it on.
Before going into the show, I'd first like to mention our director, Kevin Mark Kline. Kevin is a theatre director in the Boston area who has been directing professionally for 13 years. He has a BFA in Musical Theatre Directing from Boston Conservatory, and I can say from having multiple conversations with him--he gets it. As much as I have enjoyed directing the past two PHS musicals, I am ecstatic to hand over those responsibilities to someone with the experience, education and leadership skills to bring this show and our students to their full potential. Kevin is the real deal, and is going to do fantastic work with our program this winter.
RENT is a sung-through contemporary musical (also known as a rock opera), written by Jonathan Larson, that premiered on Broadway in 1996. It ran for 12 years, and along the way picked up Tony Awards for Best Musical and Best Score, Drama Desk awards for Best Musical, Best Music, Best Lyrics, and Best Orchestrations, and some award called a Pulitzer Prize for Drama. In 2005, they also made a terrible, terrible movie of it, but we're going to pretend that that never happened.
RENT takes place in the Lower East Side of New York City in the early 1990s. It follows the stories of eight friends in their 20's, trying to be true to themselves and what/who they love in a society and culture that is making that increasingly difficult. The show's anthemic slogan that is repeated throughout the show is "No day but today," and this is the message that we will be working to send to the cast and crew of the production, as well as the community and the audiences of our performances.
RENT: School Edition, which is the production that PHS will be mounting, is a slightly abridged version of the original show. One song is cut entirely (Contact), some songs are shortened or changed for high school voices, and a handful of lines are changed for language purposes, so as to keep the show a bit more PG-13. Two of the main characters are still recovering addicts, four of them are living with HIV, and two of the couples in the show are same-gender, just like in the original production. More importantly, the changes in the script do a great job of making the material more accessible for teenagers, and will allow all involved (including the audience) to leave the production with Jonathan Larson's message.
We as a production team are going into this show with the hopes of raising the bar for every aspect of Plymouth High School theatre, and giving the students an opportunity to explore and express.
This is a show that has changed lives for the better. For some, it made them feel better and more comfortable about themselves. For others, it is what drove them into theatre. For most, it has served as a reminder that our time on earth is limited, and we have to make the most of what we have in the moment with the people that we love and the acts that make us love life. More than anything, we hope to show our students and community the positive power that theatre and art can have when we step out of our comfort zones and push further than we think we can or that we should.
Be on the lookout for parent and community meetings this fall and winter, in which we will be able to discuss the production, and you can gain more insight from myself, Kevin, and the rest of the production staff on how we are handling the material of RENT: School Edition.
Choral Director at Plymouth North High School. A Cappella director, arranger, clinician