Blog Post the Second: Christmas carols for corporate occasions

Recently I’ve had the opportunity to sing Christmas carols at a few private corporate events. It’s been fun, and definitely invigorating in that sight-reading-the-alto-line-in-public kind of way. Actually it all went pretty well, sight-reading included. I got lost on my way to the first event, which I am firmly blaming on GoogleMaps, but it should probably noted that I had warned one of my co-carollers ahead of time that I was likely to call her from someplace near the venue, unable to figure out exactly where it was. Which certainly raises a certain inference, as does the fact that I was still about 15 minutes early when I called her, because I’d given myself lots of extra time to get there.

It was totally the fault of GoogleMaps, though.

Once we got there, we had the usual fumbling around of a group thrown together at the last minute: where are we supposed to stand? By the doors? On the stage, or in front of it? Are we being mic’d? They said we were going to have little clip-on mics for each of us, but … okay, they don’t have those, but they do have 2 wireless hand-held mics we can share. Does anyone know how close we need our mouths to be to these things? And so forth. Luckily, the other carollers were there early too, so we got most of that out of the way before the guests started arriving.

The next exciting moment was when we attempted to follow our instructions to sing “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” just at the moment when Santa Claus burst into the room. It might have worked if there hadn’t been a few crossed wires somewhere, because Santa had his own wireless mic and I think they might have filled a stand-up comedian to play the part. We did eventually sing the song, just … after Santa had already come to town.

Maybe if I weren’t also an editor, singing about past events in the present tense wouldn’t bug me. At least we weren’t singing “Here Comes Santa Claus”. I don’t know if I could have resisted changing the lyrics.

There went Santa Claus, there went Santa Claus … I don’t think it would have gone over very well.


Blog Post the First: in which I expand my mathematical horizons

This fall has definitely involved expanding some of my limits. Specifically, my tutoring limits. It started in October when one of my math students from last year wanted to know if I might be able to tutor her again this year. Usually that is an excellent kind of email to get, but in this case I was rather hesitant because last year I was tutoring her in PreCalc 11, which she needed to graduate from high school, and this year she is in college and taking Finite Mathematics.

The course name was familiar. Eventually I remembered that it was the course that made my sister cry, back in her first year of college. So that was a little daunting. I never took math past high school, myself. I did take Math 12 (honours, even), but I knew when I read the course description that Finite Math was going to involve several entirely new topics for me.

I made sure my student understood that I had never even learned this stuff before, let alone tutored it, and she assured me that she still wanted me to tutor her, so the past couple of months have involved all sorts of things like permutations and combinations, matrices and Markov chains, and the Gauss-Jordan elimination method for solving systems of linear equations. I’ve enjoyed it, because I have a strange mind that finds this sort of thing captivating, but the course definitely covers a lot of tricky material.

My student tells me that she’ll be taking a different kind of math next semester, with topics that will be more familiar to both of us. I admit that this is a relief. At the same time, I’ve been reviewing all the math classes that Camosun offers—there are 2 different classes on math for ship construction and stability! How cool is that!—and halfway wishing I could take all the ones with topics I haven’t studied before. Since I have to choose where to spend my energy, I’ll stick with my music theory classes, but I’m actually really pleased to have been introduced to the topics of Finite Mathematics. (Just don’t tell my sister.)

Blog Post the Fifth: Tutoring singing

One really cool thing I’ve been able to do this semester is help my classmate, Cade*, with our repertoire for Vocal Jazz. He is the ONLY tenor in the ensemble. There are 3 other guys, but they all sing bass. Cade is also new to singing. Louise Rose, who directs the ensemble, is super proud of him and always likes to talk about his first rehearsal when he wasn’t sure about being there because he hadn’t ever sung before. It turns out that Cade actually has a really strong voice, and I don’t know what the group would do without him. (I mean … SAB rep, I guess, but it wouldn’t be as fun.)

Some of the pieces we learned this fall are pretty tricky, especially for the inner voices. One of them even has a substantial tenor solo, although really, any time the tenors have a line by themselves, it’s a tenor solo for Cade. Earlier in the semester, he was having some trouble learning some of the lines because they were really difficult. The alto lines I was trying to learn were difficult too, so we started meeting up once a week or so to practise our lines together.

Along with learning our lines and singing them together so that we get used to the crunches, I’ve given Cade a few tips about singing and practising—or to use the fancy version, vocal production and rehearsal techniques for choral music. Things like engaging the diaphragm to support the breath, and playing the melody line on the piano while singing your own line so that you’re learning it in the actual context of the song. (For those who are more accomplished at piano than Cade or I, playing all the other parts while singing your own is even better. But just playing the melody still helps.)

It can be hard to know how much I’m really helping someone when they aren’t taking, to pick an example at random, math tests on a regular basis that will show their progress. Cade tried to give me the credit for his success at our recent Christmas concert, but that was definitely due to his efforts. I helped, but he was the one who actually did the work and sang his lines. The last person I want to emulate is Henry Higgins from My Fair Lady! The tutor never deserves the credit for the student’s work—and somehow I doubt that Cade sees himself as Eliza Doolittle. For the record, though, Eliza worked really hard and was very successful, so Cade has that in common with her!


*Cade gave me permission to use his name. He’s a percussion student in my program and a great guy.

A Brief Note

I realised after posting my second blog post tonight that it had tomorrow’s date on it, so I went back into my settings and corrected my time zone—again, but this time I figured out that I had to click the “save changes” button above the time zone selector rather than the one below it—and as a result, the subsequent blog posts have the correct date and time stamps, but the first two (“Blog Post the First” and “Blog Post the Second”) are still showing as having been posted tomorrow, which means that they’re showing as the most recent posts instead of the first ones. Since I’ve been titling my posts numerically, it’s obvious what order they were actually written in, but I wanted to make a note of it in case anyone wonders why they’re out of order. Also so that my Music Profession prof will know that I did actually post all these tonight, not tomorrow. (Hi Damian!)

Blog Post the Fourth: Dealing with the unexpected

I wanted to write about one other thing that happened at one of the carolling gigs, because it was one of the most surreal moments I’ve had while performing.

This particular event took place during the day, and it was one of the few gorgeous sunny days we’ve had recently, so the people running the event decided to set us up just outside the entrance to the venue. There was a minivan parked near the entrance, partially blocking it, so the event manager borrowed one of our mics to ask its owner to move it, warning that it would be towed in five minutes otherwise.

A few minutes later, in the middle of Jingle Bells, we heard a loud noise. It was a man holding a sweatshirt up against the passenger window of the van, and smashing it with a rock. I mean—not successfully. He tried quiet a few times, though. I had to make myself stop watching him and focus on the music.

We managed to keep singing through our collective surprise and I got so distracted that when we finished our set, I looked over and the van was gone. I have no idea what happened to it. I think I would have noticed a tow truck—we were only 8 or 10m away from it! But I also would have thought I’d notice it being driven away, or the window actually smashing, so. Who knows? I just hope it was the owner of the van who was trying to break in. He wasn’t in the event uniform, so I’m fairly sure it wasn’t one of the workers. I think some of the people lined up next to the van probably asked him what was up, but maybe not. I don’t know that I’d question a guy who was using a pointy rock the size of my head to try to break into a vehicle.

Blog Post the Third: Further adventures in tutoring subjects I don’t know

When I wrote that the fall had been a time of expanding my tutoring boundaries, I didn’t just mean in math. I’m taking a class called German Diction—or Lyric Diction—or Vocal Diction and IPA—depending on who you ask. (IPA stands for the International Phonetic Alphabet and is one of my favourite things.) The class is taught at the VCM by Kiiri Michelsen and it cycles through 4 semesters over 2 years, to cover German, French, English, and Italian. This is my first time taking it, although I plan to take the next 3 semesters as well. It’s an excellent class.

The course is intended for classical singers, and it covers every aspect of how to prepare the text of a song in the given language, from translating it, to pronouncing every syllable correctly, to interpreting the poetry and shaping the phrases in a natural way. It doesn’t have any prerequisites except maybe the ubiquitous English credit.

I already had something of an introduction to IPA and a solid grounding in basic German before I took the class, and as a language tutor, I’m used to paying attention to the way words and sentences are constructed. This certainly gave me an advantage over the students who have never studied IPA or German before; they had a much steeper learning curve. A number of my classmates have also studied German before, though, and several of them have taken Kiiri’s class in other languages in past semesters. All things considered, I was pretty surprised when one of the students in the class asked me to tutor her in it.

I had to double-check that yes, she was indeed asking me to tutor her in a class that we were both taking together. I suggested that we just study together, and she counter-offered that she would buy me a tea or coffee each time. I am pretty much incapable of turning down either, so I happily accepted that as a reasonable compromise.

We’ve only had a couple of actual study sessions, but I think I’ve been helpful. My classmate tells me that she thinks I’m a great tutor, which is always lovely to hear and also rather reassuring in this case, since I’m getting tea and coffee (and a muffin one time!) out of the deal.

Our final exam is on Friday morning, but since I have 4 other exams, a few final assignments to complete, and several documents to edit between now and then, I’m not thinking about it too much yet. Regardless of my final grade, I know my German diction, comprehension, and interpretation have improved a lot this fall, so I’m happy with the class. If I can be as effective a tutor as Kiiri is a teacher, I’ll be doing very well and so will my students!