If you have ever sung a capella (without any accompaniment) you know how difficult it is to stay in tune. It is easy, even natural, to change key without realizing you are doing it. If you sing with a group, this becomes even more difficult.
So, if you have 360 people, it is incredibly difficult. And if, during that song, you have 360 people singing barbershop style harmonies and doing very exact key changes, well....that's seriously amazing.
Love this version of "Jingle Bells" by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I think the barbershop feeling really adds to the song, capturing that early American feel.
A few years ago, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir did an arrangement of "Angels We Have Heard in High" that I thought was seriously heavenly. Then, the other day, I was listening to Christmas music on Pandora (oh, beloved Pandora!!!!!) and heard this arrangement. I haven't figured out which came first, but I think this is glorious! The ascending key changes are magnifcent. First rate stuff here.
The hymn is based on a French carol.
Last night I was working late doing some editing on the sequel for The Kindling. I was stretched out on the couch by the tree and the whole scene was so cozy I thought I'd pass it along. You can see the tree and then the Christmas village on the piano across the room underneath our beloved Currier and Ives prints.
To be honest, I don't really like the movie The Polar Express. And to continue being honest, I am not a big Josh Groban fan. However, I love this song that Josh Groban sings from that movie. It is, I think, perfect for what it attempts to do. It is haunting, ethereal, but also very powerful. The first lines are, "Children sleeping, snow is softly falling, dreams are calling, like bells in the distance. We were dreamers, not so long ago. But one by one we all had to grow up. When it seems the magic slipped away, we find it all again on Christmas day...."
The song sounds like the scene it describes. You can hear the snow falling. The background voices give it an otherworldly, dreamy quality. The lush harmonies, the swelling, ascending melodic line give it great power.
I also love the lyrics--"We were dreamers not so long ago, but one by one, we all had to grow up" is really well-written.
I have always loved the Muppets. And I love Christmas. So, this one is a no-brainer for me.
Note: I have posted this for a year or two in various forms. I worry about it a bit because I don't want to seem self serving. But, I usually get a lot of good feedback, so I will post it for whatever it is worth.
What a wonderful time of year! A big part of this season, of course, is the giving of gifts. And, with that comes wondering and worrying about what to give to various people in your life. Your husband, wife, boss, neighbors, and your child's teacher.
I can't help you with the others, but I can give you some tips on what to give your child's teacher. I have some expertise in this since I am a teacher, so I have my own experience as well as hearing the reactions of all my colleagues over the years. So, based on that, let me give you some thoughts.
You are certainly not obligated to give a gift. If you want to--I think that's great. If you don't want to, can't, whatever, that's fine, too.
Personally, I always make sure we give our children's teachers something. It's always very modest, but I think it's important.
Here's why: I can't overstate how demanding and exhausting teaching is. Wonderful and rewarding, yes--but also exhausting. It's very much like being a parent--a constant flow of giving, giving, giving. You give emotionally and mentally and you risk emptying the well sometimes.
Having someone give back using the same currency (eg emotional and mental) really helps fill the well back up.
DO NOT feel obligated to spend a lot of money, especially in this economy. In fact, you can spend no money and give an incredibly memorable gift (see below).
DO acknowledge the fact that your child's teacher does a great deal. Yes, he or she is paid. However, a good teacher is simply not compensated anywhere near the amount of time he or she invests and is not paid for any of the emotional energy given.
One of the most valued gifts I know of is a sincere note written by a child that is detailed and specific in expressing gratitude. These are treasured. I'm serious. It's also wonderful to get these from parents. Most teachers teach to make a difference and most worry, I think, that they aren't doing enough, or well enough or could do more or need to do better. Knowing you are achieving that objective is powerful medicine. If your child is problematic in class, I would especially encourage you to do something. I have a folder in which I keep these sort of notes and in a fire, it's one of the first things I would grab.
If your child has multiple teachers, DO NOT give a gift to one teacher and not another. Someone does this every year and it can really hurt people's feelings. Remember that teachers are human with feelings. If you must do this, and I can see why there would be occasions to do it, at least give the gift discretely so no one else will see.
DO think of those who will be left out. Every school has a few popular teachers that everyone loves. They get tons of stuff. But the less popular teachers work hard, too. It's not their fault they are not as charismatic, etc. Be thoughtful. You might also consider the custodial staff, etc. A plate of cookies for them would be very thoughtful. I realize you can't necessarily get something for everyone--but just There is a parent at our school who remembers the lunch laides and custodians every year. Every year. I think that shows a lot about her.
DO NOT feel pressure to be creative or clever. If you don't want to follow my advice and do a nice note then it truly is the thought that counts for most teachers. A list of my favorite gifts over the years would reveal no pattern beyond thoughtfulness.
If you are super busy and want a quick idea, go for a gift card. Teachers don't often have vast amounts of of disposable income and having a gift card to Target or Wal-Mart or a restaurant, even in a modest amount, makes me feel rich and give me a chance to buy something fun for myself or my wife without having to worry about budgetary impact.
If you want to do something more personal, then you have a little more work to do. Finding out their favorite restaurant, spa, etc. is also a good idea. One year, one student got some movie passes for us since there was a movie they knew we wanted to watch and knew it would be expensive for our big family. The kindness and thoughtfulness in that gesutre still warm my heart beyond the value of the gift. Another family gave me some really amazing, high-end toffee and candy one year and some homemade treats the next year. Some families have special recipes for hot cocoa or cookie mixes--the list goes on and on, but all of this warms my heart to equal degrees because I know they spend time and effort--which is what I've tried to do for their children.
Another idea is a Christmas tree ornament. Over the years I have received several of these. I always write the student's name and year on it, and each year, as we decorate our tree, I have warm and happy memories of that family.
You might also consider group gifts. One year, the parents in my son's class all contributed a few dollars and got her a gift card to the mall. Then, everyone had their child draw a picture and write what they loved about the teacher. We laminated these and made them into a book. I know she really loved that gift.
I'm telling you, you do not have to spend lots of money. It truly is the thought that counts. If your child attends a public school, there might be instructional or classroom supplies your teacher would love that are not in his or her budget. Talking to the room parents or the teacher is a good idea there.
One last idea:
May I suggest that, along with the gift, you tell them explicitly that you do not want them to write you a thank you note? This is one of the most thoughtful things I've experienced from parents. I am, of course, happy to write thank you notes, but when someone tells me not to worry about it, it is a true gift, saving time and some money. I know a lot of teachers who spend a fair amount of time over the break writing thank you notes and then spend a bit of money mailing the notes (one doesn't always want to trust the child to deliver it).
Two years ago, I did this with my own children's teachers and some of them literally burst into tears out of gratitude. So, I feel like I'm really on to something here. Some may write a note anyway and feel that this is important modelling for the student to see. I do understand that point of view. My own thought, for what it's worth, is that things revolve around the student all year long. The point of giving a gift is to say thank you to the teacher--not to teach the student something else.
But, this is just a thought.
Note: All of my current students and parents who I know read this blog do a great job at this! I wouldn't have posted this otherwise.
I hope everyone had a happy and serene Thanksgiving. If you have had the patience to stick around this blog for a year or more, you'll know that Christmas is A. Big. Deal. here at bradenbell.com. At our vast corporate headquarters, the maintenance staff has been working around the clock to get the building decorated. The marketing department is having a Christmas trivia with the legal offices, the tech support folks are wearing Santa hats to work, we have days where everyone wears their pajamas, eats sugar cookies, and drinks egg nog is on tap in the employee lounge.
Of course, as a believing Christian, Christmas is the birthday of my King, something I enjoy for profound reasons that go as deep as my soul. But, I also just love it all! The fun, the music, the decorations, the food--you name it. It's just a wonderful time of year and I like to celebrate that. So, throughout the month, I'll be posting some of my favorite music or movie suggestions and so on.
Last night, the denizens of Mockingbird Cottage hopped in the car and went and got our tree. After letting the branches fall overnight, we put the lights and decorations on it this evening. We have our favorite Christmas candle burning (Yankee Candle Bayberry. Seriously. It's what Christmas smells like), the nativity sets are up, the stockings are hung--it's time to make merry!
Tonight, since it is Sunday, I thought I'd start out with one of my all-time favorites. Besides being a beautiful song, there is a fascinating human story behind this oratorio. I'll write more about it later. For now, just enjoy the magnificence of Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus."
I have a vivid memory of something that happened following the very successful opening performance of one of my plays. The performance had been quite good--one of our best at the time. There was a feeling of celebration in the air as people congratulated the cast, each other, and of course, me. I was talking to the parent of one of my students, but our conversation kept getting interrupted by kids running up to give me a hug or adults complimenting me as they walked past.
The parent to whom I was speaking looked at me with some apparent envy and said, "You have the best job in the world."
What he didn't know was that earlier, I'd taken my ten-year old car to the mechanic and was now looking at a $500 repair bill that was going on my credit card--joining a long, sad history of similar car repairs.
Why do I drive an old car that needs so many repairs? Because I'm a school teacher and it's what I can afford.
In that moment, it did appear that I had a wonderful job. And I do. But he was seeing something that happens literally twice a year, and he wasn't seeing the other parts of the job. He didn't see the students talking when I wanted their attention. He didn't see the sleepless nights as I worried the play wouldn't come together. He didn't see the hours and hours of rehearsals, the hundreds of emails managing the most mundane details and logistics. He didn't see the conversations with disappointed students or with angry parents when the cast list came out. He didn't see the fact that teaching, while rewarding, does not include large compensation. Please understand, I'm not complaining. Teaching brings many rewards and my school treats me generously. But everyone knows that you will not make a great deal of money as a teacher. It's a fact of life.
I am amazed at the number of people who do not realize that choices have consequences. Some are good and some are bad. I chose to become a teacher. It has brought a lot of wonderful things into my life. It has also brought some difficult, stressful, and even heart-breaking things as well. I imagine that if I'd been a surgeon or a lawyer, I would say the same thing.
I know this seems glaringly obvious. However, as obvious as it may seem, I'd say the majority of people in my experience do not act, or live, as if it is obvious (I'll admit that I include myself in that group sometimes). To the contrary. So I think we can all use a reminder.
You can't choose to be a teacher and then complain about driving an old car. You can't choose to be a heart surgeon or CEO and then complain that you don't have time with your family. You can't choose to spend time with your family and then complain that you don't have a high-powered career.
During my high school years and early twenties, I dreamed of performing. If not on Broadway, at least in regional theatres and summer stock. I was pretty good. Objectively speaking, I think I could have probably made it. Perhaps not big, but I think I could have done well enough to make a living.
But I wanted a family. I wanted a wife and children. I didn't think I could do both. And when I got married, my wife and I decided we wanted children right away, and that she would stay home with the children and be a full-time mom. That meant I need to work regular hours to support the family. Which meant I couldn't pursue my dream of doing musical theatre on Broadway. (Incidentally, I am glad I made that choice. For me, it was the right one).
The reality is that life is full of trade-offs. Contra popular wisdom, you really can't have it all. Every choice will bring consequences that we'll love, and some we won't. When we encounter the consequences we don't like, we tend to start thinking we should have made a different decision.
There are some decisions that are clear-cut choices between good and bad, wisdom and foolishness, right and wrong. But many, I think most, choices are not so clear-cut. They will have advantages and disadvantages. Wisdom teaches us to think about this and make an informed decision, understanding that we will need to accept the consequences we don't like along with those we do.
Middle school students really struggle with understanding this. So much of what we teach them is phrased in right/wrong terms. And that's appropriate when we are talking about whether to experiment with some behaviors and substances. But it's important, I think, to help them learn to be a little more nuanced in their thinking.
Every year I'm surprised by people who are surprised that participation in a school play means that there are some late nights when homework doesn't get done. Or that learning lines requires giving up some other activities in the evening. And so on.
I've found some success in this regard by asking lots of questions: "If you choose x, what are the the positive outcomes likely to be?" "What are the negative outcomes likely to be?" "What sacrifices might you have to make?" "Will those sacrifices be worth it?" And so on.
Middle school students are coming up on some major decisions that will impact the rest of their lives. Learning now to understand trade-offs and consequences is an important skill that we can't teach too soon, in my opinion.
We can go this pro-actively by walking kids through a series of questions before a decision is made. We can also do it retroactively by discussing consequences with them. "Why did you get a B-?" "Because the teacher hates me." "What did you do to earn a B-?" "Well, I talk a lot in class." "Was it fun to talk with your friends?" "Yeah." "Is it fun to get a B-?" "No." You're going to have to figure out which you want. You can't have fun in class and still get an A+." And so on. In my opinion, teaching retroactively is extremely important, and a step many parents fail to do because they are often working actively on helping the student avoid the consequences of their actions.
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