Thursday, April 24, 2008

Messiah College Presents - "Opera With and Without Words"

Actually, the performance is already over, but I just had to write about it and this is the first chance I've had!

Three years ago, Damian Savarino (my son's terrific voice teacher his four years at Messiah) and the Messiah College Music Department made history when they produced the first ever Opera Workshop at Messiah College. Opera Workshop was a 3 credit class the first year, although I believe that has changed due to the fact it was so popular, students wanted to take the class again next the following year(s). Possibly it is now an ensemble credit.

Although Opera Workshop's first and second performances were a series of opera scenes, this year, the exciting and ambitious plan was to stage an opera with orchestra. For the first part of the program, the orchestra played well-known opera music. For the second half of the program, Mr. Savarino chose to have the students perform Gianni Schicchi.

The production was fabulous!!! There was a full house and the audience loved it!!!! The directors of both orchestra and opera, as well as all the performers, did a wonderful job. It was obvious that a lot of thought was put into every aspect of the performance.

Besides our family, including all the grandparents, we brought eleven other audience members from our church and homeschool community. They adored the performance! I heard a teenager telling another young man all about it after church the next day and he was still laughing about the story line. This was a fantastic opera with which to begin - showing people who were unfamiliar with opera that it is fun and accessible.

In a brilliant move, Mr. Savarino cast music majors, a history major, theater majors, a business major and a math major, bringing their friends from those and other departments into the world of opera. And really involving the entire campus community. They will come back next year! And hopefully enjoy opera wherever they go for years to come.

Free opera - how good does it get?!!!

I look forward to Messiah College's Opera Workshop performances for years to come!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

No Head Shall Bow

Singing and the Brain

Craig sent me another wonderful article on the therapeutic benefits of music called "How singing unlocks the brain", describing how singing helped an Alzheimer patient and people who suffer with Parkinson's disease.

In my family's music ministry to local nursing homes, I have seen residents who seemed locked in their own world really respond when we sang hymns or other familiar songs. On one occasion that really stands out in my memory, a woman, who appeared to be sleeping, hummed along while Clair de lune was being played on piano. She knew every note. Yet she found speaking with the staff to be almost impossible. I wonder if someone had been able to work with that dear old woman in the way that this article mentions if she might have been able to increase her ablility to communicate.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Arist in the Family? Free art supplies!

Pentel Arts is giving away a free 12 color oil pastel set per household
address. Go to this website.

Register & enter the promotional code SA2008

Offer expires 4/30/08

Melodic Intonation Therapy

Remember all those songs you learned as a child? They could come in handy to help you regain your speaking voice if you ever have a stroke. Today's New York Times has an interesting article called "At 60, He Learned to Sing So He Could Learn to Talk".

I learned about this from Roberta at Vocalist (thanks, Roberta!) She says,
". . .to start recovering from aphasia nothing works better than an old, well remembered song with plenty of ties in the
oldest memories. And the intoning helps too."

Read the entire story from the Times here. God has surely given each of us a wonderful gift - our singing voice.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Charlton Heston RIP

The Ten Commandments, Ben Hur, and El Cid are some of my family's favorite movies. We all have a special fondness in our hearts for Charlton Heston. He died on April 5th. There are no Hollywood heroes like him today. Charlton Heston was married to his wife for 64 years. Heston was the president and spokesman of the NRA from 1998 until he resigned in 2003.

In their obituary of Charlton Heston, The Washington Post declared: “Hate his politics or love them, you have to say: There was a man.”

We need more men like him.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

War and Music

As a former elementary school music teacher turned homeschooling mother, I was always looking for ways to incorporate music into our studies. History has always been a favorite subject with all of my children. And sadly, history has forever been full of war.

Yankee Doodle was probably the first "war song" they all learned. When the three oldest boys were little, we participated in a Revolutionary War themed history day with the local homeschool group. The boys dressed up in some frontier costumes, held their Paris toy frontier rifles and sang "The Rifleman's Song at Bennington".

Visiting the Gettysburg Battle field and the little shops in the area, we discovered Bobby Horton and his terrific Civil War CD's (actually, when we discovered them they were cassettes - CDs having not yet been invented!). We listened as we drove around in the car and learned to sing such songs as Wait for the Wagon, Just before the Battle Mother, The Battle Cry of Freedom, The Army of the Free, Tenting on the Old Campground, Weeping, Sad and Lonely, and Rally Round the Flag. (Oh my, typing this sure does bring back the memories!)

The years rolled by. Soon my oldest son was choosing music for his Junior voice recital. To end the performance, he selected four songs with texts written by Rudyard Kipling. Two of the pieces were Boots and Danny Deever. With classic poetry texts and set to music by different composers, these songs were a dramatic ending to his recital.

by Rudyard Kipling


We're foot--slog--slog--slog--sloggin' over Africa --
Foot--foot--foot--foot--sloggin' over Africa --
(Boots--boots--boots--boots--movin' up an' down again!)
There's no discharge in the war!

Seven--six--eleven--five--nine-an'-twenty mile to-day --
Four--eleven--seventeen--thirty-two the day before --
(Boots--boots--boots--boots--movin' up an' down again!)
There's no discharge in the war!

Don't--don't--don't--don't--look at what's in front of you.
(Boots--boots--boots--boots--movin' up an' down again);
Men--men--men--men--men go mad with watchin' em,
An' there's no discharge in the war!

Try--try--try--try--to think o' something different --
Oh--my--God--keep--me from goin' lunatic!
(Boots--boots--boots--boots--movin' up an' down again!)
There's no discharge in the war!

Count--count--count--count--the bullets in the bandoliers.
If--your--eyes--drop--they will get atop o' you!
(Boots--boots--boots--boots--movin' up an' down again) --
There's no discharge in the war!

We--can--stick--out--'unger, thirst, an' weariness,
But--not--not--not--not the chronic sight of 'em --
Boot--boots--boots--boots--movin' up an' down again,
An' there's no discharge in the war!

'Taint--so--bad--by--day because o' company,
But night--brings--long--strings--o' forty thousand million
Boots--boots--boots--boots--movin' up an' down again.
There's no discharge in the war!

I--'ave--marched--six--weeks in 'Ell an' certify
It--is--not--fire--devils, dark, or anything,
But boots--boots--boots--boots--movin' up an' down again,
An' there's no discharge in the war!

Danny Deever
by Rudyard Kipling

"What are the bugles blowin' for?" said Files-on-Parade.
"To turn you out, to turn you out", the Colour-Sergeant said.
"What makes you look so white, so white?" said Files-on-Parade.
"I'm dreadin' what I've got to watch", the Colour-Sergeant said.
For they're hangin' Danny Deever, you can hear the Dead March play,
The regiment's in 'ollow square -- they're hangin' him to-day;
They've taken of his buttons off an' cut his stripes away,
An' they're hangin' Danny Deever in the mornin'.

"What makes the rear-rank breathe so 'ard?" said Files-on-Parade.
"It's bitter cold, it's bitter cold", the Colour-Sergeant said.
"What makes that front-rank man fall down?" said Files-on-Parade.
"A touch o' sun, a touch o' sun", the Colour-Sergeant said.
They are hangin' Danny Deever, they are marchin' of 'im round,
They 'ave 'alted Danny Deever by 'is coffin on the ground;
An' 'e'll swing in 'arf a minute for a sneakin' shootin' hound --
O they're hangin' Danny Deever in the mornin'!

"'Is cot was right-'and cot to mine", said Files-on-Parade.
"'E's sleepin' out an' far to-night", the Colour-Sergeant said.
"I've drunk 'is beer a score o' times", said Files-on-Parade.
"'E's drinkin' bitter beer alone", the Colour-Sergeant said.
They are hangin' Danny Deever, you must mark 'im to 'is place,
For 'e shot a comrade sleepin' -- you must look 'im in the face;
Nine 'undred of 'is county an' the regiment's disgrace,
While they're hangin' Danny Deever in the mornin'.

"What's that so black agin' the sun?" said Files-on-Parade.
"It's Danny fightin' 'ard for life", the Colour-Sergeant said.
"What's that that whimpers over'ead?" said Files-on-Parade.
"It's Danny's soul that's passin' now", the Colour-Sergeant said.
For they're done with Danny Deever, you can 'ear the quickstep play,
The regiment's in column, an' they're marchin' us away;
Ho! the young recruits are shakin', an' they'll want their beer to-day,
After hangin' Danny Deever in the mornin'.

Today I learned of another song my son could sing from my new friend Chris at The Collaborative Piano Blog. This story is hearbreaking because the text is from a letter written home from a young soldier in Iraq. He wrote this letter to his wife and five year old son, asking that it only be opened if he died.

This young soldier did not come home. US Army Pfc. Jesse Givens died in Iraq on May 1, 2003.

The letter has been set to music with Mrs. Given's permission. Listen to this performance by Lee Hoiby, composer and pianist with Andrew Garland, baritone.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra

Do you have a symphony orchestra nearby? Our local Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra performs only 30 minutes from my house. On Sunday, my husband, my parents and I went to hear the Symphony perform Dona Nobis Pacem, a cantata by Ralph Vaughan Williams, along with Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

What a performance! The Messiah College Concert Choir, The Choral Arts Society, the Susquehanna Chorale, and the Alumni Chorale of Lebanon Valley College, plus some wonderful soloists joined with the Harrisburg Symphony to create a stellar production! The instrumentalists, choirs and soloists were all superb! As was the conductor, Stuart Malina. We are so blessed to have such a fine conductor and orchestra in our area.

The symphony concertmaster is Odin Rathnam. Odin is a fabulous violinist and a wonderful teacher, kind and generous. Two of my sons were privileged to study with him some years ago. Every chance I got, I stayed for their lessons. Odin is truly a master teacher, with that gift of coaching in a way that you will never forget. Although I am a singer and pianist, I learned so much from him that I can apply to my own performing and teaching.

On Sunday, Odin's solo in the Vaughan Williams was so sweet and beautiful - I never tire of hearing him play. And you can hear some of his charming playing here. But if you live near Harrisburg, do make a date with the Symphony. It will enrich your spirit!

Practicing Music

The Dallas Symphony Association has a great website with information for teachers, children, and everyone! One of the articles on the kids page is all about practicing!

"Practice Makes Perfect??? - Not Always!"

"Every good musician knows that regular practice is a must, but did you know that careless practice can actually make you worse? Before you tell your parent or you teacher that you have decided not to practice, think about the WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE and HOW of practice that will help you play better and enjoy music more."

You can read the rest of the article here.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Summer Choir Camp

I am thrilled to announce a Summer Choir Camp opportunity for your child!

Here are the details -

Summer Choir Camp

Who - boys and girls ages 8 - 15 who have an unchanged voice

When - August 18 - 22, 2008

Monday - Friday

Time - 9:30 am - 12:30 am

Where - the wonderful Philip Bongiorno Conference Center just outside of Carlisle, PA

What - Campers will participate daily in choral warm-ups, vocal technique instruction, sight-singing instruction, choral rehearsals, musicianship and enrichment activities, and organized recreation. On Thursday, campers may bring a packed lunch and stay for a pool party from 1 pm - 3 pm. The last day of choir camp will end with a mini-concert at 12 pm for family and friends.

Founder-Director of the Summer Choir Camp - Kathy O'Donnell

For more information, email Kathy O’Donnell at

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Eva Cassidy - Over the Rainbow

What a beautiful song - sung by a beautiful singer.

My Children's Choir on Veteran's Day

Last November, my children's choir sang at our local Veteran's Day Ceremony. Our family has attended the ceremony for years and have always found it to be inspiring. Last year at a ceremony for Memorial Day, a men's chorus who usually sang for the patriotic festivals in our town announced that they were disbanding. Thinking that the sound of children's voices might be encouraging to the Veterans who attend, I asked our mayor if my children's choir could sing at the Veteran's Day Ceremony. He was quite enthusiastic about our participation!

A Lieutenant Colonel from the Army War College in our town gave a wonderful speech. The choir's singing really touched the audience (you can read about more about the ceremony here in our local paper). As for the children - seeing the many Veterans we were there to honor plus hearing Lt. Col. Dickerson's words - they were given an excellent civics lesson.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Summer String Chamber Music Festival

Music abounds in our home. Not only do we sing and play piano, the family has its share of string players. Son #1 plays violin, as does son#2. Daughter #1 chose to study the cello, which pleased her mother - cello was an instrument I had always wanted to play, but my parents said "We are already paying for piano lessons - forget it." Or words to that effect. So, much to my dismay, I have not (yet) learned to play the cello. But I still love ya, Mom and Dad! :-)

Today my daughter's fabulous cello teacher told us about a terrific looking Summer String Chamber Music Festival opportunity open to string musicians ages 12-14 at nearby Mercersburg Academy. You can download a brochure and an application here.

While browsing the website, I actually noticed quite a few interesting summer camps - adventure camps, sports camps, as well as camps for aspiring thespians.

I was in Mercersburg a few years ago for my nephew's wedding. It is a lovely, historic town. An interesting fact I just discovered is that in 1928, actor Jimmy Stewart, star of such classics as Rear Window and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, graduated from the Academy. (If you haven't ever seen Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, you must do so soon - what a good movie!)

But back to the string festival. Summer is the time for new activities that are not possible during a busy school year. Collaborating with other string players would be a tremendous experience for a young musician.

And I know that it will be a well-run camp. My daughter's cello teacher is the director. He is a very fine musician and as kind and patient a teacher as they come. Not to mention very encouraging and creative. I love to listen to the lesson (he comes to our house). So I fold towels and help my youngest with math while I listen to beautiful cello music. I especially love it when they play duets!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Literary Nights

My second son is going to graduate this year from our homeschool year. Thinking back over the years of his homeschooling, one of the things I am so thankful that I took the energy and time to do was to host Literary Nights in our home. One evening while reading the Clarkson's wonderful book, Educating the Wholehearted Child, I read about their idea of a literary night. Excitedly, I chose a date, some families to invite and sent out invitations.

Come to. . .

A Family Literary Night

Where: The O’Donnell’s

When: Monday, March 4, 1996

What: Each child (and/or parent) prepares a reading, recitation or presentation based on literature. (For fun, dress to match the presentation!) You may prepare something together
as a family if desired or all do something separate.

RSVP by February 26

We hope you can join us for an evening of homeschooling fun! I will be preparing a printed program for portfolios, so let me know by February 26 what your selections are. After the program, plan to stay for dessert!

This event became one of our children's favorite activities. Over the years, they have all memorized countless poems for the Literary Nights, written and acted out skits based on beloved books, chosen favorite book selections to read, and learned about new poems and new books from our friends. Our family has performed skits on William Tell, Saint George and the Dragon, David and Goliath, and Robin Hood, to name a few. Oh, the memories!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Teaching Gratefulness

Today's mail brought a pleasant surprise! A delightful thank you note from an eight year old girl whose family participated in the Countries of the World Fair. Besides being beautifully written, it was quite thoughtful.

Which got me to thinkin' . . .

Am I teaching my children to be grateful? Am I modeling that myself? Am I grateful to the people in my life (family, friends, my church family, neighbors, my students, my choirs' accompanists, and the list goes on) or do I take them for granted?

My little friend probably did not take that long to write her note, but the good feeling I got from reading it will last at least the rest of the week! It certainly made my day! Now I need to remember to thank someone today!

Devotions by Elisabeth Elliot

Do you know about this dear godly lady? You can read a short biography here.

Man of Dust by Elisabeth Elliot

"As we have worn the likeness of the man made of dust, so we shall wear the likeness of the heavenly man" (1 Cor 15:49 NEB).

What a word of hope for us when we are discouraged with our own sinfulness! The old Adam is always there, rising in rebellion against the new life which Christ has given us. There is constant struggle, daily reminders that we are yet very unholy, very un-Christlike, very dusty. But a day will come when even I, with all my glaring faults, will wear the likeness of the heavenly Man. This gives me ammunition to fire at the Accuser. I shall be like Christ--just wait! You'll see!

You can subscribe to her daily devotion here. Learn from her wisdom.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Messiah College

Messiah College is a wonderful Christian liberal arts college nearby where I live. My oldest son will graduate from Messiah in May. My next son will begin his freshman year there in September. I love Messiah! It is my Alma Mater. I had transfered there from a State College before my junior year. The Christian atmosphere was so refreshing. At my other college, I had professors who chain smoked while they lectured and used language I was not allowed to use at my home. At Messiah, the professors opened class with prayers.

However, as a homeschooling mother, I was not sure how colleges would react to what we had done in our homeschool. I needn't have worried. The Messiah admissions staff in charge of homeschoolers was wonderful to work with four years ago when David was applying. I recently wrote her this email -

"I want to thank you for your help almost four years ago when my son David decided to apply to Messiah. My husband and David first spoke to you at the Homeschool Track meet that May. Although it was really very late to apply, you encouraged David to apply anyway.

David is now a senior and has had a wonderful four years at Messiah. You told me when he applied that the homeschooled students often ended up being the top students at Messiah. I wanted to let you know how things have gone for David.

He came to Messiah as an English major but switched to music at the end of his freshman year. As a voice major he has represented Messiah's music department well, placing first in National Association's Teacher of Singing Competitions (NATS) each year. David performed a solo junior recital in October of 2006 and his solo senior recital in March of 2008. A former Metropolitan opera singer joined him for a duet in the recital.

He has had the fabulous opportunity to work with Linda Tedford and her outstanding choral program, performing as a soloist with the Concert Choir.

Last spring, David was one of only two music students chosen to perform with the orchestra. He sang two arias. His orchestra conductor, who has conducted him professionally as part of Opera Harrisburg in Paganni and Rigoletto, asked me afterward to write down for him and all new parents how to get your child to turn out like David! I just told him that David was God's gift to us and has always been a blessing to us. But I really need to follow up on that and tell him more about how I believe homeschooling helped shaped our son.

Last spring David was honored to be the recipient of the Presser Scholar Award for music.

He has been on the Dean's list every semester. He has participated in Messiah's opera workshop each semester it has been offered. This spring he has been chosen to sing the leading role of Gianni Schicchi (in Gianni Schicchi, an opera by Giacomo Puccini) in Messiah's first production of an opera which will be performed with the Messiah College orchestra.

David has been accepted to the Eastman School of Music and Manhattan School of Music's Master of Music programs. We are thrilled for him and look forward to what his future holds.

I wanted you to know what an impact you have had on David's life by your encouragement four years ago. Thank you for helping David with the opportunity to learn at Messiah College!

And I have more good news - our second son, Michael graduates this spring from our homeschool. He will be coming to Messiah and has been awarded the Daniel Vollmer Scholarship for Theatre."

I am really proud of both my oldest sons! Years ago when I was nauseous from pregnancy, worn out from toddlers, getting hassled about educating my own children by relatives that lived nearby, and being told by friends that I should be accountable to the state, I would have loved to have read stories about homeschool successes! By God's grace, I taught these young men how to read and write (and a few other subjects required by the state of Pennsylvania) and He has blessed us abundantly!

Homeschoolers Countries of the World Fair

Our town's Homeschool group has put on a Countries of the World Fair for over 18 years. For the past several years, I have been the coordinator of the event.

Here is what I sent out to our newsletter to encourage participation-

“Homeschoolers Countries of the World Fair” will be held at (name of church) on March 28th at 7 p.m.

How to participate

1. Sign up by March 1st. Space is limited - first come, first served. Let me know your country when you sign up.

2. Study a country

3. Prepare a display about your country (you will have a round table to display your work)

4. Prepare a short presentation (4 minute limit) as a family or just by the children (presentations must include the students)

5. Prepare two dishes from your country's menu & have on your table for tasting as we visit your display

6. $8/family to cover cost of paper goods, programs and donation to church for use of facilities.

7. You may come to the church anytime after 6 PM to set up your display, but please be ready to go by 7 PM

Optional - dress in costume from your country

Last Friday night was our Fair. This year we had an unusually low turnout - only 7 families - but still had a wonderful time. In the past we have had as many as 18 families participate. One dad commented that he really like the small group better - more intimate.

The displays were fabulous. Projects like this are so important for the children - setting goals, having to meet a deadline, working together with your family on a projects, preparing a presentation and then showing off your display to family and friends.

I love the creativity of the presentations. This year we had one family perform a Russian song with guitar, cello, violin, trambourine and triangle. It was great! Another family did a Mexican skit, complete with artistic backdrop. In years past we have had a William Tell play, an Italian puppet show, songs sung in different languages, and beautiful ballet dances. Homeschoolers are so impressive!