Meet Your Teacher

There are many links in this bio.  Links can lead to material that may not be appropriate for children.  This page, as all social media, is intended for parents and children over the age of 12.  

Hi, I'm Jack Senzig,  one of the elementary vocal music teachers at Gifford School in Racine, WI.  I grew up near Gifford and have enjoyed teaching the children of my childhood friends and neighbors.  I  taught at Wadewitz, Red Apple and Park H.S. as well.  I actively strive to make RUSD and Racine better places to learn and live. I am a big picture thinker and have built a career out of bringing unique and exceptional quality opportunities to my students.  I wrote my master’s degree thesis/curriculum project on promoting music programs using Internet tools.  Following a successful marketing plan and carefully planned repertoire, my choirs became the second most watched elementary choir in the world on YouTube (Kids sing Portal “Still Alive” and A Christmas Trololo).  My students were invited by the producers of America’s Got Talent to audition for them (Six Days of Minecraft) and a Hollywood producer of the shows Being Human and Wife Swap asked my choir to audition so the director could pitch a show about the Gifford choir to the networks (Kids Sing Gaga/Pomplamoose Telephone at UWP and Kids Sing Acapella Kelis).  Neither of these bore fruit but they did give excellent opportunities for Gifford students to shine.   

I care about my students deeply and have dedicated my life to educating and protecting them.  When I traveled regularly with my choir students at Washington Park High School I developed a simple code.  I made sure my students returned to their families in the same condition or better than when they sent them.  In December of 2011 a man spread evil at a Newtown Connecticut school.  My personal code caused me to respond proactively by beginning a course of study in martial arts to better protect my students. In 2018 I completed a multi-session advanced martial arts active shooter training to be ready in case I am called on to step up. I have taken 1st place in several Midwestern competitions in sparring, forms and weapons.  I will receive my black belt in Shore-ryu once the Covid crisis is over.

I am a composer of children’s songs and of choral music.  Many of my songs are written to teach specific concepts and skills to my students.  You may have heard your children singing The Number Song, Share My Balloon,  Come Climb up the Mountain, Witches, Ghosts and Goblins, Bob Cratchit’s Turkey, Santa has Eight Reindeer or Merry Christmas Mommy  In August 2019 our choir was invited to sing at RUSD's Institute Day.  Children's Choir of teh Internet performed two pieces I wrote for the event plus an arrangement of the Star Spangled Banner combined with the Super Mario Brothers theme.  "Summer Truths" involved the audience and talked about how teachers and students feel about each other in the summer.  I wrote the second "The Leader In Me" which was then arranged by Robert Ross and was the theme of the event.   Listen to the crowd's response! "The Leader in Me" and another piece I was commissioned by RUSD to write called "Lift High Your Hearts and Sing" were selected by my colleagues to be performed at the 2020 RUSD All District Choral Festival March 24, 2020. 

I have led the Composers of Choral Music Community for many years beginning on ChoralNet where I authored a weekly column and served on the seven member advisory board.  The group has over 2,400 members and is growing rapidly.  This leadership role has forged relationships with choir directors and composers from around the world. These connections have facilitated the creation of wonderful new music written specifically for my students by some of the most skilled composers.   I have raised money by volunteering for other music groups and through grant writing to hold international composition contests.  I have commissioned new works for my singers including:  The Water Cycle, I Feel Cool, My Soul is Awakened, The Pledge and National Anthem, The Leprechaun, El Tiburon,  The Dust of Stars and  Three Riley Poems.  In 2018-19 the Gifford PTA funded a composition contest for the choir  which led to the creation and performance of three beautiful works: "We Are The Children" by Jen Wagner and two others.  In 2020 the grant was renewed.  The three winning pieces: "Mark Zuckerburg Wants to Be My Friend on Facebook", "All My Friends Live in My Pocket On a Five Inch Screen" and "Viva la Musica (Viva la Vida)" were to be premiered in May 2020.  I collaborated with well-known lyricist Linda Marcus (River in Judea), Ken Matejka and composer Robert Ross to compose a choral tribute to those lost in the Newtown shooting.  It was premiered by Racine’s Park High School Concert Choir and is called “Unfinished Melodies.  

Learning about world cultures has always fascinated me.  I studied Native American drumming with a musician from the Lac Du Flambeau band of Ojibwa in Wisconsin. I wrote an arrangement of Carol of the Bells in Native American style and wrote a song called Zahgimay (Mosquito) in the Ojibwa language that my students performed.  I use Native American story telling and songs to enhance my students’ world view.  My students regularly count in over 30 languages and have sung in many including Russian, Urdu, Zulu, German, SpanishHungarian, Japanese, French, Polish, Yiddish, Kiswahili and Sweedish.  Parents of students were invited to share songs of their culture leading to some of the above recordings. 

The YouTube success of my choirs has brought some very unique connections.  When our Still Alive video went viral in 2010, the Gifford choir showed up on virtually every video game website and blog in the English speaking world.  The choir was written about in the Escapist Magazine, G4TV, (scroll down to covers), Hypervocal, Kotaku, Time Magazine, WIRED, The Tanooki, Racine Journal Times and made it to the front page of Reddit and Digg. Our videos were played on G4TV's "Attack of the Show." When I released the second Still Alive video the Escapist was there again to write about the kids and to help the choir Rickroll their audience.  When the video game Portal II came out Valve Corporation released an ebook available on Steam called “The Final Hours of Portal 2” and included a version of the choir’s video in the book.  Jonathan Coulton (composer of the song) mentioned the choir’s cover on an NPR interview.  

Video game designers and developers started contacting me and thanking me for making the entertainment genre they lived to create more mainstream.  Many said that they cried when hearing the kids sing Still Alive.  When I began looking for a song to perform next, I organized an international and local creative team that included some of those who had commented on my blog.  Jeni Balch was a video game designer for Blizzard’s World of Warcraft.  She joined a meeting of the team via Skype and suggested the viral video Trololo.   I didn’t want to just cover it, instead I decided to make it into a Christmas song.  I hired an arranger to write the piece out for a small ensemble. A fan of the choir from Russia translated the opening text of the video. So many people had commented that they wished they could have been in the Still Alive choir that I decided to put the kids in masks so the fans could imagine themselves in the choir. The resulting video A Christmas Trololo was another big viral success. 

Then disaster struck. In 2011 the Wisconsin governor and legislature put forward a law called Act 10.  It dealt a huge blow to public sector unions and to public education.  I stood up for my students and colleagues and joined the fight to stop the legislation from passing.  I took pay deduct days to attend rallies in Madison, wrote political songs and started a blog called “Wi The People.” The blog picked apart parts of the legislation, included prayers for legislators, recipes and advice to help teachers with stress.  I felt my strong Christian views and experience would help me be a bridge to both sides.  Both the blog and the protest songs began to receive a lot of interest and to reach a lot of people.  Then I published two political cartoons on my political blog.  The cartoons were based on cartoons from the early days of US history when unions fought against capitalists except with a video game and Internet meme twist.  My cartoons had such a strong message that the opposing political party rose up against me.  They used a process which now is commonplace, but at the time was little understood, called political cyber-bullying.  Many bloggers portrayed my students as middle school aged to make it seem more plausible that I had shared my political cartoons with my students.  I did not.  They began calling my school and district demanding that I be fired.  This strategy is very effective and was successful in stifling my voice.   I was put on leave for 6 months and asked to take a different position for two years.  By agreeing to leave Gifford for two years, I was given a copy of all of the written complaints about me and allowed to go to work at Red Apple Elementary.  There were only two written complaints from any media. One from a concerned parent bringing the situation to the principal’s attention and one from a kindergarten parent that wanted my head.  The district also agreed to allow me to use the facilities at Gifford for my community children’s choir and to involve Gifford students in that choir.  I feel this point is essential in understanding that the district felt I was no danger to my students, they simply caved to political pressure.  This event caused serious disruption to the music program at Gifford and stopped the momentum the kids and I had created.

(With as much Internet content as I have up for Gifford school I feel it is better that parents are aware of what took place in case they stumble on negative articles.  Please check the source, if it is a political website you will know it was politically motivated. )

Undaunted, I was determined to show the good that Racine has to offer.  I started the choir Apple Chor at Red Apple Elementary School.  I sought out a popular music group to collaborate with, one that had a big following but not so big as to be unapproachable.  I found a band called Cloud Cult and as part of a concert on the theme of water, I had Apple Chor cover the band’s song Chemicals Collide. The audience and choir created an acoustic illusion of a rainstorm as an intro to the song.  Our cover and auditory illusion of Chemicals Collide got the band leader’s attention.  When Craig Minowa of Cloud Cult contacted me, I tried to talk him into having the kids perform at their upcoming concerts.  Mr. Minowa politely said "no" but commented that it was fortuitous for us to cross paths.  He was looking for a choir to sing on his upcoming album.  This and an email from America’s Got Talent directors asking me to have a choir audition for their upcoming season, led me to create Our Musical Life Inc.  A 501(C)(3)  I wanted to be able to include my Red Apple and Gifford students as well as kids from all over SE Wisconsin.  The kids from Gifford, Red Apple and 6 other schools successfully recorded with Cloud Cult and the song The Show Starts Now can be found on their album “LOVE.”    (See another of my audience participation auditory illusions here: I've Been Working On the Railroad)

When I got the request from America’s Got Talent I sought out the new director at Gifford to assist us with the audition.  Timothy Keith Griffin Jr. had taken over the Gifford choir and though it was significantly smaller it was also significantly better.  I had seen some of his performances and asked for his help.  The audition was unsuccessful but Mr. Griffin became a vital part of Our Musical Life Inc (OML), taking over as the Executive Director in 2017.  I returned to Gifford and with such an able-bodied partner I allowed Mr. Griffin to take the lead. Mr. Griffin led the choir to many successes.  In the 2017-18 School year Mr. Griffin left for another school.  Gifford choirs are no longer a part of OML, rather they are supported by RUSD Extended Learning. 

During those years I focused on finishing and directing my musical Zombie Attack! Survival!!! The show dealt with the difficulty parents have in deciding what media to allow their children to consume.  Here are the songs from the show.   I also implemented a talent show called the Vocal Talent Blast where Gifford choir members get to perform their favorite pop song with a live rock band.  The show takes place each May.  Here is one of the songs from the 1st show: Human.

The connections to composers and composition run throughout my teaching.  On the day before Saint Patrick’s Day in 2018 I shared videos by the Irish choir Anúna with my 1st graders.  The children began to imitate the sounds the choir made.  They then recorded a greeting for the composer and director of the choir, Michael McGlynn, and sent it off to him.  He shared the recording with his family and recorded a message back thanking the children.  My students begin learning to read rhythmic notation in Kindergarten.  By third grade students learn to play a melodic instrument.  In 4th and 5th grade the children learn to set text to rhythm and pitch and perform their songs for the class.  

Though I have turned over the reigns for directing musicals at Gifford to my teaching partner, I teach grades 2-5 about musical theater, making curriculum connections to science, astronomy, math, US government, language and the creative process. 

Parent critique following the 2017 Winter Concert led me to consider a new way to run concerts for our students.  Starting in 2018-19 students performed for the student body live, while live streaming the concert for parents and families.  That takes care of all of the logistical problems of parking, seating and the sheer number of students (800) Gifford has perform.  I miss having families in attendance but feel it is the best choice for Gifford and my own very busy personal schedule. In this time of pandemic it also will keep the children safer. During winter 2020 my students made performance videos on Flipgrid to share with their families. 

When I am not at Gifford I enjoy kayaking, fishing, hunting, snow shoeing, writing poetry, cooking delicious food, composing, researching marketing strategies, raising vegetables and poultry on my farm in Central Wisconsin, gathering wild foods, hiking and working as the choir director at Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in Racine.  I contribute to a citizen science website as an editor, having identified around 600 species of Wisconsin moths. I plan to teach until I drop in central WI once retiring from RUSD.  I may also become a pastor or deacon at a beautiful white church on top of a Wisconsin bluff that my grandparents and great grandparents attended.  I am sure I will look back fondly on my years teaching the wonderful children of Racine!