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Choral Accountability

There was a transcendent moment in choir yesterday.  The first note of “lux Arumque” was a stunning look into something greater in the universe, and I stopped the choir and just stared.  Someone asked me “are you crying?” and I realized that I was.  Now understand this—I am not a crier.  I’ve spent my life not crying over anything sentimental or moving.  But this few seconds of power stunned me and I was transfixed.  I blubbered my thanks to the room full of high school students for …..  for getting it.  And then for being willing to go to that place inside themselves and with each other that allowed the incredible magic to happen.  We started again and sang through the piece with heightened awareness of the magic, and of what is possible.   The stillness behind the singing was palpable. No one wanted to disrupt the shimmer in the air.
My next thought was “how do I explain this to the school board?  How do I make this into a measureable objective?  How do I prove to someone that was not in that room that learning is taking place? What we just experienced was so far beyond “sing a major scale in tune,” or “identify the minor triads.”  As choral directors, these are the moments that keep us doing the job.  But I will admit that I am a bit mystified by how to help someone who has never experienced it understand why it matters.  Learning is taking place, but there are many educational experts who do not recognize this type of learning because it is not testable.  Educational accountability demands numbers and percentages.   Musical magic transcends numbers.  It’s not a new question, but is there a way to do both things?  
on October 9, 2013 12:48pm
Yes. Sing for them.
Applauded by an audience of 5
on October 10, 2013 5:43am
Hi Claudia,
What a beautiful note - a truly lovely way to wake up this morning.  Thank you for sharing this moving and inspirational anecdote with us.  
Yes, it's an age old question: how do you measure the often immeasurable?  I like Lisa's simple yet complex response: sing for them!
Jenny Crober
VOCA Chorus of Toronto
on October 10, 2013 6:19am
Not to be a downer, but the "administrator-approved" answer is probably this:  develop a short writing assignment based on Utah Choir Standards 4.1.a, 4.1.b, and 4.2.a.  It's moments like these it really stinks that we've replaced trust with "accountability" and have to generate "data" to demonstrate "evidence of progress."  If it's something you'd like to present formally, tying it to those standards and creating some sort of paper trail is (at this point) the way to "demonstrate progress and proficiency" to  non-musical people who assess music programs.  Keep an eye on Tennessee and the "GLADiS Project" this year for non-paper ways to provide this information to the adminstrative level.   
on October 10, 2013 5:04pm
I agree with the others - sing for them and write it down.  Have the students share how they felt and what it meant to them.  You could also record them - either video or audio and send it to the board members that way...maybe include an introduction with a couple of the students explaining what singing this song has meant to them.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on October 11, 2013 4:57am
First, congratualtions on being able to reach this level with your choir.  It takes trust and skill for a teacher/conductor to bring her students to this place.  Although this sounds completely inadequate to measure the magjic of what you experienced with your choir, let me offer a possible behavioral objective that may at lieast point you in a direction.  We were discussing how to evaluate musicality in my secondary methods class just yesterday, and my students came up with:  "Students are able to expressively comunicate musical ideas through effective use of dynamic contrast, phrasing, articulation, rubato (as appropriate), intonation, and other musical aspects."  I think the key words here are "expressively communicate musical ideas."  Doesn't really do it justice, though, does it? 
on October 11, 2013 8:41am
Joy - Not even!  BUT, all - while I know that this is literally the "choir" that gets preached to, let's take a real look at what's happening here.  Something happened beyond the notes, beyond the data, beyond...well, whatever you can grasp with your five senses, and somehow transcended it all.  (My dear high school French teacher, a poet/musician/artist/dramatist, Fr. Gerard Messier, a.a. (Augustinian of the Assumption), used a phrase that is difficult to translate, but to my mind says it never so well - "On se dépasse au-delà de soi-même" - "One is surpassing oneself outside of one's self" - but it's immeasurable, is the point.)  
Part of Claudia's problem is what all teachers are facing today.  Everything has to be measurable; you have to be able to tot it up and put it in a basket and weigh it.  Without numbers, it means nothing.  And that's our larger problem, and why the emphasis on STEM.  It ought to be STE-A-M - with the humane arts added in this.  But the humane arts defy measuring - by very definition.  Joy's definition provided by her students fails, not because of intention, but because of fact.  What we do is ephemeral, not concrete.  What is concrete about what we do in the classroom or the sanctuary or the concert hall disappears the instant we do it, because of what is beyond the concrete (the page, the note, the pitch - and even that is ephemeral).
What has happened is that we parents have yowled and screamed (thanks to the media and those with a larger objective) at the politicians in our respective states (e.g., here in Virginia) about how "the children are unprepared for the world, they can't get a job, they are 17th out of 17 developed nations in math, 15th in science,...." etc., etc., practically ad inifinitum ad nauseam.  Politicians don't know how to really fix that sort of problem, but know if they don't do SOMETHING they'll get fired at the next election, so they turn, not to subject area experts, but to bureaucrats who understand only thing - how to count beans.  And how do you count beans accurately?  Make it all the same.  So, now, history, languages, the performing arts, etc. - all immeasurable intellectual activities - suffer from the banality of measuring.  David McCollough, the great popular historian, in a recent issue of the Saturday Evening Post, bemoaned the fact that today's students don't know anything about their history - and as a first-person re-enactor myself, I will agree - but with this caveat:  people understand, inherently, profoundly, intuitively, that something is missing with the measurable, with an over-emphasis on STEM - and they seek something greater and larger, and which ONLY the humane arts can satisfy, but not measurably so...
So Claudia, take your kids to the School Board - or better yet, invite them to a place where the full awesome power of "Lux aurumque" can be heard and sensed and felt.  Invite them, in fact, to the next concert that happens when you will present it, with parents (I hope in droves) present.  Then, turn to all of them and ask, "And how do I measure your reactions, ladies and gentlemen?  Because that's what music is about."  We need to not only educate the educational administrators, but perhaps more importantly, the parents - because they vote these people in or out.  As Joy's students said, "Communicating expressively...." but understanding that once done, it disappears - but for an impression left in the hearer's minds.
Chantez bien!
Applauded by an audience of 2
on October 11, 2013 10:00am
When working on my Master's Degree, I was charged with a final music psychology writing project based on something we'd studied that semester. I chose to create an outline of a curriculum based on Multiple Intelligences. The biggest concern was how to assess the learning that had taken place under these guidelines. I looked outside the box and stressed the use of recordings and photocopying pages from the students' scores as intangibles that needed to be recorded. Beyond what RRD and Lisa M have so simply and graciously suggested about demonstrating via public performance (something that will NEVER happen in an all-school situation in math, history, or science), begin recording your rehearsals and lessons so the students and admin can hear the growth that occurs over time.
on October 12, 2013 9:52am
One measurable output of such a moment is the growth of your choir and music program.  As you create more of these moments, you will get more interested students which will cause your program to grow.  It is a longer term metric (several years, I am sure) but the growth should be measured in scores at regional and statewide competitions.  I saw this happen in my son' s high school band, as their director challenged them with the music but it was reflected in their playing.  I saw them do a band transcription of the 1812 overture (not an arrangement, but a transcription of the orchestral literature) and it was astonishing.  They also had an alumni band concert, and the former students picked out the music after a reading session.  One of them was Morten Lauridsen's "O Magnum Mysterium".  Now these kids understood what music was all about!  The bottom line was they had a large program of dedicated students and it showed in their solo/ensemble scores every year.
on October 13, 2013 5:19pm
You described it for us in a way that we understand, even though we were not there.  Most of us may have had similar, if not as profound, moments in our groups. But it is your well-chosen words that conveyed it.  It is quite possibly that descriptive talent that enabled you to share with your students the sound and the spirit you hoped for - and the gift returned to you tenfold!
May we quote you in other networks, such as Facebook?  I think it is valuable for so many folks to hear your description.
I think this [your gift with words] means that you can describe it [what happened that day] for an audience.  Maybe do so after the first piece on your program, so that it will not be associated with other routine announcements.  Consider not telling them which piece evoked this reacton.  Let them guess.  It's possible that they will experience other profundities, "still, silent shimmers" , through other songs you perform.
Thank you, Claudia, for sharing this moment with us.  It reminds us, even in a "doldrum day" ,  that these incredible moments can and do happen.  It reminds us that students can, while they may not have your apt words for it, also experience it quite palpably.  It reminds us of the boundless potential that  floats within  our heart, mind, hand, their hearts, minds, hands, voices, and something beyond.
"The beauty must already be there, I simply unlock it and set it free."  - Mr. Garibaldi, movie, 'Rigoletto" (Feature Films for Families)
"It's breeding, it's training, and something unknown.."   - Dan Fogelberg, "Run for the Roses"
Applauded by an audience of 1
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