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"Sacred hour" for choral rehearsals at smaller schools?

Our faculty  is considering implenting a new class schedule, and I am rallying for a "sacred hour" for choral rehearsals.  My questions are directed primarily at choral conductors in smaller music programs where many choral students are not music majors. However, I also welcome the responses and insight of  those of you teaching in larger programs. 
 
1.Are your choral rehearsals held at a time that does not conflict with other classes or athletic practices?
      a. According to your experience, does having a "sacred hour" for rehearsals benefit your program in terms of student participation?   
      b. Approximately what percentage of your choir members are also athletes (male and female)?
      c. Approximately what percentage of your choir members are non-majors?  
 
2. If your rehearsal time conflicts with athletic practices or other classes, to your knowledge,  does this prevent athletes or non-music majors who would like to participate in choir from doing so?   
     a. How do scheduling conflicts adversely  affect the program overall (continuity of participation, for example?) Do you feel that the scheduling conflicts hamper recruitment          for your music program?
 
3. Finally - if your choral rehearsal time has been relegated to athletic practice time, does this lead to other attendance issues (work, mandatory group study sessions given by other professors for exams, labs, etc.)?  
 
Thanks in advance for your responses.
Dawn Sonntag
Associate Professor of Music
Hiram College
on February 17, 2014 2:34pm
Hi Dawn,
 
I teach at a small liberal arts institution with an interdisciplinary arts program (no music major).  It is my third year at the college, and I am the first full-time choral/vocal person.  Formerly there was a community/student ensemble that met one evening per week.
 
Because the schedule had been created prior to my being hired, the only time open to me as a "test" was MWF during the college's free period ("sacred hour").  Right away I was told that rehearsal must move.  For two semesters I held rehearsal TR 2:40-4:00, and finally settled in on MWF 11:30-12:30.
 
So, here is my perspective on your questions:
 
1.  No.  There are definitely classes that conflict with rehearsal, but most morning labs are over, and athletics practices are in the afternoon.  I found the MWF 11:30 time much better than the TR afternoon time.
   A.  I have learned that the "sacred hour" is usually when everything ELSE on earth happens - so students who are involved with clubs, study groups, committees (in other words, the ones I want most) are apt to have lots of conflicts.  What has been most helpful to me is a redefining of "sacred" to mean "THIS is when rehearsal is."  Since we settled on a time, everyone knows when it is, everyone tries to schedule around it, and no one is surprised.
   B.  About 10% of members are athletes right now.
   C.  100% non-music majors.  About 85% are non-creative-arts majors.
 
2.  Yes.  There are sections of freshman seminar and a few other core classes (in all departments) that meet during chorus time.  But it's not nearly as bad as it would be during other times.  I have a few students with labs one day per week-- they come the other two days and sing.  They can't register, but they come and they work hard.  I also have a few students who meet with me once a week during "free period" (the sacred hour!), like a chorus study group.  They have a weekly practice assignment, and then we meet and put it together.  It's a little extra work on me, but often they get more personal attention and make vocal progress because of it.
   A.  There are always a few students who can't sing from fall to spring.  They either come during free period (as above), or I lose them.  It's sad, and I hate to see it happen.  The best thing I have found is to invite them to concerts and stay interested in what they are doing.  I've gotten a few back that way.  But I have noticed (and you probably see the same thing) that even though they say they'll be back, once they're gone they're gone.
 
3.  YES.  My first semester, when we met during free period, I met with a lot of attendance issues because of conflicts with clubs, outings, etc. - and also because it is a very popular time for alternative exams (especially for those departments who have coursewide exams).  T/R afternoons were also riddled with practice and game schedules and labs.  So MWF late morning, while it is not perfect, turned out much better than the other options.  Plus I get an actual hour (FP is technically only 45 minutes).  Even knowing that I lose a few people each semester, my program has grown in 2.5 years from 23-49.
 
Best wishes, and please let me know privately if there are other questions I could answer for you.
Tim Reno
Siena College
Applauded by an audience of 1
on February 17, 2014 2:47pm
Hello Dawn,
 
A great suggestion, though I can see a problem– which can possibly be avoided with further refinements in planning. I am sure it could apply to (some) schools as well as colleges and universities. But first, I wonder about the appropriateness of the name. The term 'sacred' is rife with implications, which means mis-understandings could well occur. For example, when I read the first sentence I wondered if this was way to get around singing sectarian 'religious' music! I'll suggest an alternative name below...
 
The possible problem to which I refer is that the athletics department, or the drama department... could likewise ask for a 'sacred' hour, or maybe a 'sacred' afternoon (or two, or three). But of course you are asking for only one hour (but is an hour a week really a realistic amount of time to do choral music justice?).
 
Strength in numbers: Perhaps one solution would be to label the 'hour' – ir two – an "Art's Hour", which could be used for a number of arts-oriented extra-curricular activities. Possibly this could be in place twice a week. If this were possible it would be ideal, as singers (and every one else) surely benefit from athletic activities. An "Art's Hour" would imply, however, that students involved in (general) drama productions might not be able to take choir, but that might be the case anyway, as if athletics are not allowed during the 'sacred' hour, why should drama be allowed?
 
Of course, if the "Art's Hour" were to be scheduled in the morning, it would likely not conflict with athletic activities.
 
As regards questions 2 and 3, I can not really answer precisely, except to say that it's always a 'toss-up' at any level of study'.
 
Donald
Ass. Professor (retd.)
McGill University
Montreal, Canada
Applauded by an audience of 1
on February 17, 2014 7:16pm
Thanks, Donald and Tim,  for your thoughts and ideas. 
 
My science colleagues, who designed the new schedule and are promoting it,  have been very supportive of my request - but I am not sure how the rest of the faculty will react. 
My choir rehearses three hours per week (two times a week,  1.5 hours per rehearsal), so I actually asked for three hours - either two 1.5 hour slots, or three 1-hour slots.  The term "sacred hour" was actually first used by my science colleague, who used that word to describe any hour during the day that was regularly reserved for any particular activity (lunch, for example, for which there is no common free time in the schedule. I think she actually might be an atheist...)  But you are right - if that term is used to describe the choral rehearsal time, some people will get the wrong idea. 
 
Our theater students rehearse in the evenings, which is another reason I am avoiding evenings, as many music students participate in theater activities. 
 
I heartily agree, Donald, that singers should also be involved in athletics. In the past, I  have allowed singers to regularly leave rehearsals early to participate in cross country or swimming, and the coaches have allowed music majors to train independently on the days that choir rehearsals are held, but this can only work for a few students, so the best thing would be to avoid the athletic practice time. I also want to establish in the minds of the students and faculty that although choral rehearsals are, in some ways,  similar to athletic practices, choir is a fundamental component of an academic discipline. It is the "lab" in which students experience and apply the concepts they learn in musicianship and history; additionally, choir introduces students to foreign cultures and languages, and helps them feel connected with the rest of the world.  Of course I am "preaching to the choir."  
 
I would  like to get my numbers up from about 27 per semester to  40+...(our total enrollment is 1200) so maybe scheduling a rehearsal MWF at 11:30 slot, which is when I now teach music theory, and putting music theory in an early morning slot might work,  especially if I can offer an extra hour or two for students who might have a conflict. Music theory is of course a required course for the music majors, so they have to take it when it is offered. Tim's comments encourages me to try this.  
 
Dawn
 
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