We are very pleased to introduce a new voice to ChoralNet blogging today. Shannon Gravelle posts today and beginning next Wednesday, will be posting every other week sharing interviews with a variety of choral professionals about their experiences during the pandemic and their plans as we look forward.
In March 2020, choral professionals made massive shifts in rehearsals and performances. In the last 15 months, we’ve created new ways to make music, found moments to connect in community, explored teaching music literacy virtually, and learned new technologies. Some organizations and institutions went completely online, while others found ways to make it work through events such as parking-lot sings and 30-minute, indoor rehearsals. Many concerts were presented online, and often featured a combination of virtual choirs and prerecorded performances. I was inspired by the amount of support and collaboration I saw among choral professionals. And, I’m sure like many others, I wondered “how will this change us?”
As we transition into whatever is next for the choral art, I suspect it will include the same innovation, support, collaboration, and work. Unless, I suppose, we are all okay with going back to exactly what we were doing before, which I doubt. Why not use this as a chance to reimagine and widen the community? COVID-19 disrupted our way of music making and much of our standard practice. We have questions to answer about recruitment, community building, and safety. We have questions to answer about our programs and curriculums, worship services and advocacy. We also have very real and unignorable questions about how our profession will work and attain greater equity. The process of answering these questions could result in exciting and needed movements forward if we are willing to keep the same focus on thinking outside-the-box. What risks are we, or are we not, willing to take moving forward?
To that end, and in the spirit of communal support and growth, this blog is going to focus on sharing the stories of choral professionals as we transition to a new “normal.” The conversations I have already had with friends tell me we have incredibly innovative colleagues who care immensely about the musicians they work with. Still, as we think about how to proceed next, there are a few lessons we can learn from our sudden thrust into COVID-19. For example, I know that in my own “pivot” (which is a word I admittedly loathe using at this point), I took the approach of “throw spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks.” It seemed like a good idea at the time, because I was sure there were going to be bits of my plans that fell away. In retrospect, I should have considered that one of my strengths is getting things done, regardless of late nights, stress levels, and the number of other demands. Hence, I was too busy. The silver lining is that I was involved in conversations with amazing choral professionals from across the states, conducted two premieres, learned how to work Adobe Premiere Pro, facilitated multiple workshops through my state ACDA, recorded concerts that were heard by alum across the world, and was inspired by collaborations with others. Had I done it differently, however, I would have made a far more comprehensive, prioritized plan (with a timeline and better estimation of the amount of hours my ideas would take). With that lesson in mind, I am planning for the next season of music-making.
Planning for the next season of music-making is where we all are. How do we learn from and honor the traditions that we learned in while creating a larger path for growth? Or don’t we? Are those traditions holding the choral profession back? Is this a chance for us to lean into each other’s wisdom? As we started doing in March 2020 once we adjusted to COVID-19, growth can come from the commitment to continue to listen to and learn from other choral professionals. I look forward to hearing the stories of my colleagues.
Dr. Shannon Gravelle (she/her) is currently the Director of Choral Activities and Coordinator of Music Education at Meredith College. She is committed to reimagining conducting pedagogy, telling authentic stories through the choral medium, and building strong community.