By Kathleen Bhat
The person that we thought we were doesn’t have to be the person that we are. This thought came out of a goal-setting meeting at my gym in a discussion about how we were impacted by the pandemic. This past year has changed our world and it has changed our organization.
In college, it was a course requirement to join ACDA during the semester of conducting. I had not heard of the organization. I was familiar with our Music Educators Association in high school, and attending MMEA as a collegiate student was the best. Or so I thought. My first ACDA conference was in Wichita, Southwestern Region. I was blown away – EVERYTHING was about choral music. Every person I met was involved with something just like what I was doing or at least similar. The choirs and the interest sessions were amazing and from that point, I was committed. Although I maintain membership to NAfME, ACDA is where my heart lives. At an ACDA conference you could easily be standing next to a choral legend or engage in a conversation with someone who two years later was a national headliner (true story!!). Within the membership of Missouri, my state chapter, I found the people who became my closest friends and most trusted colleagues. Throughout the years, the support network has never failed me. Members have offered assistance by clinicing my choirs, suggesting literature, or just listening when I felt like I didn’t know what to do. There has always been someone a phone call or a text away. As technology and social media have become more prevalent, the resources for information have grown exponentially; which has made my state organization all the more valuable. The members of MCDA are a vetted resource.
I have the distinct pleasure of serving as membership chair for our state. It is a role I have loved for more than 20 years. Taking a leadership position made a huge difference in my appreciation of our organization. It has given me the opportunity to welcome new members and help bring them together with others, as someone did for me. I value being a part of the leadership team and the continued growth of Missouri ACDA (MCDA) as we endeavor to improve for both members and the singers that we serve. But those years of experience did not prepare me for being a membership chair during a pandemic. I have been heartbroken for my colleagues who have lost positions, or left positions because it was just too much. I have spoken with those who have temporarily (I hope) left the organization because there is simply no singing going on in their institution. I felt defeated as our membership numbers continued to decrease, and fewer renewals came in.
At the same time, I am amazed at the fortitude and creativity of those who have modified and adapted to choral life during a pandemic. Pre-COVID, it was a normal task to keep our members informed of events, conferences, new music sessions, etc. Since March 2020, my role has been more focused on finding ways to keep our membership connected, when we couldn’t be together in person. We started with little things like celebrating our members’ birthdays in our Facebook group. President Stephen Rew began a weekly Facebook Live, Fridays at 4:00. We tried to make our newsletter more interactive and engaging since there were no events to promote. It might sound silly, but we created a bitmoji choir. Several, actually. We have a traditional choir, a show choir, a jazz choir, and a day at the park.
A year later, the traditional bitmoji choir has become a type of symbol for our chapter. It is our cover picture for our Facebook group and the banner has our hashtag #mcdafamily, which is how we now identify ourselves. We expanded the risers to add more singers. Thank you to Wenger for inventing the 9 step risers. HA! With bitmoji and Facebook avatars, we are able to include anyone who wants to join.
It was hard to be a choir director in 2020-21. My school was seated in-person all year. We sat socially distanced and my students sang masked. New singers were lost without secure voices around them as leaders. Rehearsals were slow as we tried to sing safely amidst emerging science and CDC guidelines. With no live concerts, we muddled through virtual performances, which were entertaining for our community but not a high standard of musicianship. To be honest, I felt like a pretty mediocre teacher this year. Staying connected with my MCDA family is what kept me going and for that I am eternally grateful. This organization has been the rock for my entire career, and it didn’t fail me – even in a pandemic.
Kathleen Bhat teaches grades 6-12 vocal music at the Orchard Farm School District in St. Charles, Missouri. In addition to teaching she also serves as the fine arts curriculum coordinator, directs the musicals, and sponsors the middle school yearbook. She is membership chair for both the Missouri state chapter and Southwestern region of ACDA.