Imagine walking onto the set of a potentially epic movie with a seemingly large task ahead of you: create an “award winning” choir out of a collection of humans, none of which have ever sung in choir, in one month, with one hour of rehearsal a day. Go! Daunting? Fun? A bit intimidating? But possible – yes!
While the above scenario may not be your challenge of choice or what you want to do in this choral career field, it is exactly what this month’s Advocacy & Collaboration (A&C) curated series guest, Deke Sharon, encountered when he walked on the “low budget” set of the first Pitch Perfect movie. And you know what happened . . . a major motion picture, a sequel, and so much more! How? That’s what this blog post will give insight into. Along the way you’ll gain some tangible tools you can use to, as Mr. Sharon says, simply “do whatever it takes.”
This content comes on purpose at this time of the year. It’s that post concert, post testing, the smell of summer is in the air time when things are getting even more challenging for most of us. In fact, just before writing this, an Instagram story flashed with a quote: “stop telling teachers to remember their why and start helping teachers figure out why to stay.” Perfect, that’s the point of this blog post and the central idea to this entire A&C podcast series: advocacy, endurance, motivation, and all the things needed to keep showing up and continue “doing whatever it takes” to keep choral music alive and thriving. Let’s dig in!
First, we have to get on the “Deke Sharon Soapbox” – yes, we are preaching to the choir, literally, but what really is the point of our day-to-day life? According to Mr. Sharon: “Get as many people singing and back to the way it was before recorded music.” What did that prerecorded music world look like and why should we care?
Before recorded music, everybody sang. People got together and sang, it was simply the way things were. If you wanted music, you made it. It was part of the culture; music was everywhere because we were making it.
Now, music is everywhere, but we aren’t the ones making it. Thus, the respect for and the importance of music education has been slipping ever since. Yes, we have the advocacy research as why people should participate and need music in their lives, but respect is still slipping. It’s why we are often the only music educator in our school or why districts cut music programs altogether.
Where’s the solace in this and the point of this seemly sad reality? When students come back to visit their schools, when they talk about growing up or memorable moments, who and what do they talk about? Music, theater, musicals . . . us! It’s in the music spaces where the holistic teaching happens. It’s that incredible life-long impact we get to have on our musicians; it’s the making music together that matters and changes lives. And it’s from this point that Mr. Sharon steps on his soapbox about the need to “get as many people singing and back to the way it was before recorded music.”
So how do we fight for our programs and advocate for getting more singers involved and invested and engaged? According to Mr. Sharon, stop thinking about the why music, and instead look at why should I stay?
Now that we understand Mr. Sharon’s soapbox, let’s explore ideas for “doing whatever it takes.” Mr. Sharon’s ideas can be organized into three big pieces: Build. Be Seen. Shift Focus.
1. Build – Connect and Teach
“Nobody listens to music because it is perfect. At the end of a long day you listen to it because of the way it makes you feel.” People run to technical precision because of our traditional training/schooling, and that’s important, but not to be obsessed over! If you want to change the world, if you want more people in your program, stop focusing simply on perfection. “Focus and energy should be on reaching your community and getting in front of people.”
Know what your singers and community need and make it happen. Stop teaching to the test and make it all about the outside world. “It’s not about avoiding the likes of Bach, there’s a time and place . . . You don’t teach people to read by reading Shakespeare,” instead, start from the beginning and connect with them where they are, meet them halfway and get them in, make them want to stay!
2. Be Seen – Connect and Perform
Pick songs that overlap something your group does well and something that connects with your community, make that meaningful music for people.
Change the metric. Move away from simply technical precision and instead think of your own value as an ensemble. How can we put music out there that gets more people excited? How can we use recordings, videos, social media, concerts, radio, TV, the list goes on. How can we get creative to get in front of more people. Again, the point: more people making music together (or enjoying live music) together.
3. Shift Focus – Connect and Transfer
“Music is not about perfection, but how it makes one feel.” We are connected to the arts through the story it tells and the meaning it has; the purpose behind the music should come first. Help your singers, your audience, your community feel and see that connection. Get them involved in it too!
No words can really express the power of this interview and full episode, but hopefully this blog post has offered you some ideas and some hope for why we are sincerely needed in our incredible profession. You are doing great things, and if you’re feeling like you can’t “do whatever it takes,” let your ACDA community help and support you! Just as it’s connecting and community that keeps our singers and audience coming back, you have a community and we would love to connect and help you figure out what you need to successfully and enjoyably, “do whatever it takes!”
Watch this episode on YouTube: https://youtu.be/vUFgsfQl3Tc (or episode 103 on the “Music (ed) Matters” Podcast where ever you listen to pods).
Dr. Emily Williams Burch chairs ACDA’s Advocacy & Collaboration Committee. Dr. Burch has served in various positions for ACDA at the state, regional, and national level in a variety of roles, including co-programming chair and honor choir coordinator for the Southern Region ACDA conferences since 2014. You can subscribe to her podcast for music educators wherever you get your podcasts, or at EmilyBurch.org/podcast.