By Robyn Hilger
All the best pieces of my life have been connected to music. Music class is where I discovered where I excelled, learned important skills like work ethic and collaboration, and where I first practiced being a leader. And, as a music teacher, I found that I had the opportunity to impact the journey of many lives so that they too could experience the joy of making music for what I hoped would be a lifetime. This really got me thinking about how every music educator along my musical journey was instrumental (pardon the pun) in creating the person you know today. It truly takes a village, which is why we must acknowledge and support music educators at every level along the pipeline of choral development to life-long music making.
The opportunity to develop a love of music can be a very early experience within our homes, communities, and places of worship. In many non-Western cultures, children participate with the adults in making music from very early in their lives. Children are encouraged to fully engage and contribute their own gifts and know that they belong in these musical settings without any kind of formal training or education. Making music is part of the community and family, not separated from other parts of life. These earliest teachers are family members, friends, and community leaders. What a terrific foundation for life-long music making!
For many children in the United States, one of the first experiences with formalized music education is in the school setting. The masterful teaching of the young child is something to behold. Within five minutes, it is not unusual to see these music educators teach a phrase, model matching pitch, remind a child to stop touching their neighbor, realize a student has just pulled out their tooth, correct rhythms, hear a story about someone’s dog, dry a tear, and still manage to play the accompaniment at the piano. And, the best of them do all of this with a bright smile, welcoming demeanor, and a driving passion for instilling a love for music in these early days. My family did not make music together. I had no way of knowing that this could be my life until I entered a music classroom in elementary school. There are teachers of young children and in elementary schools laying the foundation for lives filled with music every single day. Our profession is grateful for you!
To the middle school and high school teachers, we are indebted to you for the nurturing of technical skill, artistry, and character-building you do each day. While we know that many of our students are not going to become professional singers or choral directors, we do know that their lives will be enriched by the lessons learned in the choral ensemble. Not only the lessons of music, but the lessons in being unselfish, being on time, craftsmanship, worth ethic, empathy, compassion, and the list goes on and on. Lessons that transcend the rehearsal and build people who are ready to be contributors to their communities. And, hopefully, people who continue to sing in their homes, with their children, and in our worship and community ensembles. A constant reminder that music is with us at every juncture in our lives. The future of our communities is in your rehearsals today. We are fortunate to have you in this role!
As a middle school teacher, I was often asked when I was going to “move up” to the high school. “Moving up” was never something I wanted to pursue. My jam all day, every day was 7th grade. I have a high tolerance for pain! I know there is pressure at every level to “move up.” If moving from elementary to middle school to high school or beyond is your dream, by all means pursue it to your fullest potential and you will find many mentors in ACDA to help you along your journey. However, if you are loving your place in life, with no current desire to “move up,” know that the work you are doing every single day is invaluable to our profession’s need to ensure the highest quality experiences for people at every level in their choral journey. We don’t end up with collegiate level singers or adult community choirs without everyone doing their part along the way – a pipeline that often starts first in the home and then in your classrooms and rehearsals. The work you do every day, from the itty-bittys to the accomplished vocalists to the ensembles ensuring there are opportunities for aging voices, each of you ensures that choral music remains a pillar in our communities. American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) is here for each of you, wherever you are on your personal journey as a choral professional. We are #ONEACDA.
Robyn Hilger is the executive director of ACDA. She has a bachelor’s degree in music education from Oklahoma City University and a master’s degree in school administration from the University of Central Oklahoma. She spent ten years as a public school music educator before transitioning into nonprofit administration.