By Dr. Tim Westerhaus
Are you burned-out? Exhausted? Feeling behind or inadequate as our choral programs are smaller in numbers or skills in this year of emerging-from-the-pandemic? How can we intentionally rebuild our programs, and where can we find the energy to do so? How can we honor this stage of our journey (for ourselves as teachers and conductors, for our choral communities, and for our profession) with honesty to meet the singers who are in front of us, anxious and yet eager?
Honor and share the journey. We are all at a time of rebuilding. We are all on a journey. Every choral conductor and music educator I’ve spoken with over the past few months has used the word “rebuilding” or similar sentiment to describe this moment—I’m certainly feeling it at college and community levels, and I hear it also at elementary, middle, and high school ages—from festival to classroom. Rather than feeling defensive or inadequate, let’s use this time to honor the journey of our choral communities. In each concert or event we sing at, we can share in public parts of the journey that have made the music-making special.
Before singing, invite a singer to share what makes this music unique, sharing something about the cultural background that they’ve learned.
In the learning process, invite singers to create a word-cloud about a song, and project it during the performance. Or share some other aspect of reflection in the performance, giving your audience a window into your community’s growing process.
Share an aspect that your singers really found difficult in learning a piece. Invite the audience to repeat a tongue-twister-like section after you or your students model it. Have your singers sing a difficult passage without the other parts and invite your audience to “listen to when the basses sing this difficult but very cool rhythmic section.” Your audience will love having an insider’s view of the music, and celebrate even more their singers’ success on stage.
If you’ve had an interdisciplinary collaboration or culture bearer as part of your journey, find a way to share about this—even if the person cannot join in concert, share pictures of the visitor with your choir or share reflections from the time together.
Beyond concerts, find casual ways to share moments along the journey. Drop by a non-music class or administrator’s office to share a short excerpt of something you’ve been working on. Record some part of the magic moment that took place in the rehearsal and share with parents.
Celebrate one another! It can be a tough time to be a music educator, but we are not alone: we have support among our choral community. Find opportunities when we’re together with our peers—school assemblies, shared concerts, festivals—to publicly celebrate the inspiring work they’re doing; invite audiences to cheer their teaching and music-making, their care for their singers. If you’re feeling underappreciated, chances are a colleague in your region or school is feeling similarly. In addition to public recognition, a short note, text, email, message to their administrator, or social media post might be just the affirmation they need. In festivals or exchanges, model this type of celebrating and advocating for one another by incorporating time for affirmations of other ensembles.
Take time this month to celebrate one another and honor and share the journey—then check back here in December for part 2 of this Advocacy & Collaboration post when we wrap up other ways you can “Turn Your Community Outward.”
Watch this episode on YouTube: https://youtu.be/_IkEUq87rfo (or episode 130 on the “Music (ed) Matters” Podcast where ever you listen to podcasts).
Dr. Tim Westerhaus is a member of ACDA’s Advocacy & Collaboration Committee. Learn more about Dr. Westerhaus (aka: Dr. Dubs): https://www.choralartsnw.org/