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?
In last month’s Advocacy and Collaboration post (November 16, 2022) you learned how to “honor and share the journey” and to “celebrate one another,” as skills to build energy and community. This month we wrap-up the conversation with part 2 of ways to “Turn Your Community Outward.”
Find meaning and relevance by turning your community outward: the more opportunities our own internal choir communities have to experience another community—whether a retirement community or another choir, a different age group or artistic discipline—we tangibly feel anew that what we create as choral singers is truly special. We learn something about ourselves. And we share the beauty and magic of choral music with a community that might not normally experience this. How can each element of what we do have an outward-facing element? After years of limited outward engagement, we’ve been missing this extrinsic motivation and connection.
From retreats to concerts: The rehearsal journey doesn’t need to be a private experience. In fact, sharing along the way can be a great way to advocate for choral music and invite others to consider joining. Even our choir retreats can have an element of outreach; sharing our singing with others in the retreat experience can be something that bonds us together in a deeper way that transcends a good icebreaker.
Sing in an unexpected place: sing “Jacob’s Ladder” or “Carpenters of God” in shop class. Sing at a science museum. Sing outdoors at a park. Even if it’s not an “ideal” choral acoustic, we’ve learned that our singing can be beautiful and moving in all sorts of places!
We forget that the fire we feel when we inspire someone is truly special: Create a way that your students can become a teacher, taking pride in something they’ve learned: teach the audience a song; have your high schoolers teach a middle or elementary schooler a melody they can sing together at a concert. If you’re at the college level, organize your music education students to visit schools and share a melody they can all sing together at an invitational, “Big Sing,” or other event. If our students are feeling a lack of inner fire, this can be one way to get a big boost.
If I’m feeling pressure to do more, where can I cut back? If you’re feeling overwhelmed—whether because of internal or external expectations (or both!)—there are places we can inevitably downsize. Sometimes it’s our own expectations that hold us back.
Concerts can be shorter; we can learn one less piece! If we share part of the journey, we’ve got more room for this.
Bring back from a previous year or concert a favorite piece that returning students know and can teach to younger singers; we can have a common choir piece.
Share a unison song that is compelling in its melody and text. (I do this with college-aged students, too. It can be a powerful, moving moment for audience and singers alike.)
Include a sing-along in your concerts (beyond just holiday programs), like “What a wonderful world.”
Add a teaching moment to concerts. We—as conductor-educators—can teach our audience a song right along with our choirs learning it on stage, or next to the audience. Or we can teach a song right on stage, sharing a little about the process of how we learn.
There will always be more beautiful music that we would like to program. Choose music that is compelling in its melody, its text, its harmony, its rhythms, but that is not divisi—and be brave in programming one piece that is for only one or two parts. Music does not have to be SSAA or eight-part divisi to be moving.
Lastly, let’s normalize the idea that every person sings. Every person has a voice. This is one of the things that makes us fundamentally human—we can create. It’s never too late to start singing. We’re each on our own, unique journey. Each person is better when we sing, whether part of a formal choir onstage or a casual sing-along. We become transformed when we use music to share part of our expressive selves. Why should only choral singers get to experience this? Let’s turn our community outward, inviting all into the journey and joy of singing!
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/
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