ChorTeach is ACDA’s quarterly online publication, designed for those who work with singers of all levels. A full annotated ChorTeach index is available online at acda.org/chorteach. Over 160 articles are organized into seventeen categories. For submission information, to view the index, or to read the latest issue, visit acda.org/chorteach. Following is an excerpt from an article in the Summer 2020 issue titled: Planning Ahead: Five Considerations for Future Choral Music Classrooms by Andrew Lusher. A version of this article will also appear in the upcoming September issue of Choral Journal.
My school has an unwritten rule: When something goes wrong, take four minutes and fifty-nine seconds to be emotional. Then it’s time to move forward.
I admit that it took me a bit longer, nearly six weeks, to fully grieve the loss of the end of the school year. When the quarantine mandate was issued, my students and I were two days away from premiering a commissioned work from an internationally-known composer, five days before our annual state assessment, and just over a month until our annual musical production. It felt like the house that we had been designing and building together all year had just disappeared.
Seeing the choral music community adjust to our new reality has been interesting for me. Virtual choirs of all types grace social media. Videos of past concerts from amateur, educational, and professional ensembles are continually featured online. Classroom teachers are taking this time to review theory skills, suggest creative projects, and try social activities that encourage reflection on a student’s musical identity. It’s been wonderful seeing the energy and inventiveness with which colleagues have adjusted to the new reality.
But, let’s face it. When you take the human connection out of music making, you have taken the very soul out of the music. Virtual choirs were a fascination for a few weeks, and asynchronous learning provides momentary instruction, but the heart of it all is missing. Without a practical context in which to implement theory skills, vocal warm ups, or emotional refl ections, the value of participating in a choral ensemble diminishes. Our musical life is not going to return to normal in the near future. Now is the time to start planning and preparing for what comes next.
If history is any indication, choral music performing ensembles will adapt and endure. During the Thirty Years War, Heinrich Schütz famously had to compose with depleting resources. On one Sunday, he may have had only two singers on a voice part and a full consort of instruments, whereas the following week he might have had only a baritone, a soprano, a viol, and a small organ. Yet, due to his resourcefulness and ingenuity, we are left with some of the most fl exible, dramatic, and beautiful choral music ever composed.
Likewise, the descants that sopranos love belting out in church on Sundays were the result of what happened to men during World War II. The number of available men was so reduced in the average church choir that the men and lower voices sang the melody of the tune while the upper voices were given a special part, the descant. It was a way of coping with the strain on the church choir from the ravages of war. Now we can’t imagine Christmas or Easter without men. Choral music making will endure, but it will require creativity to maintain the integrity of our unique musical experience.
You can read more in the Summer 2020 issue of ChorTeach. A summary of the other articles in this issue can be found here: https://choralnet.org/2020/06/summer-2020-chorteach-preview/