Dr. Anne Lyman wears many choir director hats: community choir, church, and community college choir. She is the past president of Washington ACDA, loves sharing the joys of early choral music, and is clearly a service-oriented conductor.
During the first 10 days or so of March, things went from “normal” to unsettled to cancelled. At Tacoma Community College, in-person classes were canceled before they began their last quarter. Dr. Lyman said those 10 weeks were the weirdest weeks she had ever taught, and they were completely online during the 2020-21 school year.
Her frustrations with the past year are ones that many conductors have echoed: some students didn’t show up, difficult at times to find motivation, program numbers were down. She felt fortunate to have great support and guidance from administration, and yet she realized there would be a shift to more online options, which could pose recruiting and retaining challenges.
Still, this past year brought some affirming experiences. It was important to singers to be together and to sing, even without performance as a goal. In her community choir, she set up virtual projects that consisted of learning music, studying historical/cultural aspects of the music, and the virtual choir creation. In fact, Sine Nomine Renaissance Choir expanded its community, including those who were homebound or living in other places. Dr. Lyman was thrilled she could engage people who wanted to “nerd out on polyphony.” The projects were so popular that she will continue to incorporate them. Her college students grew through the online platform: karaoke, student-led rounds, teaching warm-ups, leading sectionals. It seemed easier for some students to lead from the comfort of their own space instead of a classroom. She didn’t have a full picture of what all the students were dealing with at home: technology difficulties, full time jobs, caregivers… yet, they showed up.
This year also brought another change: a new rehearsal time. Instead of every day, she changed it to 3 days a week with a longer rehearsal time so students drive to campus less. She’s been working with her thoughtful eLearning department so students can attend rehearsals using Zoom. In-person rehearsals will follow all the recommendations. In addition to understanding and prioritizing mental health, community building, encouragement, and general uplifting experiences, the singers need a musically challenging and robust singing experience. She thinks singers will want to step into the rehearsal and get down to business.
ADEI is also integral for Dr. Lyman. The Washington State ACDA board has been investing in equity work prior to the death of George Floyd. It’s been slow work, without many visible takeaways or outcomes yet, but they’ve been a committed task force. The work has been both personal (Dr. Lyman points out that she has spent her life complicit in inequity) and organizationally challenging. “What is choral excellence? What does that mean for us as singers? For us as a program?” If it means excellence in choral performance, that’s problematic for equity in the choral field. Dr. Lyman also pointed out that sometimes less music may be performed because there was a higher need for conversation around the music (side note: Jazzmone Sutton said something similar in her advocacy and relationship-building discussion a few weeks ago). Dr. Lyman recognizes that equity work doesn’t always involve her singers. She doesn’t want to pressure her students to do her work, and she can’t force other students to take it on if they aren’t ready for it.
“How can we hope for our young singers to have a future in singing if we don’t make equity a part of everything we do?” Dr. Lyman posed. This includes acknowledging that what we’ve done until this point has not been sufficient, or has been flat out wrong. The acknowledgement piece is hard, and egos can get in the way of growth. She wondered about how to make equity a thread in everything we do, including bringing the work to the local K-12 teachers, either calling out behavior or working with K-12 colleagues to address community issues. Dr. Lyman said she wants training in how to call out behavior (This is something I have heard requested multiple times from colleagues– not how to recognize it, but practice using the words in the moment to disrupt behavior). Ultimately, she knows she can continue to challenge her own role within her community and the systems that she is involved with (Dr. Ahmed Anzaldúa’s posed a question related to this in his blog post: Are the systems in place, whether previously designed or created by you, preventing relationships with people in your space and community?). The DEI should not go away because “we’re going back to normal.” She is working toward and supporting change, adjusting how she can be a part of the process, including getting out of the way at times. What struck me in our conversation was how intentional she was in her listening and responding to her colleagues, students, and most vulnerable in her community.