Just a few Monday ago...
by Patrick Ryan, President-Elect, NW ACDA


Aryan few Mondays ago, fifty high school students met in Great Falls, Montana, for their normal choir rehearsal. 

They were between 15 to 18 years old.  The terrible tragedy in Connecticut had occurred the previous Friday, and I knew we needed to talk about it, but I couldn’t (and still can’t) wrap my brain around it or put anything into words.  I said as much to my students, and then one of them suggested a moment of silence.  Another offered that we sing Dan Forrest’s “Good Night, Dear Heart,” a gorgeous, moving work written in response to the death of a seven-month old girl, in memory of the children.  He reasoned that as a choir, we sing when the spoken word is inadequate. 

The high school students arranged in a circle, we turned off the lights in the room, and sang.  I can’t put into words what happened in the next four minutes, but when the singing ended, there was complete stillness.  After about a minute of silence, the lights were turned on and almost all of the students had tears in their eyes.

This kind of group vulnerability and openness is almost unheard of in teenagers.  We can thank choral music for allowing these high school students the opportunity to open their souls to each other, and to share in their collective emotions. 

We live in such a detached culture, and through our art we allow our singers to fully experience emotions that they are unable or unwilling to totally embrace in their lives.

Through our art, we teach them how to be empathetic, even when they have sometimes never experienced the emotions or situations in question.   Through choral music we can initiate moments that encourage them to be more fully human. 

When my high school students were singing that day, they were fully immersing themselves in their grief.  In another situation, it could have been joy, love, yearning, loneliness, ecstasy, or hundreds of other emotions.  By fully experiencing these emotions through music, we allow ourselves to live fuller lives outside of the rehearsal, becoming better parents, children, friends, lovers, students, and teachers.  In short, better people living more fulfilling lives.

A very wise person once described a meaningful life in the following way: “Devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”  We create those opportunities in every group we conduct by modeling them for our singers.  What an incredible gift!

Choral music is incredibly powerful.  I believe that is why most of us chose choral conducting as our profession.