xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Today is the first day of the rest of the year
by Cliff Ganus, Editor <accent>, the Arkansas ACDA newsletter (repinrted from Fall, 2012, edition)

ganusIt’s a few weeks into the fall semester, and I’ve been feeling good about my chorus this year.  I’ve drilled them on tone, diction, line, performance and rehearsal demeanor, standards, energy—all of those things that make for an excellent performing ensemble.  And, indeed, they’ve sung very well, in both rehearsals and in concerts.

So I’ve been feeling good about my chorus this year.

Until today.

I’ve been pushing pretty hard, challenging the more talented and experienced in the group to push themselves, operating under the trickle-down theory that if the best can get it, everybody else will be pulled along eventually.  And these students have been responding enthusiastically, developing a pride in how quickly the group is learning and how good we’re sounding.

And I’ve been feeling good about their singing this year.ganus-quote

Until today.

After rehearsal, one of the freshmen asked to talk with me.  He had a lot to say.  He’s got a wonderful voice, but he’s less experienced that some of the other members, and he’s having a hard time learning the music.  He has no confidence.  He’s singing very softly, so he won’t be caught in a mistake, and he doesn’t think he’s contributing anything.  He doesn’t know many of the other members.  He walks in as the bell rings, we rehearse, and he leaves when the bell rings, without much chit-chat. 

He has actually asked a couple of the others in his section about getting some help on the notes, but they don’t have time.  And I’ve generally avoided section rehearsals so far this year, because they’re not the most efficient use of our time.

And I’ve wanted to use our time efficiently because we have a lot of music to learn and because we want to sing it as well as it can be sung

And I’ve been feeling good about our progress this year.

Until today.

Because today I’m reminded that progress can be measured by more than one standard.  And I’m reminded that, as a teacher, my responsibility to my students is even more important than my attention to the subject matter.  And I’m reminded to recognize that this young man is not the only one who’s struggling, not the only one that doesn’t know the other group members, and not the only one who has a problem to tell me but hasn’t been able to find the courage or opportunity to approach me.

In the teaching profession, kids trump procedure every time.

So I’m contemplating a bit of priority shifting. 

Sure, it’s important to hold to high standards, to accomplish as much as possible, to lead students to the highest artistic levels.

But it’s also important to train all of the members, not just the most accomplished. And it’s important to teach and to nourish in all areas, not just the musical ones.  I have a little speech that I sometimes make to the chorus members in which I assert that we have multiple goals:  we’re 100% musically oriented; 100% spiritually oriented; 100% socially oriented; and 100% educationally oriented.  The math may be wrong, but the intent is deliberate.  That’s why it’s a bit embarrassing to have a freshman very kindly and humbly remind me that I’ve forgotten the equation.

As choral teachers, we operate under the mandate, so far as possible, to Leave No Singer Behind.  In last fall’s accent, Suzanna Callahan reminded us that sometimes we need to open our eyes to see our choir members not as means to accomplish our CPA ambitions, but as young people with cares and needs, whose direction in life might well be determined by the way that we deal with them.

I’m grateful that I’ve been reminded of that today.

And, beginning now, I’m going to remember that my primary goal is to continue to insist on musical excellence.  And my primary goal is to help my group be a family, helping and supporting each other.  And my primary goal is to help each of the members of the group in their spiritual walk (and I can actually say that out loud, since I work in a private institution).  And my primary goal is to be an excellent teacher, to help students learn to understand information about the music and how to develop in their understanding at their own pace, depending on their own experience and ability.

It’s been a good day.  I’m feeling good about my chorus this year.  And tomorrow I’m going to be feeling even better about them.

How about you?