J – Yes, I know it’s a little late. I am feeling a little guilty about taking this long… but here it is. THE CONCERT! Of course most of you know- EVERYTHING that could go wrong in the couple of weeks prior, will! The program will not be printed in time, your pianist may miss part of dress rehearsal because you told her the wrong time, some microphone is apt to break and of course the tech person may not be there to help, a basketball game will be scheduled at the same time and students WILL be forced to make a decision, and the whole time you are wishing “ Why didn’t I wear a sweater with more breathable fabric?”
First- THE SCHEDULE! Middle School chorus meets two times a week for 35 minutes and Upper School meets for an hour on Wednesday and 30 minutes on Friday. Neither ensemble is graded but fulfills a performing arts credit that all students need to graduate.
Back in January we had our first 6-12 Chorus concert of the year. It was a small program of about 6 pieces lasting about 35 minutes long. As I see it, you can focus on preparing pieces for the concert or you can focus on developing skills. If you choose to focus on the first the second will suffer, but if you choose to focus on the second the first will only get better. The only thing is… you might have to cut a few pieces! I wanted to focus on the “hows, whats, and whys” of being a good singer and musician. We took time to sight read, work on tone, learn how to identify key signatures, listen to examples of good choirs, develop good posture and breathing habits, and assess all of this throughout the process. Consequently, we cut about 3 pieces in all.
This was a big decision that I was battling throughout the semester- the idea of putting together a well-received product can be a little…well …mind numbing (Especially when its your first at a new school). The kids are going to be disappointed and they are going to want to sing more. What are their families going to think? What is the school going to think? We worked for four months and only sang two pieces in Middle School, three in Upper School and one combined piece. And I said “welp..ISN”T IT OBVIOUS?” The amount of growth these students have made over the past four months is incredible. They didn’t just learn the notes and rhythms of a few songs.. they became musicians. They learned the process and no matter how many times they said “Ms. Olberg can we sing it on text?” They knew why I did it and could instantly see the benefits. Eventually .. I was hearing “Can we sing it on numbers?” Growth was taking place and whether we showcased this through 1 or 15 songs, to me this is what matters.
I truly believe the audience heard that. They saw the pride in the kids faces. I also wanted to let everyone into our classroom, as I did with the 4/5 concert when the audience sightread together, and we did this by we learning and performing “Freedom is Coming” that night. I hadn’t told the students what was going to happen, but I did tell them to go have a seat somewhere in the audience before the last combined piece.
I was MILDLY freaking out because this WAS a big risk. They could choose not to sing, I could fumble through words and confuse the whole room, or any number of things (trust me I came up with many).. I made several plans and in the end forgot about all of them. By the end of this process the entire room was up and singing in 4 part harmony- students, faculty, parents and friends (I could hear Rob wailing the Tenor part from the back row). They got a glimpse of what it takes to sing as an ensemble. I just regret not having a video camera to catch the beauty of an entire room of people unexpectedly coming together to sing.
I believe it was a success- not because we prepared a number of audience favorites, or because we sang pop songs, or even because we had big ensembles (we don’t). It was because the concert was a BYPRODUCT of the learning PROCESS. We didn’t spend the entire semester preparing for our concert.. we spent it learning and when January came around we were pretty proud to present our growth to the audience.
very impressive process– I imagined my kids trying this as I read your blog and found myself REALLY intrigued at the thought—totally agree with your priorities— congratulations!! Sue P