Monday, September 7, 2015

Sing Out

This could be a bulletin board in any Howard County School. I passed this one many, many times before I stopped to take this picture. Later I asked the music teacher one question.


"You know that bulletin board, the one that says Join the Band, Join the Orchestra? Where's the one that says Join the Choir?"
He looked a little surprised. "There isn't one," he said.
I knew that.
These posters are produced and shared with schools by Music and Arts, which has a long, positive relationship with the Howard County School System. I have nothing critical to say about them. But it is quite telling that there are no "Join the Choir" posters. It isn't because joining the choir is less important. It is because Music and Arts has no commercial interest in chorus building. They have nothing to sell you in that area.
It only makes sense, right?
But, remember that expression, "You can't be what you can't see"? Choral singing just does not have the pride of place in our schools that instrumental programs have. Perhaps this is because people think that singing is easy, singing is natural, anyone can sing. On the their hand--playing an instrument takes hard work, skill, and specialized training.
It is true than anyone can sing. But to sing well, with a healthy tone, in tune, musically, and with good breath support takes that same hard work, skill, and specialized training. I don't know why we don't have sectionals (small group instruction) for singers. We should. All of the things that instrumental players work on can be worked on with singers: tuning, posture, musicianship, ear-training, and much more. And the benefits that students gain from that small group instruction are more than musical. It is often the relationships and successes that begin here that carry over into other school success.
Composer John Rutter spoke eloquently about the importance of choral singing in his talk, "The Importance of Choir".

Choral music is not one of life’s frills. It’s something that goes to the very heart of our humanity, our sense of community, and our souls.

But if you are walking through a school, you might not know that. You could be forgiven for assuming that either Choral Music just isn't as important or challenging as instrumental music, or that the individual school has a primary focus on instrumental music. And the actual reason may be as simple as the fact that Music and Arts can't sell you anything for that.

The big money is in instruments. That doesn't make them better or worse. It's just the truth of the matter. But somehow this has evolved to mean that choral singing "just don't get no respect." I'd like to see that change. Sharing the spotlight with choral singing will take nothing away from the band and orchestra. It's bringing more happy, hardworking musicians to the party.

I think our politicians need to take note…my gosh do they ever! [laughs], and our educators, those who decide education budgets, church budgets, just need to remember it’s not a frill. It’s like a great oak that rises up from the center of the human race and spreads its branches everywhere. That’s what music does for us. And choral music must stand as one of the supreme examples of it. (Rutter)


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