"This will be our reply to violence, to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than before." -Leonard Bernstein
Who should have the opportunity to participate in choral music?
At Glen Hills Middle School, we believe that every child, regardless of their background, ethnicity, academic strengths or struggles, deserves the opportunity to learn to make music with a choir of peers. We work to ensure that every student who wishes to sing and participate in the choral community is given the opportunity to build these fundamental and powerful bonds within the ensemble as we work to create beautiful music together.
What is the ultimate goal of the choral music program at Glen Hills?
Music has the transcendent ability to take people with different personalities, backgrounds, cultures, and interests and bind them together into a group with the capacity to create something greater than any single one of them could achieve. The goal of the GHMS choral program is teach our students the skills that make them better musicians--skills that also help them become young men and women who can be positive leaders in their communities and in our world.
In a educational world driven by standardized testing, why does choral music matter?
Music is a wholly powerful medium! Beyond the obvious power of creativity that music provides, choral singing is a powerful "hands-on" experience in life skills that standardized tests simply can't teach. Beyond the walls of the choir room, these are skills that help singers in the "traditional" classroom and the world beyond. Through choir, students learn...
...to listen to others. If you are singing so loudly you can't hear anyone else, the chances are good you are singing out of tune. By the same token, if you're speaking so loudly you can't hear anyone else's thoughts, the chances are good you are losing sight of the whole.
...the validity of their personal experiences. No two voices, in the whole course of human history, are exactly the same, and each person's experience is unique. The emotions, voice, and story each student brings to the table helps to give our ensemble (and our community!) that much more depth.
...to work together and rely on others. Every singer has different strengths and weaknesses. Some people can sing great high notes all day long. Some people always know how to find the next note they sing. Some people know how to bring emotion to a line of music like no one else. When we see others' strengths as an asset, rather than a threat, it allows us to share responsibility and learn from one another.
...to persevere. Everyone fails. We all sing incorrect notes. We forget when to come in. We struggle to learn how to sightread. We struggle to learn how to sing harmony...and high notes...and low notes...and long phrases. In music, the struggle is daily. But with the support of the ensemble, students learn that a challenge isn't impossible, and improvement is real. And sometimes, the most difficult trials become our greatest triumphs.
...to express themselves in a constructive way. Life is hard--especially middle school life. In addition to all the usual trials and tribulations of the early teen years, many students also struggle with depression, a parent's job loss, the serious illness of a family member, or difficult home environments. Music allows these deep and valid emotions to be expressed in a beautiful and constructive way. Students can sing about their hurts, their frustrations, their failures under the mask of a song and find solace and healing through doing this with others.
What is the place of sacred music in the choral curriculum?
This has long been a sensitive subject in American schools. The National Association of Music Education (NAfME) and the Wisconsin Music Education Association (WMEA) have taken the stand that the study of choral music with sacred texts "is a vital and appropriate part of the total music experience in both performing and listening. The omission of sacred music from the repertoire or study of music would present an incorrect and incomplete concept of the comprehensive nature of the art form" (WMEA) and this is the approach taken by the GHMS choral department.
I spend great amounts of time and care in selecting music for each choir. This repertoire needs to be of the highest artistic quality and provide a balance of style, historical era, and culture for the concert while taking into account the strengths and challenges of each individual ensemble (like children, no two choirs are alike)--such as where students are in their vocal development, how many and what type of voices we have, and how to cover major musical concepts required to prepare students for choral music at the high school level.
The study of music with sacred texts is a vital part of producing an accurate and excellent choral music program. It is part of the balance. Great composers such as J.S. Bach, G.F. Handel, and even W.A. Mozart wrote primarily sacred music in the choral genre. The African-American choral tradition has given us a wealth of great music in Spirituals and gospel. To exclude this music and its like from the GHMS choral program would be giving an incomplete and inaccurate education to our students.
My goal is to present a balance of sacred and secular music as part of each year of the GHMS students' education, and try to represent several cultures and genres in each concerts. Over the course of their years at Glen Hills, it is my hope that students will sing music from each of the major classical music periods (Early music, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and 20th Century) and many genres--musical theatre, jazz, pop, classical, and more. Through this, they sing in other languages and learn about many periods in history and cultures the world over.
When introducing and teaching music with sacred texts, we approach the entire process from an educational standpoint, rather than a religious one. We look at its place in history, culture, musical quality, and expressivity. We study the text as it relates to the musical and compositional technique and its historical value. I do not ask students to believe or not believe any of its content. Our purpose is educational, never to provide for religious indoctrination or a religious experience. I discuss this direction with the choirs and ask students who still have questions or concerns to come and speak to me individually.
In the performing arts, we are often called upon to represent ideas and concepts that are part of the human experience, though not necessarily part of our own experiences or belief system. In the past, some student shave chosen not to sing a particular piece because of its specific sacred text. If after discussion with the director, parents and a student decide that a particular piece offends their religious beliefs, they are excused from performing it.