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Passing the Choral Torch

Thursday, 29 April 2010

One of my most formative and life-altering experiences happened in a church.

It’s true.

1980. The high school choir concert. Judas Maccabeaus. I had always loved music. But this was amazing. Big kids. Cool kids. Making shimmering, glittering, triumphant music. That one night planted the choral seed. And ignited my passion love for Georg Friedrich Händel as well as the oratorio.

Has any student anticipated joining the choir more than that awkward girl?

From that point, my most treasured, and painful, moments were spent in choir. School choir. District choir. All-county. All-state. Choir camp. You name it…I sang it. For fourteen years. And it all started when I walked into the music room at my elementary school and the music teacher told me that I was an alto. [Which was later changed when it became clear that I was many things. An alto was not one of them.]

Now, I am the parent of a fourth grader. In the same district of my childhood. Same, but with a significant difference…

My, how the mighty have fallen. It is hard to believe that a once-flourishing music program has been reduced to a limping shadow of its former self. Barely recognizable. The repeat victim of budget cuts.

Gone are the days of an individual vocal music program in each school for grades fourth-eighth. Gone is the All-District Chorus. Gone are the trimester concerts. Gone. Gone. Gone.

One annual concert. For a chorus comprised of fourth grade students from eight elementary schools in the district. One combined group. With no rehearsal. Organized by height, singing to pre-recorded music.

That’s it. That is the entirety of the elementary school music program in our district. It reappears in middle school with another combined group, run by the conductor of the local high school vocal music program.

When music isn’t valued at the elementary level, the high school program is negatively impacted. The caliber cannot possibly be maintained without a strong feeder program. Ultimately, this impacts any student who desires pursing a music degree at the college level.

It is true that every generation tends to romanticize the past while criticizing the present. So it would be unreasonable to expect my generation to be immune from the tendancy to gloss over the imperfect past.

But this really is pathetic.

What type of valuable musicality can be taught under these conditions? The music teachers deserve a great deal of credit as they attempt to impart their love and knowledge. And gratitude to the community for financially supporting the music program. Such that it is.

The following elementary choral sins were committed last night:

  • Outdoor concert…with no acoustic shell
  • Keys too high for young voices ==> flat notes.
  • Ten songs. None of the students learned all of the words to all of the songs. Better to have fewer songs.
  • Key changes in every song. Usually an indication of an uninteresting setting. And if the keys are too high in the beginning…
  • Conducting in the wrong time sig. A conductor who only conducts in 2??? Most of these pieces were written in 4. Learn to feel it in 4, Mr. Conductor.

But Beernut loved it. He doesn’t have my memories of a strong music program. He has only his own experience. Which, as far as he is concerned, was a wonderful, joyful one. And so it shall remain.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Thursday, 29 April 2010 12:00 pm

    while i don’t have nearly as fond memories as you do of school choirs, i do particularly hate the school music performances at my kiddo’s school. then again, they do a nice job of getting every kid involved in some way, with “dancing” and props and stuff. the kids really get into it and they do rehearse a lot (sometimes too much?)…either way, i’m not sure there’s a win here.

    he sure does look happy, though! and that is a win in itself 🙂

  2. Thursday, 29 April 2010 9:18 pm

    oh sad indeed! while i don’t (really, i don’t– no compliment fishing here) have any musical sense what-so-ever, i did love being in choir in high school! my husband, however, is oh-so-very musical and i see inklings of music passion in my children. the arts are, far too often, the very first things to get cut when budget-belts get tightened. as a former teacher and a strong believer in the public school system, i find this so, so disappointing.

  3. Dadgiraffe permalink
    Thursday, 29 April 2010 9:44 pm

    I feel the same pain, though as a past School Board member I understand that math, science, etc. can’t be cut. So, the arts–which do not carry the same state mandate–are handed over to educational foundations to try to cover the costs. I recall your mother master-minding the saving of the high school music program. How fitting it was that the same choral group that moved you with Judas Maccabeus and which both you and your future husband later joined provided the prelude to your wedding. And how wonderful that the very sanctuary pictured in this blog entry, where the choral group performed years ago, now reverberates each Shabbos with the inspiring tones of your voice. The circle closes, imperfectly perhaps, but offering blessing.


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