Your Responsibility as a Standard-Bearer of the Choral Art

As future choral music educators – standard-bearers of the choral art for future generations – choosing quality repertoire that represents the nature of our subject comprehensively must be a strong priority. If art is “material organized to be expressive,” consider concert programming an art as well: the selections you choose (materials) and the order in which they are presented (organized) is an artistic process that the audience will perceive and respond to accordingly. Unfortunately, all too often, music teachers neglect this critical component of the choral curriculum. The “public face” of our music programs thus reflects a hodgepodge of scattershot selections presented without any thought, logic, or reason. The final synthesis of months of preparation results in a superficial entertainment that lacks depth, meaning, unity, substance, or academic rigor. If the performance, too, is mediocre and lacking in quality, one shouldn’t be surprised that music programs represented by these efforts are in danger of being cut. How do public school concert performances reflect academic curricula that are unique and essential?

Healthy Eating Habits for a Lifetime of Healthy Living

Let’s discuss the issue of repertoire selection from a different point of view. Rather than choral music, you are now teaching a course in nutrition, namely “Healthy Eating Habits for a Lifetime of Healthy Living.” The focus is on teaching students to consider the right food choices to create healthy eating habits for a long and happy life minus obesity, diabetes, heart disease, or any other ailments related to eating. Specifically, the content would include learning how to choose good foods that are good for you (proteins, vegetables, fruits, starches, fats), eating them in the proper amounts and proportions to gain the benefits of each, and balancing what each has to offer (adding condiments and “extras” that make the food taste better); but avoiding (or minimizing) those foods that are unhealthy, empty in nutritional value, or just plain dangerous. With this knowledge thus imparted to your students, you have given them the tools to eat well, feel better, work productively, think clearly, and approach life energetically. Ultimately, you have taught them to live healthily and influenced their well-being in profoundly positive ways. You have created within them a foundational framework for a better life! Such a course would be unique and essential, as unhealthy living could lead to death, which would make every other aspect of life moot in the long run.

What Are Healthy Choral Offerings?

In much the same way – though probably not a life or death situation – choosing healthy choral repertoire for your choral program is critical to its relevance and success. Your literature selection is the educational core of your curriculum. Just as a course on nutrition needs to built on a foundation of consuming healthy foods, especially proteins and vegetables, a choral curriculum must be structured on a firm base of repertoire that includes a full diet of what choral music has been from the Medieval Period to Now, from Texas to Timbuktu, from Gregorian Chant to the Gjeilo, from English to Estonian dialects, from a cappella Renaissance motet to rock operas, and the list goes on. Just as there are so many vegetables and proteins from which to choose – to account for every taste, desire or mood – so, too, there is a vast array of choral repertoire spanning centuries to be used for every choir, every student, every level, every situation.

Avoid the Easy (Unhealthy) “Quik-Fix”

Sure, it’s easy to simply stop for fast food (McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King), or for repertoire simply go to a large on-line retailer (Pepper, Sheet Music.com), and buy the “special of the month” (McRib, Shamrock Shake) or the newest publication (by some commercially popular living arranger/composer). Such purchases immediately satisfy your hunger pangs and get the job done. In the long run, however, your satisfaction with the experience is short-lived: you’ll be hungry again shortly (after the bloated, coma-like haze wears off), you’ll definitely feel less satisfied in the long run, and you’ll soon crave another unhealthy quick-fix. The long-term, negative health effects of this cycle could be devasting. Choosing choral repertoire that is the nutritional equivalent of Tastycakes and Lucky Charms (quick and easy fix, too sweet, no substance, all English, all contemporary, all the same, little nutritional (educational) value) will not benefit your students in the long run. While such songs are initially fun, the effect soon wears off due to a lack of musical nutrients. A good meal takes time and work to prepare; you need to devote time, thought, and effort to carefully prepare your repertoire. If you teach your students to eat well by choosing high quality literature (varied in style, period, language, genre) and full of nutritional value (depth and substance), they’ll learn to appreciate the excellence of the dish (fine art speaks for itself). You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve prepared them for a lifetime of healthy choral participation in whichever mode they choose: performer, audience member, I-Tunes purchaser.

Ambassador of Quality Choral Literature

Remember, just as you may be the only voice teacher your students will ever have, you may also be the only ambassador of quality choral literature they’ll ever know. If we don’t want the choral art to die on the vine, it’s up to us to fertilize the plant, water it daily, and encourage it to blossom, bloom, and grow to its full height. Without your effort to do the digging, prepare the meal, explore the vast repertoire of the choral art through the span of time and space, the full potential of what choral music means to our global culture could be lost forever. It’s up to you to insure that our beloved choral art lives long and prospers through a healthy, well-balanced approach to choosing the core content of our music education curricula.