Have you ever had a moment when various parts of your life come together and you finally understand your life journey thus far? That was Thursday night for me. My college choir, the choir that made me want to be a choral director, which now has a handful of my former students from when I student taught, came to sing for my current students, and then we both performed a concert at the church where I sang on our choir recruitment tour when I was at Clemson, which is currently the church where my husband and I are both staff singers in the choir, the same choir that sang at our wedding. Talk about full circle, and a full heart! AND a full run-on sentence!
When I spoke my with college choir director about making a trip to Charleston, I knew that I had to provide an experience for my students. How often do high school choirs get a chance to hear collegiate choirs perform? Not often!
My alma mater choir, Clemson Singers, made their spring recruitment tour to Charleston to prepare for their culminating performance this weekend at the SCMEA conference. They graciously came to our school Thursday morning to perform a concert, and then the director, whom I sang under during my time at Clemson, did a short clinic with my Concert Choir. That same evening, we shared a concert at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in historic downtown Charleston.
That morning, I found myself watching my kids watch the concert more than I watched the concert myself! Their eyes were focused on the choir, they were quiet, and there wasn’t a single look of boredom to be seen. Their jaws dropped when soloists performed, they genuinely applauded, and when it was their turn to sing and receive feedback, they soaked up everything that was said to them. Talk about a “proud mama” moment!
Afterwards, they met the director and mingled with the college singers. They asked questions, thanked them, and gushed to each other about what they experienced. Luckily, after the concert they all had me for class the next period! We briefly chatted what we pieces they liked, what they noticed about college choir, and how we were going to use the feedback given to us for our performance coming up that evening. It was one of our most productive rehearsals! They wanted to have a great concert, and it was clear they were striving for perfection.
When students arrived at the church, their eyes were immediately scanning the entire sanctuary. The church is rich in history, and it’s architecture is truly breath-taking. When we were warming up they said things like, “Wow, even solfege sounds beautiful in here!” They knew they were in for a treat when their vocal warmups were appealing to their ears!
I remembered saying, “Who are you guys?!” implying that they sounded like a completely different choir. The acoustics of the church complemented our repertoire and greatly impacted our ensemble sound. They sounded so mature and full…If I closed my eyes, I don’t think I would have known it was them! Their portion of the concert went flawlessly, and I could tell that they were proud of themselves, too. We watched Clemson’s portion of the concert with even more heightened awe than we did at school that morning. I love how beautiful venues can heighten musical experiences, simply because of the space.
The next day, as we usually do following a concert, we did a reflection assignment, though this time I structured it differently. I said to them, “Usually when I write concert reflection questions on the board all I get are the answers and nothing more. So, this time we are going to do things differently.” I then wrote on the board, “Reflect on your experiences yesterday, from when Clemson Singers first arrived, until you left the church last night.” I played some YouTube recordings of some of Clemson’s repertoire in the background, and they wrote for about 15-20 minutes. They were by far the best reflections I have read since I first started teaching! Sometimes when I read reflections, or any written assignment for that matter, I want to quit my job and turn their papers into their ELA teachers so they, too, can weep for the youth. This time they were insightful, articulate, and it felt like they were having a conversation with me.
Here are a few quotes from some of their reflections:
“This is probably one of the most memorable musical experiences I’ve ever had.”
“I can’t believe they rehearse 3 days a week for an hour and a half! We practice every day and sometimes don’t accomplish all we are supposed to!”
“You could see the emotion of each piece on their faces. I felt like I understood what they were saying even in the foreign language pieces.”
“This concert made me realize how much music is a passion of mine, and I hope that I find a choir in college so I can keep singing.”
“Watching them made me want to be better and to work harder.”
Amazing stuff. Maybe when you let them reflect naturally and say what they want to say, they answer all of your questions anyway. And even more.
I feel like our rehearsals are going to be different now. Maybe not consistently, but I think this will remain in the back of their minds for some time. Hopefully it will fuel our preparation for Choral Festival in March.
And now onto the next event! There is never a dull moment in the spring semester! It’s tiring for sure, but it’s the best job in the world! 🙂