The Challenge and Rewards of Choral Singing

Students need to know why choral singing is important. They need to know what to expect from their experience in choir, including short-range and long-range goals, and the rewards those goals will render. Finally, they need to be challenged. Any experienced teacher will verify how much easier teaching is if the students and the teacher are pulling together rather than against each other. Most students will accept a challenging curriculum if they understand why the director is requiring them to respond in a specific manner. Following is a model for introductory remarks that might be made to choirs at the first class meeting. Because of it’s idealistic tone, it should be delivered with enthusiasm and sincerity, and with full expectation of the adolescentristic comments that may be made about it to the director and to each other. No matter how much adolescents pretend to cold-shoulder the recommendations of adults, down deep they realize the importance of a respected authority figure in their lives.

You are about to begin an experience of a lifetime! It will be an extraordinary experience, an experience that is different from any you have ever had. It may be so extraordinary that it will be different from any experience you ever will have again. I am going to be your guide through this wonderful experience. You will have to learn to follow me; you will have to learn to care for me; but most of all, you will have to learn to trust me. Without that commitment from you, the experience will only be ordinary. Together we can make it extraordinary.

In turn, I promise to care for you and guide you in the paths of those generations that have gone before us. I promise to give you full benefit of my years of university education. I promise to give you the advantage of the years of training I have had in guiding others through this amazing experience. I promise never to lead you astray, and I promise that when you are older, you will remember and cherish this incredible experience. In fact, it may be only then that you will come to realize that it was an experience of a lifetime.

There will be times when you may not feel the experience is extraordinary. In fact, occasionally you may think it to be downright impossible; for, you see, extraordinary experiences occur only when we have learned how to sacrifice. It is through the sacrifice that we develop the fortitude to fashion the extraordinary. It is through the sacrifice that we become competent even to recognize the extraordinary. Without sacrifice, our eyes are blind to the truly amazing.

*Singing is the gift, discipline is the way, and making music is the art. This will be our motto for the year. Let me try to explain the meaning of these words. We all have the ability to sing. We were born with it. Some say it is given by God. Others say we inherited it. That gift, however, is very much like an uncut diamond or crude oil. It has very little value in its original form. It must be forged, manufactured, and honed into something beautiful and useful.

That's where the second part of our motto takes effect. Discipline is the way. Only through discipline and sacrifice are we able to transform that gift of singing into something valuable that we can share with others or give back to God. We must take that simple gift of singing and apply to it choral technique, musicianship, and long hours of concentrated practice so that it will become valuable and useful to others.

Then, at that point, this wonderful gift, this magnificent process of making music, becomes an art. Art is our way of expressing life experiences in an extraordinary way. Artists have extraordinary experiences. When you become artists you, too, will have extraordinary experiences.

Beyond all this, you are going to be choral artists. Choral singers have a particularly unique way of expressing themselves because they become one big team and express themselves in a splendid, unified effort. In fact, there are very few teams in all society in which so many people join in such a superb, unified effort. There are very few teams that deal with such intricacies as do singers of choral music. Think of all the nuances and possibilities of the choral sound. The harmony, rhythm, melody, vocal color, dynamics, tempo, and text -- all come together in one remarkable happening. Beautiful, musically correct, and polished choral singing is surely as close as we will ever come, before death, to perceiving the truly ethereal.

Finally, as I mentioned, we can become artists only through discipline and sacrifice. I am going to teach you how to be disciplined so that you will be able to experience the extraordinary. At first, I will impose upon you much of what you will learn, but eventually, you will take control and you will impose the discipline upon yourself: You will become self disciplined. That will be our goal: to have a choir in which all the singers are highly motivated, well-trained, remarkable musicians.