Programming for a choir. One of the most challenging tasks we do in the world of choral music. What do you think about when you look at potential compositions to program? I have always tried to make decisions on literature based on the concept of what is the best selection – musically and non-musically – for my singers. This philosophy of keeping the students at the heart of those decisions has been a priority for me. There have been moments throughout my teaching career where a specific selection has created a heart engraved memory. One particular experience took place this current academic year and was the motivation behind being asked by Ben Henschel and Bruce Becker to share this experience with our ACDA-MN family.
The Rosemount Concert Choir submitted a recording was honored with being extended an invitation to perform at the 2017 Minnesota Music Educators Association Mid-Winter Clinic. Along with performing at various ACDA-MN conferences and collegiate choral festivals, this invitation marked the third time since I began at Rosemount where the RHS Concert Choir had been selected to sing at MMEA. I wanted to do something different for the program, but was initially at a loss as to the direction to take. I had gone through both the Texas Choral Directors Association summer conference AND our own Summer Dialogue and I was still struggling to put together a program for what would turn out to be a substantial portion of our repertoire for the 2016-2017 academic year.
I just wasn’t finding the right selections for the choir that was about to walk into the rehearsal room. I was fortunate enough to have a fall district festival that dictates most of our fall agenda. But even that alone is tricky when you have a traditional fall event and you are planning your own concert selections for a MMEA program in February.
The school year started and we were experiencing a calendar with homecoming within the first two weeks of school. It is a tradition to have the RHS Concert Choir perform the national anthem on the track in front of the large Homecoming crowd. It is one of the events I look forward to each year – so wonderful to see the entire choir in their RHS apparel, football pads, marching band uniforms, cheerleader outfits, etc., all gathered to sing together! In preparing the anthem I noticed one day the students in the choir not having the most positive facial expressions. I stopped the rehearsal and just pulled up my stool in front of the choir and asked them what they were most thankful for in this country. The comments were plentiful referring to family, friends, faith, freedom, military, education, etc. The next day we were rehearsing again and I stopped the choir, pulled up the stool and asked the choir to think about something they would change in this country. I didn’t know at that moment how the year’s choral experience would change. For the next week we had numerous discussions, emotionally charged at times, with students sharing from the heart troubling situations/experiences in our country they had heard about or encountered personally. The Kleenex box was being passed around left and right. It was at this same time where our country was experiencing the tumultuous national election, which added more anxiety to the situation. I know at that moment we needed to do something different in the MMEA program. It became very apparent I needed to put together a program reflecting some of the feelings choir members were sharing in our discussions.
I focused on putting together a program in three sections:
Beginnings — focusing on the beginning of life, a situation or experience;
The Journey — selections reflecting the good times and struggles of the daily journey; and
Opportunities — yes, we have come so far as a country, but we have much work to do.
I had the perfect bookends to the performance block. I programmed a contemporary opener, Joan Symko’s It Takes a Village and closed with Caldwell & Ivory’s Hope for a Resolution performed with our concert block companion choir, Coon Rapids Bel Canto under the direction of Rosemount High alum, Amy Johnson. Highlights of the program were a setting of True Colors, arranged by former RHS student teacher, Jimmy Diegnan; two selections Craig Hella Johnson’s Oratorio, Considering Matthew Shepard; and City Called Heaven, complete with the RHS Modern Dance Company and guest soloist, Albert Jordan, joining the choir – see link below.
As an introduction to our performance, Rosemount High School Assistant Principal Kimberly Budde shared the following words,
Many of you in our audience today are fully aware of the power of music. As parents and teachers we have seen our children and students grow before our very eyes. Each day you build a special place in the hearts of students in a world that can be cold and unwelcoming. We know that students come to your classrooms to find joy, peace and freedom.
Today’s program is to fill your hearts. The joy of new beginnings…in life, our families, our work. The journey of life…where we come from, where we are and where we want to be. Finally, it is about the opportunities that we take and those that we pass by. Celebrating the moments that fill our life.
In a world that is filled with so much confusion, we hope you find inspiration to embrace warmth, to share your joy, celebrate others who are different than you, reach out to those that are in need, talk to those who haven’t found their voice and to make your story one that brings happiness to those around you. Today we empower you to take hold and celebrate your journey.
It was an extremely powerful and emotional concert performance. The singers poured their heart and soul into the performance hoping to make a difference in the lives of those in attendance. From the post-concert comments to the personal messages and social media posts, it was obvious we changed the lives of many individuals. However, this program with a purpose was not just about the audience. It was also about the journey of the singers. Shared conversations regarding a multitude of powerful issues changed the lives of many of the singers. The singers carry with them a sense of empowerment, willing to do what it will take to help our country be more loving and accepting place for so many.