Bryan Fisher

Evolving Definitions of Success
What does success look like?

Since beginning my teaching journey, my definition of success has changed exponentially. Early in my career, I felt I had certain expectations to strive toward. These came in unspoken form from my teachers and mentors, and also from what I had seen in the choral field at conferences and various performances. Ultimately, a lot of these were college choir examples I felt were “the best” or “just what you do.” Especially since the pandemic, these have mostly fallen out of my filter for programming and for how I “should” run my program.

I work in a district where there is tremendous diversity in what types of music education are offered in each school. Some schools offer no choirs at all. Some offer contemporary songwriting and music production. Some have little or no singing offerings available for students. Only a couple of our schools in Minneapolis offer traditional choir programs. While I do happen to be in one of those schools, I still find myself thinking more outside the box than I ever have in my teaching career. I kinda like it.

To me, success in my program is defined by the creation of a community of belonging through music. This has remained my mission statement since I decided to be a choral conductor. I still strive to reach for successful performance of quality SATB literature, heightened musical skills and quality concerts for our community. But I first prioritize interpersonal relationships, character education and creating choirs that are inclusive, welcoming and fun.

Awareness of the Euro-centric and predominantly Christian nature of our choral community has become that which I cannot unsee. Now in my third decade of being a choral conductor, I weed out many octavos quickly, based primarily on text source. Gone are the days where I can justify doing much Christian literature. I prominently see the lack of choral music by composers of color, by women, and from more diverse perspectives. While I am pleased to have this new-found objectivity, it’s also quite unearthing. The vast majority of choral music written before the mid-1900s is sacred – Christian to be more specific. The challenge is that these “standards” are the pieces I was taught to use in teaching basic choral concepts. I’ve had to replace some of those old chestnuts with music that I can, in good conscience, get behind. Fortunately, more and more composers are utilizing various text sources, but it makes doing a major work or time-honored piece occasionally challenging.

Am I successful? I hope so. I feel my heart and head are both in the right place. And while I can only assume my views and perspective will continue to evolve, as long as I’m open to new ideas and concepts, I think I’ll be ok in the end.

It’s time to stop rambling. I want to leave you with the one thing that has not changed in my view of success since I started on this journey. It is the knowledge that we choral directors have access to one of the greatest tools for unity and understanding in the world – music. And it’s such an honor.

Music ‘brings us together, helping us reflect upon who we are, where we have come from, and what lies ahead.’ The arts and music transcend ‘languages, cultures, and borders’ … and helps ‘exchange ideas and styles and share in the artistic vibrancy born from diverse experiences and traditions.

– Former USA President, Barack Obama
(Source: 2010 message to the World Choir Games in Shaoxing, China)

Thanks for listening,
Bryan Fisher
Metro West District Chair