Randy Schafer

The summer has passed and those of us with church choirs, school choirs, community choirs and professional groups are ramping up for the new season. Did you find something this summer to inspire you? Is there a new composer whose music intrigues you – even if you know you have a jacket in your closet older than that composer? Do you have a new colleague you marvel at because they possess the energy that makes them a “kid magnet”?

I love that so many people in our profession seek out inspiration. In my capacity as Choral Vice-President for MMEA, I found my inspiration this summer on the campus of St. John’s University with the All-State choirs – from the moment the section coaches began meeting campers to the first rehearsals when the conductors set the stage for the path they’d be traveling together. Each rehearsal left the singers, section coaches, accompanists and conductors working more as a single organism. As the week moved forward, each choir reveled in stronger and more profound emotional connections to their music. All parties found a safe place to embrace their own visceral response to what the music communicated beyond the notes, words, and rhythms. Students were challenged by the subject matter of the texts and grew not only in their own convictions, but also in their awareness of other perspectives. They witnessed the intimate relationships that exist between the composers and the pieces that they brought to life. They made a commitment to their peers, conductor, and accompanist to make every repetition of their music closer to perfection.

The vigilance of the All-State section coaches is always apparent. Truly, the exhaustion following recording sessions on Friday is both physical and mental. The concert on Saturday serves to make more concrete the transformative experience of the camp. No doubt, all involved drove away from campus wanting to hold on to the experience and hoping it would all magically be captured on the recordings. They are anxious for their artistic reunion in February. All of this amazing stuff – and I got to witness it.

Of course as a director, I always look forward to my students having this experience. I want the students to get the most out of the experience so I put on my “dad voice” and emphasize the direct correlation between knowing their music well and having a profound life-changing experience. Win-win-win all around. So brace yourself for the “asks” of this article.

Ask #1

Start nurturing those students for whom you want this experience. Inspire them to put this on their goal list for this year. Help them be better musicians for the whole year and not just in preparing their audition. Also help them be ready for all that the job entails.

Ask #2

Let me know if you are interested in being a section coach. We had a great group of outstanding musicians with diverse backgrounds who teach in a variety of settings. Share your contact information, what choir interests you, and which voice part(s) you’d like to work with.

Ask #3

Give us the names of people you think would make a great conductor for one of the All-State choirs. Even if you think, “Of course [Insert name here] is on the list,” share their name. Tell us why.  The job involves choosing the literature, spending 20+ hours in rehearsal at camp, utilizing talented professionals serving as section coaches and a gifted collaborator at the piano, making decisions about what goes onto the recording, and bringing those forces back together in February for the mid-winter conference performance. You can make your recommendations known by going to mmea.org and clicking on the link in the middle of the page.

Start working on these “asks” before the demands of your busy life push them onto the back burner. And if you envy my inspirations from the summer, you should!