A Dialogue Looking Forward and Backward, In All the Right Ways

From the opening luncheon to the closing address, this year’s Dialogue focused on the future, even as it looked to its past. During his comments at the annual banquet, Dr. Axel Theimer invited us to look to the past as he discussed the origins of Dialogue. He spoke of how the original intent was to provide Minnesota’s choir directors with a time and place to get to know our community, to allow us to share ideas, to ask for advice without fear of judgement, and to let us learn about our ignorance. He reminded us of how the first Dialogues literally put people in a room together and had them talk. I have only attended two Dialogues, but I was able to see this original intention from the past guiding this year’s interactions and discussions from the very start.

Multiculturalism and diversity are important topics in choral education today, and in his welcome luncheon keynote address, Tesfa Wondemagegnehu challenged us to reflect deeply about what these really mean for us and our choirs as we move forward. At many conferences or seminars a speech focused on a topic like that might have been the end of it, but Tesfa didn’t stop there. As the guest conductor for the Director’s Chorus Tesfa injected his challenge into both the rehearsal process and the structure of Dialogue by building in time for dialoguing. He posed intense, difficult questions and invited attendees to discuss them. He made a connection between this forward-looking topic and the discussion-based-structure of the past.

Many of the presenters added to this trend of “dialoguing” throughout the week, echoing those original intentions for Dialogue. As a relative newcomer to Dialogue, this structure is what made my experiences over the course of the week valuable. Not only did it allow me to meet and get to know many incredibly smart, supportive colleagues, but it also allowed us as a community to engage in a serious conversation and learn from one another.

What was even more striking to me was how this structure encouraged conversations from the day to continue. Instead of reverting to any of many enjoyable, but generic choral discussions, I found that colleagues continued to discuss diversity and inclusion at lunch, at dinner, walking between events, and into the night during “Afterglow.” I have never been to a convention or seminar where the topic was so pervasive throughout the entire experience.

Over the course of the week, these conversations caused many of my ideas about diversity, multiculturalism, and inclusion to be shattered and rebuilt, only to be broken again. I left Dialogue with much to think about, few answers, and a healthy new sense of my ignorance. I also left with new ideas, new friends, and new inspiration. As the school year begins, I am not yet sure of all the ways Dialogue will impact my teaching. Even as I pick music, plan lessons, and work on community building, I sense those conversations continuing to echo in the back of my mind, influencing the decisions I make. I am thankful to have been able to attend Dialogue this year, and I look forward to attending it again soon.