Michael Culloton

Michael Culloton

Whether you are in your first year of teaching or in your last, you know by now that music educators live out lives of service on a daily basis. We are often the first people called upon in a number of situations. Need a national anthem singer? Call the choir conductor! Need a caroling group for an important holiday dinner? Call the choir director! Need audition materials for All-State Choir? That’s all you! If you also lead a church ensemble and/or a community-based ensemble, then you will get request after request from a number of different angles. How do you manage all of the extra service on top of an already full schedule? Do you have a plan? If so, please write an article for the next edition of Star of the North – we (I!) need your advice!

But wait…! Maybe, just maybe, we shouldn’t work too hard to seek the answer to the question of managing our lives and service to others. Martin Luther King, Jr. said the following:

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others? Living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what next or how. The moment you know how, you begin to die a little.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

My takeaway from this thought is that I am LIVING! For example, there are days that I have nothing extra on my regular schedule of teaching, and though I am prepared for rehearsals I will certainly have a full day of students emailing me, committees needing attention, programs to type up, more emails to deal with, and on and on. And then more emails. It’s the circle of life, and it moves us all… (sing along!)

Woodrow Wilson MUST have been speaking to a room full of music educators when he said,

You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.

Woodrow Wilson

We know that many of our students will leave our classrooms changed by the experiences that we generate for them as choir conductors. You have likely heard from somebody about the life-changing and formative experiences that they’ve had singing in or listening to your choir. If you’ve been teaching for a while and nobody has said such a thing to you, spend some time reflecting on how you go about bringing art to your students. There may be a new approach or two that you want to explore. (Come to Summer Dialogue – we talk about these exact types of things all the time, and we’re better teachers than when we arrived because of it!) But, I digress.

As choral conductors, we spend a lot of time and energy being selfless so that others can be impacted by the voices of humans making music without a net, so to say. Singing is a vulnerable art form and we are dealing with an increasingly fragile population in our choirs. Not a good combination, truth be told. So, we fight a lot of fights (with all thy might) with the hope that some sunlight breaks through and shines light on our world that needs more and more of it. That sounds like an important service to me!

Let’s flip the coin, though, for a closing thought and encouragement. We are all only one person and if we don’t take the time to refresh and renew, then we will fail to be our best selves. The domino effect of that will be felt in all the corners of our lives, including our homes and classrooms. Take care of yourself, plan a trip, read a book, enjoy summer, enjoy winter, sing in a choir, or take a nap. Whatever will fill your cup will make you a richer servant, and our singers need that perhaps now more than ever.