Programming Repertoire and Programming Service:
Growing older truly is a wonderful thing! As my 96-year-old mom likes to say,
At this age, it’s so easy to see what is nonsense and what is important. I’m much more apt to think and act on things that are really important to me and to let the nonsense go.
Though I’ve always seen the potential of the choral music experience as a vehicle for our development as kind, compassionate, empathetic beings, it is only in the past few years that this goal has moved to the core of my thinking, planning and action. When I reflect on this change, I see many influences: a new colleague at St. Thomas who opened my eyes to the power of music for social change; seeing more clearly the needs of those underserved by our society; waking up to our students’ desire to serve; and, yes, that glorious thing called aging. (Thanks, mom!)
For many choral teachers, August and December are filled with joyful hours at the piano and computer searching for repertoire and putting together a program that we hope will sustain and inspire our students for the upcoming semester. What might happen if we include service in our biannual programming process? What if programming our choirs’ service became an equal partner to programming their repertoire?
During the past three years, the St. Thomas choirs have built their repertoire and their service opportunities around guiding themes. A joint planning effort of the choir board, choir members and director have resulted in our “Year of Service 2014-2015,” “Year of Unity 2015 – 2016,” and “Year of Gratitude 2016 – 2017.” Setting our intention through these discussions helps launch and carry out our year of joyful music making, bonding and community service.
Our “Year of Unity” was deeply meaningful for our choral community and our campus, and it came at a time when many of us saw an urgent need for finding what unites rather than divides us. Partnering with our university’s Center for Muslim-Christian Dialogue and our Jay Philip’s Center for Interfaith Learning, the year was filled with service opportunities around our theme and culminated in a spring concert that reflected our year’s work.
Service Through Song
Perhaps the greatest way we can serve is by offering our music. In September of this year, our choir viewed a video that told the story of a visual artist who gave back to the people in her life by painting a picture for each of them. (http://gratefulness.org/resource/loris-story-gratitude-grows/). We then brainstormed ways that we could use our musical gifts as service to our community. In addition to singing at assisted-care facilities, our choir has traveled to the veteran’s home, Children’s Hospital, Wounded Warrior gatherings and prayer services. In December, we brainstormed all the staff and administrative offices on our campus that are responsible for the successful workings of our university, and we decided to thank them with caroling and gifts. A choir member reflects on this experience.
It hit me while we were singing, how many different parts there are to the whole that is St. Thomas, and how every single one of them is needed for the university to run smoothly. My experience here would be so different if the people in these offices weren’t there. It was a wake-up call for me. I realized what and how much I was taking for granted.
Carissa Herbert, sophomore
Service Through Action
Singing as service is the easy part; we really learn about the joy of giving back is when we place ourselves in situations outside the proverbial comfort zone. This “service through action” can take many forms. During our Year of Unity, our activities came as a cafeteria plan. We set up numerous opportunities and then students signed up for the service projects that matched their interest and availability. The advantage of this cafeteria plan was the resulting small groups; students served with a handful of their peers rather than the entire choir. This shared experience in small groups allowed for thoughtful preparation and reflection, and the small groups always reported back to the entire choir at the subsequent rehearsal. It was so exciting to hear their excitement as they spoke to their peers! Service through Action activities included:
- Working at Visitation Monastery in North Minneapolis, helping with the neighborhood Valentine’s Day party, distributing Easter baskets to neighborhood families, and signing up children for summer camp.
- Working at Project Fairy Godmother, a service organization that provides used prom dresses to high school students who cannot afford to purchase new ones.
- Implementing a book drive and school supply drive for students at St. Paul City Elementary School, then working in the elementary classrooms to help with reading and math instruction.
- Welcoming our Muslim colleagues who are part of our ELS program to gather with us at the St. Thomas chapel for an afternoon of games and ice-breaking activities as we conversed in English.
Of course, those who volunteer quickly learn that we are equal recipients in the joy and benefits that service brings. Intentionally programming our service opportunities has brought us closer together as a choral community. These outings are rich with myriad emotions! Yes, we still care about our intonation, blend, and diction; but we care equally about developing ourselves as caring, compassionate human beings and serving our community as often as we can. Aaron VanDanacker, a senior at St. Thomas, reflects on these opportunities.
I am enriched by the human contact and engagement that we share as a community and with the high level of trust within our ensemble. To me, this is why our mission of service has been so successful – since we are in constant selfless service to each other in the ensemble, we are able to join together in amazing ways to be a selfless community for others whom we serve.