Michael Culloton

Michael Culloton

Every day that we spend in front of choirs is another day in which we have the opportunity to create our own legacy. This need not be an intimidating thought, but rather an inspiring one. We should be motivated by the opportunity we have to shape the lives of our students in a positive and meaningful way. In fact, as you all know from personal experiences, the legacies of your finest teachers are with you as part of your tool belt on a daily basis, as are the legacies of those teachers that may have been flawed in the delivery of their instruction. The main truth is this:

How we teach and what we teach go hand in hand with our legacy – and that’s good news, for we have control of the choices we make in our classroom!

Make QUALITY a priority

Students know when we as teachers are taking a shortcut, or programming literature that is not of high quality. Make literature choices that will introduce your students to some of the great composers and their work. We have the chance to introduce our students to artistic masterpieces, so why substitute the equivalent of bathroom graffiti? One of the things that I took away from my high school experience was the fact that high school students are worthy of singing the music of Brahms, Mozart, Haydn, Britten, Rutter, Handel, et al. They are also worthy of singing jazz standards, great arrangements of show tunes, and music from around the globe. Set it in front of them and lead them through the challenges and rewards of such literature. Have faith in your teaching abilities and challenge yourself and your singers. You will all be better off for the
journey you’ll take together.

Experiential learning is learning for a lifetime

Do you have great memories of learning that took place outside the classroom? I remember fondly the Central Lakes conference music festivals I attended as a high school student, and the Big 9 Music Festivals that I took my Winona Senior High choir to while I taught there. While in Winona, I took my choir on a tour to Toronto, and we sang for several gymnasiums full of elementary students. The smiles on my singers’ faces during those concerts were genuine! They felt the power of sharing music with others, and we fed off that energy when we returned home and life went back to normal. I see the same look on my singers’ faces now when I take the Concordia Chapel Choir to high schools during our spring tour. Making music with other students is a highlight of our annual departure from campus, and they work hard to craft memorable experiences. So think about easy ways to bring your music outside the walls of your school. Sing a national anthem at Target Field! Create a mini-festival for choirs within 30 miles of your school! Get creative, and give your students experiences that will not break the bank, but will stay with them forever.

Introduce your students to music from other cultures

Having access to music from around the world has never been easier. Those of you that perform multi-cultural music on a regular basis know that this music often resonates well with our singers. The challenge of learning a new language or a new melodic/harmonic style often leads to a rewarding experience for your singers, and anything we can do to increase cultural awareness in our world today will have payoffs that go well beyond our concert performances. This is an area that may introduce you to some of your greatest personal challenges – and that is nothing from which to shy away. I just performed Ramkali arranged by Ethan Sperry with mymen’s chorus at Concordia. The piece challenged us in ways that we’ve not been challenged before, but we could gather in four years to perform it again and we’d revel in the process that took us from group struggle to group success. There isn’t a more rewarding process than that!

So back to my original question…

What is Your Legacy?

It may be easy to see this as a narcissistic question. After all, why should we obsess now about what people think of us later? My encouragement to you is this: understand that legacy is not about ego, accolades, praise, or anything like that. Legacy is what we pass down to others, and when we view legacy through that lens we can better understand our role as important figures in the lives of our students. Do we seek to foster the love of music and the arts in our students? You bet. Do we want our students to continue making music after they leave our classrooms? I know I do! Do we want our students to be supporters of the arts in their communities, and perhaps even become artistic leaders in those communities? To me, that would be a dream come true. To that end, consider the easy ways that you can help your students achieve these goals we have for them. Your imprint on their lives will be more meaningful, and that is what a legacy is all about.