St. Olaf College ‘21
B.M. Vocal Music Education
Spring ‘21 Student Teacher at New Prague High School (Nicole Thietje)
Student Conductor Scholarship Recipient
“Am I supposed to be nervous?” I took the stage to conduct my assigned piece during the student conductor workshop reading session and I stared out at a crowd of choral educators, many of whom I’ve known and looked up to for years. The voice in my head was confused; why wasn’t I nervous? I was finally “arriving” as a real adult choral conductor, and that should be nerve-wracking! But, thanks to you all, I felt incredibly at home.
It all started when I entered the student conducting workshop. Within minutes, I was engaging with young colleagues from all over the state who, like me, were just finishing their undergraduate degrees. We spent two days together, forming a bond of support that I suspect will last for many conferences to come. Then there was Dr. Theimer, whose “Don’t think, just do!” motto stretched me to trust myself, my training, and my instincts. I was encouraged to have fun, try new things, explore, and find joy in what I could do with music. The student conductor workshop was an incredibly encouraging way to begin my ACDA journey.
I didn’t just experience that warm welcome during the student conductor workshop, however. It was incredibly evident throughout my time at Summer Dialogue. Whether I was in a small group discussion, attending a social event, watching a lecture, or conducting in the reading session, all of the attendees went out of their way to share their wisdom and make me feel valued. With only a bachelor’s degree, my student teaching, and a handful of volunteer hours as credentials, I was arguably one of the least experienced choral educators in the room, yet I was constantly encouraged to share my ideas, think critically, reflect, and learn right alongside those returning to teach for more years than I’ve been alive!
As so many of you mentioned, teaching during the pandemic was (and is) incredibly draining. Hearing the honesty with which you spoke while also celebrating your successes and brainstorming for the future was inspiring for me. I did my student teaching this past spring, and having to do that during a pandemic certainly put a damper on the experience, as I think the pandemic did for everyone! However, having the space at Summer Dialogue to reflect and grow as an educator alongside so many of you gave me the refreshing boost I needed to remember why I’m here and where I want to be. Thank you for welcoming me and so many of my young colleagues into this incredible community with such open arms. As a scholarship recipient, having the financial support to attend Summer Dialogue in the first place made a huge difference, not to mention the encouraging support I found in every smiling face when I arrived! On behalf of the student conductors, thank you for this beautiful beginning.
went virtual through Zoom for the entirety of the fall semester. This has meant adopting or creating new strategies and platforms for choral music and considering opportunities for global learning and collaboration, helping students develop their musicianship and background research skills, and consider the meaning of our artform.
In the ensembles I co-direct along with Master’s student Vinay Thomas, our particular focus was engaging students in recording, production, collaboration, and creativity with the goal of keeping them singing every week. At the start of the semester, we explored the virtual choir process using Noteflight to record student tracks and GarageBand to edit them together. Over time, we transitioned to projects where each student was recording multiple parts in Noteflight or Soundtrap, getting to hear choral harmonies by singing with themselves rather than singing along and having to wait for an edited recording to come back. Around the midpoint of the semester, the creative possibilities of the platforms occurred to us, and our projects became less about recording a notated arrangement, instead using technology as a means for creativity: students were creating their own realizations of canons, learning to edit tracks and manipulate elements like pitch, tone, and reverb, and eventually producing fully realized 3- and 4-part arrangements folk songs, hymns, and music of their own choosing.
At UWEC, our choirs remained in person, limited to 30-minute rehearsals of 12 singers or fewer. This has meant exploring a chamber music model, breaking each ensemble up into several chamber groups and cultivating student leadership as a means for keeping the various groups running while faculty provide coaching and conducting when possible.
Both schools produced virtual concerts in a variety of pre-recorded and live formats. As a grad student who is simultaneously a professor, I see the role that collaboration, especially between teachers and student workers/volunteers, plays in keeping our artform afloat during these challenging times.
None of us can do it alone, and the support of MN-ACDA is a comforting reminder that we don’t have to. As I complete my degree and return fully to the career of teaching, I hope to repay the generosity I have been shown.