Chad Felton

That’s not fair! How many times have you heard this statement? I hear it from my students all the time and often in my own house from one of my children. Fair is defined as “in accordance with the rules or standards” and “just or appropriate in the circumstances.” Okay so we’ve defined fair, but is fair simply equal treatment for all? We have heard it said, or said it ourselves, “fair is not always equal.” By just giving everyone the same exact treatment (equal) we do not always end up being fair. This brings us to the idea of equity: “the state, ideal, or quality of being just, impartial, and fair.” Is your head spinning yet? Maybe the majority of you have this all figured out and can help me to continue to learn and grow, but just going through this definition process has caused me to think again about how I approach my teaching. We strive for the ideal of equity and maybe we get one step closer each day.

I think we as choral educators work on equity more than we realize. There is always more work to be done, but maybe we should give ourselves a little credit. Everyone has a place in the choir, right? And we need everyone’s participation to be a choir. We are all different and bringing those differences to our group makes us richer. Those differences need to be addressed in order for members to feel comfortable to do their work together and feel included. I have said for years that in the performance setting no one is benched. We often work tirelessly at helping students work out a part that they aren’t quite grasping yet because it helps that student and, in turn, the group. We also spend a lot of time working with our more advanced students on a solo for a choir piece, a solo for a contest, or recording an audition for a collegiate music scholarship. In all these situations we are individualizing and giving each student what they need at that moment.

The idea of access has been on my mind this last year. Are there ways in which we can remove obstacles so that everyone has access to our groups? There are no rental fees for a voice and it can be carried wherever one goes. This year I am able to provide performance attire for all of the choirs which removes any cost to sing with the group. We are looking at programming afternoon informances next year for our 5th and 6th graders so everyone gets a performance experience. I think it will be especially important to have open access to all students to our ensembles as schools hopefully return to a more normal setting next year.

I often feel that I cannot give my students an equitable choral experience compared to what some districts may be able to offer. We have one small choir for grades 9-12; we do not have close access to concerts on a frequent basis, nor do any professional vocal ensembles live down the street. A silver lining of the pandemic, if there is any, is that many artists have picked up their online presence since no one can attend concerts in person. This makes our world a little smaller and has helped me to show my students more examples of vocal ensembles. We have met with two different sets of college choral faculty over ZOOM, which we may have never done in years past due to time constraints on both ends. I’ve told my singers often that we are fortunate this year that being a small ensemble we can all meet together with physical distance in our theater space to rehearse. We had five weeks together in the beginning of the year and after some Hybrid and Distance Learning we are returning to full In Person Learning. It is not the same as being in the choir room and being close together, but we are doing what we can safely. I say that knowing some of you have hardly seen your singers in person at all.

Is life fair? Is everything equal? And how do we strive towards equity? There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, but I trust you are all making the world a better place. I wish you all the best as you navigate this crazy school year and hope we can return to seeing each other not on a screen soon.