The Power of a Smile

Chad Felton

I find myself writing my third article for Star of the North and think, “Where has the time gone?” The first article I wrote was in May 2020 on the heels of our first endeavors in distance teaching. The 2020-2021 school year brought on challenges that none of us ever thought we would see. I can only speak for myself, but the last school year was extremely draining on a physical and emotional level. I put some things in drawers and walked out the front door in June, not to darken the doors again until the first day of workshops.

I wasn’t sure that I had what it takes to start another year. I already work with a small group of high school singers and was scared that there would be even fewer for this year, but I was pleasantly surprised to see almost all of the singers from last year on my roster. I put some music together for them, we got situated in a basically normal choir setup and began. No one was quite sure what to expect, but what a refreshing moment when everyone sang together! They are close enough they can hear one another and we can see each other’s smiles. Maybe I never appreciated the power of a smile, but being able to see a smiling face or put a smile on my own face really resonates with me right now.

When meeting with some of my 6th grade students I asked one of them “Have we met?” She politely reminded me of her name and then it clicked. I had only ever seen her eyes before that moment. I felt a little embarrassed, but then really started to look at the faces of my students. There are a lot of smiles and they are eager to learn and that is exciting.

There is a lot of talk right now about keeping an eye on students’ mental well being. Giving students a structured, safe place to express their emotions has always been in the choir director’s wheelhouse. The start of this year has been extremely therapeutic for me. I have been reminded of what is good about being the choir director and the guy who organizes all of the things. Remembering what is good about the group process and looking towards a brighter future is motivating me to do more.

I know there is room to grow.  I’ve currently programmed some music to help us weather the storm as it was. I would like to get input from the choir as to what feelings they would like to express during their time in choir this year. What inner struggles can we address in the open that may help them to heal or work through those issues. What music may be healing or inspiring to their experience?

I realize that all of our situations are unique and we must sometimes work within the boundaries that are set before us. I hope this year will be brighter for you than the last and that you will find some reasons to put a smile on your face.

Chad Felton

Southwest District Chair
5-12 Vocal Music
Lac qui Parle Valley Schools, Madison, MN