How do we measure success? This, of course, is a lifelong question that stares us in the face every day. This article is far less philosophical, but does perhaps pose a way in which we should change the way we view success in terms of high school choral programs.
“Successful” Choral programs seem to be recognized by outdated acknowledgements; current measurements of the “best” choral programs seem to be:
1. A high school’s select choir’s rating at their state adjudication festivals
2. A high school’s select choir’s rating at money-making festivals that give big trophies
3. A high school’s select choir’s acceptance and participation to perform at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, or any other money-making festival
4. A high school’s select choir’s acceptance to perform the national anthem at professional sporting events (by being required to meet a quota of sold tickets)
5. A high school’s select choir’s acceptance to perform at prestigious state, regional, or national MENC and/or ACDA conventions
While these are all wonderful opportunities and ones that our students may truly cherish, they may not reflect the undying success of a program. In fact, more and more money-making businesses are offering “once-in-a-lifetime” experiences for choirs that cost an arm and a leg. For one thing, these opportunities are limited to schools and communities that can afford to pay for these experiences. A second issue is that many school districts do not support overnight field-trips, and/or do not believe students should be missing an academic school day for these opportunities. A third issue is the exclusivity of which “chosen” students within a school receive these opportunities; determining the success of a program based on the best of the best and not the success of the entire program, in my humble opinion, is not the best way to determine the true success of a program.
The “secret” indicators that I am bringing to light are far less tangible but are still quite identifiable. They are reflective in how the program is run. They do not involve high budget opportunities, field-trips or even extra rehearsals.
Here are 14 Secret Indicators That Your High School Choral Program is Outstanding:
14. Your alumni return to your concerts year after year
In the most elite program, alumni come back and sing traditional songs at the annual concerts and participate in alumni events. Alumni can span 5,10, or even 20 years.
13. The stronger singers help the weaker singers
This happens both during class and on their own time. The stronger singers/leaders are vested in ensuring the weaker singers/members can hold their part and feel like they are an important part of the ensemble.
12. The choir remains consistently strong, year after year
“Next year is going to be rough because I’m losing so many seniors” is never a comment made from a choir director of an elite program. Regardless of talent or size, next year’s seniors are always ready to step up.
11. Sight-reading skills are cultivated and developed in each individual singer
Ear-training and vocal development might need to first be developed in order for some students to be capable of producing accurate sight-reading skills; every student must learn the basics of sight-reading and it is the rehearsal standard that music is read, not spoon-fed.
10. Classroom Culture is firmly established, even prior to the first day of every school year
Students follow clear fundamental rules/guidelines (raising hands before speaking, sitting in assigned seats, etc.) as well as established routines that are ingrained year after year. There is a procedure for everything that needs to happen in class, and all students follow the procedures.
9. The majority of logistics are handled/run by the students and do not disturb the flow of the rehearsal
Whether it’s being fitted for robes, handling late passes, bathroom breaks, collecting permission slips, distributing music, etc., these chores and potential distractions do not impact the overwhelming majority of the group from learning or active engagement from bell to bell.
8. You spend the majority of your class time engaging the majority of your students.
All students are actively engaged/learning most of the time; one section does not ever receive more than a minute or two of individualized attention.
7. Rehearsals are effectively run even when you, the teacher, are not present
Substitute choral directors and/or students are capable of running rehearsals and command the respect of the group. The classroom culture allows class to run on its own without you.
6. Student have additional performance opportunities that do not require your presence
Students grow as performers, as young adults, and as leaders because they work together without your direction. At these teacher-less performances, student conductors can conduct or small ensembles can sing without a conductor. The more opportunities the choir/singers are offered, the less frequently you choose to attend/conduct at community events.
5. Your choir is involved in every school and community event
Pep rally, homecoming, graduation, parades, holidays, memorials, community tree lightings, store openings, interfaith services, weddings, etc. Your students are always part of the fabric of your community.
4. Students have social events without you
Movie night, ice skating, bar-b-q, laser tag, color war, pumpkin picking, etc. Yours students organize these events and do it on their own. Their desire to bond is a reflection of their vested interest in the ensemble.
3. Students are comfortable singing in mixed alignment
Everyone can hold their part against singers of other parts. Mixed alignment can be executed in specific rehearsals, for weeks at a time, or may even be used as the alignment for the concerts.
Alternative Concert Assignment – for students who miss the concert
2. Students are independently responsive to any conductor
Whether it’s you, a guest conductor, or a student conductor, students are a clean slate, waiting to participate in a live musical interpretation. If any conductor changes the dynamics, tempo, shape, firmata, etc., even during the concert, the group responds musically.
1. Your choir is self-selected
The group that best reflects your school is the one that everyone can be part of. Singing is for everyone. The overwhelming majority of the opportunities for members of the choir are open to everyone who is enrolled. Tours, competitions, festivals, performances are inclusive of all singers in the program, regardless of skill and talent level.