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Don’t Get Rid of the Previous Director’s Alumni Piece!

Don’t get rid of the previous director’s alumni piece, even if you hate it. Even if it’s a disaster. At least, not yet!

For the purpose of this post, let’s call our previous director’s traditional piece, “The Hallelujah Chorus”.

In successful programs, alumni love to return home and partake in our annual holiday concerts. Some concerts may even include audience participation. It’s a magical time of year; mix in some annual singing and we have a truly special evening.

I get it, “The Hallelujah Chorus” doesn’t resonate with you. It’s too hard, too high too long, takes up too much time to teach, etc. but don’t get rid of it…………just yet.

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Your first year has enough changes

Everything changes for our students when a new director takes over. The aura in the room, the way rehearsals start, the alignment of the sections, the way music is taught, etc.

With all of that change, the concert is still at the same time and the audience is expecting something similar to what they have seen in the past. Sure, you can improve the way your singers walk onto the risers or the quality of their sound, but TAKING AWAY something that they are expecting could appear like a huge slap in the face to the community in your first go-round. I can assure you that ELIMINATING will not seem like an improvement to the vast amount of repeat audience members; they may feel defied or worse yet, that you were incapable of teaching the piece.

Have no fear, you CAN eliminate “The Hallelujah Chorus”, just not yet:

In my opinion, successfully eliminating the previous director’s traditional piece is a 1-2 year process. In most cases it just takes one year. The process is quite simple, but it needs to be well-planned. The fundamental concept is: ADD before you ELIMINATE!

Here are the 6 Steps Toward Eliminating “The Hallelujah Chorus”

1. Choose the music your want to program for your concert

It’s your choral program now. Pick the music you want your singers to learn. If the group sang Jazz with the previous director and your focus is classical, focus on your strength. You may want to throw the group a bone, but make your overall program choices your own.

2. Program a piece or two that you may want to become a traditional alumni piece in the future

For your current singers, these ear-marked pieces are nothing more than this year’s repertoire. Do not mention these new pieces as potential alumni pieces; just spend a lot of time with the 1-2 pieces and create great memories around them. I’d like to suggest that these pieces are easy to learn, easy to sing, and have emotional depth. Sing these pieces at community events throughout the year.

3. Teach the previous teacher’s alumni piece with respect for them

The continuing singers in your program connect “The Hallelujah Chorus” with the memories of your previous director. If you try to immediately cut it, you will be minimizing the work of the previous director. Many of your students will be upset and they will likely feel attacked. Any direct criticism of this piece is a perceived attack on their previous experience in this ensemble.

My suggestion is to spend as little time as possible on “The Hallelujah Chorus”, but ensure it can still be performed at an acceptable level. If you don’t love this piece as your alumni traditional, do not try to explain this to your ensemble, especially your graduating members. Also, don’t try to reinvent this piece, as it is not part of your future plans. Just teach it and get through it.

4. Begin the next year with the goal of ADDING your new alumni piece

Since you’ve programmed 1-2 pieces in year one that you thought would be perfect for YOUR alumni, now is the time to bring them back. Re-introduce the piece or pieces early in year 2. Your returning members will likely sing these selections with enthusiasm and ownership for the new members.

5. Early in Year 2, announce to your group (and/or leaders) that you will be ADDING a NEW alumni piece

If the students love the piece that they sang the previous year, there’s no reason why they would be against repeating it and inviting last year’s graduating members to join at the concert. Your continuing members are YOUR core and will lead the new members with the same pride that they would have on the previous teacher’s alumni piece.

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6. Hold a private meeting with your graduating members or officers

Year 2 is likely the year to eliminate your previous director’s alumni piece. I would say that in most cases, it is the correct time. When we build a long-standing program, alumni will hopefully come back year after year. From my experience the former alumni usually come back one year after “their” teacher leaves, just to check out what is happening. Since “their” alumni are just one year removed, they are all coming back to see either other, the current seniors, and hear gossip about the new director.

After one year, the new director is of less interest and they become further removed from the current members of the choir; with a new director at the helm, the winter concert feels more like foreign territory after year one.

Depending on the set-up of your program, I suggest meeting with your graduating members or your leaders. These are the students who had you last year: your core. This conversation should happen AFTER your new traditional pieces have been established within the choir this year.

Begin the discussion by talking about your hopes for the new piece. Ask about which of last year’s graduating member will be coming back to the concert. Ask them if they’ve spoken with them and informed them of the new, repeated alumni piece.

After you’ve established your excitement about THEIR NEW alumni piece and engaged a discussion about the newest alumni, your alumni, turn the discussion to “The Hallelujah Chorus”.

How do you feel about “The Hallelujah Chorus”? Do you think we are going to have a lot of alumni back from previous years? What is your personal connection to this piece? Engage a discussion. If your students have bought into you, there are likely going to be a number of students who are instantly fine with the elimination of “The Hallelujah Chorus”. (Remember that they didn’t spend a lot of time on it with you the previous year and if this ensemble is mainly upperclassmen, last year may be their only experience with it).

Should your seniors/leaders feel strongly about keeping “The Hallelujah Chorus”, simply put it last in the program and spend the bare minimum amount of time with it. Don’t be defiant and pull it from them. In that situation, I would suggest the second to last piece being the new alumni piece where last year’s seniors join; then the previous alumni come up to sing “The Hallelujah Chorus”. It will likely be clear that the overwhelming majority of alumni will be up for your piece, followed by a few extras for the closing piece.

The following year, the same discussion will surely breed mutual agreement to eliminate that traditional, as it will have virtually no emotional tie to the current group members. Also, at that point, you will be in year 3 of students knowing YOUR traditional alumni piece.

With that said, I still think there is a greater likelihood you will be able to eliminate the piece in year 2!

Don’t perpetuate bad traditions

Year one is the not the year to eliminate bad traditions. There is good in most tradition; the fact is that a tradition that is right for someone else might not be right for you. It’s always best to see through previous traditions to better understand why they worked before choosing to eliminate them.

Yes, for those of us who are afraid to offend, there never seems like a good time to eliminate things, but there comes a time when you have to cut the cord. Yes, someone may be upset. The most important thing about eliminating traditions is that you’ve created new ones. The new traditions that you create are in line with your philosophy and will be a foundation for the future of your program.

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By | 2019-12-06T21:06:45-05:00 November 17th, 2019|Concert Season, Cultivating Choir Culture, Holiday & Caroling, New teacher|

About the Author:

Adam Paltrowitz is a master educator, composer, conductor, and clinician. During his 21-year tenure as the Director of Choral Activities at Plainview-Old Bethpage John F. Kennedy High School in New York, his groups have toured throughout Europe, Canada, and the United States. He also has pioneered a philosophy that every student is a soloist. Adam's choral program has also gained great acclaim for the cultivation of eight student-run a-cappella ensembles; some of these ensembles have performed on national and local television programs. His compositions and arrangements have been performed by choirs around the world. Adam earned his B.S. in music education from New York University, M.A. in vocal pedagogy from Columbia University - Teacher's College, and Ed.M. choral conducting from Columbia University - Teacher's College. ​Adam resides in Manhattan with his wife, Blair Goldberg, a professional Broadway actress, and their daughter, Lyla, and son, Nolan.

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