The Role of the Choral Musician

Those who are offended by the request that they refrain from cell phone use by a fellow singer should seriously consider their membership because they don’t understand their role in the art.

I have been a choral music teacher and director for many years. Now, when I get the chance, I am a singer in a choir. I may have a unique perspective when it comes to the rest of the choir membership. The issue of cell phone use in rehearsal has come up in my choir where I am a participant. Of course, the issue comes up in social media…and then there is the back and forth…and then there is the defensiveness…and, well some philosophies come out that are somewhat confusing. Still, it seems that the choral ensemble member doesn’t know what their role is in the group.

A choral music participant must be on time with their music and a pencil and be actively engaged in the choral music rehearsal process all the time. Active engagement requires all of the senses. It means watching and learning while other parts are being played or performed. Clearly, this has been a problem before cell phones particularly in high school where the typically overachieving student will try to sneak in a little homework. It is now magnified by the presence of electronic distractions.

From the director’s perspective, it is not always easy to see who is disengaged from the rehearsal because the phone is obscured behind the folder. It is easy to see from the choir chair, from the rows and seats nearby, and yes, it is very distracting.

A common level of commitment to the group means that everyone is desiring a good rehearsal situation. Those who are offended by the request that they refrain from cell phone use by a fellow singer should seriously consider their membership because they don’t understand their role in the art.

The following issues are completely irrelevant.

  • It’s not a professional/paid choir. This is a complete cop out for those who don’t want to be held to the musicianship standards that we should all be striving to maintain. Whether you are in a grade school, high school, college or church and community group, you are still singing choral music and the standard for rehearsal should be the same. The compliance might not be as growth should bring maturity and older, experienced, and more seasoned groups should be much better prepared.
  • It’s not your job to police the choir, it is the director’s job. This one was mentioned in the “we’re all adults here” commentary. I guess that the concern is that you shouldn’t bring this to the director’s attention. It is likened to the grade school tattletale. Well, there are only two choices here. Go to the director and say that you are distracted or go directly to the source of the problem. Either way, ignoring the problem is the wrong choice. That’s the “mind your own business” implication.

The choir can be likened to a team. We all need to know our role. We all need to do our job.

Creating Your Own Reality

Whether it’s composing, writing, drawing, sculpture, painting, or any other art, the act of creativity is disciplined and on purpose.

It’s one thing to have a dream. It’s another to create a vision for your future. My son, Ryan had a vision for his life to be a professional drummer. He wanted to perform on Broadway. He made his Broadway debut on 9/9/2018 in Dear Evan Hansen at the Music Box Theater. Today he is a drummer for the First National Tour of the same production. This didn’t just happen. This didn’t just drop in his lap. He created his reality through vision and hard work and yes, he worked on his creativity muscle.

That’s right. Creativity is something that gets better through exercise. The musical performance above is on someone else’s channel, but it contains an original piece of music performed by the composer. Whether it’s composing, writing, drawing, sculpture, painting, or any other art, the act of creativity is disciplined and on purpose. This goes for life as well as art.

Conformity and standardization have become buzz words and they are killing the very creativity that all people will need in the very near future as jobs disappear. Today in schools, entire months are dedicated to testing to see how students measure up to standards. Then they return to their regularly scheduled learning complete with even more tests and grades.

Ken Robinson has suggested that schools do kill creativity. Maybe there should be a course in how to survive school so you can still be successful in spite of it.

Ken Robinson has suggested that schools do kill creativity. Maybe there should be a course in how to survive school so you can still be successful in spite of it.

Who’s idea was this…college thing?

Maybe there would be far less scandals about entering college if the child understood or believed in the education that they were receiving or were likely to get in college enough to make the move themselves.

In a recent article in USA Today, I was introduced to a term that I never heard before. It was Snowplow Parents. This article spoke about the parents of today clearing away obstacles from their children’s world, whether created by others or themselves even when they entered college. Which begs the question, “was it really the child’s choice to to in the first place?”

Maybe there would be far less scandals about entering college if the child understood or believed in the education that they were receiving or were likely to get in college enough to make the move themselves. They also would have to make the decision to keep up with all of the deadlines…themselves. This should happen without counselors and parents doing everything for them.

Then maybe, ust maybe, the kids who belonged in college would be the only ones there. What do you think?

College Admissions Scandal

Way back in time, college educations were for the elite. People would attend college as a status symbol. It wasn’t needed for success in the world. It was there for people who could afford it. It was a “class” thing and not about going to class to get ahead. That is definitely the crazy thing about this college admissions scandal.

Some of the biggest people involved in the scandal are those that already had success. If you take just one, Olivia Jade, for example…she had a business based on her look and celebrity. She also “threw her dad under the bus” by outing the fact that he took his tuition money and started a business that made his life what it is today. If that isn’t the purpose of college, then you shouldn’t be spending the money on it.

It seems that this degree is becoming less and less relevant and we are returning to a time when our own individual effort in creating value is what will ultimately make our success. This should be the biggest takeaway for the average person who is struggling with the college acceptance issue. I am speaking more of the individual accepting college as opposed to the college accepting the individual.

A Culture of Obsession

It has been said that it starts and ends with education. That education cannot be the same kind of education that got us to where we are.

In 2015, I stumbled across a YouTube video presented by a high school student that talked about his inability to be valedictorian because he took choir in high school. It would seem that the grading system is based on only the academics being of utmost importance and those classes only had the ability for weighting as more important. This articulate young man describes education’s culture of obsession and is worth listening to so the video is included here.

It is not just academics in school that is the problem. My own family is obsessed with their credit rating. I guess that is kind of important. It would seem that a number assigned to your credit would be kind of important. It is also indicative of the fact that you need more money that you have access to at a given moment.

In a speech by Daniel Pink, he describes America as doing very well financially. His reasons are that our level of comfort and well being compared to our previous generations have increased. Additionally, compared to countries across the world, we have an amazing level of prosperity. Yet there are still many people that are out of work and devalued and this is startling.

It has been said that it starts and ends with education. That education cannot be the same kind of education that got us to where we are. We need a different kind of instruction. A kind of instruction that leans on the creativity that exists in both arts, sciences, and technology.

Winter Blues

My worry now is that it will go immediately from cold to blistering heat.

When the cold weather happens in the northern states in the Winter, you can expect that there would be a degree of melancholy. When that same weather happens in typically warm areas, you definitely can get the blues.

My first winter in California began last year at the end of the Super Bowl when my beloved Eagles won their first Super Bowl championship. I returned immediately to southern California from southern New Jersey. The mornings were cold but the temperature regularly hit 70 and sometimes even 80. This year, we have not had 80 degrees since before Thanksgiving.

I suppose that it is unfair to complain but, this is not why I wanted to move to the California desert. My worry now is that it will go immediately from cold to blistering heat. That would be very depressing. One could hope.

Schools prepare you for work

Let’s celebrate this school and its desire to prepare its students for life after school on their own terms.

Finally, a school is celebrating the triumph of graduating its students into the work force. This is what schools should be about. This article shows a school bucking the trend of celebrating academic accomplishments driven by college acceptance statistics.

Students in school should go directly into the workforce and earn money. They should find out while they are still young if it is enough money. The motivation for getting a higher paying job will also include information that you can’t get in school.

No one knows for sure if they will even like working in their chosen field. Quite often, their chosen field is not even entirely their choice. Let’s celebrate this school and its desire to prepare its students for life after school on their own terms.

GPA and Class Rank

“I am not paying for my child to retake high school English at college.”

Recently, the way that class rank was calculated has changed in the Coachella Valley School District. This made the news because it “knocked out” some people from the coveted “Top Ten”. The news reporter interviewed affected students and they claimed that they couldn’t afford college without scholarships and the designation of Top Ten definitely gave them an increased chance at the scholarship.

This news story led to a conversation at a local middle school faculty room lunch table. The argued that Advanced Placement Classes should weigh more than Honors classes and certainly more than College Prep classes, which they argued are not really College Prep. Their reasoning is that when the students from College Prep and even some Honors Classes are forced to take placement tests, they are put into remedial classes anyway just so that they can be in the college. The frustration was borne out by the comment of a teacher who said, “I am not paying for my child to retake high school English at college.”

Sadly, we only retain what we are taught for a short period of time in the current model for education and the very nature of these “diagnostic” tests will often have the student come up short. This sad situation was created by our desire to “get the student ready for college” more than it was to get the student ready for their 21st century life. If the low end of our academic offerings are labeled college prep, then aren’t we saying that our schools are only a vehicle for going to college and that “everyone should go to college”?

As far as I am concerned, that is the biggest problem with our system. We are far too concerned with class rank, GPA, college acceptance and the prestige that we feel it brings over practical considerations of schooling. Public education was good enough for the industrial age. It should be good enough for the information age, but we need to rethink our priorities. It’s high time to change the conversation at the lunch table.

The NAMM Show

The NAMM Show is the annual conference for the National Association of Music Merchants. It is, by far, the largest music event that I have ever attended. It brings together performing artists, buyers, sellers, manufacturers, music agents, and music education advocacy groups all under one conference.

Mike and Karen McCausland at the NAMM Show.

It was held at the Anaheim Convention Center and attracted thousands of people. It was just a stones throw from Disneyland. I stayed for 3 days and I still haven’t been to all of the vendors. I have also been to many workshops, most involving education where I still have a passion.

One of the great things that I was able to do was to meet new and aspiring artists in the field of music. I spoke at length with a couple at a round table discussion for the industry. We met an AR guy who gave many insights to those there. I was pleased to meet a delightful young lady from Oklahoma named Ciara Brooke. She was typical of the countless number of people following their dreams.

I will certainly go again to this amazing event. It was well worth the trip.

College, a social imperative

As far as I am concerned, making college a social imperative is a form of institutional bullying.

If you are in high school these days, you are probably more than aware of the environment being geared toward college. Yes, the college requirements are everywhere. They are on posters around the school, in guidance offices, in handbooks and on the lips of just about every teacher you encounter. They have all attended college. There may be evidence in pennants located on the wall.

There are schools, actually entire districts, (I know from experience) where they actually play college or university fight songs in between classes. There are walls dedicated to the students that made the decision to enter a specific college early and even before graduation, some students are feeling left out. If you know anything about student behavior, they want to fit in no matter how much they cry for independence.

Schools have been trying to tamp down bullying in the recent years. Sadly, this was a few decades too late for me. They don’t see that when you push college so hard, you put an enormous burden on those students whose socioeconomic situation precludes them from considering college but they try anyway. As far as I am concerned, making college a social imperative is a form of institutional bullying.

I had a friend share this article. The only thing that I am sad about is that it is a year old.

Brainwashing

It’s time to start treating high school like the education will lead to the desire to learn more of what the student is interested in learning. Yesterday, I was guest teaching a class of APUSH. That is Advanced Placement US History. They were learning the names of presidents. They were getting facts so that they could compete on Jeopardy or take a test. There was very little discussion. They were the smart ones who lacked the opportunity to use this class to become a more informed electorate and more responsible citizens.