Thursday, June 5, 2014

An Example of Failure in Public School Music

A few weeks ago, I attended my niece's middle school choir concert. I have never been more appalled by a student concert! The program featured 3 choirs -- a girls' advanced ensemble, a beginner girls' chorus, and a traditional mixed group -- and 8 soloists selected from the groups through an audition process. If I didn't feel the need to support my niece, I would have walked out as soon as her choir had finished singing.

Let's examine the concert. Truthfully, the choirs did not sound that bad -- they were just very young. The tone quality was certainly not on par with other middle school choirs in the area. The repertoire was exclusively arrangements of pop songs. I realize this is the music the students enjoy, but the one-sided approach does little to develop their skills and prepare them for success as they enter the high school program.  Of the 8 soloists, only 3 or 4 showed the ability to confidently maintain pitch. To go further, only 2 of these students displayed appropriate polish to be included in a public performance. The evening's pianist did not provide the driving rhythmic vitality the young voices desperately needed.

In my opinion, the failure of this concert rests firmly on the shoulders of the director. Her comments throughout the concert gave some insight. She did not speak with authority or conviction; rather, her comments came across as bumbling because of lack of preparation. She constantly referred to the fact that these songs represented artists she enjoyed. I wonder how much thought was given to their educational value for the young singers? Most damning, however, was her statement that this was the first departing class that had been entirely under her direction. In other words, the choral program no longer reaped the benefits of the teachers who came before her.

Perhaps this concert was an abnormal performance for this choral program. Every musician knows that you are only as good as your last performance. Sadly, I can now understand why funding is being pulled from arts education in the public schools if this is the result. It's time to make it a viable option financially for excellent musicians to teach our children rather than having to settle for anything less than excellent musical training.