Last week my high school musicianship classes at Geneva Academy in West Monroe, Louisiana, got the opportunity to participate in a concert with the local Bayou Masterworks Chorale and the University of Louisiana Monroe Concert Choir. My students got to sing on the closing piece, John Rutter’s Gloria. We were also invited to sing four selections with the caveat that they be in English since the rest of the program’s selections were in Latin. The above video is how we finished our portion of the concert.
Not a Proper Choir
I teach in a small Classical Christian school in northeast Louisiana where all students take music from K4 through senior year. I am one of two music literacy teachers. These students take “Musicianship class” with me three days a week. They are not auditioned or selected. The group here are just average Joes and Janes that have been singing and reading music with me for most of their time at Geneva Academy. We sightread, play in recorder consorts, take dictation, analyze music, and more. We teach music like we do language. We learn the phonics of music and rhythm and work on “sounding it out.” The idea is that everyone is given the tools to sing, read, and even do a bit of writing in music, regardless of their career aspirations.
It Is Working
These kids are progressing and moving from glory to glory. In the UK, when you “go to University,” it is said that you “read history” or “read theology” when talking about studying. These students get to “read music” and sing through some great compositions from Bach to Palestrina to Arvo Pärt and more. They have reached a point where we don’t just have to study music, but we can do a bit of performing as well. This video is evidence of their hard work and diligence.
Choir as the Outgrowth or Fruit
We have a choir by night because we have a musicianship class by day. You can have both if you train students in music literacy skillfully. Too many people try to get the choir to perform and don’t quite get the students across the threshold of music literacy. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big choir proponent. I have an afterschool community youth choir called the Delta Youth Chorale, where students can enroll and sing twice a week. But we can’t get the cart before the horse. We must not sacrifice music literacy for performances. It is possible to do both, but it must be a purposeful and careful endeavor.
After this above performance, one lady walked up to me and said something like, “it is truly amazing that so many talented musicians are in such a small school.” I politely nodded in thanks understanding what she meant. She was surprised at how we could get that advanced sound. It must be just God-given talent. In reality, these kids have no unique proclivities for music. They have been trained in music literacy since they first started school. You can also skillfully make music if you get several hours of music instruction a week for 7-10 years.
We have to orient our school and church activities to bring about a more musically literate group of singers. It won’t be an overnight change, but it will be a rewarding process with rewarding benchmarks and performances along the way.