Learning music should definitely not be fun, right?

Since I started sharing my ideas for teaching middle school beginners in 2013, I've been clear that my approach to teaching beginners in the public school middle school choral music classroom was part philosophy and part method.

The bottom line:

The journey of learning and experiencing music should be a joyful one.   ...Whether you are teaching music literacy to beginners or perfecting dynamics, tone and blend.  Ultimately, if the process is not an engaging and pleasurable one, people stop singing in choirs.

I mean...who wants to sit through rehearsals of monotonous drudgery?  It kills programs.  

Fast forward to fall 2017.

I am on my own search for a choir to sing in.

I love to sing in the choral music setting but I am struggling to find the right fit.   My time is limited.  I want to learn from the conductor.  I want to enjoy the rehearsal process.   I want to get goosebumps during rehearsal.   I want to laugh together as a group once in a while.  I can read music with no problem, but I am terrible at memorizing it, and I am competent at holding the music and watching the conductor at the same time.  I just use the music as a reference point most of the time.  

Of course, I want the group to sound good and have solid technique, but the day to day process of music making, for me, needs to be an enjoyable one.  Plain and simple.  

So, in my quest to find a choir that would be the right fit for me, I posted this in a very large support group of choral directors on Facebook:

The responses were 99% supportive.  People from the area offered suggestions about groups they enjoy being a part of, and I am going to check them out.   They shared why they like the group they are in.  It was exactly as I had hoped it would be and gave me lots of ideas as I continue my search.

Then...I wake up the next morning, and I get this notification:

Ok...I hear you.  But I'm on a search.  ...and this is a support group!  I wanted to be clear about what I'm looking for.  I didn't name the group nor would I ever!  We have hundreds of groups in this area, so I wasn't trying to call anybody out.   And I also think it is important for people to see why a person would stop singing in a chorus.  It helps us do our own self-assessment.

And a little later that day, I got this one...and that's when I thought...Oh wow...the word fun really upsets some people who teach choral music!  What's that about?  I mean, he spent a LOT of time on this response:

Did I say it ALWAYS had to be fun?  I don't think I did.  And since when did "fun" lead to disaster?  But, I digress.  

So...wow.  Clearly, I hit a nerve trying to search for an enjoyable music-making experience!  Oops!

Then came this awesome response:

That made me chuckle!  

The two negative responses weren't "liked" by anyone other than myself (out of respect) and the two who posted the harsh rebuke of my desire for fun in the music-making process by the way.   That is encouraging.  

So, at the end of it all, my question was this:  Why does the word "fun" rile up such deep passions in people who teach choral music?   

Could that be why there are so many teachers who several high-level degrees and either leave the classroom or run small programs that don't attract children?

I've blogged about this before.  I mean...it isn't really something I haven't noticed.   I have built my entire career and my sight singing program on making sure there are elements of fun and laughter and joy in every rehearsal.  

Part of our mission as choral music educators is to attract people so they can learn more about this incredible choral art that we all love.  

If a program is small, there is a reason.  It is either small because you designed it as a selective choir or because the people you've taught don't want to be there because their daily experience under your direction isn't one for which they want to volunteer their time.  

End of story.  

If the word "fun" offends you, then don't call it that.  

But the rehearsal process has got to be a convivial one.   Otherwise, they stop coming.  

We have to self-assess, and then we need to make adjustments.

For me, two and a half hours of lip trills once per week was not for me...nor was it good for about 30% of the rest of the people who departed that group under the leadership of that conductor who is an excellent musician.  He either didn't listen to the criticism or didn't care about what it did to the group.  Either way, the damage was done.  

I've seen improvements over recent years, but in general, as a community of choral music educators, we have got to continue to work to stop being so "exclusive"....so "high brow"...so "this is the only possible way to say this word or teach this technique"...so "you're doing this wrong"...so "I only teach 'high' music"...

It turns people off.  

I remember sitting in adjudications listening to a choir of all African American middle school students singing a spiritual.  The students were totally engaged and singing with heart...supporting their tone...great diction and dynamics...but their teacher had taught them to use authentic African choral tone quality (not the European version that scores 1's-Superior), and they walked out of there with 3's and 4's...totally deflated.  

This is the kind of stuff we need to keep working towards getting away from.  

I'm going to find the choir that is the right fit for me.  It might take me a while, but it'll happen.  My soul needs it!  I'm going to find one that is...yes...fun.  A choir that is led by an excellent choral conductor who helps us make beautiful music...one who opens our hearts and helps us experience and learn new things in a wide-range of new ways using varied techniques to help us achieve beautiful choral singing.  

I want the goosebumps when I sing, and I want the people who listen to us to get them too.

If you want to share your ideas about fun and effective ideas you are using in your middle school choral music classroom, request to join my group I teach middle school chorus! on Facebook.  Let's learn from each other and get more people singing in choirs!

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Have a great Thanksgiving!

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