Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Another Year! What now?

Earlene Rentz

It's that time of year! Music teachers of all sorts are gearing up for another "go" at it. As I listen more and more, it seems that this year is different. I might be wrong, but it seems like many music teachers are leaving the profession in droves. I'm not pulling that statement out of the air; I'm looking at the huge increase in the "non-existent" email designations in my professional contacts. No one need ask, "Why?" The truth? It's difficult out there during "these days." How many times a day do we hear the word  "unprecedented?" I truly think I've heard it every day for at least six years, and it has also crept into the music world. 

Life goes on, and thankfully...music goes on as well. Where does that leave us? The art of music is what we teach; music is what we love; music is the "it" that is becoming almost impossible for some. It might be a bit disappointing to know that some are disconnecting, but the delight of that idea is that we can change the negative into possibility! So....what do we do?

First, please know that I have all the respect, admiration, and praise in the world for all of our music teachers (also church/synagogue/community choir musicians) in any musical organization anywhere! No one knows the challenges you face these days, as our culture, climate, and demographics have changed and intensified. I think of my days in the classroom (70s through 2000), and I just stay quiet. There is no comparison...except that we are teaching other humans something we love, and the subject matter's value has remained (though there are now some restrictions).

So...if you have decided that a change was necessary in your life, let's think about how you can continue to be involved in music on some level. There are numerous ways we can keep that element of "soul-nurturing" going on in our lives as we ponder our futures. Why would we want music in our lives? For some weary souls, the need for music might not be "on the radar" at the moment. That's how difficult the profession has become for some. I understand the need for a period of rest.

For most of us who have continued to be in the profession in some way, we find community and satisfaction in the music culture of our lives. We have found "that thing" has defined us as a worthy, contributing member of society, and we have found some ways to use it productively to create beauty in our lives with and for others. We have found something we are "good at." We might be a different "lot" as compared to most folks, but one identifying element in our lives is that most of us enjoy creating beauty with other people in a team effort. This "choir thing" is a necessary component in order for us to do so. By participating, we create beauty that feeds our emotions, delights, love, and accomplishments. Those "pay-offs" from musical participation have propelled us forward for years and years. Unless we have determined that those pay-offs are no longer enjoyed or necessary, we will likely continue to seek them out in our lives.

So....what do we do with our life-changes? 

1) Become acquainted with the music culture in your area

Who are the people in your area who are respected leaders of choral music? Where are their concerts taking place? What is the general focus of the music genres for each choral group? Will you enjoy being supportive with your presence at concerts and with positive conversation....or....is there something inside you that must be involved in the making of music?

2) Find a choral group to join

Most groups are kind, accepting members, and would be delighted to have others join. Is the group auditioned? You might want to sign up for choral newsletters and websites that might assist you in finding the right time for whatever involvement you choose. If choir members are not chosen via auditions, would you still like to be involved as a volunteer in some way (turning pages for the accompanist? setting up the room for rehearsal? record keeping? - All are so necessary in the workings of the "choral machine," and any choir director would love you for offering your services).

3) Sing in a church choir

There really aren't too many church choirs that require auditions. There is a closeness in church choirs that is usually the result of ministry to those with whom they sing. For so many choirs in churches, the involvement level is high, as "Sunday comes so very weekly," and there must be music! Therefore, the church choir is the place where we minister to others as we pray, send food, forge relationships, and show our care for others. It has been my experience (and comes as no surprise) that there is an additional focus for a church choir that is a bit different from a community choral organization. They are ministers to each other....together.

4) Create your own choral group

If you relish organizational and administrative challenges, this option might be the perfect way for you to spend the next several years. Of course, there are a few considerations:  a) What is the objective for the group? b) What is the quality/quantity of the possible participants from which you may draw? c) Are there others who will assist you in organizing? d) Will the group be welcomed into the choral community as one that will not "take" from other previously organized groups? e) How can the group contribute to the community as "givers" and as a performing ensemble?

Whatever the case for you in the coming year, please keep music in your life. We all need music, and we need each other, especially in tough, uncertain times.

May we all experience joy, expectation, and delight in the coming choral year. All the very best to all of us as we create beautiful music!!

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