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justifying a high school chamber choir

 We have a new head of our Upper School who has made the decision to eliminate our chamber choir strictly based on numbers.  He has never seen them perform, never observed a class, never seen the larger concert choir perform nor seen one of those classes.  His rationale is that there is not enough senior leadership in the larger choir.  
Here are the numbers for this year
Concert Choir - 46 with 8 seniors  ( 28 girls and 18 guys)
Chamber Choir - 11 with 8 seniors (9 girls and 2 guys)
For concerts, the Chamber Choir sings their own rep and then joins with the larger choir for the Concert Choir rep.
The chamber choir has been in existence for about 20 years. 
Any advice, suggestions or links to good materials for citing would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks very much.
 
-Betsy
on December 10, 2013 6:32am
In this day and age, see if you can link it to improving test scores.....
 
OK, sorry...that was a gut check. But semi-seriously--could you compare this to a parallel of having a physics and advanced physics class? Or a similar type of "enrichment" class, to try to use a buzz word? I would presume that your chamber choir is doing more advanced repertoire, fitting of their abilities. What would he do in a similar situation where there are math or science students who need to be challenged with higher level subject matter?  It's ability grouping to some extent.
 
Admittedly, this may not be the best argument solution either, because his reaction could be to the effect of "we don't create advanced classes for other subjects, so why yours?". I have to say, the not enough senior leadership argument really sounds like a weak rationale, and probably hiding a real reason....although I have no idea what that could be. When I compare to schools with multiple band situations (freshman band, symphonic band, wind ensemble) I don't think I've ever heard the argument made that "you need to hold these kids back to provide leadership." If you do that, you have to wonder what kind of leadership those kids are going to provide....because I would think there would be quite a bit of resentment generated, and you certainly couldn't fault the kids for feeling this way. 
 
Sorry if my response sounds a bit brisque....I sat through an hour long meeting at my son's elementary school last night about standardized testing and it's still not sitting well with me. Don't know if any of this helps. Good luck!
Applauded by an audience of 1
on December 10, 2013 8:08am
Since he hasn't heard the group, and it is portable in size, could you request an appointment and sing something a cappella for him in his office?  Also, I don't know if you gig out at all, but if your choir performs outside of the school setting, you could certainly make a case for the group as an ambassador.  Maybe you could sing at area middle schools, sing for the local Chamber of Commerce, siing at malls, sing at retirement/rehabilitation facitlitiies, hospitals, or anywhere that suits. Maybe you can have them sing at the Superintendent of Schools Christmas Party. If there is any way to get your kids out in front of him and the public that you havne't yet done, I would try it.
 
I had seven choirs at a school when the new principal team arrived who had no idea at all about music and the power of it for the kids.  The fact that I had an honor choir that diid some gigs outside of the school helped me to keep the program alive.  Best of luck to you!
 
Nan
Applauded by an audience of 1
on December 10, 2013 8:29am
Been there, Betsy.  Educating Administrators is wonderful but when it fails because of a secret or brainless agenda, you don’t have many options. You might reorganize your parents into a loud, rational political body.  Once you do, watch out for your Admin (or anyone else, for that matter) taking control of this group (through PTA, arm-twisting, etc.)…  If that fails, you may need to choose between your sanity and your job security.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on December 10, 2013 9:44am
Betsy,
 
My numbers are similar.  33 in Concert Choir (23 girls, 10 guys), and 19 in Chamber Singers (SSA, this year), on a school of 850.
 
We do a similar set-up in that the Chamber Singers often (but not always) join in with the Concert Choir in performance.  We do a shared sectional system, where the Chamber Singers attend with the Concert Choir, no matter what music we are working on.  And we are moving toward a system where our section leader curriculum (one day a week before school) is required of all members of Chamber Singers.
 
This system has been in place three years (since I came).  At times I, too, have struggled with creating leadership in the Chamber Singers.  But, I think the benefits far outwiegh the downsides.  The biggest one is simply that the Chamber Singers do higher level music faster, and those students are more invested & more motivated.
 
Other issues: choir is just different than instrumental music.  There is a wider range of commtiment levels in our school's choral ensembles than instrumental ensembles, so we need a place for younger singers to get experience & skills, and perhaps sing more accesible material that will make them fall in love with music.  While no one is going to take oboe in their junior year of high school, I do think students can join choir.  They need to do this in a Concert Choir setting, while their peers who have real sight-reading skills, etc. need the challenge of a Chamber Singers setting.  Is the admin. interested in increasing enrolllment in choir?  In creating opportunities for students not currently enrolled in an ensemble ("the other 80%")?  Then there should be an entry level choir.
 
Chamber Singers is also our "primary touring ensemble".  Many freshman are just too young for the responsibility that comes with an overnight trip.  This is a major reason we have a two-choir system, and seems to work well.  Younger students are motivated to get into a higher level group.  So far, we've maintened an "all first year singers are placed in Concert Choir" policy so everyone knows the culture of the music dept. before being in a high level ensemble.  Is the admin. interested in a group that represents the school at a high performance level at festivals, functions, etc - it probably should not include beginning singers.
 
Hope these are helpful!
 
 
Applauded by an audience of 1
on December 10, 2013 7:26pm
Tom's suggestion to compare to levels of academic classes is a good one. Show documentation that the higher level choir has higher expectations, a different syllabus, different materials and assessments, etc. They don't offer only one level of math, right? And they certainly don't put the kids who should be taking Spanish IV into the Spanish I class for "leadership". 
 
Another comparison that often speaks to administrators is the athletic program. Concert choir is JV, your select group is varsity. They don't cut the varsity team because there's not enough senior leadership on JV, do they?
 
I will say that the "senior leadership" thing sounds like an odd reason to eliminate a group. Could there be something else behind it? Since you say his rationale is numbers, is it the fact that there are only 11 students in the class? Are there other classes of similar size? Do they have issues with "elitism"? Are they looking to trim the budget? What is really going on? Your "head of Upper School" terminology makes me think that you are in a private/independent school (as am I). If so, parents are going to be a neccessary driving force. Those parents whose kids who would be headed to that chamber group next year need to hear that it might be disappearing. 
Applauded by an audience of 1
on December 11, 2013 7:21am
Most high school chamber choirs meet before or after school and are not offered for credit (purely extra curricular).  Without knowing your situation, I imagine you should be able to keep your chamber group going regardless of whether it's a class or not.  If there is enough desire on the students' behalf, it will persevere.
 
Look at this situation politically.  If you fight this head on, you may win the battle, but in this one little potential victory, you may very well be setting yourself up for losing the war.  I would tell this person that I completely understand where they're coming from, and would like to know what numbers in choir would justify re-adding the chamber choir as a class.  Once you have a concrete number, you have a goal to work toward and you can hold him to his word.  (Just make sure you re-word the agreement immediately to "So what you're saying is, if the concert choir gets above 65 students, you will allow me to re-add chamber choir as a class?" and shake hands on it.  Then send it in an email confirming one last time, so it's in writing).  You may consider asserting that this course is not dependant on senior leadership, but on exceptional talent and ability, which students of any grade 10 - 12 can possess, but with any assertion, be careful and think as a politician, with the big picture in mind.
 
Be careful about what you say and what you ask for.  With administrators, it is usually more fruitful to agree with them and find a transparent, kosher way around the road block.  Some might buck at this philosophy, but for those who have worked with administrators enough, you understand where the power lies and how to get what you want in the long-term without a fight.  9 out of 10 times, the fight is not worth it and will actually be a detriment to your goals for your program.
 
Andrew
Applauded by an audience of 1
on December 13, 2013 5:04am
Thank you, everyone, for your comments and suggestions.  I really do appreciate everything that you had to offer and will be using all of your suggestions as I meet with our Upper School head.  Thank you again!!!
 
Betsy
on February 8, 2014 6:32am
Is there a reason you can't just recruit more students?  (I arrived at my program with 30 or so kids, now we have 140.)  We had one chorus, now three.  Your head will want to see progress.  Make a deal with him.  "Give me two years and I will double the numbers in chamber chorus, with visible progress next year."
 
Most choral repertoire requires more than two men anyways?
 
 
 
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