The April 2019 issue of Choral Journal is a focus on Relevance. The four main feature articles are based on presentations from the 2018 North Dakota State University Choral Symposium. The theme was Relevance–“creating programming that fosters connections between singers, audience, and the community with the purpose of exploring issues of social significance.” Jo Ann Miller, Michael Weber, Charlette Moe, and Tesfa Wondemagegnehu were symposium program chairs.
Following is a preview of each article:
“Choral Village: An Immersive Experience to Build Cultural Sensitivity and Empathy” by Joy Hirokawa
We are today witnessing polarization and fracturing of our societal norms unlike anything in recent history. The year 2014 marked heightened public awareness of violence at the hands of police, particularly in our communities of color. Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner all lost their lives, along with many others. How should we, as choral musicians and teachers, respond to this? What can we do to make a difference in our communities to address the divisiveness and violence we are seeing around us?
Against this backdrop, I endeavored to identify best practices and assessment that would provide evidence that what we do can make a positive difference in the attitudes of students outside the rehearsal room and performance hall. This research ultimately led to what became Choral Village. The purpose of Choral Village was to intentionally bring together middle school-aged youth from diverse backgrounds to develop cross-cultural understanding and empathy through activities including choral singing, theatrical games, drum circles, shared meals, and guest artist presentations in a weeklong summer program. This article will discuss the rationale, development, and structure of the program before taking a closer look at the resulting research.
“A Rubric for Choral Relevance” by Jennifer Rodgers
Those of us gathered in Fargo for the North Dakota State University Symposium on Choral Relevance in October 2018 witnessed a tipping point. What had been a groundswell of concerted efforts to raise the bar for impactful and relevant work in the field of choral music gained the momentum needed to become a powerful movement of change. Honoring the spirit of lively discourse in the centuries-old symposia tradition, speakers shared powerful examples of new organizations, creative programming approaches, and performance events, and described how they advocate for social justice issues, engage with marginalized populations, and expand partnerships between music organizations and their communities. Some were examples of choruses with a mission entirely based on serving a specific population, and some were the result of special projects built into the concert seasons of more traditional groups. All were designed to connect with the specific needs, cares, and demographics in the communities that the choruses serve.
My own presentation, born of having planned many such projects myself, focused on the process of programming for social change and community impact beyond any specific repertoire. Could I describe a methodology of relevancy that could help shift the immense work of special projects into a lens that choruses with a more traditional model could build into the foundation of their operations? I wrote down the thought process that I’ve come to follow in my own work and crafted a rubric to describe it. It was galvanizing to look at that process in a broader sense, and I was curious to learn how it would pair with the presentations of my fellow symposia colleagues.
“Exploring Cultures through Song” by Mary Ellen Junda
One of the ways that stories, events, and beliefs that define a culture are preserved is through its songs. “Folk songs” typically originate among the people of a country, area, or period and are passed along by oral tradition, with variants occurring over time as circumstances change. They often contain (and release) strong feelings about the experience of living in community, especially when that community is a cultural minority. Singing folk songs associated with a specific event or purpose provides singers an artistic means to discover new cultures, traditions, and beliefs, and to experience the worldviews and emotions embedded in the songs. This article features the Earthtones Vocal Ensemble as a model for developing university and secondary ensembles that address cultural diversity through song, and describes the joys and challenges faced in expanding the choral program in new directions.
“Hope: Refocusing the Legacy of Spirituals” by Jeff Stone
Hope, spirituals, and social change share a deeply connected bond. W. E. B. DuBois, famed scholar and early advocate for civil rights, published the first scientific study of this bond in 1903 with his book The Souls of Black Folk. In this study, DuBois relates hope and spirituals in the context of social change. DuBois suggests that this relationship originated in slavery—a period of great “sorrow.”
The unfortunate souls who endured centuries of sorrow were never completely defeated by their circumstances. Their music, crafted across the experiences of their suffering, is evidence of a will that could not be extinguished. Music offered familiarity with a past existence and provided solidarity throughout the centuries of sorrow. Enslaved and encompassed by despair, a community of voices found strength as they sung and believed together. Though these songs were inspired by faith, it was hope that allowed the enslaved to imagine and to believe in a better future. It was music that allowed them to dream again…
In order to refocus the legacy of spirituals, we should begin to reflect more deeply about the music. We may also be tasked with rethinking the way in which we present spirituals to our singers and audiences. When both occur, we align more closely to the original intent and ultimate power of this music. The significance of spirituals is not its ability to entertain but rather its ability to speak to the world we live in. It is this ability—this legacy—that must be refocused for each of us.
You can find these and more articles in the April 2019 issue of Choral Journal! Visit acda.org/choraljournal and log in with your ACDA member account.