Before reading on, I invite you to watch a video (from whence I stole this post’s title) that addresses this issue by clicking here.
Growing up, I was always involved in some sort of music, from taking music lessons as a three-year-old and transitioning to piano to singing in children’s choir at church to my elementary school’s auditioned three-part chorus. My middle school’s chorus program was dying when I got there. After one frustrating year, I left that school, but I made my decision so late in the summer that it was too late to audition for our arts magnet middle school. Instead, my parents decided to try homeschooling me.
Maybe one reason I tend to read and write teen fiction is because I empathize with the ugly duckling teenagers who aren’t comfortable in their own skin and don’t know where they fit in the world. One reason I so readily left my middle school was because, somewhere in the adolescent muck, my old friends were no longer true friends. My rose-colored lenses were shattered beyond repair. Homeschooling was perfect; I no longer had to interact with my peers. Forget ugly duckling; I’d become a turtle that never poked her head out of her shell, and I’m sure my parents envisioned me locked in my childhood room, devouring books and Twinkies at the age of thirty-eight.
Completely against my will, they signed me up for a summer musical program at a local high school. It was a “normal school,” not one with a magnet program. But despite cuts in funding, this school still had musical theatre and chorus, the teachers of both programs collaborating to put on summer musicals that rivaled those of our city’s arts magnet. My closest cousin was a student at this school, and the chorus teacher was a friend of his family. My chorus teacher was (and still is) a loving man, who always put his students first. He took me under his wing, and even though I continued to homeschool, he became my advocate, convincing the principal to let me into the school’s chorus and musical theatre programs. After my first year, the musical theatre teacher left, but chorus remained. I sang in all the concerts, including three times in Disney’s Candlelight Processional. I sang in chorus, ensemble, and solo competitions at the district and state levels, participated in All State choruses, and went on two trips to New York City. I also met my husband.
The year after I graduated, the chorus program wilted. Funding at the school was cut, and they consolidated both chorus and band positions into one instructor, which was neither fair to the students nor the teacher. My chorus teacher, not wanting to compromise the program he’d built by being stretched so thin, went to a different school that still appreciated that chorus and band are two different things.
For a kid who homeschooled without being a part of a homeschool group, I would have missed so many opportunities if there hadn’t been a local high school chorus program and teacher willing to let me participate. It would be hypocritical of me to put my head in the sand with the attitude that because I love music, I’ll always make sure my own kids have opportunities to participate in musical programs. While that’s great for my boys, that’s not the point. So many kids have talents they’ll never get to nurture because their parents don’t have the time, means, or desire to help them outside of school. By cutting musical programs and only offering them at specialty or independent schools, we’re robbing children of a different way to learn, to think, to live. Not to mention that music also makes for excellent therapy.
But at least there’s always college, right? I mean, if they’re still interested at that point. After all, that’s how my parents met—in college chorale, where they not only had the opportunity to sing but to do so all over the US and Europe. But at the same junior college they attended (which is now a state college), the funding has been cut to the point that there may not be a choral program after the next couple years.
Let me ask: what do kids look forward to when they get up and go to school every day? Are they excited to learn how to take tests? I doubt it, but more and more, that’s what school is becoming. I looked forward to school (except for that one year) because I loved my friends and even my teachers. And my teachers made learning fun because they were actually allowed to teach subjects that excited them. If we send our kids to institutions for seven-plus hours five days a week but subtract all the parts that make child- and young adulthood fun, how can we expect their enthusiasm for learning to grow, much less flourish? This isn’t limited to music, folks. What happened to recess? Visual arts? Non-academic learning, such as kids problem solving and developing grit through play? These are all undervalued by the people in charge, whomever they are, and those of us who care are left sitting here, scratching our heads and wondering what we can do.
I wish I had an answer. I’m grateful to all the private music teachers, after-school programs, and conservatories that promote musical learning, but they’re often spread thin, too. These are private entities that depend on outside funding, tuition, or grants to keep their doors open, none of which are guaranteed. Why do we undervalue something that can bring about such positive change in the lives of everyone, from babies to the elderly? After all, the children of this generation will be taking care of me in a nursing home not too many decades from now, and when that time comes, I hope they’ll appreciate that playing some of my favorite songs and giving me a cool coloring book is more worthwhile than letting me turn into a vegetable in front of a TV.
The question isn’t really if school choir matters. It’s the why of the thing. It matters because it creates a safe space for children who come from different backgrounds, religions, cultures, and so on to create something together that’s much greater than what they can do individually. And if they grow an appreciation for this when they’re young, they’re more likely to take it with them as they grow and mature. I think it’s a pretty good place to start.