I just finished watching the funeral of Edward Kennedy on television this Saturday morning, and decided to ditch my first weekly message to you all and try to pursue some of my thoughts concerning this event and how it might tie into what we do as choral music educators. I think there are some important connections for all of us as we remember the life of a very important individual who has been at the center of our American stage for so many years. I will admit that there were many moments of tears by Jean and me as we watched family members speak; a daughter and two sons about their father, and our President discoursing about a colleague and friend. In so many ways the life work of this incredible man reflects what we do in our lives as music educators in our own school choirs and churches and community choirs. We care as much for our students and act on their behalf as energetically and passionately as Senator Kennedy acted for his constituency, but with far less press time.
But first……what an important part music (as we would expect) played this morning! Yo-Yo Ma played some unaccompanied Bach that was beautiful and nuanced beyond description. Placido Domingo sang Franck’s “Panis Angelicus,” and Susan Graham rendered a beautiful reading of Schubert’s “Ave Maria.” James David Christie played beautifully on a magnificent (Hook?) pipe organ, and members of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus performed the Brahms motet “Let Nothing Ever Grieve Thee” and “How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place” from his German Requiem (not quite as beautiful as one might have expected, but heartfelt and sincere no doubt!). This music and the performers added a dimension that would have been impossible to create with just words; the power of music that we all speak about with our students.
Edward Kennedy was passionate about what he did, and went to extraordinary lengths to show people that he cared deeply. The stories have been repeated in the media all week and you, no doubt, heard many of them. He worked tirelessly for his state of Massachusetts and for those with whom he worked and came in contact with. We know this because he worked on the national stage, had deep pockets and was wealthy through association. This does not diminish his stature or the wonderful acts of kindness he has shown over the years, but having those tools makes it a bit easier to be magnanimous in this way.
As choral directors we work in the same sort of venue, and give far beyond the call of duty in our day to day work with students, adults and musicians of all ages. In particular, I have to believe that the ACDA organization has a commitment that transcends the usual dedication to choral music; we feel strongly about what we do, the literature we perform, the people we work with and the quality of work we share with our colleagues. We work through our own school communities to bring choral music education to our constituents, and we work through our state organization and participate at regional and national levels as well. The recent work of our ACDA Executive Board is a prime example of how committed choral musicians are; they are putting in time beyond the call of duty for the pure joy and pleasure of serving our organization and bringing meaningful music experiences to our students, colleagues and audiences.
Let it be known that what we do in our profession is just as important as the work done in Washington. We tirelessly work to bring students closer to humanity through the medium of choral music. We struggle with individuals because we know they have ability and potential, and we work with our choirs week after week with difficult literature because we know that the final product could be a transforming moment for them (not to mention the audience) in performance. We bring outstanding performing ensembles to our own singers so they might hear excellence and strive for it themselves. We promote the qualities of respect, hard work, honesty and integrity, discipline, cooperativeness and scholarship as desirable traits that we should all explore and cultivate.
As I reflect on my years in Vermont, many people come to mind that might not be known to many of you, but who provided a groundwork that we still build on today. Audrey Moore at Champlain Valley Union High School developed their choral program that continues to excel today with Carl Recchia. Ronald Faulkes produced fine choirs at South Burlington High School years ago, and, in fact, developed a program when the school first opened; a tradition that was carried on with Cynthia Matthews, Karleen Teply and now through Aimee Bushey. James G. Chapman founded and developed the University Choral Union into a first rate performing ensemble that for years was possibly Vermont’s most refined and best known choir. After Jim Chapman’s retirement from the Choral Union several years ago, Gary Moreau picked up the torch and has carried on with the Vermont Choral Union where Jim left off. A whole litany of choral directors was responsible for what is now known as the Burlington Choral Society. Frank Weinrich, Frank Lidral, John Henzel and Thomas Strickland laid a foundation that is now carried on through David Neiweem. Theresa Trahan was for years highly respected as a choral director in this state, laying strong choral roots in both Bennington and St. Albans. The St. Albans tradition was taken up by Donna Costes, (Donna also founded an adult choir in that area) and is now continued through Armand Messier. Maurice Villemaire for years had outstanding choral groups at Rice Memorial High School. Beverly Cadmus cultivated an outstanding program at Essex High School and maintained a high level of work now carried on through Glory Reinstein. For years Bill Laws worked at Mt. Mansfield Union High School, and his work was expanded through Andrea Haulenbeek and now through Caleb Pillsbury. These few people are representative of scores of others that have carried on the choral tradition in Vermont and deserve recognition.
These individuals, just like you and I, were committed to goals and principals that continue to be as important today as they were 30 years ago, or 60 years and longer. We perform, on a daily basis, some of the most important work in education today, and what we do is vitally important to the artistic health of our communities, but more importantly to the emotional, mental and intellectual health of the human race. We are a small part of a complex network of extraordinarily committed individuals that change lives and mold human beings. We are choral musicians and we should take great pride in our mission. ACDA expresses this mission in a most poignant way, and we in turn belong to this organization to spread the word and carry on that mission. It is indeed a lofty goal and elevates us in every respect. I am proud to be a member and proud of each of our contributions to this greater mission. We do not have the press, the money or the prestige that Edward Kennedy had, but nevertheless we continue to do in our profession what Kennedy so eloquently phrased in many of his later speeches; “the work begins anew, the hope rises again, and the dream lives on.” This all seems a bit lofty for us as choral musicians that do not always crave the spotlight I suppose, but it is true and we ought to believe in ourselves with the same conviction as politicians believe in what they do, because the stark truth is that our work is vitally important to the life of our communities, states and countries, and may very well matter more. Carry on!
Frank A. Whitcomb