From the President (June 15, 2010)

Dear Colleagues,

As the end of the academic music year approaches it is a pleasure to recapture some of our free time that was ours before the year began. And of course it is also a time to reflect on all the good we have done, the great literature we have exposed our singers to and also to start thinking about the new season that will soon be upon us. I probably tend to think too much I suppose, but I do have some reflections that are loosely based on some news stories I have recently heard. The last one that really intrigued me was a “60 Minutes” interview this past Sunday evening. I have forgotten the name of the individual that was being interviewed, but he is the gentleman that discovered the “Titanic” just a few years ago. Although his story was very interesting, it was what he said at the end of the interview that intrigued me most. He was asked about his “star quality” and his desire for notoriety. His response was that he had no desire to be in the spotlight, but it was a necessary part of his “job” in order to raise money for his scientific work to continue. He also stated that he considered that particular discovery the least important in his list of accomplishments. When asked to state what he was most proud of, he showed some shots of what his team had discovered 8,000 feet below the surface of the ocean…..and it was life, so vibrant and beautiful; life that was not known to exist that far from the light of the sun. And than he dropped the bomb that hit me………….

He said he had no desire to be famous, to be known or to lay any claim to anything that he had done that might be considered a success. He in fact said that NOTHING he has accomplished has been HIS work, but had been the work of many individuals working together for a common cause. He said that somehow in this country of ours the “me” and “I” has taken the place of the “we.” In said that nothing he has ever done was possible without the “we” as an important ingredient.

The second story was on VPR about a week ago. I woman was relating an experience about being in a restaurant with some friends, and someone sent her a drink anonymously. She was so flattered and of course figured it was a male, and started congratulating herself that after many years of marriage, three or four children, etc., that she still “had it” and as she reflected on this she started to feel very young again. Near the end of dinner a student and friends were leaving the same place and came over to say hello, and this woman related the story of the mystery drink, only to be told by the student that THEY had sent her the drink because they thought it was so great that someone her age could still go out with friends and have a good time! An immediate change of point of view sat in after the embarrassment of the moment had left, and as this person reflected she thought that it maybe was not so bad to be in the place she was, with a successful marriage, beautiful children and a loving husband. After all, she was smarter than these younger folks and a lot more secure in her values and perceptions. But as told it was a very funny story.

And finally this morning I heard a story about a local theater group (again on VPR) and how incredible it was; students learned the importance of working as a group, making their own costumes, preparing music, honoring commitments, and so forth. The commentator went on and on at length before making his almost final statement. He said “where else in the public schools are students going to learn this kind of discipline and commitment and dedication?” Or something like that…I paraphrase. Did I hear that wrong!!!???

So where does this all bring us? I don’t mean to be negative, and I do try to be positive. But lets think about all of this for a minute. The discoverer of the Titanic was indeed correct, and we see it every day as music educators; it has indeed become a “me” world instead of a “we” world. I think we have to push the idea vigilantly that being in a performing chorus (ensemble) is not about the individual but about the “we.” I have had a very exhausting and frustrating year with this concept, and it rears it most ugly head with the students that should be the models, my Madrigal Choir. Although there are individuals that do model the expected behavior there are many more that seem to only think about themselves. Maybe I am in the minority and am somehow ineffective in what I do, and if that is the case I should make a graceful exit. But I don’t believe that I am; I hear it all the time from my colleagues. The same discussion, the same frustrations and the same words. We have to change this “me” culture into a “we” culture, because it is only through a collaborative adventure that we can realize real results and an artistic whole. Isn’t it? Am I way off base here?

The story this morning only reinforces my thoughts that our audiences are becoming less discriminating and less able to recognize real quality when they come in contact with it. Of course I realize that all parents are proud of their kids achievement and want to support them, but when we give the highest of accolades and standing ovations for mediocrity, what message does this send? How do we respond when we really DO come in contact with artistry?

And finally, the woman that received the mystery drink. I think what happened at the end (and I realize this is a loose connection…stay with me here!) is that she realized that in retrospect what she had was much more important than that fleeting moment in time when the drink arrived and the “I” mentality started to take root.

What I am trying to say here is that those of us that remember some of the “old fashioned” ideas that we were raised with and trained with…we should not abandon those ideals in favor of a more “modern” and more “acceptable” behavior. I do hope that we perform music of quality, with a meaningful text that has something to offer. This does not mean that an occasional “fun” selection is not in order, but should not be the norm. I hope we all insist on quiet in rehearsals so that we can all learn something, and that we insist on good posture. That we do not allow homework to be done in rehearsal, and that we insist that singers have a pencil in hand and their own music to sing from. That we insist on singers being cordial and pleasant to each other, and that we insist on acceptable language at all times. Being punctual is important, and being late is rude. I hope we insist that students work on their music outside of rehearsals and not leave all the work up to us. We should let singers know that when they need to miss rehearsals, that they contact us and let us know what is going on. It is common courtesy, is it not? I hope we insist that food has no place in a rehearsal situation; it just doesn’t. I also think that adopting the language of the students is somehow cheap. To refer to a musical selection as “cool” or “sweet,” or to characterize a performance as “awesome” or “radical” somehow just does not make it with me. Call me old fashioned, so ahead! But am I alone in this field?

I also hope that as educators we model behavior that shows that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Not quitting and complaining, but instead we all need to be part of the solutions that make us all better. We need to work together to make an impression for singers and students to follow. Our future depends on it.

And concerning our own ACDA membership and our state chapter. We need your help and constant attention to help us continue our good work! I am going to be looking for a replacement in a few positions for the upcoming year. Are you willing to make the sacrifice for the good of our organization? Do you really believe in the mission of ACDA? This organization has a lot to offer, but only if you ask something of it and contribute to the cause!

Our Madrigal Festival is successful but could benefit from more participating schools, just as we could all help it be successful by attending the performance in December and seeing the results of these fine choirs. When we advertise our Community Chorus Festival for next year, sign on to be a part of this event. It is offered so that we can all benefit and learn, and work “together.” It can only be successful, indeed it can only happen, if we have participation from the membership! Attend the Eastern and National Conventions….these experiences are invaluable for personal and professional growth, and read the Choral Journal every month. It is a source of inspiration and showcases the work of our colleagues. It does not matter what level we teach and work with, it makes us better and more informed musicians if we know who Jeffrey Van is and are familiar with his “Four Civil War Poems!!”

It has been a source of embarrassment for me (at the Eastern and National Level) to report every month that I cannot find anyone in our membership that is willing to take on a leadership role (specifically President and President-Elect). The time will soon come for individuals to come forth and commit…..I hope you will consider doing so, because this organization could be GREAT with the active participation of our membership. ACDA, I believe, is in a tough place right now. We need active membership at all levels, and we need to recruit new members, which is a place where all of you can help. ACDA is not a tough sell…… choral musicians it is our professional organization, and a good one as well. Vermont can be proud that our membership has grown this year when other have not. I want to see us 100 strong by the end of next year. That means we retain our membership and gain another 25 members. Will you be an advocate for the organization and help us grow? We can do more if we have more members.

It has been my privilege to serve you as President this year, and I look forward to a very active and successful year to come. Have a great summer everyone! And thank you for listening to my thoughts and perceptions throughout the year. I have done this in an effort to connect us, to make us all think a little, write thoughts on the List Serve and to highlight the work of others. We have an incredible membership, and I am proud of our collective accomplishments.

Most Sincerely,

Frank Whitcomb

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