Why should the music that your students are most likely to make outside of the chorus classroom--a cappella, rap, spiritual, folk--not also be a part of your classroom? Similar to Dr. Holcomb, I am a firm believer that music is a language and that, as I heard another clinician say during the conference, “Not teaching music literacy and just teaching music by rote is like never teaching someone how to read and constantly reading the information to them.” It is the duty of all music educators to teach their students music literacy, not only to better their musicianship and to help them be successful with more challenging pieces in the future, but more importantly so that they can take ownership of the music (both inside and outside the classroom) and not have to rely on their chorus teacher in order to make music.
Dr. Holcomb told us an anecdote during the session about how his chorus teacher pushed the boundaries of his musicianship and ownership of the music he was making and what positive effects it had on his life as a musician and a human. He went up to his teacher one day and asked if the bass line of 'Lean on Me' is do-re-mi-fa, and the teacher of course agreed and asked him to go to the piano and play it in C Major. So he did, but then when he was asked to play it in F Major, he kept playing do-re-mi-fi until he realized that he had to use one of the black notes (which he did not know the use of beforehand). I truly think that one of the best kinds of learning happens when you don’t talk and just do. What a perfect example of this philosophy! Dr. Holcomb suggests that as a result of this discovery-based learning through hearing being prioritized over any skills at sight, from there came an immensely positive impact on his life as a musician. He challenged us all to support this kind of learning in the rehearsal. Instead of always asking your students what key every new song you give them is in, maybe ask them for another song that they know that is similar melodically, harmonically? Ask them the questions that they do not expect. Dr. Holcomb says that a large key that might help unlock students’ natural desire is to relate to choral experiences that the students’ should show ownership of the music that they make.
Dr. Holcomb made it a point to articulate that he believes the goal of the music educator should be to harness students’ thirst for a life full of musical experiences. This requires reconsidering the pedagogies that try to get students themselves to go into the music field and those that throw as many concerts and master works at your students as possible. These methods can prove effective temporarily, but many times seem to feign a love of musical experiences and after high school will likely report to be “burnt out”. As we are educating these students, it is part of our responsibility to not only give them the tools to read, write, and perform, but also the tools they need to include music in the rest of their life. We talked about tools such as repertoire selection, peer collaboration and aural skills to name a few. To have your students leave your classroom with the ability to choose songs that they like with confidence, be able to imitate or even write their own songs, and most importantly collaborate with their friends, is definitely a large part of a successful choral program.
Thank you for reading IC ACDA’s Blog Posts on the ACDA Eastern Division Conference! We had an absolute blast being there and are excited to get this opportunity of reflection and analysis. If you enjoyed reading our posts, check right back here for more posts regarding several awesome workshops we plan on doing over the course of 2016!
-Matthew Coveney, IC ACDA Web Master & Public Relations Chair