The conductor of the Elementary Choir is Fernando Malvar-Ruiz, the Music Director of the American Boychoir. As soon as I walked into the rehearsal room, I could tell that Mr. Malvar-Ruiz had built a wonderful rapport with the singers, and every child seemed to be having fun. Mr. Malvar-Ruiz had an animated, enthusiastic manner of communicating that made the children excited about the things they were learning and the sounds they were making. As I sat in the back of the room, I found myself reminiscing about my days in children's choirs when I was younger, and I thought about how much those experiences eventually influenced my decision to become a choral educator. I could see in the children's faces that they were delighted by the experience they were having in the Elementary Honor Choir, and I realized that I might have been witnessing moments that would become very important in these children's lives. Perhaps some of the children left the rehearsal room that night feeling inspired to pursue a lifelong love of music, and that is a beautiful thing.
Mr. Malvar-Ruiz had high expectations for the ensemble, and the children rose to the occasion. They were responsive to their conductor's instructions regarding diction, dynamics, tone quality, breath support, and expressivity, and when he asked for students to volunteer their own ideas (i.e. "What could we have done better in this passage?" "What do you think I meant by the gesture I just showed you?"), a sea of little hands would shoot up into the air, fingers waving around wildly, each child eager to contribute. The students took ownership of each piece with great enthusiasm, and Mr. Malvar-Ruiz helped them to do so by guiding their thoughts in ways they could easily understand. Throughout the rehearsal, he often used the concept of color as a teaching tool, asking the students what a bright color might sound like as opposed to a dark color. Once the students understood this language, he was able to use it to unify the group's sound. He would ask for an "electric yellow" sound or a "smooth, soft blue" sound, and the students would understand what he meant. Mr. Malvar-Ruiz kept the students engaged by challenging them, encouraging them, and making them laugh. It is always such a pleasure to see children using music to communicate with each other, with their conductor, and with their audience. I can't wait to hear these sweet young voices in concert this Saturday!
As soon as the Elementary rehearsal ended, I went next door to observe the High School Honor Choir, conducted by Dr. Jeffrey Redding, the Director of Choral Activities at West Orange High School. This rehearsal was fast-paced and full of energy; Dr. Redding, in his excitement, even jumped up onto a chair and then began to leap from one to the next at one point during the rehearsal. The high schoolers were engrossed by the beauty of the music and by Dr. Redding's charisma, and time seemed to fly as I watched them working and playing together. Dr. Redding helped the choir to achieve unity and expressivity very early on in the rehearsal process by providing constant feedback and by allowing his own musicality to be manifested in the group's performance. He knew every score inside and out, and he instilled in the choir members an appreciation for extreme attention to detail when interpreting a choral composition. Dr. Redding had the students laughing, dancing, and moving around the room with each other, and the elation in the environment was contagious. The students had a blast, and they were able to channel their positive emotions into the creation of beautiful, meaningful sounds.
Towards the end of rehearsal, Dr. Redding imparted some words of wisdom to the high schoolers, explaining that there was an important "life lesson" for them to take away from their honor choir experience: "We are not going to impress people with our performance. We are going to move people." I think these words could serve as a reminder to musicians of all ages that our ultimate goal as performers is to reach people on an emotional level by presenting great art with integrity, passion, and humility. Surely the members of the High School Honor Choir will carry this sentiment with them for the rest of their lives as artists!
If you're at the Boston Conference and you have some time to observe these ensembles as they prepare for Saturday's performances, I would highly recommend it! Hearing these young people's voices brought me nothing but joy and hope for the future of choral music!
-Juliana Joy Child, IC ACDA Treasurer