On Wednesday, March 23rd, Raynard Brown came to IC to present his workshop, "Middle School Choir: Passion, Performance, Perfection." Mr. Brown is an experienced conductor of middle school choirs, and he currently works in a large school district in Missouri. It was such a privilege to hear him speak about his educational philosophies, and to hear some beautiful recordings of his ensembles throughout the session!
He began by discussing the concept of discipline, stating that it is essential to establish boundaries with young students in order to gain their respect and attention. He spoke about the benefits of being strict and having high standards, and he pointed out that middle schoolers like to be challenged and disciplined; rules and guidelines give them a sense of security. One major point that Mr. Brown emphasized in his talk was that students will rise to the level that the conductor expects of them. Conductors have the ability to instill in their students a drive for excellence, which is why establishing high standards tends to yield stellar results. Mr. Brown suggested that a conductor should ask their students what they want to sound like, so that the singers will be more likely to take the initiative to improve their sound without having to be told how.
Mr. Brown also talked about the integrity of simply "teaching choir in choir." He explained that it is usually unnecessary to attempt to incorporate elements of general music into the middle school choral classroom, because choral singing is a fulfilling and well-rounded learning experience in its own right. Mr. Brown spoke eloquently about his belief that choral singing has the power to change children for the better, because it teaches them to feel, to communicate, and to love one another. As choral conductors, we have a chance to change our students' way of thinking about the world around them.
Here, Mr. Brown segued into a discussion about selecting repertoire. He spoke to the importance of programming a wide variety of pieces from different cultures in order to provide students with a worldly education, saying, "The music you choose will determine the atmosphere of your classroom and the quality of your program." Mr. Brown provided us with a number of useful resources for exploring new choral repertoire for our own programs.
One of the most powerful messages we took away from this workshop was to always remember that ensembles are places for the celebration of unison and community, and that being a part of a good choir can teach students lessons they probably won't learn anywhere else. We are so grateful to Mr. Raynard Brown for sharing his passion and expertise with us!
-Juliana Joy Child, IC ACDA Treasurer
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