This one time…at choir camp…

Posted on September 22, 2010

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Two weekends ago, I went with the rest of the Colorado Children’s Chorale staff up into the Rocky Mountains outside of Denver for one of my favorite weekends of the year: Concert Choir camp.

I love Concert Choir camp because while it is certainly about getting the kids get a head start on this season’s repertoire, learning new performance skills and refining the ones that they’ve been working to perfect since they were in Prep Choir with me, it’s also about so much more than that. It’s about taking that next step socially and emotionally and doing it away from mom and dad; about making new friends, and about cultivating a love of singing that extends beyond the rehearsal setting and onto a playground or around a campfire.

As staff, we really get to know the kids at camp by eating with them, playing with them, watching them put on hilarious little “operettas” that they create themselves with almost no help, and…oh yeah, rehearsing with them, too. And in less than 72 hours, they grow in ways that they maybe didn’t know they would or could, and they have a blast doing it.

Well…most of them.

You see, even though most of the Concert Choir “rookies” (most of whom are just starting 4th or 5th grade) have really enjoyed their Chorale experience to this point, some of them have never been away from their parents for the night. Some have never shared a room with one kid, much less a cabin with 7-10 other kids. And none of them have ever taken the dreaded super-fast, (usually) super-cold camp shower. So while 95-ish% of the kids would tell you that they are having the time of their lives at camp (even in the middle of their cold shower), the weekend never goes by without a few tears from a few kids that feel homesick. And when this happens, the Chorale staff always comes to the rescue.

In those moments, it is an absolute thing of beauty to watch and learn from my colleagues on the Chorale staff. They never cease to find creative ways of loving the kids through their worries and back to the place where that child-like joy and enthusiasm that is the trademark of a “Chorale kid” can quickly return to their eyes and their body language. I know what I’m saying will sound biased because the Chorale signs my pay checks, but I’m telling you: when a kid comes up to someone on the Chorale staff with one of their nine-year-old concerns at camp, during the day or in the middle of the night, that kid gets world-class love, care and encouragement. World-class. In fact, I’m convinced that if there were cameras filming everything that happens at camp, and every parent in Denver was forced to watch not only some rehearsal footage but the footage of the way that our artistic director, associate director and production manager help our kids in those delicate moments when their little hearts are at their most fragile, I don’t think we could meet the demand for the number of audition requests we would get.

I think (well, actually I know) that when your average American kid or adult thinks about what it means to be in a choir, they don’t picture stuff like Concert Choir camp. For many people, the images that they associate with singing are more negative than positive. I’m not here to combat choir stereotypes or make the ridiculous argument that music is more important than sports or any other extra-curricular activity. But I will say this: a kid or an adult deciding to avoid a choir-type experience because of stereotypes is sort of like zooming in on a picture of someone you’ve never seen before and deciding whether or not they are attractive based on what their left nostril looks like.

Really, the bulk of what it means to be in a choir (especially for kids) is full of things that nearly all of us would agree are positive and beneficial for all members of society. Hopefully, if you pull back and look at the whole picture, being in a choir includes things like community involvement, community service, social opportunities, travel opportunities and, of course, camp. But maybe above all, the big picture includes one other very valuable thing that is becoming harder and harder for kids to find: a reason for connecting and sharing something not just with friends but with adults who love them- homesick or not- and love what they love just as much as they do.

Suddenly that left nostril is starting to look pretty good.

Music I DARE you to listen to

Please add this to your collection of images about what it means to be in a choir.

Until next Wednesday, you stay classy Planet Earth.

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