A few weeks ago, one of my former teachers posted this meme on Facebook:
I laughed. A lot. I laughed because I was definitely one of those crying girls, asking every person under the sun to sign my yearbook, and tearfully saying goodbye to my friends as if I’d never see them again. Though the drama was high as a young teenager, the tears became rooted in reality as I got older and was active in the choir program in high school. Saying goodbye to friends you’ll see in the fall is one thing; saying goodbye to graduating show choir seniors is a different story.
I was lucky enough to be a part of the top choirs at my school for sophomore, junior, and senior year, but this luck also meant three years of goodbyes to a lot of seniors. I have never been a music educator, so please forgive me if I am putting words in your mouth, but I have a feeling that there have probably been some particularly wonderful groups of seniors that have made the end-of-the-year goodbyes very difficult. At the same time, I am sure there have been other groups whose exit from the building was followed by a solo dance party in your classroom. Regardless of your feelings toward these graduates, there are a few things that happen each year as your choir family loses its seniors and gains fresh faces.
THE GROUP DYNAMIC SHIFTS.
I was in the same mixed choir my junior and senior years of high school, but I use the word “same” lightly. These choirs could not have been more different. The people in my class who were in the group for two years banded together after a less-than-stellar junior year, where we were overshadowed by a senior class with some major disciplinary issues. Though we were frustrated our junior year, we used our frustration to set a high bar the following year, and our senior-year group dynamic was incredible. We really did become a family, and we ended up completing our competition season undefeated and nationally ranked number one. You have seen this happen, I’m sure, and it’s always a waiting game to see how your group dynamic will shift as time goes by, both during the year and through the years.
2. THE SOUND CHANGES.
This is a no-brainer! With different people comes a different sound. One of my directors in high school had an incredible ear, and she took the time with her girls’ group to listen to small groups of people and move individuals around so that we could produce the best sound. Even after graduating from college with a music degree, I know that skill is more innate than it is learned. As seniors leave and younger students enter the group, you will be faced with the new challenge every year of blend, balance, and more boys with changing voices. Best of luck to you with that last one.
3. NEW LEADERS AND NEW TRUST.
I am grateful to have worked with directors who placed their trust in our student leaders and handed over responsibilities to the student officer team. It made their lives easier knowing that they could trust a group of students to take attendance, send rehearsal reminders, coordinate packing lists for competition, and set a good example in rehearsal. But their placing of trust in these leaders allowed for something else to happen: the other students trusted the leaders. You are going to have a new group of seniors next school year. They will often think they run the show (so knocking them down a few pegs may be necessary), but that group of rising seniors is excited to have the opportunity to lead a new group and be the people with the most knowledge and experience in the ensemble. Let them be these leaders. Trust them with responsibilities, and they may very well blow you away with their commitment to the group and their ability to bring people together to achieve success.
At the end of the school year, many of you are probably ready to shut the stage door and exit the performing arts department for a few months. But as someone in the arts, I know that goodbyes in this field are not as simple as goodbyes in other arenas. Music truly does bind people together, and creating music with others is an experience that can never be duplicated, and it’s an experience that is hard to let go of. Whether you’re saying goodbye through a waterfall of tears or shoving kids out the door so you can have your solo dance party, you know that the group that you had this year will never exist again. I encourage you to take a moment, express gratitude for the experience you shared with those kids, and revel in the magic of making music with that unrepeatable group of students. And then commence solo dance party.
Happy summer, music educators 🙂
Photo credit: Daria Weingartner, choir director at Raymond Park Middle School (Indianapolis)