The bell rings, and students begin their routine of piling into the choir room, but something is very different. Chairs are gone, the projector board that projects lots of funny Ellen videos are gone, with only a whiteboard left behind. The folders have disappeared, and the worst of all is the piano is gone. Many are confused, with some getting angry because they hate everything, but that’s a different story. The students take a seat on the hard ground, and the teacher goes to the front to begin class.
“Pull out you music.”
A student raises their hand, and continues to complain that there is no music. That’s the point! Good observation. I get up and explain that this is an experiment, showing people that this is what choir would be like if we only had the budget the district gave us. People were starting to understand. But then, a very special thing happened. We tried to sing without music, and believe it or not, we sang with beauty, and we still made wonderful music. And it showed great things. Music programs, specifically in high school, don’t have a lot of money to spend. But when so many people are passionate and care about such thing as music, beauty can be created. So many programs can inspire students to great things, but I find the music program has the most heart to it. We can focus in on one program, the choir program at Fairview High School, run by Janice Vlachos. Throughout the years, this program has seen hundreds of students go in and out gaining new perspective on music and gaining wisdom beyond their years. Its one of the most successful programs in the state of Colorado. But, it is on the verge of possible cuts and struggled with the district for years. So why is it that even the most successful programs struggle. When can we instill in people’s head that music matters!
Beginning with the main issue, we can find great examples of music right in my home school of Fairview. Throughout the years, Fairview has had a reputation of having a very successful choir program. The program has won many awards, including the Downbeat award of best women’s jazz choir. It has also had the opportunity to attend many festivals, including THe National CHoir Association Conference in New York, and also the Jazz Educators Network COnference in New Orleans. The teachers have been recognized with many awards, including Bobby G awards. With all this success, the program still finds itself struggling to gain leverage in the district for support of the program. Most of the funding, in fact around 75% comes from fundraising by the students. Every Fall, the students are given the assignment to sell Christmas wreaths, which can be a lot of fun, but also fundraising is quite a pain. We ask ourselves, why do we continue to have to do this? It’s crazy how thing would be if we didn’t have it.
Every year, hundreds of kids are in the program, each with a unique talent, voice, and want to create beautiful music. To each and everyone of these kids, especially the upperclassmen, music is so important. Being in high school is tough, but to have a safe space for kids to come through during the day, that’s what it’s all about. For an hour, we can put aside our troubles and just make beautiful music together. It fuels the soul. It gives us new energy. But without all the opportunities we are given, I am sure our program would shrink. THe program is beyond lucky to have one of the best directors in the state, and to have one of the biggest music libraries in the state. We are set up for success. But we must ask, are we doing this just for fun, or is there a greater reason behind it. In many schools, kids are in choir because their parents signed them up. I’m not saying that there are no kids like that in our program, but when you get to the top choirs, everyone there has this eclectic taste for music and this zipping energy each day in class. Also, it’s not all fun and games.
A loud noise rings through his ears. Another alarm. He hits the off button and slowly rolls out of bed. The clock next to his bedtime table reads 5:30 AM. He wonders, ‘Do I really have to go to another day of school?’ But something is making him wake up this early. School doesn’t start till 8:05. But what does start soon is rehearsal for the top Jazz choir Excalibur. 7:15 sharp. To be in Excalibur takes so much dedication and time, but each student in there has the drive and commitment to do what it takes to make wonderful music. Everyday, he rehearses with Excal for an hour, some days an hour and a half. And he gets up Monday and Friday for a smaller rehearsal. All for singing jazz. Many would find this to be absolutely ridiculous, especially because he isn’t working out or doing anything “beneficial.” But he knows, music is so important to him, and seeing everyone in the group be able to come from all over the school and create beautiful harmony and change people’s perspective through music. Athletes, Academic geniuses, actors, artists, painters, all sorts of people are in this group, but we all rely on the program to give us the opportunity to provide us with the means to success. Without the success of previous successors, the program would not have the dedication it does. For years, many guys and girls have come through and been affected by this music program, and for most, it has been one of the most important parts of their high school career. So why does nobody else care? Why is it a program that keeps getting cut. When something so important to some if overlooked by the uppers, it’s a huge struggle to get support for what you believe in.
When asking around to other teachers, it is clear to them that in most school environments, the arts, especially choir, are not a priority. In Fairview, most of the teachers are quite supportive, going to the shows and participating in the events with the students. But in other places, people aren’t as fortunate. The arts are looked at as a joke, with no benefit to the education system. No benefit? What a joke my goodness. When you are involved in the arts, you learn to think outside of the box and very creatively. In comparison to math, we are viable for much more options in the future because we are better prepared for certain circumstances. Not only do the arts teach you how to become great at singing or playing an instrument or acting, but it teaches you how to interact with humans in a way that math could never teach you. You gain these skills that allow you to immerse yourself in non traditional ideas, and to learn more about other cultures and other styles of life which may contrast that of your own. It isn’t all just cheesy singing and dancing. Its immersing yourself in a tradition that has been crucial to the development of the world, and something that has brought people together for centuries.
It’s the final concert of the year, and the emotions are running high. Nervousness, sadness, excitement, and just overall joy to be able to sing with the group you are in. It’s a Thursday night, and the audience is packed. 600 hundred eyes and ears open and ready to soak in the music that is about be thrown at them. To many, this is the most important concert. Especially for the seniors. Excalibur is finally ready to showcase the hours and hours of work they have put in to impress the audience. Just like your average team sport, after all the practice, the games are where you have the most fun, and same goes for the concert. As the set begins, Excalibur has a luscious sound with lots of blend and funky style. But the ending song “I Want To Hold Your Hand”, is an Excal tradition. Tears flow down the eyes of each member, as memories flood form the special moments of the year. When the concert is over, all those 530 am mornings are worth it. When the years past and the student head to college, many come back and speak about how choir was the most important part of their high school career. And with that said, you can just how important music is to all the students. Music has shaped society in ways no one can imagine. Even when you are just a dumb high school student, you can understand that finding something important to you and putting in the beautiful effort, promising results will occur.
“When words fail, music speaks.”