Yesterday, a visiting high school administrator observed our special music class. Her first comment when entering the classroom was, “Wow, this doesn’t look like a chorus room!”
I mulled that over in my head all afternoon. What is typically expected of a chorus room? Chairs, black binders, stacks of sheet music, a director’s stand, and one piano? As a lifelong singer in choirs, I know this is what I will see 9 out of 10 times when I walk into a chorus room.
When did educators decide that music has to be siloed into band, orchestra, and chorus, and that these groups should be mutually exclusive? What makes a band, orchestra, and chorus room visually different? The majority of our state performance standards are the same- singing alone and with others, performing alone and with others, playing instruments alone and with others, analyzing and describing music, understanding music in its relation to history and culture, etc. So if we have so much in common, why does it look like we don’t? Why is their confusion to outsiders over instruments in a chorus classroom, or even band students sight singing their music before playing it? I asked my middle school students today what their dream chorus classroom would look like- the keyword being chorus- and this is how they responded.
- Listening Station with Beanbag Chairs
- Small recording studio for group collaboration
- Recording equipment suspended above choir for instant recording, listening, and feedback
- Electric Drumsets with headphones so lots of students can play at once
- Tons of guitars and keyboarding stations
- Area to compose music- keyboard and computer
- Several projector screens so students don’t always have to look in the same direction
- Class set of iPads
- Launchpad Station
- DJ Booth
- A chalkboard (hahahaha- they think these are really cool)
- More rooms for sectional rehearsals
I was amazed by the students’ answers, mostly because not a single 8th grade boy requested a snack machine. But I was also surprised, and equally impressed, to find that everything they mentioned would enhance student achievement. I believe the students are ahead of us, the music educators, on this point- Music is music. Students want to play a drum set, sing on a microphone, compose their own music, make up a vocal harmony by ear, and pull a bow across a violin. They want to try it all- they want to be musicians. And yes… different students will have different strengths… but it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t provide them all with opportunities to try, experiment, create, and learn broad musical concepts, instead of being pigeonholed into only one area. Why is this creativity and collaboration encouraged in elementary school general music, but then put aside to pursue only one discipline at the secondary and collegiate level? Shouldn’t that be when we expect students to expand their horizons? I think this is why my students are so drawn to Rock Friday: they stop being only chorus students, and start becoming collaborative musicians.