A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending an All-District Chorus Concert in my hometown. The program consisted of all the choirs, from 6th grade to the high school. I couldn't help but remember, as I sat in the audience, that I had performed in all but one of the ensembles myself throughout my years in the school district. The music these kids where making, whether it was my sister in the 6th grade choir or the guy I took to my senior prom in the high school chamber choir, made me so proud to have ever been a part of such a great music program. It also made me look back on my experiences in it and made me realize how much it's changed the way my life played out and how much I really miss it.
The way my old elementary school works is that as a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grader, you go to music class and learn songs to perform in a concert. It was basically just a choir for beginners. But once you reach fourth grade, you then no longer are forced into singing for all of the parents of your peers, but you are given the option to give up your recess once a week to rehearse with the choir. This is available to 4th and 5th graders and the music is a little more "advanced" and the ensemble is just better because everyone in it actually wants to be there. Now, I'm a part of a very musical family, so I think it's safe to say that I've always been musically inclined. That being said, the music teacher in my elementary school, who was a big Russian man with a heavy accent and a need to steal the spotlight every once in a while took a liking to me. Although I don't think I was ever one of his elite favorites, he always liked me and trusted me to be a leader in the choir. So, I always was placed in the front row for the concerts, had some solos, and even was asked to play my instrument for a song. All of the pieces we sang during those few years in elementary school choir were pretty well known, but sometimes some classic chorus pieces were thrown in there. One of my favorite memories from those years is when we sang "What Time Is It" from High School Musical 2. We all got so into it and it's still so cool to me that we got to sing a song we all knew and loved.
When I moved on from elementary school and reached middle school, I signed up to have choir in my schedule, having it every other day for the next two years. I don't really have too many huge and meaningful memories from these two ensembles, them being the 6th and 7th grade choirs, but I do remember singing "Africa" in 7th grade, in which we even had two courageous boys beat boxing. (Horribly, I might add.) Those years were interesting because it's when we finally began singing music in different parts, and that's when I officially became an alto. I love being an alto with all of my heart and I would not change that for the world. There's just something about singing the harmonies that's always been really fun to me.
After the middle school I moved up to the junior high school, which in our district means 8th and 9th grade. Here, chorus was an every day class, and you were put into either mixed chorus or women's choir based on your schedule. My 8th grade year I was lucky enough to be placed in the mixed choir, which was lead by an amazing teacher whom I loved. He was a little awkward and reserved, but he knew how to make music. The boys had mostly all gone through puberty at this point so they were sorted into tenors and basses and we started singing music in 4 part harmony. I just remember being so fascinated by this and loving the way the music sounded. Having all of those new parts and voices made the songs more intense and beautiful and I loved every minute of it. Unfortunately, the next year I decided not to sign up for chorus, mainly because with my busy daily schedule I wouldn't have a lunch period. I also loved being in that particular mixed choir so much that I don't think I wanted to risk getting placed into the women's choir or having to deal with a bad year of the incoming 8th graders in the mixed choir. There was just something about that group of kids the prior year that clicked, and I didn't want to go backwards from that.
This is when my biggest regret of high school comes into play. When I finally reached 10th grade and moved up to the high school, I did not rejoin chorus like I had originally planned. I cannot for the life of me remember why, but I regret this simple scheduling decision to this day. The music program in my school has always been amazing and praised, so I knew even then that it was something great. But for some reason I didn't mind missing out on it for one more year. Even though I didn't join the chorus, I definitely still wanted to be a part of the musical. So, when the time came, I auditioned, got into the ensemble, and spent the rest of the year being convinced by numerous students, friends, and the music director himself to join chorus. There were definitely times during the whole musical process when I felt left out because I wasn't in the actual school chorus–everyone seemed to kind of know each other. Even if it was only because they saw each other for one period a day in the choir room, the music director knew everyone because he was also the choir director, and when it came time to warm up he would often have us do hard tongue twisters and warm-ups that everyone else had learned during class. I remember just standing on stage during numerous rehearsals making faces at one of my good friends at the time who also was not in the class while everyone else was singing an extremely difficult warm up that required the proper words to be effective. Although throughout the show I did catch on when it came to all that stuff, I still felt as though I were missing out on a whole other experience that my peers were getting.
In order to change that, I put concert choir into my junior year schedule. That previously mentioned friend also joined with me, so we gradually eased our way into the choir scene again when the year began. I was very happy with my decision to join and this is when I began to regret not doing it sooner. The music we sang was even more difficult and took longer to learn as well as more patience. But the outcome was definitely worth it. We sang so many fun songs as well as many beautiful songs that I still listen to on occasion. With membership in this ensemble came a weekly voice lesson with the teacher, so there I was able to work on my singing skills, as well as build a more personal relationship with the director and show him what I was capable of. I think these lessons really were key to getting me to where I was the following year as well as to where I am today. I met tons of fun people while in the concert choir and I got to learn the ropes of how the program really worked.
The following year, which was my senior year, I was asked to be a part of the Chamber Choir, which is one of the highest places you can get in the program in my eyes. This is a smaller group that consists of only those who were invited in and performs harder music in a more intimate setting. There is no doubt in my mind that this is my favorite group from my chorus career. The group of people I had the privilege of singing with everyday were extremely talented and even though we all never became best friends, we became our own little family. We got used to the sound of each other's voices and company, so something clicked and we learned to trust each other to always put on our best performance whether it was at 8 AM in the chorus room or 8 PM on a stage, standing in front of hundreds of people.
The music we got to sing was amazing in itself. We learned tons of fun songs and tons of gorgeous ballads, some having up to 6 part harmony. There were so many moments when we were all practicing or even performing a song and chills consumed me. There were also so many times when I had to fight back tears because of the pure emotions that came with any ballad that we sang, whether it was about the death of someone close to you or falling deeper in love with someone. I can think of so many instances where we performed a song and there was not a dry eye within our group. The music we got to sing gave out so much emotion that even we, who had been practicing them for months, were still able to be moved by it up until the last day of the school year.
I was so sad to leave this amazing group. It pushed me so hard when it came to my musical abilities as well as some social abilities. I will forever regret not being in chorus my sophomore year, because maybe if I had, I would have been able to experience the chamber choir for one more year. That group which consisted of the best of the best really was a great achievement to strive for, but the work doesn't end when you get selected to be in it–it only begins.
One of the weirdest parts about attending that concert last week and looking back on my choir career in Baldwinsville, is that their program goes on. Even though it has come to an end in my personal life, it continues on in others'. All of the ensembles that performed sounded fantastic, especially the chamber choir. It blows my mind to think that someone else could be experiencing those exact feelings about their current choir group that I felt about mine only a year ago. Music has that strange ability to bring people together and make them feel emotions like nothing else can, and it never stops working this magic. I'm sure I'm not the only one to feel this way about the chorus programs in my school district and I certainly won't be the last. I really hope the amazing music teachers continue to inspire kids far into the future and provide an escape for those who need it the most.