C.H.O.I.R: Collaboration Harvests Optimal and Inspired Rehearsals!

What the Choral Experience Means to Adolescent Singers

 By Dr. Ryan Beeken

Choirs and conductor-teachers share a dynamic, sometimes complicated relationship. Today’s most effective educators employ meaningful rehearsal strategies within a leadership framework that focuses upon student needs, fosters a collaborative rehearsal environment, cultivates an atmosphere of trust, and inspires choristers to contribute creatively to the rehearsal process. When successful, results are extraordinary!

Choral Experience
Ann Howard Jones, Professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities at Boston University led the 2015 NAfME Mixed Choir Photo by Howard Rockwin


Choral directors are in the ‘people business’ and must cultivate relationships—building trust and rapport with choristers. Rarely do adolescents enroll in choral programs due to an innate passion for the music of Schütz! More frequently, they are brought to the choir room through their interactions with other people. Whether the result of a persistent choral director on lunch duty or the persuasion of close friends, students find value in being part of a rewarding community that provides an outlet for expression, a vehicle for self-awareness, and the chance to reap the rewards of their own hard work.

Teacher, composer, and conductor Dr. Andrea Ramsey provides evidence to this reality. Ramsey surveyed a wide variety of choristers in grades 7-12; she collected 230 written responses that clearly outline what the choral experience means to adolescent singers. Several themes emerged, including:

  1. Expression-Awareness
  2. Enjoyment-Relaxation
  3. Inspirational-Transformational
  4. Friendship-Social Value
  5. Hard Work-Reward
  6. Priority-Identity

“Choir Is ____: The Meanings of the Choral Experience, Grades 7-12” www.andrearamsey.com/resources. Used with permission.

Sharing visions, realizing goals, and encouraging students requires appropriate relationships. The teacher student relationship is one founded upon trust, established through consent versus command. Educators wield the power to persuade and influence those they serve, an enormous responsibility and a great privilege!


Teaching is an art form, one rooted in the principles of leadership. Great leaders share a clear, compelling vision with all members of the community they serve. Effective leaders and educators use their passion and inspire others to share in their vision, partnering with them in order to achieve specific goals. They lead by example and cultivate appropriate, yet meaningful relationships.

Vision is the essence of educational leadership. Together, students, instructors, and administrators create a community of collaborators; all share in the educational vision and must work TOGETHER to create an environment that builds upon the strengths of EACH individual. Leading by example, effective teachers model excellence, exhibit passion for their art, and continue to learn and grow themselves.

Conductor and author Ramona Wis explores the complex nature of the conductor and leadership. In her book, she outlines Vision, Trust, Persuasion, and Character as cornerstones of effective and meaningful musical leadership. Ultimately, The Conductor as Leader strives to demonstrate how conductors can build connections between people that enhance their quality of life and their musical performance. Wis believes the following requisites are essential to achieve these goals:

  1. Passion & Professional Skill
  2. Genuine Concern for People
  3. Desire to Become a Leader
  4. Willing to Look Inward


Choral Experience
Wis, Romana. Conductor As Leader: Principles of Leadership Applied to Life on the Podium. GIA, 2007.


Keeping their student’s best interest at heart, conductor-teachers must strive to share their passion for music and their zeal for people in order to instill the knowledge, habits, and skills that will equip all students for success.


When meaningful leadership is fueled with fantastic relationships, productive and collaborative rehearsals result. Sandra Snow’s instructional DVD (Choral Conducting/Teaching: Real World Strategies for Success. GIA, 2009) emphasizes how to develop teaching strategies from the conducting podium. Via 38 mini-rehearsal segments, she demonstrates how the conductor-teacher can unlock both teacher and chorister imagination during the rehearsal process, leading all toward their fullest musical potential.

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As Snow demonstrates, productive rehearsals are lead by inspiring musical facilitators who utilize their knowledge to create multiple approaches for each educational goal or challenge. When conductor-teachers actively engage every ensemble member in the creative rehearsal process, results are extraordinary. These collaborative rehearsals leverage positive relationships in order to challenge the entire community of learners to think critically and at times improvise immediate solutions. It makes sense; we are, after all, STRONGER TOGETHER!


As each student’s fullest potential is developed, quality instructors reflect upon student progress, their own educational strategies, and their relationships. They take ownership in the results, both good and bad, and modify and refine their methods and leadership. In turn, their students are motivated and challenged to think critically. They explore new ideas and take ownership in their learning.

When YOU reflect on your teaching, what do you SEE? What do your STUDENTS see?


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Photo NLshop | iStock | Thinkstock


Beeken presented on this topic at the 2016 National NAfME In-Service Conference in Grapevine, Texas. For more information, or to get in touch, contact ryan.beeken@iup.edu.

About the author:



Ryan Beeken proudly serves as Director of Choral Studies at Indiana University of Pennsylvania where he conducts the University Chorale, Women’s Chorus, and Chamber Singers and teaches graduate and undergraduate choral conducting. Beeken also serves as Artistic Director for the Blair Concert Chorale, whose mission includes fostering a growing appreciation of quality choral music for the population of south central Pennsylvania. He received Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance and Bachelor of Music Education degrees from Drake University and Master of Music and Doctor of Musical Arts Degrees in Choral Conducting from Michigan State University.

Dr. Beeken’s choirs have performed at State, Regional, and National Conventions of the American Choral Directors Association. A frequent clinician and festival director, Dr. Beeken is regularly engaged as a conductor, clinician, and adjudicator throughout the United States; since 2013, his engagements include more than 25 All-States and Honor Choirs in twelve states and many invited presentations for symposia across the United States and in Ljubljana, Slovenia. He has served on the executive committee of the American Choral Directors Association at both the state and regional level and is currently serving as Northwest Region Chair for Pennsylvania ACDA. Beeken also serves as the President-Elect for District 3 of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association.

Prior to his appointment at IUP, Dr. Beeken taught at Michigan State University where he conducted the Women’s Glee Club and while residing in Des Moines, Iowa, directed the Drake Chorale at Drake University. He also taught elementary, middle school, and high school music for sixteen years, most recently serving as Director of Vocal Music for Waukee Schools in suburban Des Moines where he lead a program of over 300 students and twelve ensembles to national distinction.


Twitter:            @RyanBeeken
Facebook:       Ryan Beeken (ryanbeeken@gmail.com)

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July 13, 2016. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)