Mentors Share Choral Counsel

Did you know there are expert choral educators waiting to respond to your questions? If you’ve ever wondered who the choral mentors are, wonder no more. Below, April 2010 mentor Chris Venesile and December 2009 mentor Ken Tucker share their thoughts.

How many years have you taught chorus? Are you still teaching?
I am in my 28th year of teaching–all of them high school choral music.
KT: I am in my 16th year of teaching vocal music.

What three things have been the most challenging for you to deal with during your time as a choral director/teacher?
CV:  a. Societal shifts in the emphasis of participating in school music
b. frequent changes in administrators leaving our programs vulnerable to being marginalized
c. lack of parental support for children’s interest and participation in the arts

KT:  a. Administration–Unfortunately, many principals and superintendents make my job more difficult than it should be. I’m continuously struggling for financing and for recognition of my program. Sometimes principals are not as supportive as you wish they were.
b. Parents–Too often, parents see the teacher as the enemy, instead of realizing that we’re trying to do what’s best for all kids.
c. Students--I teach a lot of wonderful students, but not all students make my job easy. I am constantly looking for ways to motivate kids.

What three things have been the best about being a choral director? 
CV: a. Seeing kids from year one to year 28 excited and passionate about the love of choral singing
b. Being involved in the music-making process on a daily basis
c. Watching kids grow in skill and confidence
KT:   a. I enjoy watching students grow up over a four-year period. This is unique to music teachers. Teachers in other areas may have a student for only one year. We invest a lot of time in our kids over a four-year period.
b. I try to make my classroom a safe place for kids from their struggles in other courses. It’s also a refuge from stressful teenage life. In my room, everyone is accepted and part of the family.
c. Watching how music can affect a student’s life in a positive way. Music is a very powerful too.

What inspired you to focus on chorus and choose it as your speciality?
CV: I started as an instrumental music major and found that, after an early teaching experience in college with a choir, I loved it and never looked back.
KT: My mother, who was also a vocal music teacher for 23 years, was a big influence. I was also very successful in my music goals as a teenager. So when I attended college everything seemed to fall into place.

What three bits of advice would you give new choral directors/teachers? 
CV: a. Be able to laugh at yourself and don’t treat your work SO seriously that you miss the little enjoyable things.
b. Take time to take care of yourself.
c. Remember that our process IS the product–don’t allow the performance to be the only evaluative tool.

KT: a. Learn as much as possible in college. And not only by taking courses, but by attending workshops and concerts and observing master teachers. If you’re currently in college, take piano lessons.
b. Make sure it’s what you want to do. Teaching music takes a lot of personal energy and time. You must be passionate about it.
c. Continue to learn after you start teaching. Sing in a choir, attend performances, and continue professional development.

What advice would you give music teachers who have not trained as a vocal educator but have to teach chorus?
Artistic music is artistic music. Good intonation is the same for an instrumental group or a choral group, bring in clinicians to work with the singers’ technique.
KT: If it’s something that you’re going to continue to do, learn as much as possible about the field.

–Sue Rarus, November 10, 2009, © National Association for Music Education