I had the real privilege this weekend of watching over 700 high school students representing 11 schools in 20 ensembles compete for trophies at the 28th Annual Roxbury Invitational. (Full disclosure: I’m also the web registration manager and recording technician for the event.) With kids so much in the news this weekend, I thought a reflection was relevant.
I’ve attended as a working staff member since 2011 but have been associated with the event since its inception. I’ve been watching 15-18-year-olds singing on that stage long enough to see past-choir members return as teachers, staff members, adjudicators and even the Director of the event.
Despite the rotation of schools and ensembles through the years, the behavior of the collective students has been immutably constant. In the hallways, they are loud, animated, nervous and jerky, shy, self-absorbed and simultaneously aware of their Being in the moment, and astoundingly responsive to adult direction. They behave as a herd when lining up for performance or food while remaining incredibly polite and patient throughout the day.
Onstage, I watch this teeming mass of molecules bouncing off walls transform into a cohesive unit; well-rehearsed, determined, focused, appropriately prideful and collectively greater than their individual parts.
I also watch their teachers transform from professional cat-herders into the purest form of artist, sculpting aural beauty from student clay with graceful hand movements.
Hours of work are required to make this seem effortless. Many compositions are evaluated and rejected, selected and rehearsed but put aside, programmed but then shelved to get to the three or four songs finally performed. We, in the audience, enjoyed only the best of the bunch, but each hour of work contributed its part, resulting in the choral teamwork presented on the stage.
For those too-few minutes, we forgot what was happening outside and reveled in the realized potential of human achievement. Beauty, anguish, joy, torment, yearning and the infinitely abstract emotions captured by a composer and lyrist onto paper are given momentary existence for the audience to personalize through the lens of their own experiences. Familiar songs recall related memories while unknown songs find their way to hidden emotions.
At the end of each ensemble’s performance, the audience of competing choirs rose in congratulatory ovation. The choirs authentically, enthusiastically cheered their competition’s performance. The students valued the work ethic required to get on that stage and showed their appreciation of strong competition. If we are looking for behaviors to model, this would be a good place to start.
If you haven’t done so recently, support the Arts in education and go to your local high school’s next concert. It’ll remind you that we’re a whole lot better than what we see on the news and our future is pretty damn bright.