October 1, 2014

Defining Community

by Elizabeth Hogan McFarland, R&S Chair for Youth and Student Activities

mcfarlandIf I asked you about your community, how would you respond? Would you tell me of your geographic location? The businesses you frequent? Would you tell me of the history behind that place? Would you tell me about your neighbors? Your friends? Your teachers?

The way you define "community" makes all the difference.

I live and work in St. Louis, Missouri. This year, St. Louis has been in the national news for issues affecting the people of a community called Ferguson. As news of this event unfolded, I was hundreds of miles away from my hometown. I sat in a bus station with strangers in Oklahoma City, watching coverage of the death of a young man, Michael Brown. We all sat silently watching the news unfold, our faces clearly struggling to process all that was happening. We were far away, but as the saying goes, it "hit close to home". In that moment, all of us in the bus station were in communion with those back in St. Louis.

Communion (noun): the sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings, especially when the exchange is on a mental or spiritual level.

When it comes down to it, we who participate in the choral arts desire to be in communion with others. Communion is at the heart of what we do. We share and exchange musical and textual ideas with our fellow singers, with our audience and with the world through the art form we choose to create. As I tell my students, "you can't have a choir all by yourself!" We need one another to create something. When we join together we create something bigger, more meaningful, more beautiful than anything that we could do alone.

Young choral musicians, you have a ripe opportunity. We live in an increasingly global community. We have an opportunity to expand boundaries and to break the invisible barriers put in place by generations of divisiveness. The gifts that each of us bring to the choral drawing board are vast and varied. Answer the call to grow, to learn and to help ALL people find their voice.

How should you do this? I don't know. But I am learning. This week, I visited an urban high school choral classroom. The teacher there is in her second year. From the moment I entered her classroom, I was struck by the care she had for each of her students. Though her choir was small, each student was engaged in musical growth and learning. This master teacher assessed each student's need and provided laughter, a kind word, a firm correction, or a challenging encouragement when needed. Had I not made a conscious decision to step outside my choral bubble and reach out to this colleague, I would never have had the chance to be inspired by her interactions with her young singers. Seeing this colleague teach gave me a renewed sense of purpose the next time I lead a rehearsal.

Community (noun): a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.

Participation in ACDA provides me with a community of choral professionals. We share common interests (choral music), and goals (striving for excellence in our profession). We are a community of people who love choral music. We are in communion with one another each time we participate in online or in-person discussions about our art, when we attend or perform in inspiring concerts and discussions. These ideas (community/communion) can not take place if we are isolated! I challenge you to begin looking at each student, each colleague, each friend and even each foe as a member of your community. We need one another to learn, grow and survive. We inspire one another to continue to create choral music.

I look forward to being in communion with each of you at the ACDA National Convention in Salt Lake in 2015 or our SWACDA convention in Kansas City in 2016!

Elizabeth Hogan McFarland is the Deputy Director of The St. Louis Children's Choirs. She serves ACDA's Southwestern Division and Missouri as the R&S Chairperson for Youth and Student Activities. She is a PhD Candidate in Music Education at the University of Missouri, and has taught students in elementary, middle, high school, and collegiate levels. Ms. McFarland taught middle school vocal music in public schools in the St. Louis region, and is an active clinician and conductor. She has a Masters of Music in Choral Conducting from Michigan State University and has been awarded the Artist Teacher certificate from the CME Institute for Choral Music Education.