As an Elementary Music Specialist, I know many of my elementary-level colleagues don’t see NCDA as being relevant to the work they do. They don’t consider themselves choral directors. “We don’t teach children choral octavos,” they say. ” ‘They’ (secondary vocal music educators) primarily teach high school kids how to sing in 4-part harmony. As general music teachers, our jobs focus on SIX skills: singing, moving, reading/writing music, playing instruments, creating music, and listening to music. ”
I usually respond by agreeing that it is true, we don’t teach printed part music until the upper elementary grades at best. However, let’s look at the ways elementary and secondary music educators are the SAME:
-We are practicing musicians, and we take our own musicianship seriously. Most of us were known for our musicianship before we were known for our teaching skills. We’ve studied music theory and use its concepts continually in our classrooms. We are singers, instrumentalists, conductors, accompanists, adjudicators… Sometimes all at the same time.
-We are choral artists. Most of us sing regularly in community choirs, church choirs, professional choirs. We sing for a living in our classrooms, providing a good vocal model for our students.
-We are consumers of choral music. We attend choral concerts of all levels, we listen to recorded choral music, we purchase recordings just for pleasure.
-We know what constitutes “good” music. We are sensitive to the aesthetic beauty present or absent in a particular piece of music, regardless of the music’s complexity.
-We know repertoire. Most seasoned elementary music teachers know 1,000 or more songs, what musical concepts are extractable from each, and for what age and/or grade level each is appropriate.
-We plan carefully and are selective about the quality of musical material we put before our students. We believe that only the best is good enough for our students, whether they are three or 103.
-We teach kids how to sing in tune, how to read music so they can become musically literate and independent music makers, how to listen to music with a critical ear, how to create their own vocal music…
-We have an extended impact on our students, for three, four, five, even 13 years! We not only develop their musicianship but their character. (Thanks, Nate Helzer for the blog post reminding us!)
It is easy to see that elementary and secondary music educators are more alike than different. It is true that our approaches may be different. In our work with young children, we elementary teachers know that young children learn best by being active and participatory. Therefore, we may use different points of entry than secondary music teachers: simpler songs, more movement, more rote teaching initially, more chase games… But the work we do is in essence THE SAME, regardless of the age level we teach: We convey the message that singing in general and choral music in particular is a beautiful thing, and it makes one’s life better.
Unfortunately, we may have had less than pleasant experiences feeling welcome at past NCDA events. About 20 years ago, I attended an NCDA summer conference to get new ideas for my elementary classroom and my community children’s choir. A colleague from my school district who was a well-respected high school choral director saw me at the conference and said, “What are YOU doing here?” Ouch. Nice to see you too.
But I believe that attitude is long gone. The current leadership in this organization DOES value our work as Elementary Choral Directors, and DOES want to meet our needs. The elementary-focused SIng Around Nebraska festival is the largest event NCDA sponsors (sixteen hundred elementary choristers this year!) We will hold another Sing Around Nebraska Elementary Honor Choir this fall at Nebraska Wesleyan University. At this year’s summer conference there are several general interest sessions and reading sessions specifically geared towards Elementary Choral Directors. The work you do in the elementary general music classroom matters a great deal to NCDA!
See you at Doane, July 13-16, 2014!