Choosing Music and Programming
THIS is a monumental part of a Choral Director's job. I have large file cabinets and bursting notebooks of single copies of music in my basement, not to mention nearly 500 CD's of choral recordings. (Be grateful for YouTube!) A full resource for concert programming through which I spent hundreds of hours perusing!
I feel lucky to have had the teachers I did who directed the choirs with whom I performed with what seemed like endless choices of repertoire. We did not have music theory in high school. No sight-reading. Mostly rote teaching, if memory serves but a ton of songs every year! I was also fortunate to sing with Dr. Ruthann Harrison (RIP) at Trenton State College who followed suit with completely programmable rep for the high school singer.
Over the years, I've attended scores of concerts and performances and workshops which provided me with huge choices in programming. I made notes in every single program. When Rick and I would travel on extended roads trips, those demo CD's would play in the car and decisions for music orders would be made as we traveled.
Working with the Voorhees Choir opened up the world of Women's Choir music to me. I was grateful to Dr. Patrick Gardner for the opportunity to work at Rutgers and to expand my knowledge of that part of our art form.
I was hired, in 1980, to build a choral program for Ridge High School with a two-year start at William Annin Middle School. The district was growing, forcing an expansion at the high school (the 1st of 6 renovations I would experience) so, for two years, the middle school housed grades 7, 8 & 9 and the high school housed 10, 11 & 12.
I had free reign over the schedule for the sole purpose of building and maintaining a choral program which would eventually move to the high school. The choir "class" had 12 singers in it. The rest of my singers came to sing two times a week during all other class periods from gym (Boy, did that make me popular!) In October, I put on a "show" called Viva La Musica in the cafeteria, serving spaghetti. And that was how it all began!
When I got to Ridge High School, I brought 125 singers with me. During my two years at the middle school, I put up Solo Recitals and Broadway Cabaret nights, all in an attempt to recruit and retain. Every bit of it worked! And it worked because everything was tailored to the individual student. I didn't go the musical route because I needed the students to become engaged and own the program. They chose music they dreamed of singing in front of an audience! Those Cabaret nights would serve me very well for decades to come!
When I graduated from college, I knew everything (or at least I acted like I did). I wasn't interested in sharing so I set out to run seven choirs - all of whom would present their work on a concert night which would then have no room for band or orchestra. To be fair, the Orchestra at the time was eight players. The Band was reputable but I was still not interested in sharing a stage. I was headstrong and wanted to prove that I could build a self-sufficient Choral program - just as I was charged upon hiring to do.
My choirs included:
Ninth Grade Girls Chorus
A Cappella Choir
Voices of Ridge (all girls)
Ridgemen (all guys)
Vocal Jazz Ensemble
And, as my early classes can attest, I had a different outfit for each one!! (Oy!) What was I thinking?
Over time, the groups either disappeared or morphed into something else. Voices of Ridge and Ridgemen became community choirs for Moms and Dads, Aunts and Uncles, Neighbors and Friends and stayed that way until the interest faded. Then they became what they were in my final decade. Voices of Ridge are the Sopranos and Altos of the A Cappella Choir Honors and the Ridgemen are the Tenors and Basses of the A Cappella Choir Honors. The Ninth Grade Chorus shifted to Chorale to help with the balance in the Concert Choir. Keeping the freshman and sophomore girls together in Chorale gave the Concert Choir a fighting chance at having better numbers across the SATB voicing. The Vocal Jazz Ensemble performed a final (embarrassing) set one December and they were gone. The Madrigal Singers faded away until about 5 years ago when ambitious section leaders gave the group a rebirth and it became completely student run.