Since my last blog I have spent the week in Indianapolis - a bustling, vibrant (but not that large) city in Indiana. I spent the week visiting the Indianapolis Children's Choir, a phenomenal organisation that serves well over 2000 young people and children each week. Their structure - both artistically and in their management - is highly effective.
After initially witnessing some superb concerts last weekend, it was great to meet Joshua Pedde - their Artistic Director - and the team he leads. It was nice to see the concerts first as it gave me real insight into the level they achieve in just a short space of time.
Through the week I met with Josh, his team and the management (including their Chief Executive) at various times to get a feel for how things are run. I found that Josh and I were very similar in many ways in terms of philosophy and approach, and we discussed at length the varying aspects of our jobs. He's a great leader and full of enthusiasm which really shines through!
Josh explained the four pillars that the ICC is based on: Artistry, Community, Education and Excellence. The education element is what interested me initially - and Ruth Dwyer is in charge of this aspect. This set of choirs, which starts from pre-school projects, to preparatory and 'beginning level' choirs, right through to advanced choirs in the Master Chorale, has education at its heart. The children and young people learn to become musicians. At the heart of this are the Kodaly teaching methods. These help develop an understanding of notation, harmony and rhythm to a deep level - and enables pieces to be learnt quickly.
One highlight from the week (and there were so many) was watching Ruth lead some Intermediate Level choirs, where this level of musicianship was in evidence. What was also evident was how every aspect of the rehearsal engaged the kids, bringing out a whole host of skills, not all musical. In one rehearsal, I came up with this list, in no particular order: language, spelling, fractions, memory, watching, listening, pitched notation, rhythmic notation, movement, drama and speech. All of this delivered with bags of humour and energy!
These observations have shown me that, above all, singing should be at the heart of every school and community. It develops so many skills if taught well - skills that can be applied to so many situations in life with confidence. This was echoed through discussions with parents of the children.
It also has convinced me that, even when children are learning an instrument, singing should be findamental to their lessons too. Using the voice helps internalise musical skills and enables you to become fully musical. Too many instrumental teachers miss this concept and then end up 'cramming' for the aural tests before grade exams.
As I write, I'm now in Glen Ellyn - near Chicago - where I'll be visiting more choral organisations, such as Anima Singers and the Naperville Children's Choir. I look forward to meeting them very much!