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To be or not to be...that is the question!
by Judy Sagen, President, Minnesota ACDA
(reprinted from Star of the North, Minnesota's ACDA newsletter, Kari Douma, Editor)

Editor's note: This article by Judy Sagen, president of Minnesota's ACDA, raises some very pertinent questions, but it also offers a very helpful idea that northwest ACDA members (state leaders) might want to consider. NextDirection, a program to which Judy calls attention, is offered in the neighboring state of Wisconsin. It brings together high school students who are considering a career or a major in music. Read on for further information.

Every year during Freshman Orientation I stand in front of in-coming ninth grade choir parents and communicate that my goal as a choir director is not to make music majors out of their children, but to give each and every child a positive choral experience which they will enjoy throughout their life. However, by the time these students are juniors or seniors, a few may lean toward music as a college major. 

Those of us that teach high school can identify with those students who begin this thought process.   They are the students who have received superior ratings at contest, been members of All State Choirs, served as officers of their choir, or may have had leads in their high school musicals. These students have been the kings and queens of their high school choral programs!

Students make decisions every year to major in music, but do they realize what lies ahead?  Are they fully prepared physically, mentally, and emotionally to put themselves through the rigorous demands of what it takes to be successful in this competitive discipline? We all have had students who have wonderful voices but lack musical skills, yet still have their sights set on majoring in music. They may last a quarter of music theory and realize they are out of their league. 

How can we as music educators help to prepare our students and guide them into making the right decisions which will affect them the rest of their lives?

  1. Recognize those students who have the talent and skills necessary to survive a college music curriculum. 
  2. Help them to become proficient in their sight-reading skills, understand beginning fundamentals of music theory and basic music terminology, as well as understand their voice as an instrument.
  3. Provide performance opportunities such as the solo ensemble contest, voice lessons and recitals, choral festivals, state contests, music camps, and co-curricular musical ensembles. 
  4. Assist students in preparing for their college auditions.  They need to sing the correct literature and be well prepared to sing for a college panel. College visits are essential and visiting college classes such as music theory or history and attending college choir rehearsals allow students to get a feel for the program and college climate. It is also important that we take the time and be honest about our students when writing college recommendations. 
  5. Help steer students to the appropriate colleges.  Are they interested in a large or small campus, close to home or far away, and most importantly, what is the best school for their area of concentration.  Obviously, financial situation will be much of a determinant. 

As choral music teachers, it is our responsibility to help students determine whether they are suitable for a music performance career, a music education career, music therapy, or a career in the music business to mention a few. 

A passion for singing does not necessarily translate to a passion for working with kids! Just because they are a good musician doesn’t mean they are going to be a good teacher!  If becoming a music educator is their goal, they must understand the importance of wanting to teach first and through music second. 

Are we helping kids be realistic in setting their goals?  What will they do with a music performance degree? Will they be content singing in a semi-pro choir?  Are they ready to spend 4-6 hours in a practice room?  As high school educators we can be the positive influence in our student’s decision making process.    The future of their careers is in our hands!

While I’m on the subject of our students contemplating majoring in music, the Wisconsin Choral Directors (SCDA) sponsor a phenomenal choral retreat for high school students interested /curious about choral careers!  The NextDirection project was conceived out of a deep and passionate concern for the future of choral music education throughout the country.  Many of our “best and brightest” are not even considering such an avenue for their life’s work. 

NextDirection is a three-day conference (held at the beautiful Green Lake Conference Center, Green Lake, Wisconsin) which brings together outstanding high school students who enjoy choral music and who may wish to consider choral music as a career.  Unlike an All-State experience, performance is not the main focus, although the singing standard is very high.  Rather, this conference allows the students to experience a master conductor in rehearsal, and discover the “why” behind rehearsal procedures in “Talk Back” sessions with the conductor.  Students also learn about the skills necessary for effective and affective teaching, and they are given an opportunity to test their own skills as potential conductors. 

At NextDirection, students from around the country “rub shoulders” with other like-minded students and associate with college music education students who act as chaperones for the weekend.  Students get a chance to meet and work with several outstanding choral music educators who believe passionately in what they do. 

NextDirection gets students thinking about choral music as a possible career that can be incredibly challenging and rewarding over an entire lifetime.  This project is a completely unique and altruistic program that is of vital importance to the future of choral music!  PLEASE encourage your “best and brightest” to experience this great opportunity!  The conference is co-sponsored by the WCDA, and the North Central Division of ACDA, and is open to students across the nation who will be in 11th or 12th grade in fall, 2008.  It will be held September 12-14 at Green Lake Conference Center, Green Lake, Wisconsin, and Scholarships are available for two students from our own state of Minnesota!

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