The Slippery Slope
by, 09-07-2010 at 06:33 PM (822 Views)
Ok, as most of you regulars know, I'm a high school choral director, jazz and classical vocalist, a vocal coach and have been doing all of the above for over 20 years now. Recording is merely a hobby and I'm a self-described hack compared to real audio engineers (many of whom are my fellow mods here at RO)
So here's my dilemma. I've taken great pride in building my choral program. We do quality literature, perform regularly in some of the best venues in the country at national festivals (Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center, Orchestra Hall, etc..) and my groups do very well. However, my choral program as a whole is starting to struggle to maintain numbers for a variety of reasons. (Number one is the ridiculous push for AP classes in our district - many students are taking 3-5 AP courses per year) That doesn't leave a lot of time for band, orchestra and/or chorus let alone 2 music courses. Due to budget cuts, our district did not replace a recently hired teacher and 3 others who retired. For the first time in 20 yrs I am traveling to the middle school and teaching 2 sections of 6th grade chorus. This is not a rant on that topic, in this economy, I'm glad to be working making music and have a secure position doing so. If I have to rant on that topic later, I'll let you know, but for now, the 6th graders are actually a breath of fresh air compared to stressed out, cynical teen agers.
My question is one of musical integrity and the slippery slope that I am contemplating. Let me preface this by saying, I have loved pop music and have performed in bar bands and groups since high school. But, I never really studied pop music in any formal setting other than the "lighter" pop concert-type music we did in high school back in the dark ages. All the pop I did was on my own or with friends and other musicians. My question surrounds choral pop music and in particular the rise of the TV show "Glee".
I am considering forming a similar ensemble at the high school that showcases this type of music. I'm pretty sure that there would be enough interest and backing to make it happen. I'm also pretty confident in my general teaching chops that I would be able to balance musicality and "show" to still have the amount of time spent be worthwhile musically. My eventual goal would certainly be to attract students to the program and allow them to see the "other" side of music as well, but I'm hesitant that this "bait and switch" type of approach somehow undermines the classical ensembles. I hate the role of salesman and would much rather let my groups and their performances "sell" the program but I don't think that's gonna continue to cut it. But then I think, well, virtually all professional orchestras have a "POP" series and while they do so to keep alive financially, am I in the same situation. Would they perform that series if they didn't need the money? If they didn't need to attract an audience?
Early in my career I heard a great lecturer talk about teaching for 30 yrs, and not teaching 1 year 30 times. We've all had those burnt-out, out-of-touch types in front of us and while I don't think I'll ever be that type of teacher (I hope not anyway) does starting a pop group while I'm going to see 50 years old in the relatively near future seem like good idea? I actually rented the "Glee" DVDs to get a handle on what many of my students were watching and talking about and while I wasn't blown away by anything they were doing musically, I certainly wasn't insulted by the program and I can recognize it's appeal and extremely high production values - especially to their target audience (not likely 47 yr old choral directors)
So, I guess I'm at the eternal crossroads faced by many. How far do you go to pay the bills (or in this case, keep the numbers) and what price are you willing to pay or refuse to pay to keep a level of integrity?
I'm reminded of a 70's lyric
"Look what they've done to my song, ma"