The trebles with choir: Why I left choir

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Gabriel Brown

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Students perform at Angelika theatre. This photograph was taken during last year’s holiday caroling. In total, George Mason High School has had three different teachers for the contract choir course during the 2014-15 school year. (Photo by Gabriel Brown)

Recently, I quit choir. I’ve been in the George Mason choir since eighth grade. I plan to pursue musical theatre next year when in college and I’ve loved singing since I was a small child.

In MEH (Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School), I took choir because of my passion for music and song, and by the end of seventh grade, my choir teacher, Mrs. Lauren Carpel, suggested I join Mason’s choir, which she also conducted.

The thing about choir at Mason is that it’s only a contract class. The students that take it need to really love singing because it’s the motivation they use to actually show up to class (especially with how ridiculous we look in those red robes). Unlike other classes, we meet before school every other day (and sometimes everyday) from 7:05 a.m. to 7:45-7:50 a.m. to sing. There are two choirs that switch daily: The GMHS Choir and the Chamber Singers Choir (designed to highlight a select few singers). In a way, the choir contract class is more like a club.

This year, my senior year, because of the school start time change at MEH, Carpel could no longer teach our class in the mornings before school. Starting the year without Carpel, who had been my choir teacher for seven years, was odd, but I didn’t realize how hectic this year would get.

Our first new teacher, Paul White, brought with him new ways of doing things in the class including different song choices, new time changes and class sizes. The shock was too much for some of the class, and almost all of the seniors dropped the course. The Chamber Singers Choir was enlarged and White’s new teaching methods were completely different from what we knew.

After many complaints to White and the counselors, Principal Ty Byrd asked students in both choirs to fill out a survey explaining our concerns with the class so far. The responses came out in a thoroughly detailed response and White accused us of asking for unrealistic demands in front of the entire classes.

Byrd listened to the students, and by December 2, we had a new teacher. Shella Holmes, a NOVA private voice teacher, was a substitute for our class for a few weeks until the school found a new permanent teacher. Although she also brought many new ideas to the choir, the students responded positively to her teaching.

About two weeks before our winter concert, Amanda Hull, our third teacher of the year, arrived anxious and stressed about the future concert, as any new teacher with a concert upcoming would be.

Hull brought back some basics our class remembered from my time with Carpel, like music reading, but brought some unexpected ideas too, such as where the choirs should perform such as in the audience for our winter concert, and possibly in the cafeteria, in the upcoming spring concert.

Hull’s way of organizing the classroom setting was also very different from what I had known with all of the teachers. Hull had assigned students seats in rows to “blend our voices together”, and enlarged the Chamber Singers to the point where it was now twice as big as the main GMHS Choir.

Brown_WhyILeftChoir_Editorial_Pic1When Hull picked out our next piece for the Spring Concert and District assessments, she approached the Chamber Singers class with an entire requiem. However much I liked the Latin pieces she picked out, I didn’t enjoy learning how to sing them. I couldn’t conform to the way the music was taught, I didn’t feel like I was getting enough out of the class, it wasn’t enjoyable, and so my motivation for the class plummeted quickly.

I finally started to question my decreasing motivation: Why was I here? Why am I not enjoying this?

I was an active student, ready to tell anyone my concerns with the class, but it came to a point where I couldn’t focus on trying to like a class that I’m uncomfortable with. I know the school did all it could to find the best fits for George Mason, but having three very different teachers in one semester was absolutely exhausting on me and both classes.

Up to this point in the year I felt wasted, like I wasn’t put to my best capabilities. I’ve never felt so shrugged off by a class which I used to look forward to. And although part of me wishes I had stayed with the choir to sing at my graduation and the remaining concerts, I deep down felt it was not worth it.

After dealing with new teachers criticizing our class, readjusting our schedules, and throwing out all the traditions our choir was used to, I knew this was not senioritis kicking in, but perhaps a new era. My passion for singing is not dead. It just doesn’t exist at George Mason anymore.