Listening through the Wall: Middle School Select Chorus Auditions and the Spirit of Our School

I can’t see the students on the other side of the wall from my office, but I can imagine the scene that I’m hearing as I listen.  The girls sit in a loosely formed circle, some perched on stools, some sliding out of a chair, others with feet firmly planted on the ground.  One student is silently shaking her head, refusing to take her turn.  Her fellow students, some who have already auditioned and others anxiously waiting for their chance, cheer her on.  They offer words of support, chant her name and talk about how their experiences weren’t so bad.  “Once you do it you’ll be glad you did!”  “It’s not that bad!” “You can do it! Really!”

This could be any class, in any subject. But I am sitting in my classroom next door, eavesdropping on one of Tony Lechner’s vocal classes.  It is Middle School Select Chorus auditions, and each girl has come prepared to share a snippet of a song with the group.  The returning eighth grade students have done this before.  I can hear familiar works by Adele and Rihanna through the wall, and can pick out some voices that I know well.  After all, some of these shortened songs I’m hearing today shocked us last year when performed in their entirety (I still brag to my non-teaching friends about witnessing Charlotte’s Spearth Day performance in May).  Now I am hearing unfamiliar voices coming through with unfamiliar songs and I assume they belong to the new seventh graders hoping to join the group.

After two more girls sing I can hear the reluctant student again being encouraged by her classmates.  She replies to her peers’ words with silence (again, I imagine the shaking of her head) and someone else begins with “Amazing Grace.”

I am not musically inclined, and even with multiple years of teaching under my belt I still have an unhealthy fear of speaking in groups.  Never would I have set foot in a vocal music classroom as a middle school student, or tried to muster the courage to sing in front of others.  I completely understand this student’s reluctance to share her song with her classmates.  She’s vulnerable. She could forget the words, her voice might waver, she might be embarrassed in front of her peers.

The end of the class period is nearing and the attention returns to the silent student.  I can hear a few classmates say something to her, but not as loudly as before.  There is a pause, and then a voice comes through.  As with the other songs I have heard over the last 40 minutes I try to recognize the student to whom it belongs, but it isn’t familiar.  Then I realize it’s her – the reluctant voice that everyone was encouraging. She’s singing!  Her voice pours through the wall, sending shivers down my spine.  I don’t know if the song is being sung well, but it sounds amazing in this moment.  I am so proud of her.  She goes quiet, the silence is suspended, and then the classroom erupts in cheers. “That was amazing!” “Wow!” “You were great!” While I can’t see her face, I imagine it beaming with a smile stretched ear to ear.

- Sara Gibbons, Senior Class Dean & Visual Arts Faculty

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Filed under In the Classroom, Performing Arts, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

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