But for Active Music-Making…

Mike Lawson • ChoralMAC Corner • February 6, 2020

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In January 2019, I was fortunate enough to attend the NAMM (National Association for Music Merchants) Show held annually in Anaheim, California.

It is at this show where over 110,000 manufacturers, publishers, and sellers of all sorts of musical goods meet with music dealers to share their latest and greatest products, as well as take orders for the coming months. Conference sessions range from ideas on how dealers can use decorating tips to enhance the look of their establishment, to tips for succession planning. Each Saturday, however, the NAMM Foundation sponsors Music Education Days, which is kicked off with the Grand Rally for Music Education that centers on advocating for school-based music-making.

Now, if you’re think that this is just another advocacy event, you haven’t been to Music Education Days! This particular Grand Rally was extra special because composer Eric Whitacre was the featured presenter, and as all music educators know, Whitacre is the Mozart of our time. His session was perfect—beautifully delivered and timed with the accuracy of a Swiss watch. The added sensory experiences of seeing and hearing

Eric’s innovative and enchanting Virtual Choir videos were magical and simply breathtaking to view live with the esteemed composer at the helm. The 650-member audience was made up largely of music educators and music industry professionals who were all poised to sing two of Eric’s original compositions. We started with his beautiful and impactful “Cloudburst” which was inspired, in part, by a poem penned by Octavio Paz.

The second piece was Whitacre’s “Fly to Paradise,” the fourth incarnation of the Virtual Choir collection which features over 5,900 voices from 101 countries. What Whitacre did not know at the time of selecting the two works for this particular program was that the NAMM Foundation had extended a very special invitation to the choral students, parents, administrators and music educators from Butte County, California—the community which had lost everything to the disastrous fires within the previous several months—to attend Eric’s session so that the students could have the engaging experience of singing under his leadership right along with the rest of us.

As the video started, we were all captivated by the exquisite vocal solos emanating from the video. But it was when the entire audience joined with the video and the live choir performing on stage concurrently that the most powerful emotions began to sweep through the room. We all began to realize that we were singing this most uplifting, spirited work alongside the choral students from Paradise, California.

There wasn’t a dry eye in that huge conference room—each of us singing “And all I want to do is fly, Just fly…To paradise!” over and over at the top of our lungs and crying at the same time. The students from Paradise were holding each other arm in arm while reveling in this cathartic, poignant moment of true joy and self-expression with tears rolling down their faces.

We music educators are passionate about our work because we love music and want to share this fervor with others—particularly the young people who are amassing impactful memories because of their own life-changing experiences through music-making. As for that scintillating morning at the NAMM Show, maybe you just had to be there, and for those of us who were, it’s a moment we will never forget.

It’s important to realize, however, that fulfilling experiences like these can only come along if we keep making music ourselves. When we give ourselves to music-making, music-making gives exhilaration back to us. Our endorphins flow, our spirits are lifted, and for a moment in time, there is peace and a sense of delight that can only be experienced when the outcome of the group is greater than the collective sum of its parts.

This is the gift that we music educators can give to others—particularly today’s young people who need us more than ever. Some of the best directors I know are music-makers themselves. They remained engaged in music-making and in doing so, are consistently reminded of the impact that it can have on the human condition.

As Whitacre has professed on many occasions, “Music— when practiced together—creates empathy, creates compassion, creates a bond between people that is singular. There’s really no other discipline or practice that creates a bond like that and I don’t mean just a spiritual bond, I mean a biological bond, a chemical bond. Hormones are released in the brain that cause you not only to be less stressed but cause you to bond— chemically bond—with those people around you. I think it’s not overstating it to say that music will help to save humanity— that the more people play music together, the better citizens we’ll all be.”

To enjoy “Fly to Paradise” (Virtual Choir 4), visit: youtube.com/watch?v=Y8oDnUga0JU

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