Report: Singing in the Windy City

SBO Staff • ChoralMay 2011Report • June 9, 2011

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Over 5,000 educators, students, exhibitors and choral music lovers gathered from March 9-12 in Chicago, Illinois for the bi-annual ACDA National Conference.  Four days of concerts, information sessions, exhibits, showcases and networking made clear that the world of choral music is as strong as the people who intend to keep it that way – and that’s a good thing!  Even as widespread school budget cuts and other ongoing concerns were regular topics of discussion, there was agreement among attendees that the large turn out at this convention – reportedly its biggest attendance since 2003 – is evidence that choral music and vocal music education continue to be a critical pillar in the music and arts world, and won’t be going away any time soon.

One attendee, Bob Anderson of Linn-Mar High School, sums up what was a common sentiment at the 2011 ACDA National Conference. He notes, “This convention is something that I’ve come to for years as a choral director. It’s an opportunity on many levels. The networking is unbelievable – being able to talk to colleagues about the solutions to the very problems we’re all facing.  It’s also an opportunity to get exposed to new literature and new ideas for teaching – it’s just invaluable in refreshing what I do.”

On the exhibit hall floor, Choral Director spoke with a handful of educators in attendance to get a feel for the most significant challenges currently affecting their program.

“Money probably. We’re just being very frugal. We are recycling lots of music that we’ve used before.”

Mary Susan Whaley

Northeastern Oklahoma A&M

Miami, Okla.


“Managing a large program schedule and continuing to try to find ways to fund it is always a challenge. Funding is a huge issue and it’s becoming bigger all the time across the country. We hear about it constantly, every day. The losers are the kids when cuts start to happen.  In some cases, people just want to make cuts and there seems to be no logic to the way we’re moving.  That’s the scary part – I don’t know how to counter-attack except by educating. A conference like this could help people see what’s going on: how important it is to educate our entire culture to what’s going on in music and the arts, and how vital it is to our society. Advocacy is a huge issue.”

Bob Anderson

Linn-Mar High School

Marion, Iowa


“It’s always challenging recruiting men to sing. I find that talented singers want to sing with other talented singers.  It’s important to be as selective and professional as possible to maintain that level of professionalism, so that other good singers will want to be part of your program.”

Christopher Gardner Gravis

University of Southern California

Los Angeles, Calif.

“Getting kids to be interested and stay interested in choral music is a big challenge.  Kids are overscheduled and it’s hard to get them to make commitments to extracurricular activities.  I also think expectations of being in a vocal group are hard to meet – especially with ‘Glee’ being such a major player now. Kids just want to do Lady Gaga covers, so it can be a harder sell to bring in classics.”

Brenda Earle

Freelance conductor

New York, N.Y.


“The main challenge for us is funding, just like everyone else I would think; budget cuts; trying to get enough faculty to run our program. Our school just got bigger – we went from a department to a school of music – and with that comes needed resources for funding and faculty lines and adjuncts.  It’s just not coming, so we continue to do the best work we can with limited resources.”

Scott Buchanan

Indiana State University

Terre Haute, Ind.


“I’m a first year teacher so the transition was difficult for my students to get used to. I think pacing the rehearsal has really been a big help. Just moving things along faster, trying to eliminate downtime as much as possible.”

Ben May

James Bowie High School

Austin, Texas

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