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The perils of choral elitism

Is the pursuit of excellence at odds with the virtues we claim for singing?

Choral director Chris Maunu built his high school program on teaching students how to be vulnerable, authentic human beings, rather than “musical excellence.” How do competition and the need for external recognition impact this goal?

Chris Maunu

In his Choir Thoughts blog, Maunu explores numerous issues around this paradox. His choirs at Arvada West High School in Colorado are demonstrably excellent, with numerous awards and high profile appearances to their credit. He has been recognized as a finalist for the 2018 Music Educator Award at the GRAMMY® Awards and has been named as a 2019 CMA® National Music Teacher of Excellence. Yet, as he notes,

“If we serve our egos over the community, we are in trouble. While the highest level of artistry should always be striven for, we should ask ourselves: “Are we living up to the values we advertise as virtues in our profession? What are the virtues of our field that we all hold dear?

I think most of us first think of community: Music brings people together. Music unites us. Our profession should uplift not only our singers but one another. If we are not lifting each other up, it can destroy the confidence needed for young or inexperienced conductors and teachers to truly hit their stride. It’s already hard to feel valued when we are constantly surrounded by something better."

These questions are constantly being asked in the barbershop world. As a good and humble teacher, Maunu does not pretend to have the tools to single-handedly solve a deeply embedded problem, but instead offers some simple things to reframe our mind-set:

  • Make room for everyone
  • Listen for the good
  • Compliment your colleagues
  • Offer constructive criticism
  • Share

Read the excellent essay “Choral Elitism is Real: What it is and What We Should Do about It”.