The first time I had a true aesthetic experience, I was 17.
Within the first 30 seconds of the choir opening their mouths, my life was changed.
It was bright, vibrant, fully committed, and filled with life. The singers’ faces and bodies completely engaged, their eyes in unison on the conductor.
I wept, and I experienced that magic that we all have experienced a few times in our life when we
make music with others who are living with full hearts in the same place and time. The feeling that is so deep and overwhelming that you feel sick with wonder. One month later, I packed the car and moved to the middle of nowhere to go live in that sound for the next four years as an undergraduate.
I knew that my life’s work was not only to figure out how to recreate that sound, and that fire for my students, but to know how to teach others to create and perpetuate that experience for THEIR students.
A peak experience like I had, and that so many musicians have had, is addicting. It’s like a drug that we crave and constantly search for to get our next “fix.” When I graduated and began to look for jobs that would support my sound addiction, I naïvely knew that I would only take a high school job, in a really nice area, with lots of students, who all wanted to be there and felt like I did about choral music. That was easy to find, right?
The reality of what happened is that I took a job as an associate director split between HS and MS in a school district that was 60% affluent students, and 40% students that were in a very low socio-economic bracket who were bussed in from rough areas to help them succeed.
The disconnect between my drive for helping create people who were passionate about choral sound, and the reality of my choirs being filled with 90+ students, many of whom were there simply for a credit, mixed with a few great singers, caused a huge crisis for me. I cried every day for six months because I poured my heart out each minute trying to explain what they should/could feel instead of giving them an experience that made them discover for themselves. But, instead of running away, I decided that I wouldn’t stop until I figured out a system and a way to help my large, “y’all-come” choirs make unified sounds, remarkable music, and give them an experience that makes them want to be there every single day.
My mission became my passion, and my favorite choirs to work with today are non-auditioned, large choirs.
Through my process of finding ways to unify these groups both musically and emotionally, I’ve found that there are a few key ideas and techniques (among many others) that I prioritize in rehearsals:
- Economic voice matching and changing seating often
- A system of exercises that standardizes healthy vowel space/placement and tricks to modify consonants/vowels to improve intonation
- Utilizing the forte dynamic and gradually working our way to a healthy, piano with a core tone and focus
- Picking repertoire that is diverse tonally, challenging and attainable for all levels of musicianship and singers.
- Building peak experiences through principles of appreciative inquiry
I believe that these priorities are the means to reach connection among singers.
I believe that connection leads to vulnerability and making mistakes.
I believe that mistakes lead to discovery.
I believe that discovery leads my students to find their own contribution to make to themselves, the ensemble, and the world around them.
I believe that it is unconditional contribution that creates that brilliant, unified sound that changed me when I was 17.
In the end, I believe that change is the legacy we leave behind.
Dr. Cory Ganschow is Coordinator of Music Education and Associate Director of Choirs at Western Connecticut State University. She is extremely active as an adjudicator and clinician for honor choirs across the country including All-State, All-Region, and All-District Choirs. Prior to teaching at WCSU, Ganschow taught choir in the Texas and Illinois public schools, and served as a facilitator of music in the adolescent behavioral health community. She has sung professionally in the Simon Carrington Chamber Singers, Voce, and Spire, and is also a published researcher and presenter in the areas of choral rehearsal approaches and engagement. She currently serves on the NAfME National Council for Choral Education Executive Committee and the CT-ACDA Executive Board as the R&S Chair for Women’s Choirs. Ganschow holds a Ph.D. in Music Education and Curriculum & Instruction from the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance, a MME from Illinois State University and a BME from Millikin University where she studied conducting with Dr. Brad Holmes.