Facing the music: Under the bright lights

Sunday, March 10, 2019
Members of the a cappella group, Tonic Sol-Fa, visited Spencer High School Friday to workshop with SHS vocal students prior to a concert.
Photos by Joseph Hopper

Part 2 of a 2-part series on Music in our Schools Month in Spencer

March, designated as Music in our Schools Month, is a month of busy preparations for Spencer vocal students. The program structurally mirrors their band peers, and currently includes approximately 150 students. At Spencer High School, approximately 85 percent of vocal students are also involved in band, and balance their musical and nonmusical pursuits. SHS choir director Katie Kardell said work ethic and independence best represents the students in the program.

“If a kid is in band they’re probably in choir,” Kardell said. “That’s pretty awesome because the musicianship is even stronger. They’re getting two classes a day where they’re focusing on the whole of the musician. I think the strength of our program is that we do have so much overlap that they’re really getting that reenforcement. ... We do a musical every single year, we have a really strong speech department that includes musical theater in large group speech (and) individual speech. We have hand over fist, tons of kids that go out for solo ensemble contest that are constantly working individually or in a small group. When they do that, that’s taking ownership of their musicianship.

She continued, “A young gentlemen came in (Friday) to do an observation; a student at an area school (wanting) to be a choir director. ... One of the things we were talking about is the expectation of a Spencer music student. An independent musician is what takes them out of high school and carries music in to the rest of their life. So, their work ethic is extremely important.”

Students can begin their career in the vocal program in elementary or middle school and can be involved in a number of choirs at the high school level. These include a concert choir, girls treble choir, chamber choir and two jazz choirs. The concert and girls choir meet every day, with the chamber choir — comprising 30 students — running throughout the year.

“I think we’re really fortunate to be as big as we are in Spencer and still allow our kids to do multiple things,” Kardell said.

Both Kardell and Katie Bush, Spencer Middle School vocal music director, said one of the most gratifying moments of their job is when the students and their music start to come together.

“I love it when they just get it,” Bush said. “I’ll be talking about something and explaining it and you’ll see that ‘aha’ moment in their faces. We’ve been working on a piece for a while and it finally just clicks together and they feel like they’re accomplishing something ... and I get really excited. I’ll cut them off and say you guys we just had the most amazing musical moment. They just feel excited and pride in themselves when that happens.”

“(I enjoy) affecting the lives of so many kids everyday and watching their joy when they get it,” Kardell said. “Helping them weather the storm when they struggle, learning all of those things, watching them grow up as people, and seeing where they go; what they do with their life as a whole and how they remember their time here. Being part of the journey is what I love the most.”

Members of the SHS vocal program practice a musical selection Friday afternoon.

Both directors shared their opinions on the importance of music education continuing in schools.

“As our body deteriorates over the years, as we get older and we age, we will always be able to continue singing and enjoying music,” Kardell said. “I challenge people who don’t understand the importance of music, any time a commercial comes on with music or a song on the radio to shut it off, or to watch a movie without the sound. Your life would be unbearable without music in it. If you don’t continue to feed the systems that help cultivate it, everyone’s lives will suffer for that. The academic skills that music focuses on strengthens our brains and allows us to process difficult information better when you have a musician’s skill set.”

“I feel like music engages the full brain,” Bush said. “It enhances creativity, engages social interactions between students and gives an outlet to students for their expressive qualities in a way that other classes might not be able to. When we’re in class, we’re working on different ways to create music together in a way that is even a little different than band, because they have to listen to what their neighbor is singing as opposed to playing. Notes you can tune, but you have to kind of listen for what a neighbor is singing as well as everyone else in the section and the choir to make sure we’re all meshing and doing well together.”

Kardell and Bush shared what events their students are currently preparing for in 2019.

“We’re just really working toward our concert in May,” Bush said.

“We kick the year off way back in August and it seems like there is absolute no break until we hit June,” Kardell said. “Right now, we have solo ensemble contest coming up on March 23, we are hosting here in Spencer. We would love to have people come out, it’s probably the cheapest day of entertainment out there. A dollar for a student and $3 for an adult. They can come see our groups, Algona and Spirit Lake will be here as well. ... After that, May shows up we have large group contest, baccalaureate, commencement.

She continued, “We are going to try Arts on Grand, when they have their student art displays, ... our fine arts boosters are hosting an open house and we're going to have kids come down from solo and ensemble contest and entertain that night. That’s coming up in April. Then large group contest, we’ll be up in Spirit Lake May 3. Our chamber choir is performing with the Morningside, Spirit Lake and Emmetsburg choirs. It’s Thursday, March 28, at 7:30 at the (Sami Bedell Center for the Performing Arts). The choir trip is this summer in July, we’ll be taking some kids out to New York City. There’ll be some more things to raise some more awareness and hopefully make that more feasible for families. That’s in the works.”

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