April 8, 2015

Considering the Three R’s for Community College Choirs: Recruitment, Repertoire, Refresh

James M. Reddan, DMA
Oregon R&S Chair for Two-Year College Choirs
Director of Choral Activities, Linn-Benton Community College

Areddans the R & S chair for Two-Year College Choirs, I am always interested to see what is going on in other parts of our state, the region, and country when it comes to choral music in community and junior colleges. Two-year college choral programs face many challenges. Alice Cavanaugh, the R & S Chair for Two-Year Colleges in the Eastern Division, noted in a previous posting (February, 2015) that there is an identity crisis from which many of two-year college choirs suffer. Being community college choral programs, we often have a very high turn-over rate, repertoire dilemmas, and unbalanced skill levels. How do we handle these challenges in the pursuit of choral excellence for our students? Consider the “Three R’s” as some possibilities as we begin to look at finishing out this school year and look ahead to 2015-2016.

We all know that recruitment is vital to building and sustaining a successful choral music program at any level, K-12 or higher education. However, recruitment for two-year college choirs can be difficult. One of the best recruiting tactics that I have found is not only being a presence on campus but being a presence in my community. One of the principles of community colleges is community engagement. Engaging the community can be done in many different ways.

• Tour to your local high schools.
• Provide local high school choirs with opportunities to come to your campus for clinics or a performance.
• Provide shadowing opportunities for high school students (i.e. Choral Student for a Day).
• Bring the choirs at the local schools and your college together for a day or evening of singing (At LBCC, we host “Albany Sings!” each year, bringing together over 350 singers from local middle schools, high schools, and the college to listen to and sing together.)
• Work with local four-year universities to develop partnerships so that your program can be a clear choice for students seeking a smooth transition from high school to community college to four-year universities.

Repertoire choices for a community college can be a real dilemma with high turn-over rates and often a multitude of different levels of preparation. Each student brings with them a variety of different skill levels, and many of our students may be returning to school for retraining in a new profession or skill set. How do we deal with repertoire issues, or even begin to choose repertoire for the upcoming year, semester, or quarter with this in mind? ACDA has provided 12 repertoire standards for two-year college choirs.

• Achieve and maintain a level of performance skill and repertoire which, at a minimum,
matches the expectations for trained college-age freshman and sophomores.
• Perform music appropriate to quality college programs.
• Seek out challenging and interesting repertoire.
• Keep abreast of new repertoire by attending reading sessions, searching the internet, and attending concerts.
• Educate choir members and audiences about the historic choral repertoire as well as new compositions.
• Promote and perform music that educates singers about the music of various world cultures and of the cultures found in their own community.
• Include a varied repertoire of sacred and secular genres and styles in order to broaden the choral and musical education of the singers.
• Select music which allows for healthful voice-building and training within the choral rehearsal.
• Perform music based on worthwhile texts of literary significance.
• Commission works for choral ensembles at the two-year college level.
• Research and incorporate authentic performance practices appropriate to the genre and stylistic period of the music performed.
• Advocate for quality compositions and encourage other conductors to perform quality music.

As two-year college choral conductors, we work with undergraduate freshmen and sophomores with varying levels of choral music experience. One of the best pieces of advice I have, based on my own experiences, is to review as much music as you can get your hands on. Review pieces that are both collegiate and upper level high school. Think about a mixture of repertoire and programming. Most importantly, seek out the help and advice of the experts – other two-year college choir directors! Whether it is starting an online forum, sending emails, or making phone calls, our best resources are those who are in the trenches doing this every day. What repertoire do you program and why? What are your “go to” pieces? Are you doing something innovative that we should all know about? Recently, the first online “forum” of sorts was started on Facebook for two-year college choir directors with some very fruitful conversations and sharing of repertoire lists. Be a part of the conversation. Most importantly, when discussing repertoire, use as many resources as you can. We are fortunate to have a large number of local composers in Oregon! Be sure to tap into them as one of your repertoire considerations.

Each two-year college choral program in our state is very different. We all offer different types of choirs with different requirements including non-auditioned and auditioned traditional classical choral ensembles, vocal jazz, and vocal a cappella. Consider this question: is your choral program relevant to the students and community that it is serving? Or does it need some refreshing? Choral music programs have been rapidly evolving and changing over the past decade with movements in show choirs thanks to Glee and vocal a cappella thanks to Varsity Vocals and shows like The Sing Off! Thinking about the community college choral curriculum, consider the purpose of your program. Are you providing opportunities for students to experience a variety of musical genres and styles in the pursuit of a healthy, well-rounded choral music education? Are traditional ensembles your only offerings? Is it possible to branch out? Is the choral music experience your students are receiving “comprehensive”? Sometimes we think of refreshing in terms of attending conferences, new repertoire, or something completely new and innovative. The question comes to mind - what can we do from a programming and curricular position in choral music to refresh choral music as we move forward into the twenty-first century?

Refreshing, or keeping things fresh, can be difficult. All too often it can seem easy (and scary) to jump on a bandwagon to explore a new idea or something that is “innovative” but might also be a fad. Keep your goals in mind when considering the experiences you want your student to have during their time in your program. Consider what will set them up for success when they graduation and begin their programs at the four-year universities who each also have their own ideas, philosophies, and requirements.

Most importantly, remember your resources: your colleagues in other community college choral programs, local composers, and ACDA, amongst many others. All the best to each of you as you complete another great choral year!

Note: While the “Three R’s” have been written with the community college choral program in mind, they can also be easily applied for any choral music program.

Oregon Community College Choral Programs*


Blue Mountain Community College - Jami Moore, Conductor
Central Oregon Community College - James Knox, Conductor
Chemeketa Community College - Kerry Burtis, Conductor
Clackamas Community College - Kathleen Hollingsworth, Conductor
Lane Community College - Matthew Svoboda, Conductor
Linn-Benton Community College - James Reddan, Conductor
Mount Hood Community College - Kevin Lambert, Conductor
Oregon Coast Community College - Mary Lee Scoville, Conductor

(*current as of March 2015)
To contact James Reddan, click HERE

Portland Community College - Julianne Johnson-Weiss, Conductor
Rogue Community College - Christopher Bingham, Conductor (Medford), Kate Campbell, Conductor (Grants Pass), Deborah Pratt, Conductor (Grants Pass)
Southwestern Oregon Community College - David Aakre, Conductor, Charlotte Pierce, Conductor

Tillamook Bay Community College - Jerilee Henderson, Conductor
Treasure Valley Community College - Rebecca Replogle, Conductor
Umpqua Community College - Jason Heald, Conductor