David and Art - "At the Choir Contest"

May 6, 2019

The people who participate in a High School Choir Contest testify to the power of the arts.

I recently had the chance to attend a high school choir contest.  I sat in an auditorium while choirs from around the state filed in and out, each performing three pieces for a panel of judges.  The effect was to pull back the curtain and get an appreciation of the work, the stress, the nervousness, the preparation, and the overall effort from countless people for something like this to happen.  (more)

There’s a hush in the auditorium but not a restful one.  It's a tense one. Hours, days, weeks, months of work will come to a head here for 100s of students.  At no time is the auditorium anything close to full—this isn’t a concert.  At the back of the house are the three judges sitting at three small tables. Each has a water bottle and a small lamp. Between the songs, rather than the applause the pieces deserve, there’s only a chilly clinical silence. The judges are writing.  It strikes you that watching people waiting while they’re being judged is not an altogether pleasant feeling. Somewhere in the auditorium a seat creaks like the timbers in an old sailing ship. When the judges are ready for the choir to go on to the next piece the judge in the middle nods.

At the end of their third song the members of this choir step down off their risers and quietly exit the stage.  One person in the auditorium gathers her coat and bag and leaves.  Back by the judges, an attendant is waiting for them to finish writing their comments. One by one she gathers from each a folder of papers and a copy of the music that was performed.

This contest is for private and parochial schools and there’s a great variation in the size of the choirs performing—Some have as few as six people. Another has maybe five times that many.   But If you close your eyes it’s hard to get an idea of how many members each ensemble has. All the students involved sing out strongly with talent and conviction.  These are not conscripted choirs. These are gifted high school students who want to be here.

Somewhere backstage the next choir is done warming up and is nervously getting into position to come on while behind them, in a constant flow that will last from 8:00 in the morning to 4:30 in the afternoon, another is moving into the practice room to warm up and check for any last minute troubles. Outside another is just now arriving on a bus. Down in the lunchroom another that had relaxed for a few minutes is about to be given its score.

You come away from the experience feeling good that in the face of all the arts program budget cuts that you hear about, there are still lots of students of high school age—and some very dedicated adults too—who know the arts are worth taking seriously.