Part 2 of 5

Shared Common Narratives

A few months ago, I was visiting with Dr. Randall Bradley, director of the Men’s Choir at Baylor University. Looking back over the pandemic years and then coming out of that choral abyss, Randall explained that one of the biggest blows to his Men’s Choir program was that, over the pandemic, “the group had lost its stories. When we were able to begin freely singing and rehearsing again, I realized there was very little institutional memory left in the room. These were new singers who had not yet enjoyed a full Men’s Choir experience. We did not yet share the common narratives that are so critical to building community, team, and ensemble.”

Common narratives are formed and celebrated as a result of tours, unique performance opportunities, travel, ministry service projects, just the experiences of being together, sharing meals and lodging spaces, telling funny stories, and making friends. These are crucially important as we seek to build tradition and legacy into our programs, not only for our present students, but also for those who will follow in the years to come.

Even before major events or tours, there are numerous ways we can begin building shared common narratives.

As an 18-year-old university freshman, I vividly recall parts of a simple weekend retreat held early in the first semester. It involved a bit of travel out of town, but it primarily consisted of engaging new friends and getting to know my classmates, the choir director, and the seasoned student leaders. There was absolutely nothing complicated or earthshaking about the retreat experience; however, there were a couple of musical moments I remember now as if they happened yesterday. The resulting choral progress and the rich group bonding significantly raised the water level of the whole group. By the time we arrived back on campus, we had made remarkable progress on several fronts … in only a couple of days.

Creating a special or memorable moment or two in the first few rehearsals can work wonders in restarting common narratives. If we as directors will push our own envelopes a bit, become vulnerable and innovative with our approaches to the music, texts, and group building, important memories can be made right here and now, long before buses roll or performances are fully prepared.

As directors, it is highly important that we keep ever before us the brevity of our time with our students. Not only do rehearsals end too quickly with seemingly never enough time to accomplish everything, but the years also pass way too swiftly before our very eyes. You and I have been doing rehearsals, retreats, tours, and performances for a long time, perhaps decades. Sometimes, it might feel to us as if it is same song, twentieth stanza. But for these, our bright-eyed teens, it is all new to them. They are not jaded by the years of repetition. For them, this experience is dynamic and morphing (because they are changing and morphing) … even if they are now high school seniors and began singing with us in the 6th grade.

If we will stay on the cutting edge, fresh, energized, passionate, and focused upon the task of enriching our student’s lives, we will be able to find deep within ourselves the energy and creativity to rebuild the common narratives for a new generation of singers. In fact, we are already accomplishing it with the work we are doing today.

Let us keep going! The stakes are high and the rewards are eternal!

Randy Edwards
[email protected]