Stories Are Critical to Student Choir Communities – (Part 3) When the stories do not end happily

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Part 3 of 5

When the Story Does Not End Happily

As we work together with teenagers in the laboratory of choral music and ministry, good memories are made and colorful stories are cached. These stories are some of the important pillars upon which we build our programs, launch our legacies, and organize the group's momentum.

Many of the stories are, in and of themselves, not that earthshaking, momentous, or monumental. In fact, most are simple little narratives of basic human interaction, understanding, humor, and perhaps even some comedy. In combination with other contextual experiences, the stories build a sense of teamwork and collaboration which solidify the team and keep things moving forward in positive ways. The stories weave friendships, bolster a sense of team spirit, and celebrate each person's individual contribution to the choir.

We need to pause here to make it clear that no story should ever be "at the expense" of anyone's feelings. In other words, we must carefully guard against any story embarrassing a student or shining light upon any person's weakness or personal struggle. If that ever happens, the story quickly becomes a form of bullying for the teenager who is the butt of the tale. This must be avoided as a plague, and if it does accidentally become the case, quick apologies must be made and a double or triple portion of affirmation for the effected student(s) must be immediately enacted and monitored long afterwards. Stories are much like power tools ... they can create quick and beautiful results, but they also have the ability to suddenly cut deeply, break bones, and permanently maim. We must make use of every vigilant precaution to assure damage is not inflicted upon anyone as a result of our adopted or adapted stories.

Those of us who have worked with students for a while know that all student choir stories do not end happily. Sometimes, our students make destructive choices which tear their lives apart. At other times, our young singers are victims of violence, rape, or other forms of abuse. And sadly, sometimes students do not recover from their childhood or adolescent traumas. Some tragically give up and take their own lives. Occasionally, though not often, some are sentenced to prison time. Some do not survive cancer, drug addiction, or mental illness. Through three decades of youth choir ministry, programs, and research, YouthCUE has walked with our network directors way too many times through overwhelming tragedies involving their students. And as a local student choir director, my own choirs have had our fair share (or perhaps more) of sad story endings.

Tragic story endings do not invalidate the value of the story ... any more than sadness invalidates the worth or value of the teenager lost in the tragedy. Even from the saddest of stories, the good which can emerge is the gradual awareness and experience we glean from experiencing how God never leaves us nor forsakes us. No matter how traumatic, tragic, or sad a particular story becomes, it cannot separate us from the love of God ... and it does not need to separate us from one another, either. Silver linings, as thin as they may seem at first, include how present God is when we're hurting and how much we are able to bear one another's burdens when love is held supreme.

No short article can adequately scratch the surface of the worth and usefulness of good stories. We desperately need positive, engaging storylines and the connecting fabric they provide our relationships, circles of friends, extended families, churches, teams, communities, choirs, schools, and nations.

The best, most productive stories are those which are not limited to our little group but have strong implications for communities much bigger than only our own. Just as power tools can be used to destroy or build, stories can be used to establish exclusivity or inclusivity, provincialism or widespread goodwill, narrowness or welcome, cliques or open arms.

As directors, we have the joy of shaping and guiding our groups' stories to become a blessing to everyone within their hearing.

Randy Edwards [email protected]

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