Webinar Archive: S1W7
Onward, We Lead
Inspiring our singers, students, & staff through adversity
15 April 2020 — Compiled by DR. MARK NABOLZ, Chief Editor of Publications
Inspiring our singers, students, & staff through adversity
This archival item is a work in progress. The following items are not yet added or completed:
- Editor’s Summary
- Moderator’s Review
- Video for all Parts
- Integration of Attendee Contributions
- Essential Resources exported
About the Webinar
In addition to our roles as performers, educators, and musicians, conductors also take on the role of leader and all that this mantle entails. In these challenging times, our singers and students look to us not just for musical guidance, but for inspiration, reassurance, and clarity as well. How can we best wear these multiple hats while also charting a course for those we lead amid our own uncertainty and questioning? How do we help to inspire at a time when the need for many is extreme and even dire? This panel will explore these questions and more, drawing on the expertise of some of our profession’s most stalwart leaders and administrators.
Dominick DiOrio, moderator
Indiana University Jacobs School of Music
National Association of Teachers of Singing
President & CEO
Eileen M. Hayes
College Music Society
American Choral Directors Association
Summary, Resources, & Video
[28:25] We’ll begin today by taking the pulse of the profession. Panelists, how are things right now in your organizations? What are the challenges and opportunities that you’re experiencing?
Catherine Dehoney: Chorus America is doing well right now. The staff has adapted quickly to working remotely. The opportunities for Chorus America to serve the field right now are greater than ever. We have a team that is working overtime to push information and resources out. We’ve been part of important advocacy efforts for federal relief to non-profits and performing artists. On the challenge side, we have taken a revenue hit primarily for having to cancel our conference and conducting academy. We’re looking for silver linings in those situations, but we’re doing pretty well right now.
Eileen Hayes: The College Music Society, in addition to our regular webinar series which has focused primarily on musicians’ health, about three weeks ago for remote teaching and distance learning during COVID-19. In addition, on the CMS website you will find a repository of teaching materials, tips, and suggestions for those who are engaged in the remote learning process. I invite you to add your suggestions to that site. Our next webinar, April 24, will focus on large ensembles. Our regional chapters and committees continue to go forward, although we have taken a financial hit. Two weeks ago I sent out an appeal to our membership, requesting additional donations. We have applied for federal aid, and other granting organizations for support to tide us through this period. I believe that this disruption provides us with a great opportunity for us to become more connected to other professional society, and also for us as individuals to reach out to colleagues at other institutions and in other disciplines.
Karen Brunssen: As an organization, NATS’s first effort was to help teachers manage one-on-one instruction. We’ve offered help in achieving the best possible sound using Zoom, we’ve offered educational tools on Canvas and Facebook, and connected people who have questions with people who can help. We have 15,000 students a year participating in NATS auditions. Our national student auditions were to take place at our upcoming conference, but we’ve announced that those are going to be online now. Our conference is scheduled for the end of June, and this week we will announce how we will handle that. We are excited about the new possibilities, and have been considering every aspect of what it means to be a voice teacher in this situation. Connectivity to the internet is one of the big things, and clarity of the sound. How do you deal with the elimination of the upper overtones of the voice? We’ve had seven NATS Chats available to everyone, and have also opened up access to the Journal of Singing to everyone. For giggers who have lost so much work, we have information on our COVID research page that will help them find needed resources. We’re using this as a chance to gather in a new way through Zoom, and GoToMeeting. We just had a board meeting online that was very successful and, frankly, more organized.
[38:50] Tim Sharp: ACDA is doing well now. Our staff was ready to go in terms of distance work, but we really had to ramp up the technology for every staff member to make sure that we wouldn’t miss a beat. We were able to do that quickly, and have taken advantage of this time to convert to a new associational management program. ACDA, fortunately, was able to have its conferences, because we had them early in the year. By the time we got to the last two conferences, the sheltering warnings were beginning to come out, and we shortened them by a day or a day-and-a-half. The fourth quarter in the fiscal year is the time when most people are doing their programs and getting ready for the summer. So in a way this quarter is our lowest quarter financially. So what we’re doing right now is to plan where are we going to be in the fall. I’m talking to choral organization leaders in other countries, and publishers. The most proactive thing that ACDA has done is to talk early with publishers, distributors, and software companies to ease up restrictions on intellectual property, and building collaboration to make resources available. We have a COVID page leading to these resources provided by our partners who have helped us in this easing effort. We are all very concerned about going forward with the resources that our membership needs.
[43:45] More specifically, what is the morale like among those you are leading, whether singers, staff, employees, student. Are people motivated? Listless?
INSERT POLL RESULTS HERE]
Tim: I believe there is fatigue, and people are running out of steam, and wondering if we’re filling people’s lives with busy work so it appears we deserve a paycheck, or is it helpful content? There is also the challenge of whether we can continue to provide helpful content.
Karen: I agree. We are all trying so very hard to take the high road, but there is no routine, and our students don’t either. They don’t have the advantage of seeing each other and buoying each other up. We’re doing our best to make things work. At Northwestern we have about 100 students on a Zoom for a vocal solo class. They send in links of their performance for all to listen, and then the chat line is filled with uplifting comments. I am more tired teaching lessons on line than I am normally, because it’s a different sort of concentration.
Eileen: I’m amazed that the transition has gone as well as it has, but I agree about the fatigue.
Catherine: The nine Chorus America staff is a microcosm of the rest of the world. I have some who are not happy being isolated, and we check in frequently and they have led the way to set up [casual] touch points such as a kitchen chat like we used to have at the office to regain a sense of normalcy and routine. We have folks who are parents now teaching their young child in addition to primary care giver. We’ve learned a lot about flexibility, and everybody’s morale is pretty good. From the field we are hearing all sorts of things, from absolute despair to choruses saying that cancelling a concert saves them money which means they’re in pretty good shape, to the struggles of professional singers with cancelled gigs.
[50:00] Question from the Audience: What authority can we connect with as we consider the unique health risks of singing in a group format, and whether we can convene our groups in the fall?
A related question from the audience: Is there a space for our organizations to provide guidance when advocating for appropriate spacing in rehearsals?
Tim: We’re all concerned about the fall. Life may go back to some normalcy, but there could be restrictions on athletics and ensembles. There are ongoing discussions with the European Choral Association and the IFCM on those questions.
Karen: We are concerned in the voice studio as well. As I play the piano [in a lesson] and then the accompanist comes in to play, there are sanitation issues. I’m hearing that six feet is not enough for singers, that 13-15 feet is better but my room is not that big. A lot of choral rooms are not that big, either. The questions are being asked now, but we are a long way from knowing the answers.
[51:45] The NCCO has asked our standing task force for ensembles in the collegiate curriculum to look at the phenomenon of “virtual choir.” Recognizing it as a unique thing that is very different from choir. We are hoping to put out a statement to help on this issue, providing guidance to our membership.
Tim: Singing is one part of it, but balance and blend is about listening. Thirteen feet doesn’t do much good if I’m trying to blend with my neighbors. This crisis has shown that we have to be together. This is an art form that is necessarily space sharing, and I’m afraid that the science that will come out is not going to be helpful to us.
[53:10] What do you believe are intrinsic qualities for leaders, and has your philosophy changed by your work leading in this particular time?
Eileen: One leadership trait that I value is the willingness to accept responsibility at whatever level one is. Another trait I admire is the courage to make decisions. A third trait I value is the notion of distributed authority. Micromanagement is not sustainable these days. Trust those who are closer to the ground. The fourth trait pertains to our challenging budgetary environments, and my perspective as a middle manager: the importance of protecting our students and our fellow faculty from pressures from above.
Catherine: I strive to empower the staff. You have to trust your team. Organizations need to focus on their core. Why do they matter? What is their essence? For Chorus America, true north is serving and empowering singing ensembles to create vibrant communities and affect meaningful change. I’m focusing on taking advantage of this situation to do that in new ways. “The pessimist complains about the wind, the optimist expects it to change, and the leader adjusts the sails.”
Karen: We’re on an alert as leaders, to have an attentive listening ear and look for relevance. NATS is developing our first strategic plan, redoing our mission and values, and to see that come to life in the midst of this situation truly points to the depth of all those decisions we’ve made.
Tim: My north star has been, “If you don’t like change, you’re really not going to like irrelevance.” This is a universal change that has hit us all, and I see this as a moment for incredible sharing of wisdom. What is our role as an organization? For ACDA it is inspiring excellence in performance, education, and advocacy.
[1:02:40] What is the impact of technology on your leadership and communication strategies? Are there specific communication strategies that you have found helpful in this time?
Karen: Communication technology has made all the difference. We have increased capacity for our NATS chats (it used to be 100, but we now have a much higher ability for people to engage in those conversations). It allows us to bring in other staff members for board meetings, and they are more directly hearing from the board members. Meetings are no longer limited by space, or by travel restrictions. Our membership is in Canada and in the US, and we are working to put together an international pedagogy conversation, which had not occurred to us to do until now. It will cost very little, and it could change the persona of pedagogy involvement, over the entire globe.
Catherine: Chorus America will be holding a virtual conference in June, which has a big learning curve. We’ve had our in-person conference for more than 40 years. I’m wondering why we didn’t think of doing this before! We are combining platforms to support the primary values of the in-person conference, which are learning, connection, and celebrating the art form. We’re putting together basic content delivery, but also ways of networking in “rooms” where ideas are shared, or one-on-one mentoring conversations. Opportunities for sponsors and exhibitors will be provided. And we’ll be able to reach more people with information that will help them through this situation in October and beyond. That is a real silver lining. We used to have regional meetings, and now we’re doing a “listening tour” where we’ve pulled people together by type of chorus and budget size, and listened to their big challenges and concerns, and given opportunities for them to share ideas – this if fueling our work on behalf of the field going forward.
[1:08:10] In our pre-webinar chat, Eileen brought up the fact that many people don’t have access to reliable internet.
Eileen: We think about that in CMS. It is difficult for people to sing under duress. Our membership is thoughtful about how to help our students on a day-to-day basis.
Tim: Good news: we’ve all been forced to learn what synchronous sound can do online, and we’re on a new page of possibilities with that. We’ve also learned what we can’t do. I don’t believe we can do choir at all online. As a choral conductor myself, I have been working with a technology company called “Match My Sound,” and we’ve developed a program so that my chorus can learn their parts (right notes and rhythms), the software grades their efforts and sends me a report. This is a fantastic tool, and it raises my expectations for the individual members of my choir. But it doesn’t make the music happen as an ensemble.
[1:11:45] Conductors tend to be problem solvers, empathetic people, and it’s so easy to take on the feelings and problems of everyone around us, and the weight of responsibility can lead to leadership fatigue. Do you have advice for managing that as leaders?
Eileen: I am trying to appreciate kindness, and I’m trying to appear nicer than I really am – not to be phony, but we need to recognize kindness as a change agent in organizations. Now more than ever we need to remember that. None of us are calm, cool, and collected all the time. We need to give up the idea that leaders are superhuman – that’s a vestige of the old model of heroic leadership that omits the contribution of women and people of color. We must also reserve space in our lives to grieve not being together – don’t rush in with too much positivity, which can be toxic if it ignores the reality that our students are experiencing. One last point: I’ve prayed all my life that I would develop greater confidence, and it has never come. But what has come is courage.
Karen: Think of the people who aren’t involved with music. We can go right to our music, and appreciate the profundity of it – maybe this is a time to enjoy that sort of uplift, and the relief from leadership fatigue that it brings. Actually, I feel the companionship of so many people, and I’m at home, and I like that.
Catherine: It is important to hang onto gratitude. Because I tend to be an extrovert, there are days when this feels very heavy. I find it is important to be outside and refresh myself. I realized last week that I have stopped singing completely – and I wondered “how did that happen?” So I’ve started singing again, working on something everyday. And then there are peanut M&Ms – that helps!
Tim: All the things we’ve taken for granted and perhaps been cynical about, like Facebook, I’m so thankful for things like this now. It is so important to encourage one another during this time. I’m so thankful for people who have empathized with me, and we have got to do that for one another. The erosion of ego in our world may be one of the blessings of all of this.
[1:20:53] We have time for each of you to make a closing statement, and we have a question from a student watching: “During this quarantine do you have any tips for college students studying music to continue their growth?”
Karen: Don’t be intimidated by the people surrounding you as you work and practice at home. If you need to go to a parking lot to sing, do so!
Catherine: One thing that has helped me is to talk to wise people; learn what they are thinking and why. The organizations that will come out the other side of this stronger will be the ones that have shown up for their communities in a way that addresses their current issues.
Eileen: I hope that we can maintain the sense of connection that we’ve gained, and that when we return to campus we will remember that there are some of our colleagues at risk of layoffs and unemployment, as well as those whose health has been affected.
Tim: Students, we represent the organizations that will be the lifeblood of the rest of your professional career. I want to say to the ACDA membership listening, would you please renew your membership in all of our organizations? If you can’t afford it, I get that. But if you can, please do so. Students, contact us through the website and we’ll connect you in your state for free membership. These resources are there and we want you to have them.