Festivals: A GREAT Part of the Job

by Rhonda Burghardt, MT ACDA Vice-President

June 3, 2013


I love taking my students to festivals.  I know, it sounds weird, but I just love being there.  The time spent with colleagues, the learning that is being accomplished and listening to the final product is just so wonderful.  Whether it is All-Northwest, Eastern A or District music festival, I just think it is a great part of our jobs.

We all know how much our students learn when preparing for District and State music festivals.  The focus on small ensemble singing and or solo work is so good for them and rewarding when they accomplish a strong performance.  My students are always asking me about their ratings, and I always say “I don’t know what your rating is, but did you learn something?”  To me, that is the most important part of the festival.  The ratings are fun for them, but I just want them to learn.

Do you take your whole choir to a festival?  This is such an amazing experience for every student.  As we move into a time that sees lots of budget crunches, you might think it is impossible to add something to your list.  Might I suggest hosting your own festival?  It is not as difficult as you might think.  All you need to do is talk with some folks in your area to see if they are interested and then hire a guest conductor.

A few years ago, I approached the teachers at the Billings highs schools when we were at State music festival.  My students were already attending Eastern A (for my top group), and treble festival in Miles City.  I needed another festival for my level two mixed choir.  These kids were younger students or older students who weren’t probably going to make the top ensemble (let’s be real).  We talked and decided to pay $125 per choir and hire a local person to conduct.  I would host the festival at Laurel.  We decided to have it in October.  This last idea might seem crazy, but it has worked out really well.  The group has something to focus on when the year starts and it gets the ensemble to gel faster than ever.  I have thoroughly enjoyed this festival over the past four years.  We have had a great time participating and the students have learned a lot.  It really gives them a sense of accomplishment.

I am extremely lucky because I have an auditorium that is equipped to handle quite a large group of people.  If you don’t have this luxury, it can be done in a gym or even a local church.  Don’t let your surroundings stop you from giving your students a great experience.  If you can keep the guest conductor somewhat local you can keep your costs down.  Also, think about going through your own libraries and ask if you can suggest titles for the festival.  This will definitely cut down on your cost, since you won’t have to buy new music and you know your students the best and know what they will be successful on.  Especially when starting a festival, this is a great way to go.  Find a time in the year that will work well for everyone and go for it!  You and your students will love the experience.  They will grow so much, and that will help you out for the rest of the year.

National Convention was such an amazing experience.  I know that everyone says this after they attend, and now I definitely know why.  Listening to four concert sessions a day is just awesome.  There are also some great sessions and exhibits to see.  As I was listening to the concerts, I was taken back to my first article in January.  The ensembles that I enjoyed the most had the best literature choices.   There seemed to be two schools of thought, those who chose literature to impress the audience and those who chose literature that the audience and the performing ensemble enjoyed.  It should come as no surprise that I liked the second choice the best. 

The Arlington High School Colt Chorale Varsity Men had some of the best programming that I could imagine.  Their literature choices spoke to those young men, to the audience, and to their instructors.  The Indianapolis Children’s Choir was another favorite of mine. 

And kudos need to go out to the performing groups from our Northwest Division, The Choir of the West from Pacific Lutheran University under the direction of Richard Nance who premiered a piece called Northern Lights, composed by Eriks Ensenvalds which was just stunning.  And also the Union High School Chamber Chorale, under the direction of Michael Iverson did an amazing performance of Abela Sajan, Arranged by Ethan Sperry and a fantastic rendition of Aversion to Carrots and RAH! composed by John Muehleisen.  We were well represented by our choirs from the Northwest!

I have some exciting news about the 2015 National ACDA Convention……it is going to be in Salt Lake City!  This is a great opportunity for members of MCDA to attend.  It is so close that I hope that we can have lots of us attending.  This is really the chance of a lifetime for some of us, so start saving your pennies and hopefully, you will hear more about convention in 2015.  

Now, if you are starting to fear a long summer away from choral music, never fear, for the International Choral Festival is going to be held once again in Missoula!  This is the ninth festival since the festival began in 1987.  If you have never been to this festival, you need to start NOW!  Mark your calendars for July 17 – 20 and contact friends and relatives to see if you can have a place to stay.  It is well worth it folks.  There will be choirs from Australia, Canada, Costa Rica, Democratic Republic of Congo, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Poland, Russia, South Korea, Switzerland, Taiwan, USA, and Zimbabwe.  Buttons go on sale June 1 and for only $10 per person you can go to all of the concerts and children 12 and under are free.  Button prices will go up on and after July 17, but this truly is a bargain. 

You can even sign up to volunteer some time and help out, as that is one of the important parts of this festival.  You will truly enjoy yourselves and it is a wonderful experience.  I have attended each festival and it is just a marvelous experience.  If you would like more information, go to their website at www.choralfestival.org