Overcoming the Great (Geographical) Divide

by Dean Luethi, Collegiate Choirs Chair

Washington State is beautiful. The varying climate areas, the topographical wonder, the purple mountains majesty. Yet let’s call a spade a spade: there is a great divide in our state between the east side and the west side. Travel difficulties can and do impede the programming of cross-state collaborations during the winter months. It can also be cost prohibitive to have a clinician, adjudicator, guest artist, or collaborator from the other side of the state, as plane travel may be more reliable during these months. How do we stay connected throughout the year? The answer is the internet. People can collaborate online in meetings, chat with composers, and participate in virtual clinics.

Video and Audio Conferencing
Advances in technology make collaborations easier than ever. Many programs (both free and subscription-based) offer solutions for connecting with others throughout the state. The solutions provide opportunities for us to come together when distance and time otherwise would keep us apart. Programs such as Skype, GoToMeeting, WebEx, Zoom, and Freeconference.com offer economical or even free options. By using these online spaces, we can see and/or hear others and discuss ideas or implement collaborative endeavors.

File Sharing
There are many solutions regarding file sharing. These solutions allow everyone to be on the same page (literally) and omit the need for constantly emailing files back and forth. Programs such as Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive offer simple interfaces which allow the authors to edit files in real-time and allow the newest version of documents to be instantly available.

Although it may sound like a commercial for these companies, know that there are myriad other programs and online means which present similar solutions.

How This Technology Can Be Used
There are many collaborative projects we all experience throughout the year, and many more that might be facilitated through digital means. How many times do we need to chat with our region regarding solo/ensemble concerns? How many times do we need to distribute information regarding the upcoming regional large group festival? How can you get information to your region’s honor choir students in a timely and efficient manner?

I’m also a great believer in formal and informal brainstorming sessions. Want to start a collaborative retreat within your district? By using online meeting space, all parties can connect and discuss their goals, desires, and solutions in real time. How many emails can this save? Collaborations begin with creative discussions surrounding problems and online meeting spaces and file sharing can facilitate these discussions.

As an example, I teach choral music methods at WSU and found that I needed some help presenting this material. Dan Davison currently teaches at Ballou Junior High School in Puyallup and is a wonderful resource regarding the male changing voice. My students were blown away when Dan and I used Skype to show my college students how he worked with his students. We were able to see and hear students of all stages of development, see how Dan works with them, and talk about how to implement these ideas in a classroom format. It would not have been feasible to have Dan visit WSU for this purpose, but through the use of this technology my students gained an enriching experience which will influence their burgeoning pedagogical acumen.
Connecting with individuals online is cheap and efficient. The result can enable you to fulfill your philosophical desires. I believe that performing music of living composers can allow us to treat our finished product as though a fine chef would, from farm to table. When my conducting students were preparing Reginald Unterseher’s “Sweet Rivers” to work with our WSU Tenor/Bass Choir, is was imperative that they come to their own understanding and interpretation of the piece. However, why not go to the source? Reg was generous with his time allowing my choral conducting students to ask him questions and find out what makes the piece “tick.” My conducting students soaked Reg’s information in and will be able to make better interpretive decisions by working directly with the composer. Reg will also be able to see and hear my group during rehearsal and give suggestions.

Imagine asking your favorite Washington composer to hear your ensemble and work with them. Imagine asking your favorite choral conductor, anywhere in the country, to spend 30 minutes with your group workshopping a specific pedagogical problem. Imagine an exchange where you can connect with another choir director and have both of your groups perform for each other. Travel time and costs no longer need to limit your ability to connect with leaders in the field or collaborators you respect and/or share common goals.

There is no equal-valued equivalent to meeting face-to-face and discussing your hopes, desires, and dreams. However, digital means can allow us to connect to each other and allow us to come together towards a common goal.

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