IMEA views Circle the State with Song (CSWS) as an integral part of our projects and is proactive in its support of CSWS. We encourage elementary and middle school music educators from all schools across the state to be involved. State Chairs and Area Coordinators will make every reasonable attempt to expand the number of schools participating in each area.
Circle the State with Song – An Outstanding Opportunity
Julie Gray and Michelle Bade
Each year in February IMEA organizes a choral music festival for elementary and middle school/junior high students called Circle the State with Song. For this festival students throughout the state learn the same repertoire, then come together on a Saturday sometime during the month of February (depending on the IMEA area) to work with a highly qualified clinician to bring it all together and polish the music. Michelle Bade and I (Julie Gray) enroll students to participate in this fantastic event nearly every year, and we wanted to share some additional information that will hopefully inspire you to join us!
The main reason we both participate in Circle the State with Song (CSWS) can be stated in one word – opportunity! CSWS provides outstanding opportunities for students, music educators, and the community at large. CSWS offers our students the opportunity to expand their learning experience outside the regular music classroom through singing high quality choral repertoire, the instruction of a highly qualified clinician, and the chance to be surrounded by other students who genuinely love to sing! For music educators, CSWS provides the opportunity to collaborate with other music educators as we share methodologies and pedagogy ideas. We also learn warm-ups, choral rehearsal techniques, and other gems from the highly qualified clinicians at the festival, which we then are able to implement immediately in our own classrooms! Finally, CSWS offers the opportunity for music educators to advocate for music education through the concert at the end of the festival. This large, well-rehearsed ensemble makes a very strong impact as our students are seen and heard in great numbers. This often results in a very unique and wonderful experience that students and parents will remember for years to come!
While Michelle and I completely agree on why we participate in CSWS, we use different timelines and processes to get our students prepared. With students in mind from the previous school year, Michelle orders her music in August. If she decides to add students later, a simple phone call will take care of it. The students at Michelle’s school rehearse after school once a week beginning in August. She makes sure the students feel that it is an honor to be chosen for this “high quality music experience.” The students pay for their own music and the CSWS fee, but this is typically not a problem because they know in plenty of time to help budget for this expense. Because Michelle auditions students for the CSWS Honor Choir, she uses that deadline for all of her students for payment, regardless of whether or not they are auditioning for the honor choir. Since rehearsals begin so early in the year for this “select” group, Michelle believes that they have time to really learn the harmonies well enough and a few of the pieces solid enough that they perform some of the CSWS repertoire for their winter concert.
The timeline and process that I use is quite different. Before the school year begins, I order a single copy of the CSWS music for myself and choose two of these songs to rehearse with my after school choir. This choir begins in early September, and I choose the students who participate in CSWS from these choir members. Since I have a high number of students receiving free or reduced lunches, I need to provide opportunities for my students to earn money to pay for the CSWS fee. This past year I organized a very simple music fundraiser and allowed CSWS students to apply the profit they earned directly toward their CSWS fee. The rest of the profit I used to purchase the CSWS music and other classroom instruments and supplies. Next year our parent-teacher organization is willing to pay half of the fee for up to fifteen students who need financial aid! Because raising the money is a timely process, I set my deadline for all fees to be paid no later than the Friday before Thanksgiving. That gives me time to turn in the money and get the check written to IMEA before the official deadline in December. Once the money is turned in I order the music. Then, beginning in January, we rehearse twice a week after school for an hour. That gives us approximately 12-15 rehearsals to prepare for the festival, depending on snow days and the date of the CSWS festival we attend.
Preparing our students for CSWS is not without problems. The deadlines for CSWS and the honor choir are different, which requires music educators to pay close attention to those details. Snow and other inclement weather are factors out of our control and sometimes interfere with our ability to get our students as prepared as we would like them to be. And of course there always seems to be a conflict with one or more of the students when the date of the CSWS festival actually arrives. And for me, getting the money turned in can sometimes be a real hassle. But none of these problems are severe enough to keep me from participating in CSWS! It is worth it all, and much more, when we hear our students perform at the concert and see the joy on the faces of students and parents alike!
The benefits of participating in CSWS are tremendous! The students learn so much about proper singing techniques, breathing techniques, performance behavior, intonation, vowel shaping, polishing music (phrasing, dynamics, etc.) and much, much more that is beyond what we are able to accomplish in our music classes. We simply don’t have that much time, nor do we have the level of student interest and ability that we typically see in CSWS. Another benefit of CSWS is that the students are able to perform with “live” music – no recorded accompaniments! They get to perform with amazingly talented pianist and usually other instrumentalists as well! It is also beneficial to see such a large and wonderful group of young people brought together by a great quality choral experience to really make an impact on the parents and students. This experience reminds us that music really can bring us together. There are moments during the rehearsals and the performance that are simply “magical” and can bring us to tears as we are reminded of the amazing gift of music. Each year students and parents have only wonderful things to say about CSWS! The students feel a huge sense of accomplishment and the parents are very proud to see and hear their child(ren) singing in this amazing choir! The students are always amazed at the size and responses of the audience. And of course the students get to spend an entire day doing what they love – singing – with friends old and new!
On the day of the actual festival everything runs like clockwork. The schedule is laid out well with multiple breaks and a variety of rehearsal settings (auditorium seats, stage, rehearsal room, etc.) that helps to keep the students active and alert. The clinicians are fabulous and work very hard to keep the students’ attention and focus throughout the day. The clinicians are able to pull out the very best from our students and inspire them to accomplish more than they ever thought possible. The clinicians are great role models that touch not only the lives of our students, but of the music educators as well. It is always fun to see what the day holds and how our students come together as a “team” by the performance! They learn to grow and gain confidence throughout the day. The concert is obviously the highlight of the day. The students love performing for their families and friends after a day of learning and growing together! They love to show the audience all of the many things they have learned through their experiences together! In turn, the parents and audience recognize this as a unique experience and are so proud of the kids! What a great experience for our kids and what a wonderful day that they will remember forever!