Choir’s Supreme Status Comes at Great Cost


Nicole Kennedy, Opinion Editor

The choir department is well-known for its dazzling performances, which often include an expert technical team, thousands of dollars worth of set-pieces and lighting equipment, and backup musicians in addition to the vocalists we see on stage.

Choir is the undisputed Godzilla among electives on our campus, with about 300 students enrolled in its classes. On top of what the school district covers, the department is fueled by the Campolindo Choral Music Education Fund, to which donors give thousands of dollars annually, according to Financial Technician Jannine Takahashi-Crow.

Our school musical is basically an opportunity to see a Broadway-level show for $25. It includes 3 different casts, months of grueling preparation, and hours of mandatory rehearsals. However, putting on such an elaborate production each year and maintaining 6 different vocal groups, the choir department both negatively impacts other elective programs and places unusual stress on its own participants.

For our vocal music program to be the giant that it is, other course options suffer. For instance, the drama department cowers in the tiny backstage closet of the Campolindo Performing Arts Center (CPAC) for long stretches of the year.

During the preparation and production cycle of the musical, drama students cannot even step foot on the CPAC stage for a majority of the 3rd quarter. According to former drama student, junior Sahaana Rajesh, during the musical season, drama classes practice in the dressing room. “We worked with what we had,” she said.

Choir teacher Mark Roberts explained that he collaborates with the heads of drama and orchestra to create a schedule for the CPAC a year in advance. “If drama’s in there, everybody else is out. If the musical is in there, everybody else is out. If [band or orchestra] in there, everybody else is out,” Roberts said.

Drama teacher Chris McNevin confirmed that when the musical is going on, drama has to “stay away” from the CPAC.

McNevin would like to add another drama performance in the spring, but with the musical’s monopoly on the theater, it would be a challenge. “With the little amount of time we have in the theater to do rehearsals and tech because of the very busy schedule that exists right now, it would have to be very low tech,” he said.

The many choral groups on campus dominate the headlines.  Yet, the intensity with which they operate contributes in its own way to the high levels of stress that continue to be synonymous with our campus.

While the district has made efforts in recent years to support student mental health, such as implementing the Wellness Center and putting a cap on the amount of homework teachers can assign, choir students often miss class to keep up with their rehearsal schedules.

For example, the department takes biannual field trips; this year, vocalists are headed to Montreal, Canada. So, on top of the missed class time many of them accrue as a result of long musical rehearsals where academic responsibilities are postponed, or going on retreats, or prancing through the halls delivering “Valentine grams” during an entire school day, these same students will be absent again as they display their talents in foreign lands.

Yet the Campolindo choir couldn’t be what it is without such student commitment.  Many vocalists take 2 or more periods of choir in their schedules.

Choir students are notorious for the many hours they spend rehearsing. “I don’t see it as really any different than participating in sports and practices,” said Roberts.

According to junior Emma Dillard, a member of Chamber Choir and participant in the musical, there is “a learning curve” with managing time during the musical season, as the rehearsals are lengthy. Nevertheless, Dillard still wanted to participate.

While the musical can be a burden, Roberts says that students put it on themselves. According to Roberts, the musical is completely optional to choir students. In trying out, however, 1 is committing to the full responsibility of attending rehearsals and all that the show entails. While “ensemble roles have significantly less rehearsal time than principal roles,” Roberts noted that the upcoming musical is unique in that there are several leads.

Dillard already manages 2 periods of choir in her schedule, as many of the veteran choir members do. While this admittedly prevents Dillard from being able to take other classes in which she might have an interest, Dillard doesn’t believe “that choir blocked [her] from taking them.

“I really wanted to be as much a part of the program as I could and I understood that meant 2 of my class periods would be choir,” Dillard said.

My students who choose to participate in 2 choirs, obviously, that’s a choice that they make, a commitment they want to make. They want to learn more and excel,” said Roberts.

There is also an exclusivity issue with the musical.  In order to tryout for a performing role, 1 must be in a choir class.  No exceptions.  Such a policy suggests an air of elitism, which is conspicuously counter to the recent efforts on the part of campus leadership to foster a more inclusive and equitable school climate.

Rajesh, who yearned to have an opportunity to try out for her school’s signature performing-arts event, is familiar with this policy. “We should at least be able to audition, even if we don’t have a choir background. We still want to perform,” said Rajesh.

McNevin is also disappointed with the policy of excluding non-choir students. “Any activity, all activities should be fully inclusive,” said McNevin.

It’s hard to argue with the choir department’s appeal to an audience.  It enjoys great popularity while other preforming arts play to more than a few empty chairs.

Drama often struggles to fill the front row. “The choir musicals are always really good but we don’t get as big of an audience and as much of a representation,” said Rajesh.

Junior Ellie Olson, a 3-year jazz band member, agreed that the student body does not show the symphonic band enough support. “More students would definitely be beneficial to the program,” said Olson.

Campolindo choir has become a kind of performing-arts monopoly, with its success pulling funding, interest, and participation away from equally noble programs.

At Campolindo, not all electives are equal.

While there is much to celebrate about our choir department, we should also be considering the cost of its accomplishments. In addition to overshadowing the rest of our performing arts, the choir program tasks its participants with an excessive commitment of time and effort for a high school experience.

As more and more of our incoming freshman are hypnotized by the choir limelight, many other electives will continue to struggle to fill sections.  Some many simply disappear altogether.

I didn’t learn this in an elective course, but it seems appropriate here: If the French Revolution told us anything, it’s that a spoiled few oppressing a majority will only result in greater unrest.