I wish you could be a fly on the wall and see what I see one night each summer during the Colorado Children’s Chorale Tour Choir Residency Week in Vail, Colorado at the annual dinner and dance party night.
Here’s how it goes: after a full week of 8 hour-a-day choral and dance rehearsals, all seventy-two 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th grade Tour Choir members get dressed up and come to a hotel ballroom. Each kid sits down at one of ten tables and two chairs are left empty at each table for staff members and graduate assistants (high school kids who were in the Chorale as kids who now work for the Chorale, affectionately known as “grads”) to join them. During dinner, the staff and grads try to simulate an experience that the kids might have at a dinner on their performance tours with people they don’t know or perhaps back home at a reception after a concert with more people they don’t know. The kids not only practice everything from good table manners to their dinner conversation skills during the meal, but they have a good time doing it.
But that’s not the best part. The best part is what happens after we have dinner, debrief what went well during dinner and make suggestions for what could be improved upon in the future.
The best part is what happens during the dance.
Do you remember your middle school dances? I remember mine. We spent most of the time as far from the dance floor as we could get while a few brave souls would “dance” during the fast songs. I bet less than 20% of the kids in the room would dance during fast songs. Then, when the most recent Boyz II Men slow jams came on, those of us with “dates” would hit the floor to do our thing.
(Sorry to bring back all sorts of traumatic memories from junior high.)
Now picture this: at tonight’s Tour Choir dance party, over 90% of these middle-school-aged kids danced (and “danced”) on fast and slow songs almost the entire night. Kids who were standing on the periphery of the dance circle were invited to the core of the circle. Some of them accepted the offer. Others politely declined. Young boys invited female staff members to dance with them, and young girls ask me to dance with them.
Sure they’re “choir boys” and “choir girls,” but they knew the words to every popular song that came on, and they would scring at the top of their lungs (scream + sing = scring) while they got their swerve on to Taio Cruz, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and more. For these kids, music is music is music. They don’t see all the musical lines in the sand that most adults (and many of their friends) see. When a swing song came on the playlist, they all found a partner and started dancing the swing dance they’ve been learning at rehearsal this week for this year’s big closing number. When the hand jive came on and it seemed as if every kid in the building knew how to do it but one, one of the grads spotted that kid, taught him the hand jive and brought that kid to dance with everyone else where he was welcomed into the circle. And when those inevitable slow songs came on, lots of the kids partnered up even though many of them barely even know each other at this point in the week.
Um…did I mention yet that these are middle schoolers?!
Each year during the dance party, in addition to doing a little dancing myself, I like to stand on a chair and survey the scene from somewhat of a bird’s-eye view. It’s just beautiful to watch these kids move from group to group and mingle with each other with miniscule amounts of clique-ish behavior. They’re so accepting of each other. They have a confidence and poise on the stage, on the dance floor and in social settings that puts most adults to shame (myself included at times), and that confidence and poise grows with each day here during our Vail Residency. It’s one thing to use that confidence on the dance floor among friends, new peers or maybe someone they want to impress; it’s another thing entirely to use it during their party to make new kids feel welcome or to talk and dance with staff members like me who have the privilege of working with and training them. Middle schoolers indeed…only the most amazing middle schoolers I know.
In my opinion, as great as these kids are on stage as an internationally acclaimed children’s choir of unchanged voices, the Colorado Children’s Chorale Tour Choir might just shine their brightest during their annual dance party in Vail when the pop music is bumpin’. Contrary to what your local classical music pharisee would have you believe, such music is more than capable of bringing out some of the best in these incredible kids. While being in a choir teaches us to fall in love with singing, like a certain wise man once said, it’s the DJ who has us falling in love again. Falling in love with each other. Falling in love with life and the joy that comes from having others to share it with. Falling in love with this second family we call the Colorado Children’s Chorale Tour Choir.
Thanks, DJ. You’re the best.