By Anne Quaintance Stylianou
I wanted to shine the spotlight on our Graduate Assistants. Most Chorale parents have seen them – they are the high school-aged graduates of the Chorale who help the kids sign in at rehearsals, and who are waiting on the street outside the Boettcher Concert Hall Stage Door and other performance sites to escort children to the staff waiting for them in the warm-up room. But in addition to these most visible responsibilities, the grads, as they are called, perform a multitude of duties that make it possible for the Chorale to do what we do. The grads are so valuable to the Chorale that we have our own proprietary verb (grad v. gradded, gradding, grads –tr. To perform the duties of a Graduate Assistant in any Colorado Children’s Chorale rehearsal, performance, camp, or tour), and to put it simply, we couldn’t do it without them.
To start with, gradding is a job; often the first job these young ladies and gentlemen have. It is a job for which they must formally interview, for which they are paid, and at which they behave with professionalism at all times. Any time children come to rehearse or perform, at least one grad is there as well. Here is a small, and likely incomplete snapshot of the many grad responsibilities:
Grads are the first staff members to arrive, along with Production Manager Stacey Smith and Assistant Conductor/Technical Coordinator Travis Branam. They unload music, music stands, and supplies from cars, set up chairs, tape out performance spaces, fill folders with music and place under chairs, set out nametags, set out snacks and water for Concert Choir and Tour Choir, assemble and label memos, assist with sign-in, assist in rehearsals with music, stage movement, and choreography, escort groups of children through rotations of sectionals, help children find the restrooms, and assist the staff in many ways – fetching pencils to replace broken ones, helping move pianos, and providing music stands. Grads (and Stacey and Travis) are also the last to leave, as they are responsible for cleaning up and putting everything away. One particularly impressive grad skill is clearing 70 chairs silently so that a staging rehearsal can go on in the same room, at the same time.
Where would we be without the grads? Grads have a lot of experience, of course, and with their excellent training and memories, are the first among us to learn our staging. This is tremendously helpful to staff, who are not only learning choreography, but also writing it all down. Grads fill in for missing kids, help choreographers demonstrate, and coach groups or individuals.
Again, grads are the first and last ones there. They unload and set up risers, garment racks, extra wardrobe, keyboards, and music stands. As kids arrive, grads are setting out belts, helping children with wardrobe problems, brushing hair, removing nail polish, finding extra socks, pinning lost buttons, helping with formalwear, and tying shoes. Any grad at any given time will be able to know where the closest bathroom is, how many children can use it at a time, and how many children are in it now. They could probably also tell you how big the performance space it because they’ve measured it and taped it out in our warm-up room. During performances they may be timing songs for programming purposes, turning pages, playing percussion, and managing dressing rooms.
As you may have guessed, this is a cumulative list. On tour, grads perform the same duties as at rehearsals and performances. In addition, grads help us with meals (they are the last to begin to eat and the first to finish, helping kids with food, drinks, trash, and anything else that comes up), join staff groups, and carry the first-aid bag. They assist the tour tutor and other staff during study periods, and because they are much less removed from algebra than we are, we rely on them to help with math and other homework. Speaking of math, grads are pros at the quick calculations necessary to cut a cake into 90 pieces. During the Tour Choir performance residency in Vail, the grads help Stacey and Travis manage the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, the place we call “home” for the week. They make sure our rooms, instruments, music, supplies, wardrobe, meals and snacks are ready when we are and keep us on schedule as we rotate through classes and rehearsals, all while learning the music and choreography, and supervising kids in their condos at night.
At Concert Choir Camp
There isn’t a blog big enough to list everything the grads do at camp. They do literally everything already listed (with the possible exception of algebra). Our young campers stay in cabins of 10-12, always with two grads. The cabins become like little families, with grads making sure kids have everything they need, keeping track of all their stuff, helping them through homesickness, and providing inspiration and guidance for the Bandana Fashion Show and cabin operettas/commercials. The grads are invaluable performance models for the kids, writing and performing their own original grad song every year, performing dos and don’ts skits, and as always, learning every note and dance step. They help with parking, guard snacks from raiding deer, clean up after meals, fold hundreds of bandanas, and have even been known to unclog toilets.
Grads become extraordinary problem-solvers, assume responsibilities, and learn leadership skills that they will always carry with them. They perform their responsibilities with a smile, with genuine affection for the kids, with amazing commitment to the Chorale, with a growing number of black performance clothes in their closets, and in the case of dancing and loading risers and wardrobe racks (to paraphrase the old line about Fred and Ginger), backwards (and yes, sometimes in heels). Aside from the important duties they perform, each and every one of them is a treasure to every single staff member. To the kids, they are beloved role models and rock stars. We love being able to watch them grow and mature. We gasp when they drive away from rehearsals in their own cars, which inevitably brings back memories of them swinging their legs in their Prep Choir chairs and smiling their sweet missing-teeth smiles. While we are grateful to the grads all year long, they are specially celebrated at Concert Choir Camp, and immortalized with their very own song, which starts, “Amazing grads, how sweet they are!” How sweet indeed.
Editor’s note: Anne Quaintance Stylianou has been a grad and grad advocate since 1984.