Tuning in to Community: The Transformative Power of Singing Together

In a recent New York Times piece, guest writer Sammy Miller, a GRAMMY-nominated drummer and founder of a music education company, spoke about the approach to learning music as a language. “When we learn a language, we don’t simply memorize phrases or spend all day reading — we practice the language together, sharing, speaking, stumbling but ultimately finding ways to connect. This should happen in music class, too.”

Language is real and tangibly felt; it cannot be confined to boxes, rules, to specific ways of learning. Finding one’s singing voice is often built upon, and inspired by, this act of tuning into ourselves and to those around us. This is seen especially in our flourishing Youth Choruses. Under the direction of our award-winning Director Kathy McMinn, the program is thriving and has grown so much that our four choruses will be rehearsing and performing in our large Concert Hall, which features a thousand seats and world-class acoustics that bring our students’ voices to life.

Our ensemble program introduces students to better ways of working with each other musically, and interpersonally, both on and off the stage. McMinn emphasizes a feeling of coming home, of being a part of a close-knit community, when she teaches.

For the younger students especially, McMinn noted that the students learn concepts through practice, and are given the room to make mistakes, keeping the environment from veering toward a “teaching to the test” approach. Although the final show is essential to the Youth Chorus experience, practices are encouraged to be just as creative and fun. Students are given agency to find their way to their voice and therefore are more confident on stage. 

With an abundance of new sign-ups this year, a new “Canto” Chorus group, led by Assistant Director Scott Arnold, has been added for four-year-olds, our newest and youngest singers. “We saw the need to provide this age group with a place to explore age-appropriate repertoire and activities to lay a choral foundation,” says McMinn. Furthermore, Harmonia, the Youth Chorus’ oldest group, has been invited to sing with the Vista Philharmonic Orchestra at their Christmas Magic concert in December. Groton Hill is thrilled to see students thriving in this program!

“Students make friends here that share their passion for music, whether they are just beginning to explore it or have been immersed in it for many years,” says Lauren Panfili, Groton Hill’s Class and Ensemble Manager.

Continual, open dialogue and an awareness of the collective group are fundamental to acquiring knowledge organically, as it further allows the freedom to make mistakes. But why is this important? How does this factor into growing a young person’s skills, into becoming more confident in one’s ability to sing, to connect with music? 

Accepting the possibility of failure gives us the strength to put ourselves out there, contribute, and then find our unique pathways to success. “If you’ve never sung before if you don’t know how to match pitch, it’s really important to have these students feel like they can go ahead and jump in,” says McMinn. “We’re going to take that and bring them up to where they need to be, and even further.” 

This is not to say that technique and skill are an afterthought; they are essential to Groton Hill’s teaching approach and continue to bring students to discover the best of their abilities. Professionals like McMinn teach healthy vocal technique and musicianship skills that build a necessary foundation for students. But open communication, discovery, and the freedom to fail are equally as important.

Students are then eager to keep practicing, stay inspired, and feel accepted in our community. Programs like our Youth Ensembles create spaces that encourage connection, ones that enliven creative wonderment instead of limiting it, and this is how our students here continue to grow and thrive. “If you want your child to have a really exciting experience, then our Youth Chorus is a good place for them,” says McMinn. “It will be a great year to be part of the Groton Hill youth choral program!”

Learn more and sign up for our Youth Ensembles here. Get first-hand experience with our choruses at our Youth Chorus Open Rehearsal on Tuesday, October 3rd. Under the direction of our award-winning Choral Conductor, Kathy McMinn, and Youth Chorus Assistant Director Scott Arnold, young singers will learn healthy vocal technique and musicianship skills in an enjoyable class experience grouped by age. There is also a strong focus on teamwork and personal development. New members are welcome anytime! No experience is necessary.

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