A Cappella Camp – Summer 2015


I wish everyone could see what I’m seeing at the heart of this swirl of singing boys at the Field School of Charlottesville, where I’ve been growing a choir for the past two years. This week I’m running an a cappella camp and it’s filled with mostly Field School singers. The boys are transforming before my eyes, personally and as a group and it’s beautiful to behold.

Their recent success with “Best Day of My Life” means that camp is packed with eager singers this week.

Pop music is “cool” and kids are eager to do more of it. A fun performance is fun. But come together for 10 hours of rehearsal (more than most have ever rehearsed at once in their lives) and challenge them to get beyond the melody and back-beat and as a group make the music fly…and let’s just say we’ve had our moments of:

High emotion


brain freeze

rehearsal frustration (cue: all musicians reading this nod in agreement…)

differing opinions (central to a creative process)

Eyeing the solo (ah, a cappella)

wishing for different music

wanting to just be done with it and go to break or to go home 

Who among my musician friends hasn’t experienced EVERY SINGLE THING on this list during rehearsal?

Campers this week are discovering the trials and triumphs that come with concentrated rehearsal time. It’s grueling. It’s intense. It’s the kind of thing that can be overwhelming and tempting to walk away from. But these kids have hung in there. And I hear from their parents they’re leaving smiling.

I’m in the habit of rehearsing the kids to their musical and concentration limits. Today, bleary-eyed, after our final rehearsal I asked my 9th grade assistant if I pushed them too hard. He said, “No, I don’t think so.” I asked if I celebrated them enough. He said, “You could probably do more of that.

So, heeding my assistant’s advice we ended with a group circle and I asked them each to celebrate one thing they did well and to share one thing they learned. Celebrations included “being flexible” “singing my part well” “avoiding conflict,” among others. All lovely things. 

As for what they learned…

I should really start a “choir insights” wall because the first singer made this poster-worthy comment:

“I learned that we really have to work as a complete unit, and it doesn’t work if we are missing one gear.”

Another said (paraphrasing as best I can):

“I learned that I started out really hating a song and really feeling frustrated with the music. But at some point I got over that and realized I could find a lot to like in a song…so it was amazing to go from one side of the spectrum to completely the other so quickly.”

“I learned that you can think a song is really simple but really it’s got a lot going on and it’s quite difficult.”

“I learned that you can take a song you don’t really love to begin with but you can come to love it with all the different ways you can sing it.”

My amazing parent helper noted that I could have probably given them more breaks, but she saw that I had gotten “in the zone.” Ah, the zone. The zone where if we dissemble, the hurdle shall not be crossed in time. The zone that is quite fatiguing to young and grown musicians alike! Duly noted. Rest assured, tomorrow will be more of a celebratory day.

Despite the fatigue I see in them (and am feeling myself), I am also seeing some kids step INTO the circle and participate more when before they may have drifted off to the side. I’m seeing them get into the thick of staying REALLY FOCUSED on perfecting a song and seeing how it’s not a quick shot to the other side…and staying in it. I’m seeing them be wiling to resolve interpersonal conflict because they will have to be able to harmonize together in the circle. I’m seeing them learn to put aside personal agendas in the interest of team morale. I’m seeing them active listen and share frustrations with each other, (“Yeah man, I know how you feel. It’s hard when you feel that way.”). I’m seeing them lift each other up when another sinks into negativity. I’m seeing them be aware of how their body language sends messages to the whole group. I’m watching tenacious upperclassmen involve the youngest kids and I’m watching complete newcomers jump in and roll with it. I’m watching as kids hone their listening skills, practice resilience, and drop emotions to make music. I’m watching as brilliant singers learn how to share their ideas effectively. I’m literally hearing as they start to hear chords from very little but the fabric of the music inside their heads.

Perhaps this will never get old…but part of what feels so epic about witnessing this right now is the fact that this is a group of kids who are learning for the very first time what this means as it relates to singing. There’s no precedent here.

There are no upperclassmen to learn from – these are the first.These are the pioneers. I’m watching as the light bulb goes on for the individual and the group and it’s just so cool.

In my mind this includes all Field School choir members in this, not just those in camp this week.

I can’t help but let my mind wander to the fall, when we come back in 3 months with all their voices having changed some (which feels a lot like a marvelous game of chance). I suspect one of the side-effects of seeing what goes into a cappella arranging (by committee, might I add) may be an increased interest in more challenging repertoire with parts that were written to highlight the voice and the play between parts. I suspect some are going to have even more interest in reading music after this. Singing “bum bada boom” on repeat has its rewards, but so does singing lines that encourage a different line of thought. Who knows, though.

I DO know that every choral endeavor we do from here on out is going to be that much stronger…because the kids have come together and are beginning to discover what work ethic looks like in a choral program.

To hear them fly in their music, join us at the Blue Ridge Swim Club Sunday June 7 at 6pm – we’ll be performing!

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