Accessibility Seen as Winner and Loser in Plan to Shift Chorus from Night to Day

A general choir meeting. Photo by Kaiden J. Yu.

Chorus has been offered at GDS outside the classroom for a number of years. For the 2022-2023 school year, however, the activity is being offered in the form of curricular classes.

Chamber Choir and TOLV, both previously extracurricular ensembles, are now part of the course of study. Jason Strunk, GDS’ performing arts department chair and choral director, plans to transition General Choir, which is still offered outside of school, to a curricular period as well by the start of next school year.

“The decision was to put the smaller ensembles in the schedule first,” Strunk said, “because it’s a less sweeping change.” He said that in his experience, implementing broad changes over a short period of time is often not successful. 

Prior to this year, Chamber Choir rehearsals took place during one lunch period per week and TOLV during two morning or afternoon flex periods per week. “It became an equity issue for me,” Strunk said. “The choir did not seem accessible to the entire student body.” 

General Choir—which technically includes all the members of TOLV and Chamber Choir, but now rehearses without them—continues to meet once per week on Wednesday nights from 6:00 to 8:30.

“There was some stress about being picked up, about getting there, about timing, things like that,” sophomore Isabel Avidon, who participated in General Choir last year, said. Senior Janel Butler-Roberts said she found that the evening slot made it difficult for her to “get home, finish homework and go to bed at a decent hour without feeling groggy and tired in the morning.”

Strunk’s ultimate goal is to incorporate all GDS choruses into the schedule. Since General Choir, which is the biggest ensemble, is still extracurricular, whether its integration into the curriculum will allow more students to participate in chorus remains to be seen.

Performing arts teacher Laura Rosberg has a different view from Strunk on the advantages to the choir’s transition. “I don’t actually think it makes it more accessible; I think there’s a limited number of kids who can do it,” she said. “I would say the main motivation is to give it that place in the curriculum that says it’s legit.”

Rosberg believes that music classes at GDS have been “sidelined” in favor of core academic subjects and that choir’s integration into the curriculum is an important step toward legitimizing the performing arts. “Music uses every side of your brain; it’s got a historical background that’s bigger than any history course; it’s got everything you need,” she said.

According to Rosberg, chorus was offered as a class prior to the introduction of Advanced Placement courses several decades ago. “As APs became more and more important, it could no longer be fit in,” she said. “Now, APs calming down, we can try to get it back in the curriculum.” 

Strunk also believes that the new schedule will prove more productive, as the choirs are able to meet more frequently than before.

“I’ve always felt that chorus was, whether it’s a class or an activity, just something that I like to do,” senior Grey Papageorgiou said. “It didn’t really matter what form that came in.” 

Some choristers, however, said that meeting during the school day rather than outside of it is actually less accessible. Senior Ava Blum, who had been participating in chorus consistently since middle school, said she was not able to fit TOLV or Chamber Choir into her schedule because of the number of other subjects she was interested in.

“A GDS student has this vast menu in front of them,” Strunk said of the curriculum. He said he attempted to launch choir as a curricular program in the past, but it was discontinued due to low registration. 

“I can make room for choir,” senior Wesley Brubaker said. “But, for instance, a freshman might have difficulty fitting that in.” Brubaker, who leads the a capella group Five O’Clock Shadow, worries it might be difficult for freshmen to get involved in the performing arts if General Choir becomes curricular and less accessible to them.

But this year, “the chamber group is really well populated,” Strunk said. “It’s mostly freshpeople in the Chamber Choir.” There are 10 students enrolled in TOLV, 16 in Chamber Choir and 26 only in General Choir. 

The complete General Choir adds up to 52 singers. Before Covid, it was populated by about 70, according to Strunk.

“We got one thing into the curriculum,” Rosberg said. “But there’s still like a hundred kids out of the curriculum who want to sing.”