Ponderings of a Pandemic-Era Professional: What I Learned – by Karen Burke
(Excerpt from article published in ‘Anacrusis’, published by Choral Canada’s national journal, Vol. 39, No. 2, Summer 2021)
Today is the first day of the rest of my dual career as a choral conductor and music educator. We all had to make the decision this past year to re-evaluate our ‘why’ and press on. For so many of us, this journey was particularly hard as the title that defined us, was no longer possible. Who are we if we can’t stand in front of a group of people and make music? Paradoxically, is a guitarist still a guitarist if they no longer own a guitar?
As a Gospel choir conductor, my problem was compounded by the lack of colleagues that have been teaching this genre at the post-secondary level. That summer was spent looking for solutions, inventing my own and then striking out with my goals in mind, even though I didn’t know what lay ahead.
One thing I do know is that I am not the same musician that I was in 2020. While my goal has always been to maintain a level of excellence, what I learned this past year is that my definition of excellence has had to shift. In Jorgensen and Pfeiler’s book, “Things They Never Taught You In Choral Methods”, they have this to say about excellence, “Excellence is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives”.
How do we judge whether or not this past pandemic season was successful? The same way that first-year teachers are asked to measure success. Ask yourself, “Are you still standing?” If you are, then you did well! While our definition of excellence may have had to shift, it now includes a new standard. This paradigm takes into consideration both the fragility and resilience of our students, a renewed gratefulness for our colleagues, thankfulness for the gift of collaborative music-making and hope for what lies ahead - Karen Burke