Why do we sing? We love to sing! Singing makes us happy! Singing is healthy for the mind, body and spirit of all human beings. Whether a person is the singer or is listening to singing, potential positive effects are there ready to make an impact. Our daughters* join the Cantiamo Girls Choir because they love to sing and want to do this with others who love to sing. They want to work with others who share a desire for challenge and the satisfaction of attaining deep levels of artistry through focused work and reliable integrity. They want to learn about music and want to share their music with a variety of audiences. But, the Cantiamo Girls Choir is even more in the bigger picture!
Aside from beautiful singing, the Cantiamo Girls Choir is focused on mentoring and leadership development for the girls. We are about strengthening community through sharing our music and our best selves. Our goal is to contribute to the girls’ development into confident, empathetic young women who are proud of their intelligence and talents and use them to contribute to society with compassion and generosity.
Mentoring is a core part of the Cantiamo experience. Obviously, Laura and I serve as mentors to the girls but the girls also mentor each other each week in rehearsal. Unlike many choirs, our rehearsals are collaborative and collegial and the thoughts and comments of the director, accompanist and chorister are encouraged and valued. We all contribute and learn with and from each other. This fosters active listening and engagement and encourages development of critical listening and thoughtful communication – all important leadership skills. Some of the Cantiamo girls choose to gain leadership experience by coming to the Training Choir rehearsals to mentor our young singers. This experience benefits the Training Choir members by allowing them to hear, right beside them, the more mature voices of the mentors so that they know the kind of sound they are working to achieve in their own singing. The mentors also help assist with score reading and musical literacy. The mentors themselves benefit from experiencing a different perspective from inside the choir. They learn to listen critically, diagnose issues, and come up with strategies to offer support to the less experienced singers. Some more advanced mentors are allowed conducting and accompaniment opportunities as well. This experience is a significant eye opener for the brave girls that take on this challenge! This is invaluable experience for the apprentices and also for the Training Choir choristers. It is good for everyone when we demonstrate that we all are willing to try new things and learn and that we all support each other in this learning.
“Mentoring is a core part of the Cantiamo experience”
The mentoring extends outside of our own Cantiamo community and involves our three part educational outreach program. This year, the Cantiamo Girls Choir earned a grant from the Community Foundation of Ottawa to support this outreach for a three year period. Part one of our outreach is our teacher workshop. Teachers sign up for the day and learn about healthy singing, vocal technique, conducting technique and choral repertoire. They work with both Laura and I to understand how to go about getting the highest level of artistry possible from their students within the parameters of their circumstances. The teachers also get to observe Laura and I teach a brand new piece to the Training Choir which demonstrates how to get started and how to react to challenges in the presentation of new works. And, the teachers get to conduct both the Training Choir and Cantiamo either with me or on their own and receive feedback from Laura and me as to how to make their gestures more effective and efficient. This is a benefit to the teachers as their confidence is boosted and they are more equipped to lead their school choirs and are more inspired to work towards higher levels of artistry. It is a benefit to the school choristers as they experience the satisfaction of expressing themselves more deeply and with healthier vocal production. It benefits the schools as these choirs present their singing to enhance assemblies for the school community. There are schools that did not have choirs before and now do and schools with choirs which have grown significantly where this is directly related to our workshops. These workshops also benefit our choristers as they see adults putting themselves in a vulnerable position to learn something new. It is good to see our choristers being compassionate, kind and patient and they contribute to the goals of the workshop.
Part two of our outreach is our school tour day. Both Cantiamo and the Training Choir participate in a day long tour where, depending on complex scheduling, we visit three or four schools. When we arrive we meet with the school choir and do a 15 – 20 minute workshop and rehearse some common repertoire. We then perform for the school giving mini lessons about our repertoire so that the students and staff can learn about music and singing. For the finale of the concert, the school choir comes and joins us as we sing together. This is very exciting and inspiring to the students in the school choir who have never felt the thrill of singing surrounded by experienced singers with trained voices. It is beneficial to all of our choristers when they can feel the appreciation of the school choirs and audiences and are proud of what they have offered.
Part three of our outreach is our participation as the core choir in the National Arts Centre’s Music Monday Choir. I have been the artistic director of the NAC Music Monday event for 6 years now. This event brings together hundreds of students from our schools to sing together as advocates for music education for all students. The Cantiamo choristers make a very important contribution to this event through their confident, accurate singing and professional behaviour. They are excellent role models for the school students and their participation makes a significant impact on the success of the performance. This event always shows up in the newspaper and on the television news and is good publicity for our choir’s commitment to music education.
As you can see, there is a much bigger picture of what the Cantiamo Girls Choir is all about than you might realize. Yes, we are about making beautiful music but even more so, we are about making beautiful people and a beautiful world through the power of singing!
– Jackie Hawley, Choir Director
* “Of course, I have not forgotten our awesome young men in the Training Choir! I hope that when these boys are too old for the Training Choir they will come and sing with me in my other choir which takes treble boys up to age 15.”
– Jackie Hawley