We all want the same things for our children. Success in school, strong social skills, and a positive environment are just a few of those aspirations. Ultimately, we want our children to develop into confident, competent young adults, ready to thrive in whatever career path they pursue. There has been much discussion around the importance of developing soft skills in our children to help prepare them for the future in a climate where the role of technology and robotics will change the job landscape. A 2014 CareerBuilder survey indicated that 77 percent of employers seek candidates with soft skills. Sixteen percent of these respondents considered such qualities more crucial than hard skills.
How does music play a role in preparing them for this future?
The United States Department of Labor Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) identified five competencies and three foundation skills that are essential for those entering the workforce. Listening skills were among the foundation skills that SCANS identified as being critical. Due to our reliance on the rapidly evolving world of electronic media, the development of this soft skill has fallen behind for many.
To create a great sound, musicians must listen louder than they sing or play by listening to each other, to their director, and to the music.
By definition a choir is a group of voices; a good choir is a group of voices melded together to create one sound, a point choristers shared multiple times. Through a recent study funded by the Gumpert Foundation, San Diego Children’s Choir learned that 77 percent of choristers said they often or always employ “listening louder than they sing,” and 87 percent said they were aware or very aware of listening to each other to adjust their sound as needed.
When we recently asked one of our San Diego Children’s Choir alumni what the number one thing participation in the Choir provided to him, he responded, “I will most always say how to listen. Listening is not just an act of the ears. There are cognitive, physical, and spiritual elements to it too!”
“Listen louder than you sing,” SDCC’s artistic director Ms. Millgard often says. “I am convinced that rooted in all of music and life and love is total listening.”
The alumnus expanded on this thought, “Total listening has become for me a way of being rather than an action. In it, I am stretched to surrender my judgments, current notions of life, knowings, my identity, all so that I may be open and willing to offer a space of opportunity. I am altered forever by my experiences in choir, because I now work to walk through everyday life with the intention to listen loudly, even when I am speaking, and with the hope that this “magic” will be discovered in areas beyond the musical space.”
This is not only true for choristers, it also is true for instrumentalists in an orchestra or band—musicians need to engage in total listening to be successful.
Just as listening is one soft skill desired by employers, collaboration and teamwork is another.
Being a part of a music ensemble intrinsically involves collaboration, which includes developing the self-control required to listen and learn how to play a role in a team.
Choral singing, orchestra and band are by their very nature cooperative ventures. Each individual must be aware of and stay in sync with the musicians around them. The importance of this cooperation and teamwork has been noted by many San Diego Children’s Choir participants. A chorister who has been in choir for nine years explains, “There is a lot of cooperative teamwork because you can’t have one voice stick out amongst all of them. You have to all unify into one and I think that’s really important.” Another shared, “Through choir, I’ve learned to cooperate with people who are my friends and people who are not my friends. It’s like a team sport, but it’s not a sport.”
For some, choir provided a concrete goal (perfecting a piece of music) that presents an opportunity to let go of their egos and experience true teamwork and cooperation. One boy in middle school expressed it like this, “It helps that you HAVE to work together to get a goal done. You know you want this goal, but sometimes you have different ways of doing it so you need to compromise.”
For others, success in their ensemble meant they were more likely to take responsibility for their work. Another chorister said, “Before, if the group wasn’t doing anything, I wouldn’t take the initiative. Now, I take the initiative.”
For students who are not drawn to traditional athletic sports, this realization shows that the experience of youth teamwork is not confined to athletic fields. Teamwork is an activity in which members of an organization come together to work toward a common goal or set of goals and singing in a choir fits this definition well. And, although most young musicians will not become professionals, the skills—like listening and working in teams—they learn while in ensemble music will carry with them throughout their lives. Regardless of the job, employers want to hire people who are team players and who are cooperative, listen, and work well with others.
If your child loves to sing, visit our website at sdcchoir.org to learn more about joining the San Diego Children’s Choir. We are currently enrolling for summer camp and our fall season.
If you’d like to share some news related to children and music, please email me at ccottriall@sdcChoir.org.