by Shaun Cloonan, ACDA-PA Communications Chair
North Hills High School, Pittsburgh
October 2023 brought about the realization of a brain child that had been discussed for years by choral directors in the Pittsburgh area - the first annual Allegheny County Chorus festival. While there are many county chorus events across the commonwealth, for whatever reason, no such event was ever held in the immediate area around the city of Pittsburgh. Gateway High School choral director Erich Lascek tossed the idea out at a PMEA District Chorus festival a year or 2 before the pandemic, and last spring was when it finally began to take shape with more serious discussions about how it could happen.
The goal was to provide a one-day festival experience for a greater portion of our high school singers who we knew would enjoy and benefit from singing with students from other districts, but who would likely not prepare an audition for the tiered festival system and in turn not have those important experiences. This particularly rang true for me as it was sitting on a stage at a district chorus festival in high school when I made the decision to become a choral director, so any chance to open that possibility to a student was very appealing.
Collaboration was truly the name of the game for this festival’s success. 20 high schools and more than 200 students participated in treble and mixed ensembles that rehearsed simultaneously. Rather than bringing in guest conductors, 4 of the participating directors shared conducting responsibilities, another 2 served as accompanists, and the remaining directors helped with logistics, created schedules and programs (can’t imagine who might have made the program!), and spent time during the rehearsals singing with the students to provide vocal leadership in their respective sections.
The 2 ensembles shared an evening concert and got to sit and watch each other perform. A few pieces required instruments and we were able to cover each part with students who were in attendance that day. One school didn’t have enough robes for the number of students they had participating, so we even shared robes with each other! Repertoire was chosen from pieces the directors had in their own school choral libraries so no one needed to purchase music. The only cost to any school was their transportation and a $10 contribution to a pizza dinner.
The end result was a wonderful choral experience for a group of students who might not have otherwise sat with peers from other schools during their high school years. They got to learn from other directors in the region and maybe hear some of those same things said in rehearsal at home from a different voice.
We plan to make it an annual event. And it all started with the question “what would happen if we got together to make this happen?”
The next time you get an inspiration, don’t hesitate to bring it up to your choral colleagues. You never know when one little idea might turn into an event we’ll be talking about for years to come!