Friday, February 18, 2011

How an Arts Program can be a Beacon of Hope

Picture of the choir at their annual concert at the Chan Centre, UBC

I shake my head when I hear about schools cutting or cancelling art and/or music programs to balance budgets.  When I consider the enduring and transformational impact that our visual and performing arts programs have on our students, to ever consider downsizing or cancelling them would be catastrophic.
While our school has a flourishing programs in the performing, visual (art, photography and video) and speech arts, the lens by which I wish to animate the transformational nature of our arts program is through our choral music program. 
Over the years the school’s choir has performed in countless concerts spanning the globe.  They have left many audiences in tears and many more speechless.  A few people have been moved to verbalize their feelings in wonderful testimonials.  Some of my favorites include: 
During the choir’s 2007 visit to Chicago, they performed at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in Melrose Park.  After the concert, long time parishioner, lovingly known as “Uncle Jimmy”, grabbed me, and in his big Italian American accent, stated: “In over 50 years at this parish,  my ears have never heard such beautiful music.”   
In 2009, while touring in Cuba and singing in  the Chiesa del Carmen Cathedral, a local woman approached me, after hearing the choir,  clutching her chest and, in Spanish, stated – “I don’t speak English – but I want to tell you -  my heart is filled with love” –as the tears poured down her face.

On that same Cuban tour I met Professor Jorge Pacheco, Artistic Director of Music for Cuban Television and former soldier in the Cuban Revolution who fought in the Bay of Pigs invasion.  While sitting listening to our choir, he leaned over and whispered “You know, real power is not at the end of gun but rather in the beauty of the arts.” 

These are wonderful and inspiring testimonies from those outside the choir.  But what do the students think?  What does choral music and singing choir mean  to them?
I recently asked members of the choir to tell me about their choral experience.  Here is what a few told me:
  • “The choir has allowed me to express the vulnerability of the human condition alongside my classmates”
  • “Being here has grown my belief in the certainty that there is something bigger – something extraordinary-living in each of us.”
  • “Choral music is everyone’s answer put to one.”
  • Choir has taught me to love, respect and give back to people who need love the most.”
Hearing these students articulate these powerful and insightful thoughts caused me to do some deep thinking about the power of our choral program and indeed our arts programs in general.     

Perhaps, at the end of the day (without sounding too melodramatic) - after all the tears, accolades, and testimonials, the trans-formative power of the arts lies in the fact that they give our students a sense of hope in themselves, each other and their fellow human.  In a world full of conflict, destruction and death, their efforts stirs in them (and us who experience their creative genius) a sense of hope.

In his book, “Have a Little Faith”, Mitch Albom, speaks of the importance of hope in our lives when he writes:
“In the beginning, there was a question.  In end, the question gets answered.  God sings, we hum along and there are many melodies, but it’s all one song – one same wonderful, human song.  I am in love with hope.”
We are blessed to have a vibrant arts program at our school which nourishes the hearts of students and audiences with power of hope.  

I would like to dedicate this post to all the wonderful arts teachers who bring out the best in our students


  1. It's not about offering students options. It's about getting out of their way and watching as they transform themselves, others, and us.

  2. Johnny
    A wonderful post - the love and soul behind success - as Tom writes, the process is transformative for both those who give and those who receive.

    Like you, I believe that aesthetic literacy, an understanding and appreciation of the arts, is essential if we expect those around us to be responsive and empathic to the wonders and, concomitantly, the mundane in the world.

    In using the arts as a means to engage with our community and beyond, we continue to improve our students' life chances by ‘connecting’ and speaking to the hearts of all, addressing not only what they learn but what they feel; we stay committed to the promise that, through the arts, our students can and will grow in their understanding of themselves and the world around them.

    If you have a second, take a look at my post, "Why Aesthetic Literacy?"

    Passionate leadership like yours, Johnny, will always be appreciated

  3. Gino
    I really appreciate you taking the time to read my post. Your comments and your post on Aesthetic Literacy (have not heard that expression before) are poignant! I feel fortunate to be exposed to the artistic talents of so many....