“Art is essential, not extra”

On August 21, 2016, a paid-for column by Randi Weingarten, the President of the American Federation of Teachers, appeared in the Sunday Review section of the New York Times.  Arguing that “Art is essential, not extra,” she wrote: “…the benefits of children’s exposure to the arts are numerous and well-established.  The arts can develop confidence and competence in students who haven’t found success in other academic subjects.  They promote creativity and self-directed learning.  They engage students- who, with access to the arts have better attendance, report less boredom, and are more likely to stay in school and do better in school.  High school students who take arts classes have higher math and verbal SAT scores.  Exposure to the arts has even been shown to affect young people’s values, making them more tolerant and empathetic.”

While Weingarten is obviously promoting arts in the public school system, the benefits she cites apply to non-school arts programs like the NJ State Children’s Chorus.  From personal experience, I can say that singing in a chorus is rewarding.  Working together to create beautiful music, whether in rehearsal or at a performance is very satisfying.  As an individual singer, you are an important part of a whole, whether there are 10 or 95 other singers.  A children’s chorus teaches teamwork and dedication, and provides the reward of a good piece of music performed well in addition to instilling an understanding and love of music that will last a lifetime.

When the Board of Directors of Ars Musica Chorale voted to start a children’s chorus last fall, we were amazed to learn that there was not a single community children’s chorus in Bergen County.  One of the wealthiest and arts-rich counties in the country did not have a place for children to learn to sing together outside of churches and schools!  Washington, DC has perhaps as many as a dozen; Indianapolis has one chorus alone that has 1900 members.  Now Bergen County has NJSCC, rehearsals have started and membership is growing.  One parent told me that for a few years, she has searched each fall for a chorus for her child and was ecstatic when she found NJSCC this year.  More parents will find us and more kids will join.  Perhaps we’ll grow to be as large as the Washington, DC chorus with 300 members.

In the meantime, I look forward to watching the kids learning and having fun during rehearsal each Tuesday.

Paul Donohoe

Member of the Board of Advisors of NJSCC

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