My daughter’s middle school choral teacher was awesome. She was a terrific educator, blessed with a knack for choosing music that appealed to 7th and 8th graders, and she was the kind of unattainable pretty that incited crushes in middle school boys. The ones who chose choir as an elective because it would be an easy grade found themselves singing just to impress the teacher. The boys who chose choir as an elective because they wanted to sing found themselves working harder, for the same reason. When the boys asked the teacher for their own piece to perform at the Spring Concert, she encouraged them, and their a cappella version of “My Girl” brought down the house. When the girls obligingly went ga-ga over the boys, she didn’t interfere . . . and lo and behold, a strong group of male singers was born, encouraged by their own success (and the dazzling approval of many, many young girls. My feminist heart rails at the thought, but you can’t deny the power of positive attention). Most of them are keeping at it in high school, and with luck, they’ll be singing a long time after that. And that was Ms. S’s singular gift: she made it incredibly cool for boys to sing.
It seems we live in a culture where – on the whole – boys are not encouraged to sing and dance. The further they climb through elementary, middle and high school, the greater the divide (and the more lopsided the numbers) seems to be between the boys who sing and the boys who don’t (and the boys who dance are worth another blog entirely). Attend any high school choral concert, and you’re likely to find a few all-girl choirs to accommodate girls’ interest in singing, while preserving vocal balance in a mixed choir that features relatively few male voices.
It’s a shame, really, because making music has subtle ways of filling lots of very important little spaces in our lives – social, emotional, physical, creative, spiritual. As a huge but not necessarily inaccurate stereotype, boys tend to bond over sports or technology. But long after your knees won’t let you play softball, long after your car’s so computerized you can’t identify the engine, long after your shoulder punishes you every time you play tennis, long after Ninentdo seems like a rather silly way for a grown-up to spend time, you can still sing.
How do we make it cool for boys and men to do so?
Karen Akers is an Alto 2, and the President of Vienna Choral Society. She blogs for VCS and her own site, Humans in the Workplace.