When most people apply for a job, the ideal outcome would be receiving an offer, or at least an interview right away. That’s not necessarily the case for Christopher Keene, the new choral director at Dover-Sherborn High School. One of his goals when looking for jobs is to fill a special part of his email inbox reserved for rejections.
“If my failures box isn’t full, I’m not trying hard enough,” he said.
In the case of his new job in Dover, they came after him, and shortly after he was hired he got to work rebuilding a program that had been on the brink of extinction just this past summer. According to Keene, there are three aspects of his new job that excite him the most.
The first is a group of freshmen girls that he said are as good of singers as any girl he encountered while studying at the University of Maine, where he graduated in 2010 with honors. He also praised the support level of the parents.
He said, “These are parents that really, really care.”
The third thing that has him most excited has been the level of administrative support he and the other teachers at D-S receive.
Keene, who takes an interest in philosophy when he’s not consumed by conducting choirs or teaching people of all ages to sing, has his own philosophy when it comes to his profession.
“I don’t teach music,” he said, “I teach people through music.”
One of the things Keene doesn’t believe in is natural singing ability, but rather hard work and dedication in developing your voice. The winner of multiple awards and an accomplished conductor and private instructor, Keene said that his own voice in high school led people to ask, “Who’s stepping on that puppy?”
“Nobody comes out of the womb a good singer,” he said.
One of the most important things, especially when teaching young people, is getting them comfortable enough to sing. Often, that can be difficult because students have been told in the past that they’re not good singers, or that they would be better off lip-syncing in concerts.
“That’s like telling a kid they’re not good at riding a bike,” he said.
At the beginning of the year, Keene required his students to sing individually for him and their classmates in order to get a feel for their voice, as well as using it as a benchmark for progress, one of the three criteria he uses for grading. While this can be daunting for those unsure about their abilities, Keene said that his students understand why he does it, and they’re respectful of each other’s abilities, or lack thereof.
Keene, who is currently reading a book on nurturing the young female voice, said that he has high hopes for the future of the D-S choral program. His first goal upon arriving was to double the program from the seven students he started with. Just a few weeks into the school year, his class is now 15 students strong, with 17 more whose schedules prohibited them from joining.
He’s continuing to expand the program, traveling to the various directed research periods, which are similar to study halls, and encouraging students to sign up for chorus. Keene said that he’d be willing to take as many students that are willing to join, even if that means filling the auditorium with all 650 members of the D-S student body. He hopes to one day have a group big enough to break down by class year and ability, so that the instruction can be even more personalized and appropriate.
Outside of the auditorium at D-S, Keene remains very busy. He takes gigs once or twice a week with local choirs around Boston and is working to build his private studio, where he teaches students as young as four-years-old to as old as 84.
He also has carved out a niche for himself as a conductor that’s willing and able to learn quickly. He said that he once successfully conducted a two-hour rehearsal with only 30 minutes of preparation ahead of time.
He’s begun casting a wider net of musical teaching. His current side projects include developing CDs that teach vocal technique, conducting virtual voice lessons online, writing and recording his own music and teaching adult voice lessons. Although music has become his primary art and focus, he was just days away from beginning a pursuit of a law degree in college before switching to music education. He considers himself an academic in many senses.
As a senior in high school, he taught a college-level AP calculus class. His ability to relate to his fellow students enabled him to help them all, himself included, earn the top score on the advanced placement exam. But, “I wouldn’t have been able to handle AP and honors if I didn’t get to sing every day,” he said.
Based on what he’s seen so far, Keene is optimistic about the potential for growth.
“D-S is the epitome of what can be accomplished,” he said. He added that there’s as much talent already at D-S as there was at his previous three schools combined. The most important thing, though, is daily reinforcement, which is only possible when chorus is a part of the regular curriculum.
Despite his title as a part-time teacher, he’s found that he works 40-hour weeks at Dover-Sherborn High, though that’s practically part time compared to hours he said his colleagues work.
“I would continue to teach at D-S, ” he said. “Even if I wasn’t getting paid.”
Keene works part time at D-S and also offers private lessons, with the first lesson offered for free. He’s also looking for a community volunteer to play piano for the choir. People can more information at http://www.christopherGkeene.com or by emailing him at ChristopherGKeene@gmail.com
Read more: Keene on recharging Dover-Sherborn High School’s choral program – Dover, MA – Dover-Sherborn Press http://www.wickedlocal.com/dover/archive/x663900313#ixzz1v3qEWvdO