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Students swap choir for academics

Katie Fitzpatrick and YuLian Leshuk, Executive Lifestyle Editor and Staff Writer

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The Treble Choir sings “Revolting Children” at the fall choir concert, “Cider and Song” on Oct. 24. Overall enrollment in choir has dropped 23 percent from what it was in the 2010-2011 school year.
Photo by Richard Chu

After singing in multiple choir groups for three years, senior Sarah Burnham, former choir president, left the choir room for the last time. In the back of her mind, she knew she would not be returning the following year.

“I no longer had time for choir in my schedule because it takes up a full block, and with my AP science this year, I didn’t have a full block to give up,” Burnham said.

Enrollment in choir has been gradually dropping at Glenbrook North for the last eight to 10 years, causing the current choir population to fall to almost a quarter less than it was seven years ago. Other high schools such as Glenbrook South and Deerfield have also been experiencing a similar drop in total enrollment with about a 40 percent decrease in freshman enrollment at GBS over the last three years and about a 10 to 15 percent decrease at Deerfield over the last year.

Andrew Toniolo, co-director of choirs at GBS, said in a phone interview that the school’s switch to the block schedule three years ago may have led to the enrollment drop. Another issue is that some specific choir classes, like Chorale, only occur during one period of the day while other classes like AP Biology may have more than one available block to take the class in.

“If a freshman with an elective wants to enjoy singing in choir, and they enjoy playing in band, but they also really like the idea of Project Lead the Way or any other STEM classes, there’s a lot of these [electives] that also only happen during one time during the day, so a student is forced to choose which [class] they would want to take if they happen at the same time,” Toniolo said.

According to Chad Davidson, choir director and instructional supervisor for fine arts at GBN, the decrease could also be a result of students choosing honors or AP classes, which they often consider to be more important. While choir is not an honors credit class, Davidson said he believes it still helps students by teaching important lessons such as cooperation and teamwork.

“We teach kids how to collaborate,” said Davidson. “We teach them how to communicate. We teach them how to problem solve. We teach them so many different things other than just the content of playing or singing a song or painting a picture or being in a play.”

According to Davidson, the choir department has been visiting SRTs and study halls to talk to students about joining the program and have picked up a few new members this way. He believes the universal nature of singing should make people want to join choir, even if they do not have prior experience.

“I think that there’s a reason that people sing in the shower or do karaoke with their friends,” said Davidson. “Singing is fun. People like to do it, and that’s not unique to Northbrook or the United States. All over the world, in every culture, singing is something that people do.”

Davidson said if the trend continues, and the choral program were to suffer from low enrollment, the school’s identity would not be complete as music is a big part of GBN’s school identity.

“[Music is] something that our school values, but in order for us to sustain that value and excellence, it takes a commitment on the behalf of our school and our students to say, ‘We’re going to invest in this program,’” Davidson said.

Burnham said she remembers a greater amount of students participating in her sister’s choir while her sister was a member and how entertaining the concerts were to watch. Compared with the smaller numbers of students in choir this year, she is concerned the choir department may shrink as a result of less funding.

According to Davidson, the choir department can manage without certain means, but one is a necessity.

“The only resource we can’t do without are kids,” said Davidson. “We can do a whole lot without a lot of things, but if we don’t have [students’] butts in the seats, it’s hard to continue to produce the level of excellence that our school frankly deserves and expects.”

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Students swap choir for academics