Spring has sprung (Kimberly Barber, May 1, 2021)

I’m a gardener, so this time of year is my favourite: when things begin to burst back into life and the landscape changes. It’s been a slow spring this time around; after some beautifully warm days in early April, everything seems to have paused with colder weather. So I get to watch as, bit by bit, the buds, sprouts and bulbs slowly make their way out of the earth and green begins to take the place of all the brown leaves, twigs and other decaying matter. I’m always inspired by the power of nature: the urge to grow simply cannot be held back. Daily I go out and watch as the tulips forcibly push their way through piles of humous, unable to be thwarted in their desire to bloom and grow. It’s a reminder that what needs to grow WILL grow.

This time of year is also one where high school students make choices about where they’ll go to school in the fall. It’s also a time when post-secondary educators–in music, at least–have conversations about what makes a student want to choose (or not) the school where they teach. And over the past few years, accelerating during the pandemic and in its aftermath, we notice a changing of the landscape in our world too.

Singers were among the most impacted of all performing artists in the early months of the pandemic. Choirs were silenced. Music programs were put on hold. Many young singers, whose passion was to perform, were deprived of any and all opportunity to practice what they love. Some of them found a way, if they were lucky; they had plucky high school or private teachers who adapted quickly and created options for them. And for these lucky few, their joy in singing, in music-making, motivated them in those otherwise silent times. But there were also so many who never had their love for music, for singing, awakened and nurtured. As a result, so many fewer young people are choosing to study music. The landscape seems, for them, barren. And then they decide to plant themselves elsewhere.

Singing, and for a very long time, teaching singing, has been my life. I love the art, I love the art form, and I always have, since I was a little girl. When I discovered choral singing in middle school, I was like a plant set in fertile soil–with the support and encouragement of committed and impassioned teachers, I grew and blossomed. I never looked back.

Now when I see how many folks just turn away from it, it breaks my heart. I believe fully in the importance of the arts, the value of studying music, the power music and singing have to build community and tell the vital stories of humanity. But this landscape I see now is so different from the one I grew up and trained in. It is hard to trust that spring will come again, and I wonder: is there something I need to change about what I do? Do the arts matter? Is what I do relevant? Will this altered “landscape” burst again with new growth, and if so, what influence do I have in making that happen?