Choral Teacher Shares the “Uniqueness” of Music with Students

 

NAfME Member Spotlight

 

Fryling classroom pic
Doreen Fryling at the piano. Photo by Lauren Bella.

 

Doreen Fryling is in her 20th year as a public school music educator. A member of the National Association for Music Education (NAfME), she teaches IB Music and chorus classes at South Side High School in Rockville Centre, New York, and has previously taught K–5 general music and middle school chorus. She frequently serves as a cooperating teacher for student teachers.

At conferences, Doreen has presented on topics including differentiation, the male changing voice, vocal health, curriculum, and politics in education. She is an outspoken critic of high-stakes testing and its negative effects on music education opportunities for students.

In 2015, Doreen was recognized as a semifinalist for the Grammy Music Educator Award. She is also a founding member of the eVoco Voice Collective and a professional chorister in the Brick Choir in New York City.

For this NAfME Member Spotlight, Doreen discusses her teaching philosophy, and why music plays such a significant role in her life and those of her students.

Q: Why did you decide to become a music teacher?

My parents had the foresight to give me piano lessons and bring me to choir rehearsals as a child. Several musicals, years in marching band, and many concerts and recitals later, it wasn’t a stretch to imagine that I would become a music teacher. But somewhere in there, I was convinced to pursue a business degree, since I was a good student with leadership skills. It wasn’t until I visited several colleges and kept asking to see the music facilities that my parents said, “Why don’t you just do what you want to do and major in music?” Now, I cannot imagine having any other career.

Music education is a perfect fit for my strengths and my passions. I get to go to work every day and connect with others to do something that improves society, empowers young people to make the world more beautiful, and is challenging and creative. Did I mention that I also get to make music every day?

Students participate in one of Fryling's music classes. Photo by Laura Bella
Fryling works with students in class. Photo by Laura Bella.

 

Q: What role does your music program play in the overall fabric of the school?

Rockville Centre Public Schools has an amazing music program from the elementary to the secondary level. Students are provided music as an integral part of their education. Elementary students receive general music instruction and have the opportunity to select an instrument and receive lessons starting in the fourth grade. At the secondary level, students are involved in our many bands, choirs, and orchestras. Music Technology, Music Theory, and Studio in Music classes are also offered.

As an International Baccalaureate (IB) School, we have a two-year higher-level IB Music course that an increasing number of students choose as their arts component for their full IB diploma. The culmination of this course for each student is a 20-minute recital, a 2,000-word comparative analysis of world music, three original compositions, and a comprehensive music listening exam. We also have an active Tri-M® Music Honor Society chapter that does substantial outreach.

I couldn’t be more thrilled to be part of this thriving music program—one with great administrative and community support. We are proud that our students continue making music both avocationally and professionally after graduating. We celebrate this with a yearly alumni recital as a means for alumni to share their music back into the schools and for our current students to see how music-making continues after high school.

Q: Congratulations on being selected as a GRAMMY Music Educator semifinalist. What was that process like for you?

As clichéd as it sounds, it really is an honor just to be nominated. I was incredibly flattered that one of my students put my name forward. So, even though it seemed an unlikely pursuit, I followed the advice I give my students, took a healthy risk, and filled out the application. Each step of the process became more involved in its submission requirements, but it was a valuable tool for examining what it is that I do and believe about music education.

The positive feedback that I received from the GRAMMY Foundation® helped shape my view of my potential impact on the larger education world. I am hardly disappointed that I only made it to the semifinals. I won so much more from the experience than I ever could have imagined. I strongly encourage nominees to go through with the application process.

Q: What role do you believe your NAfME membership has played in your career development?

I joined CMENC as a freshman in college and have been a NAfME member since. I cannot count the number of articles from NAfME publications that I have read either as a student or a professional that have shaped my understanding of the teaching and learning process. Knowing that you are in good company among a cadre of dedicated music educators is also helpful, especially if you are only one of two music educators in a building.

The strength of NAfME advocacy is valuable to every one of us. The role of NAfME in each state’s music organization also provides important performance opportunities for students. I am grateful to be part of such a successful professional organization and look forward to being reenergized time and time again by NAfME conferences, workshops, and publications.

Fryling's chamber group performs.l Photo by Bob Wolchok
Fryling’s chamber group performs. Photo by Bob Wolchok.

 

Q: One of your students, Jack McCabe, was chosen for the 2015 NAfME All-National Honor Ensembles Mixed Chorus. Did you encourage him to apply? What was the experience like for him?

I always encourage my students to apply for any opportunities for which they are interested/qualified. The fear of auditioning can be replaced with a healthy outlook on selection processes. If students are open to putting in the preliminary work, taking the healthy risk, and are realistic about being chosen, it helps. I always tell them it’s like the lottery—you’ve gotta play to win.

Jack was fortunate enough to be chosen to participate. He said it changed him as a musician and reminded him why he loves to sing. In fact, he is now going to minor in music! Jack said it was an awesome experience, and he can’t speak highly enough of it.

Students “know music is a place where they can explore, create, and be fully engaged, and challenged no matter at what their proficiency level is when they enter.”

Q: How do you believe your music classes influence the young people with whom you work?

Nothing else is like music-making—nothing. There’s a uniqueness about music-making, and students know it. They know their music classes provide them a different way to experience learning. They know music is a place where they can explore, create, and be fully engaged, and challenged no matter at what their proficiency level is when they enter. It’s a place where lots of mistakes or missteps are made, but these are celebrated as means for growth. They know the thrill of working with others in an ensemble to create something new each time music is made. They know the thrill of having a means of expression that goes beyond words. They know the thrill of working on a piece of music to bring it to life through practice and performance.

My students’ lives are impacted by experiencing the temporal and subjective nature of music. They are challenged to think about the world in new, non-binary ways. They learn that art is not standardized, and neither is the world. They learn to follow their passions, judge quality critically, and consider context. They learn that they are musicians, and that is the greatest impact of all.

Q: You are also a professional singer. Does performing have an impact on the way you teach, and if so, how?

In working with my choirs, there has been no greater experience that has informed my teaching than has my continuation as a performer. It’s easy to lose the perspective of being a student when you are only on the podium. I can draw on my experiences as a choral singer, a soloist, and a collaborative pianist when I am assessing areas and strategies for improvement in my ensembles. I can speak firsthand of the joys and fears of solo performance when I prepare students for recitals and auditions. My empathy is sincere and fresh.

It is vital that music educators continue to perform in some capacity, which is why my husband and I started eVoco Voice Collective. We wanted a local ensemble for music educators where they could continue making music at the highest level with their colleagues. Out of the current eVoco roster, 56 of the 80 singers are music educators.

I am one of the grateful singers. I face the same process of sitting with pencil in hand in rehearsals, practicing at home, and responding genuinely as an ensemble member during performances, as do my students. They trust my insight because they know it’s valid. I am a better teacher because I approach the learning process from many different perspectives. And as I continue to grow as a musician, my new experiences continue to inform my own instruction.

Q: Anything else you’d like to share about your overall music teaching philosophy?

I recently earned a Doctorate in Education in Learning and Teaching. It took me over five years to complete, but I cannot stress how profoundly life-changing this degree has been. As I look back, I am struck by the interwoven nature of what it is that I’ve learned and experienced. My dissertation explored why students persist in choral membership. What I found—and what I experienced myself—is that the pairing of ability and belief in one’s own self leads to persistence. When singers match vocal technique-building with an understanding of how to more accurately assess their own growth, they are more likely to continue singing in choirs.

“Joy from music-making doesn’t only come to the very best musicians—it belongs to all of us.”

We, as music educators, are responsible for providing an environment where all students feel empowered and supported to grow as musicians. Joy from music-making doesn’t only come to the very best musicians—it belongs to all of us. It is part of our human existence. Every person who sings along with the radio in the car or while walking around the grocery store understands this at some level. If more people derived the benefits of music-making (improved psychological well-being and health benefits), the world would be a better place. It’s our responsibility to increase the number of students we can share the joy of music-making. We are charged as music educators to give the gift of pursuing a lifetime of music-making to every one of our students. Not only can we help them become better musicians, we can help them see their own growth and a future full of making and enjoying music.

Doreen recently wrote a post titled “Keeping Boys Singing” for NAfME’s Music in a Minuet blog. Also, see her article “Practicing Choral Music: Ten Ideas for the Singer Who Doesn’t Think They Can Practice on Their Own.” Visit Doreen Fryling’s blog for more teaching tips, inspiration and more.

 

Roz Fehr, NAfME Communications Content Developer, January 13, 2016. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org).