eaching music during the pandemic has been a challenge beyond what anyone could have imagined. For 2021 National Association for Music Education (NAfME) Award recipient Sarah Shapiro, barbershop music helped make it just a little easier. Sarah teaches at Milken Community School, an independent Jewish school in Los Angeles, California (USA) — the same school where she began her own barbershop journey as a student. Sarah facilitated the founding of the school’s largest singing ensemble, a girls’ barbershop club with a great name: The Milken Honeys. When she was a student at Milken, Sarah’s music teacher was a barbershopper who sang with Masters of Harmony Chorus. On his suggestion, she visited the nearby Santa Monica Chorus the summer before college as part of a program to sing with them at an Independence Day concert. As a music major, she sang with several college ensembles, but it wasn’t until she married and moved with her husband to Scottsdale, Arizona (USA) that she rejoined the barbershop singing world — with the mighty Scottsdale Chorus, where she sang with Eden Quartet. Eventually, she moved back to Los Angeles and joined another great chorus, Harborlites, and Off the Record quartet. Sarah calls herself a “lead-itone,” singing lead in Harborlites and baritone in her quartet. When her music teacher moved to Australia (where he is still an active barbershopper!), Sarah began teaching vocal music back at Milken, where it all began. In her concert choir, she teaches a variety of styles, including traditional classical, choral music, a cappella, Hebrew and Israeli music, and also barbershop. “Some students said they wanted to have a barbershop singing club, and I said, ‘Absolutely!’” she recalls. “The Milken Honeys meet after school once a week, and it’s become such a big part of the culture here. The Honeys are the largest singing ensemble on campus.” Like Sweet Adelines choruses, the Milken Honeys have students from a wide age range, from 11–18. Sarah says that is one of the strengths of the group. “They get to know each other, and they build friendships and mentor each other,” she says. “They realize it’s special. The Honeys were able to thrive during the pandemic because of the uniqueness of the ensemble. It actually became a safe haven for them.”
As a barbershop singer missing in-person rehearsals with her own chorus during the pandemic, Sarah empathized with her student singers. “When you join a chorus, you do it to be with people, and it’s been really tough for all of us,” she said. “I tried to bring what I enjoyed about our Harborlites Zoom rehearsals to my students and share things that worked for my students to our Harborlites rehearsals.” A large part of that involved creating bonding experiences for the singers and keeping the purpose of music at the forefront. “It’s not just about being a good musician,” says Sarah. “It’s about having the means to effectively express yourself, whether that’s through your own original music or through somebody else’s song that speaks to you. Most of my students won’t go on to be professional musicians or even study music in college, but many of them will continue to sing in college or community groups and hopefully one day, Sweet Adelines, of course! And most of them will continue to listen to music. That’s important to humans, right? To have that means of expression.” Sarah says that outlet is especially important for young people now. “For teenagers especially, they are feeling so many emotions in such a heightened way, and they need an outlet for self-expression,” she says. “Especially during this past year of the pandemic, when so many kids felt isolated and alone, it helped to have music they could sing that was talking about those feelings and about making connections.” The NAfME Award is for “outstanding music educators who have achieved excellence in their field and made exceptional contributions to promoting the barbershop style in schools.” Sarah has done all of that during an exceptionally challenging time, and she said she is humbled that her efforts are acknowledged by her Sweet Adelines peers. “When I think about the sleepless nights and the stress and the tears of this past year, it just feels really validating to have my hard work recognized as something of excellence,” she says. Certainly, the strength and hope that Sarah has shared with her students through music exemplifies the purpose of the NAfME Award.
January 2022 |