By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
Times have changed, but the idea of a young men involved with choir still brings to mind a range of stereotypes.
“Even today, in 2015, a lot of young men have a lot of pressures when it comes to being involved in the arts, and especially in singing. What does it mean to be a male in a choir versus a male on a football field?” said Justin Raffa, a member of Male Ensemble Northwest (MEN), a group of regional performers and educators.
MEN, of which McNary High School Choir Director Jim Taylor is a member, are planning an all-male choir festival Saturday, Oct. 17. MEN performed in Keizer as part of the McNary Area Choir Camp earlier this week.
Some of the details are still being hashed out, but the goal is for high school, and possibly middle school male choir students, to get a taste of performing outside the peer pressures of school hallways.
“At the core of what MEN is, as an ensemble, is encouraging men to sing. That’s why we formed and what gives us passion. When men talk together, they become friends. When they sing together, they become brothers,” said Dr. Wallace Long, director of choral activities Willamette University. “This brotherhood of men that sings together teaches character and sensitivity and kindness. That’s what this festival will be about.”
That brotherhood is what drew former Salem-area resident Darren McCoy to the group of 15 professional educator-singers.
“It’s humbling to work with such fabulous directors, it challenges you mind, body and spirit,” McCoy said. “When I took my students to one of the MEN workshops, I knew I had to be in it.”
McCoy now leads the choir at Oak Harbor High School in Whidbey Island, Wash. South Salem High School’s new choir director Will McLean is also a member of the MEN.
“The unique thing about the ensemble is that for most of us we are teachers first and then singers, but it does us good to get nervous, and prepare, and remember what it’s like to make a mistake and then recover,” Long said.
Students taking part in the festival will get opportunities to experience all of that in October.
“They will get together and form a large festival choir for the day,” Raffa said. “They’ll learn about the specific needs for high tenors or low bases, they’ll do vocal exercises and we hope to get them to a better understanding of how their voices work. They’ll finish the day with their own performance.”
More information about signing up for the festival will be available through the Salem-Keizer School District’s choral directors at the beginning of the school year in September.