Opinion: Prerequisite for a cappella holds students back


Above is a picture of a combined a cappella rehearsal in a practice room at WHS. From left to right, top to bottom, Anitta Thomas, Ella Johnson, Jen Curran, Lilly Lin, Clara Hurney,  Jessica DeMasi, Maya Anand, Emma DiIanni and Alexa Calder. The a cappella auditions for the 2016-2017 school year have been moved to the fall.

The lights turn on and illuminate the stage. A small group of girls walk out, rocking the stage in their black dresses and red high heels. They form a semicircle. A hush falls over the crowd as if everyone is holding their breath. A single harmony rings through the air as the Muses begin to sing.

The a cappella groups seem to be in perfect harmony most of the time; however, behind the scenes there is more happening than may meet the eye. WHS’s Program of Studies states that, “All students in a cappella ensembles must also be enrolled in a curricular performing arts ensemble.” Joining a cappella means that you have to make a choice, a choice to join a fine arts class or simply not be in the group. This is a choice that is often unrealistic for students who have other interests outside of the Fine Arts department.

For a student to be in an a cappella group, they either have to be in chorus, orchestra, band or a dramatic arts class. What happened to being able to sing with your friends while still taking other courses outside of these choices? We are students, not professionals. We should not be expected to decide whether or not our high school experience is surrounded by only Fine Arts. The requirement does not allow students to have a balanced and healthy life. This requirement keeps students from trying new things outside of fine arts, by forcing them to work their schedules around these, sometimes unwanted, electives.

“I understand why there is that requirement. It gets to the other heart of the issue which is the club status of a cappella that is also a performing arts group,” Principal Allyson Mizoguchi said. “[The groups must] have a foundation of skill. We want it to be the most quality-supported a cappella group that it can be. There’s been some exploration of how we [can] be more flexible while tying to this philosophy around it being a performing art group.”

Exploring options is exactly what students at this age should be doing. They should be trying different courses, dabbling in different subjects to see what they like and are passionate about.

I had the Muses take an anonymous poll. I wanted to see who believed that the requirement to take a fine arts class in order to stay in the group was fair. It turned out 86 percent of the survey takers decided that the rule was unfair.

Senior Sten Shearer had been in the Madrigals for a year and a quarter while not taking a single performing arts class when he was removed from the group by the Fine Arts Department. Shearer said that there were other students in a cappella who ignored the requirement and were not removed from the group.

“If you want to be in a performing arts group, it should be based off of your merit for that performing art and not based off of a class that you take,” Shearer said. “I have a lot of different interests. I like taking AP sciences and business classes. Fitting another elective in there really restricts my time.”

Shearer participates in both the school play and musical each year. Unfortunately, the school did not feel that this could exempt him from taking a performing arts class for a cappella.

According to Shearer, many members of the Madrigals were not happy about Shearer being kicked out of the group.

“A lot of them got pretty angry about it, and one of the directors in particular tried to fight for me a lot. But in the end, we didn’t really have the authority to overturn their decision,” Shearer said.

A cappella students share these issues with members of other music groups. The Program of Studies says that to be in Jazz Band, “Woodwind, brass, string bass, and percussionists must be enrolled in the Concert Band, Wind Ensemble or Orchestra program in order to participate.” This means that in order to be in one band, one must also be in another band. Similarly, the Program of Studies says that to be in Chamber Music or Small Ensemble, “students must be enrolled in band or orchestra.”

“This has been an effective policy in insuring groups have a positive representation of Wayland High School,” Susan Memoli, head of the Fine Arts Department, said. “Having the requirement of being in a fine arts class has changed the [a cappella] groups. I firmly believe they bring more to the table. Is it a perfect system? I have yet to meet a perfect system, but we try to make it fair.”

Memoli said that by being in a fine arts class, a cappella group members have learned to have more stage presence.

“[Being good in a cappella] demands that you are learning those skills in other settings as well,” Memoli said.

It’s hard to see how being in band improves a cappella stage presence. It’s easy to see how it increases stress.

Teachers are always telling students that they have too much stress in their lives. But by making these choices requiring students to take more classes, the requirement itself is not paring down the stress. In fact, it adds irrelevant courses to students’ workloads. This is truly a bad idea because students are forced into the hard situation of choosing to study music alone or choosing to pursue other interests.

Although these requirements cause a lot of unrest in the high school, for many musicians, a cappella is worth it. People respect the Fine Arts Department and go along with this rule to remain in a cappella even though they may not think it seems fair. Many believe that it benefits them to be in a fine arts class, and if so, they should be taking these classes. For others who may want to take an AP course instead of a fine arts course, or take journalism instead of band, this rule holds them back.

Opinion articles written by staff members represent their personal views. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent WSPN as a publication.