Learning the business of music

CHS choir students have a unique opportunity to delve deeper into music-related careers

During his five years of teaching choir and song writing at Camas High School, Ethan Chessin has noticed a trend.

“I have so many students who love music but aren’t interested in careers as performers,” he said. “Whereas we’re very comfortable encouraging students who love sports, but won’t be professional athletes, to investigate careers in fields related to sports, we don’t talk at all in our performance classes about how students can work in fields related to music.”

Chessin decided to offer curriculum within his choir classes to help students who may be interested in exploring those options. He designed the unique “class within a class” by collaborating with composer Luke Wyland of Portland, and the non-profit group Young Audiences of Oregon & Southwest Washington.

“My students don’t sign up for choir to learn to be publicists, though, so we wanted to make sure there was a balance between the fun of making music and the students’ curiosity about music careers,” he said.

The curriculum is designed around regularly inviting guest speakers into the classroom. Students who are interested in learning more about their fields are given additional assignments during a weekly after school choir leadership meeting.

Funding for the curriculum comes from the Camas Educational Foundation and Young Audiences.

In late March and April, students will perform three concerts of all-new music with Wyland and his band, AU, after helping with the logistics and planning for the event. The band has released several albums in the United States and Europe, and toured worldwide.

“Normally the students are shielded from this work,” Chessin said. “I do all the booking, programming, promoting and sound design for choir concerts. But our upcoming performance will feature a press release, a poster, an opening band, and live sound run partially with student input.”

The Camas show will take place at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 29 at the high school, 26900 S.E. 15th St., and is free. The choir will also perform at the Treefort Music Festival in Boise on Saturday, April 2 and end with a show in Portland on Friday, April 15.

“They’re excited to come together to perform with 150 high school students in a series of concerts that really has no precedent,” Chessin said.

Wyland was in class recently to work with the students on music for the upcoming performances.

“I think this class is just incredible,” he said. “When I was in high school, I had no sense of the larger world of things. I pretty much fumbled my way through. A class like this would have been incredibly valuable.”

Ninth-grader Avery Bradshaw enjoys the challenge of the class.

“I have always had a passion for music and this really helps me challenge myself in new ways,” she said.

Tenth-grader Katie Blair has learned how to handle several things at once.

“Just figuring out how to balance it all is a great skill to know,” she said.

Senior Hostetler plans to major in music education and wanted to have some background in the subject.

“Just understanding the organization that is required for music, knowing what you are doing and when, and how to keep track of it all is helpful,” she said.

Chessin is hoping his students gain an increased appreciation and awareness of the varied work that goes into producing music recordings and live events.

“Perhaps some of them will find a way to apply their passion for music into a job or a hobby,” he said. “That goes for the performers, the graphic designers, the writers and the enthusiasts.”