The Importance of Cooperation

We are delighted to introduce our new guest blogger, Kathryn Tewson and her post on Cooperation. It will be the first in a series exploring six different social, organizational, and metacognitive skills promoted by high level choral singing in childhood. Look for more posts to come on Collaboration, Competition, Focus, Discipline, and Practicing Excellence.

Seattle Girls Choir promotes excellence in choral singing to girls of all ages.  You as a parent already know this, that’s why you signed your daughter up for this thrilling musical adventure ride. But the skills that your child learns at SGC will pay off for her every day of her life, no matter what she chooses to pursue.

At the earliest, youngest levels, SGC teaches children the importance of cooperation.  Cooperation is essential to all choral singing – after all, the conductor is in charge, but they’re the only person on stage who doesn’t make any sound! Every singer has to make the choice to follow the conductor, to cooperate with her fellow singers, to collectively agree on how loudly or softly to sing a given passage, to accept the conductor’s phrasing, in order to come together as a choir instead of just standing on stage making noise.

You can’t sing choral music by yourself, but the utility of this skill doesn’t stop at the end of the concert. Being able to work cooperatively is an important skill even in early elementary education, and it never stops being critical to success – almost any personal or professional endeavor requires the ability to work together in harmony with colleagues, friends, or members of the community. People who can quickly and reliably become a part of a functional, productive team are highly valued just about everywhere.

In a choir, cooperation begins with the individual.  We do our best work when we’ve already done our work on our own, when we’ve learned our notes and our part and can come to rehearsal ready to do the work together that we can only do together.  Musicians know the value of a colleague who reliably shows up at rehearsal knowing her stuff! Girls quickly learn how good it feels to be known as dependable and capable, and how they can support their fellow singers by holding down their own part.  They forge bonds of trust and artistry, knowing that they are all working together towards the same goal.

In real life, the results of a cooperation breakdown can be subtle and nuanced and the feedback that something is going wrong can arrive well after the fact once feelings are hurt and a project is unsalvageable. In choral singing, it becomes obvious in seconds; the beat becomes muddy, the cutoffs aren’t clean, not everybody has the same idea as to how loud “mf” really is or when we should start that crescendo. That instant feedback means that the musicians get the point fast; if you aren’t working together, it’s not working at all. You can get the equivalent of years of life experience in cooperative effort just by preparing and performing one Bach fugue, and that experience shows up in group projects, in internships, and in all kinds of adolescent and adult endeavors.

Singing together with my colleagues in the Seattle Symphony Chorale and Opus 7 is some of the most joyous work I do, and when we are all really dialed in and truly singing together, it makes magic happen for us on stage as much as it does for those in the audience.  I know all the girls in SGC reach for that magic too, not just in choir but in their every day lives.

Kathryn Tewson sings with the Seattle Symphony Chorale and Opus 7 here in Seattle. She has two children: Alden, age 7, and Lily, age 11.  Lily sings with Allegra here at SGC.