For Andy Marshall, Choir Teacher at International School Bangkok (ISB), singing is all about character-building. As a multi-faceted subject, choir combines music and singing together to create ensemble pieces that are led by a conductor. It also uses experiential learning in unique ways to help students develop as confident, socially-intelligent, value-driven, self-managing individuals.
Choir begins with an academic element – the memorization of terms, and how rhythms and frequencies can be put together. But this academic foundation is at the service of a powerful emotional experience, when chords combine to elicit genuine feelings among audience and performer alike. And unlike other music classes, choir focuses on the human voice as the central instrument.
Each choir project at ISB comes with its own set of individual and group challenges, each of which requires dedication, hard work, and mutual support to guide each other through the most difficult elements. Slowly but surely, this effort is rewarded as the group learns how to combine their talents into a successful public performance.
Choir produces a unique sense of comradery, community and shared support within each group, regardless of class or grade. Every challenge, failure and success provides opportunities for students to learn to become adaptable, self-managing, value-driven, committed, responsible, courageous and confident – both in themselves and in their skill set.
Mr. Marshall pointed out that confidence comes from learning to work on a shared project both as individuals and as a team, and then standing up and presenting those efforts to an audience. This type of experience, he said, will prove invaluable later in life – no matter what kind of career his students choose to pursue.
A life in music
Transcending cultures, languages and generations, music has always had a special place in Mr. Marshall’s heart. “Teaching people how to sing and directing choral ensembles is my life’s passion,” he says, “and it is one thing that I can do in the world that makes me feel like I am making a difference. Music and singing have been the two strongest threads in the fabric of who I am and who I have become.”
Mr. Marshall decided to make the move to Bangkok to join an international school oafter he and his wife had joined the United States Peace Corps, working in international development. For Mr Marshall, teaching students to sing is a joy, a dream job. “I love getting to feel like a performer every day in my classroom,” he said. “I love watching students develop the courage to sing on stage. I love opening a door to the complex and beautiful world of music and watching students discover themselves as they explore that world. I love standing in front of a group of singers and knowing that we are about to go on a journey that will require trust, skill, love, dedication and complete ‘all-in’ commitment.”
Mr. Marshall’s students also value their time in choir, but the benefits of music extend beyond the enjoyment and emotional fulfillment that the art form inspires. Psychological studies have revealed that participation in the musical arts can have significantly beneficial effects on brain development, particularly with regard to language, creativity and motor coordination.
Staying in tune with school values
When preparing for each performance, Mr. Marshall’s students must learn to develop several of ISB’s learner attributes. Every choir project requires considerable practice, which means that students must train themselves to be self-managing in their approach both in and out of class. They must likewise be socially-intelligent to work well within their teams, and become adaptable to meet the demands of the task at hand. As choir is a richly layered art form with communicative elements, a creative approach to every performance is essential as well.
And yet even in this sensitive environment, it is important that students learn to accept criticism from their peers as well as their teacher. These critiques must be delivered with care and support, and received in the same positive spirit, to preserve the delicate sense of community that makes the classroom a place of encouragement and friendship. These moments require tremendous levels of trust – and when this trust is earned and reciprocated, it creates the kind of close, positive learning environment that inspires students to sing their hearts out.
Every set of songs, moreover, provides opportunities to learn more about the various cultures that produced them. In order to bring out the deeper meanings of each work, students must gain an understanding about their history and meaning. For our international students, where English might not be their native language, this process also brings new opportunities to practice and develop their own confidence in the language.
Performing these songs provides more exposure to cultural viewpoints, particularly when the audience includes the school’s diverse student body or is part of an international choir tour. At times like these, a sense of respect and understanding among the performers is integral to their ability to connect with their audience.
Creating harmony at ISB
As an enthusiast for the choral art, Mr. Marshall recognizes that people of all ages have a fundamental need to express their feelings. Choir allows them to come together, create a space where they can be themselves, and let their emotions out with confidence. As a result, students lose stress and gain new friendships with those around them, while learning to see their academic pursuits in the context of a more complete personal development. By adding artistic subjects like choir to their schedules, students can take the type of balanced approach to learning that allows for more well-rounded self-development.
French, an ISB High School Choir student said, “I’ve been in choir since seventh grade,” he says. “Choir gives you a different point of view in your day. From stressing over your IB exams, doing logarithms and sequences for calculus, doing cells and genetics in biology – half of the day you do that, and the next half of the day, you come here and you sing. You do what you love. And I think that’s an important part of having a balanced life.”
Allie, a High School senior going to NYU next year, found her time at choir invaluable. “I’ve liked music ever since I was a kid,” she says, adding that her classes with Mr. Marshall resonate at a deep and personal level. “A lot of it is just self-improvement and self-exploration,” she says. “Mr. Marshall is very supportive of what we do, and it creates a really nice nurturing environment for us.”
More than a simple singing class, choir is a place where students come to be themselves. Choir promotes creativity and positive learning, letting students find inspiration in an environment. With team projects that are both challenging and thrilling, choir classes at International School Bangkok provide an excellent opportunity for students to develop themselves both personally and socially.