School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

Moving Between Footnotes to Musical Notes

Georgia Carley

Georgia Virginia and Maria

Georgia, Virginia and Maria

Graduate work-life balance is all about community, accountability, and joy for Maria Krause (PhD Candidate, Political Studies), Virginia Vandenberg (PhD Candidate, History) and Georgia Carley (PhD Candidate, History), which they find singing with the Kingston Choral Society.

“I love to sing,” says Maria. “I get a lot of personal pleasure out of it. I feel healthier when I do it. I notice emotionally I feel better.”

Virginia and Georgia echoed the sense of joy of singing that drew them to the Kingston Choral Society. All three have sung in choirs since their youth, and recognize it as an important part of their life and a valuable opportunity to connect with a community outside the university.

“I started googling choirs in Kingston,” Georgia says of how she found the Kingston Choral Society. “I know what I like are those big giant pieces.”

The Kingston Choral Society is a 120-voice choir that performs a repertoire of bombastic highlights of the classical repertoire such as Mendelssohn’s Elijah, Mozart’s Requiem and Handel’s Messiah, as well as Christmas favourites and show tunes.

The music itself, a process of creation that requires the cooperation of over 100 individuals, is a major draw for the singers. At the end of a successful performance, the culmination of months worth of rehearsal, “the sense of accomplishment is inherently community driven,” notes Virginia.

“The big pieces,” says Maria, thinking of the choir’s recent performance of Elijah, “it’s about a community creating music, and it’s this huge production that is just full of joy. And I really appreciate that different articulation of doing something that’s meaningful, as opposed to what success looks like in academia.” Joy and cooperation are measures of success here, not the competition graduate students feel in academia.

For Virginia, the different view of success that the choir offers helps to put graduate studies in perspective. She explains that initially she struggled with the music, feeling she wasn’t performing as well as she should be. She says, “I sometimes think that you have to fight your own expectations of what success is going to look like. That took a while to get used to, to think ‘I’m still in a learning stage’. As grad students we think ‘I’m on my way to being an expert in something,’ but to have to go back and be a learner…it’s a good reminder.”

Because the success or failure of the choral performance relies so strongly on the collective group, the sense of community is very strong, as is a sense of accountability, something Virginia, Maria and Georgia appreciate.

It can be difficult, all three admit, to juggle the time commitment of choir with the demands of graduate studies. The Kingston Choral Society rehearses once a week for two hours, and has three or more concerts each year. There is, as Maria says, a “constraint of having to be present.” If you miss too many rehearsals, you can’t sing in the concert, because you don’t know the music, and the pieces are usually performed at only a single concert.

But this need to commit is also one of the central values of being part of the choir. It is very important, Virginia says, that choir is “somewhere that you go on a regular basis, because the choir needs you, you need to be there, it takes out some of the internal motivation out of it.” At the simplest level, “making that commitment to the choir ensures I get out of the house and do something other than my own work,” says Maria.

Once the three are at rehearsal, the diversity of the community of singers is itself a joy. Maria highlights that rehearsals are a chance to socialize in an environment that is not dominated by students. The friendships and mentor-type relationships that can develop between people of very different ages are a very important aspect of the choir community for her. “You need those mentors in your life or people in different stages of your life, who aren’t your supervisor,” she says. Georgia adds, “I love being around people who have different stress cycles, so many of them are retired or in a non-semestered cycle, so I really enjoy that.”

The physical benefits are an underappreciated aspect of choral participation. Virginia praises the opening warmup at rehearsal which “forces you to deep breathe and to be aware of your body.” Maria likens it to the mindfulness she also finds doing yoga. At choir practice, as Virginia explains, you have to “focus your body in a way that is alert and ready to sing” which is “a kind of alertness or energy in your body that you don’t get when you’re hunched over the computer.” She laughs. “I often feel like when I come home by posture is better, after having sung.”

It is no wonder, then, that these three graduate students have such a strong love and commitment to choral singing.