A lesson from the Lower 48

Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - 22:33
College conductor holds choral workshop at Chugiak
Anton Armstrong, conductor of the St. Olaf College choir, directs the Chugiak High choir during a workshop held at the school on April 20.

When Anton Armstrong — conductor of the St. Olaf College (Minn.) choir — held a workshop at Chugiak High, it wasn’t just the students who benefited. 

Chugiak choral director Ron Lange joined his students as part of the choir during Armstrong’s hourlong clinic Friday, April 20. 

“I wanted to see what it looked like from the other side,” Lange said. 

Armstrong, who worked with both the Chugiak and West High choirs, was a huge benefit to Chugiak, Lange said. 

“He showed the choir things that I have never attempted,” Lange said. “He’s a library of music.” 

The choir was astonished that Armstrong came to Chugiak, said junior Nathan Dennis. 

“It’s really cool that somebody from the Lower 48 would come up here and help us,” he said. “It’s incredible. We’re really, really privileged.” 

Armstrong came to town to serve as guest conductor for the Alaska Chamber Singers. He said he enjoys working with high-schoolers and reinforcing how important arts education is. 

“This is what education is about,” he said. “Give them what they won’t get every day.” 

Participating in a choral group teaches individuals to work as one unit, Armstrong said. 

“If I could put politicians in a choir together, they might learn how to govern better,” he said. 

Lange agreed. 

“Having to work together as a group is much harder than people think,” he said. 

Through learning difficult music, Armstrong said, students become better people. The discipline teaches valuable life lessons, he said. 

Armstrong also cited music’s healing quality. Referencing recording artist Whitney Houston’s death earlier this year, Armstrong encouraged the students to make smart choices. 

“I don’t want them to find booze or drugs,” he said. 

Armstrong said the arts are sometimes seen as frivolous, and school districts around the country are cutting those programs to make ends meet. 

“My colleagues who teach at this level are struggling to keep the arts alive,” he said. 

But, Armstrong said, the arts play a vital role in the education of young people. 

“When you create art, it’s very hard to destroy,” he said. “Arts education teaches what beauty is all about.”

Chugiak’s spring concert will be held Friday, April 27 at the Steve Primis Auditorium at 7 p.m. Concert-goers are asked to make a $5 donation.

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