The Instrument Inside of Us


Elijah Boisvert and Joey Stearns

The lights grow dim.  As the audience sinks into silence, the only sounds that remain are the breathing of the performers, and the deep, soft whirr of the Heiber Theater.  The stage is illuminated, and director, Joshua Desrochers calmly walks onto the stage, and plays out the chorus’ starting pitches on the piano. After moving to the center of the stage and whispering a few short words of encouragement to the ensemble, he raises his hands to gesture the imminent outset of the performance.  This piece is one that hours of practice and work have culminated towards, and the suspense is hanging in the air. With the flick of Mr. Desrochers’ hands, the group collectively takes a swift synchronized breath, and it begins.

The experience of participating in the Goffstown High School chorus is one that is unique each year, which is largely due to the people involved.  Due to students constantly moving in and out of the group, the experience of chorus is always evolving. There are currently about 80 members in the group.  The main component of participating in this chorus is the rehearsal time during the school day. During past years, rehearsals have taken place on even days at GHS during fourth period.  These 90-minute blocks are run by Mr. Desrochers and Mr. McKernan, and serve as the ensemble’s main time to prepare and practice for the concerts, as well as learn and explore the music itself.  Mya Whitten, a senior at GHS describes how, “You’re expected to be an active member in and out of class, to know your music and to participate in concerts and performances. Lots of people join chorus for the art credit, and when they realize that they actually have to work for it, they’re surprised.”

Practices start with student led warm-ups, such as physical stretches to loosen the body, as well as vocal warm-ups.  At the start of the year, or just after a concert is finished, new music is handed out to the chorus to be working on until the next performance.  After the music is passed out to the ensemble, time is given for each section of the chorus, the sopranos, altos, tenors, and basses to examine their parts of the piece.  Many practices also consist of time for each section to break off from the main chorus and work on their specific part, which sees the student leaders of each section helping guide the rest of the group through the piece.  As chorus participants Brianna and Alli described, during class periods, “…you actually have a lot of fun because the songs are harder and take more time to learn.”

One technique that Mr. Desrochers teaches the GHS chorus that many other groups don’t learn, is the system of solfege: a system assigining syllables to every note.  Using solfege, students are able to learn their parts on solfege syllables like Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La and Ti, and practice them with corresponding hand signs.  Though the hand signs can be difficult to pick up at first, the payoff is well worth it, as they assist with pitch accuracy and intervals. Solfege also makes learning new music much easier, as students don’t need to learn the words that go along with the piece at the same time that they learn the pitches, to allow for a more step-by-step learning process.  As Mr. D describes, “I would chart the improvement based on the number of kids in the program. With the quality of the music, I think it depends on the students that we have from year to year…it’s more of matching the kids with the abilities than it is everybody gets better over time.”

Of course, the end result of the practice that the chorus puts in is the concerts that are put on throughout the school year.  These concerts are typically a couple hours long, and are a time for all ensembles at GHS to present their most recent work with the public. Each year the chorus puts on at least three concerts.  As an exciting of a time as it is for ensembles to be able to show off their work, these events are also exciting for parents or surrounding people in the community who are curious to see and hear what the students at GHS have been up to.  Performers at the concerts wear matching formal attire to create an upscale feeling to the entire event, which just makes these nights that much more of a big deal.

Outside of school hours, the GHS chorus also participates in other events throughout the year such as singing the national anthem at home basketball games, attending the Granite State Invitational Music Festival, auditioning for and attending All-State, which is a festival you audition for, and other local events that depend on the year.  Participation in these events is optional, but the students who do participate are excited and passionate to do so.

Chorus has also begun holding an open house-type event during the year where 8th graders who are considering joining the ensemble can come to GHS and see what the chorus has to offer.  This is an event that has only started being hosted recently, and attending it is a great opportunity to get a glimpse into what high school music classes are like to ease the transition.  Though participating in chorus may appear as something scary to join as a freshman, this ensemble truly knows and cares about each one of its members, creating a feeling of family and community that few other groups at GHS have.  As Scarlette Vermette, a senior at GHS and a member of the chorus as well as the select vocal ensemble expressed after performing in her last winter concert, “I wanted to cry actually, I mean, it was our last one!”