Shadow for a Day: Hilary Morton

Like many Free State students, I’m quite involved in school activities. However, choir is not of them. This makes me a minority at this school. When I chose to shadow Hilary Morton, the choir director, all I knew about choir at Free State was that it was demanding but rewarding. After a day spent in the choir room, with Morton, as a complete outsider I can say this: This organization and its leader have a lot more to them than what meets the eye.

Second hour: Men’s Choir

Morton’s first class of the day, the combined men’s choir (made up of sophomore, junior and senior men who are not in chamber choir) This class had the most energy by far out of all of the choirs. What impressed me the about this hour wasn’t the singing (though it was good), it was the fact that one person could control that many teenage boys, without breaking a sweat. She was friendly with them, making jokes and having a good time during warm ups. Yet, when it came down to singing, she was a strong leader that didn’t take misbehaving. She wasn’t overly harsh (I did see her take the same kid’s iPod and cell phone, but he had it coming). If someone was doing something wrong, she pointed it out and moved on.

Third hour: Sophomore Women’s Choir

I noticed a difference between this atmosphere and the last, which is due to the obvious gender difference between the choirs. This class is very relaxed as well, yet interesting. Working on the same song as Men’s Choir, they get a lot farther (less misbehaving). The piece, Gloria, by John Rutter, is a work the entire choir will be performing together. Both this class and Men’s Choir, have older choir students that help lead class and do extra work for Morton. Despite the difference in Men and Women’s choirs I noticed the same teamwork and genuine effort by everyone in the room.

Fourth hour: Chamber Choir

This is the smallest choir, the strongest, and the most serious atmosphere.  Chamber choir is where every junior and senior in choir want to be. The day of my visit they were working on part tests, where one person from each section to sing in a small group to see how well they perform the piece. This choir was impressive, and had the highest expectations from everyone in the room, including and especially Morton.

Fifth hour: Junior/ Senior Women’s Choir

While Chamber Choir was the smallest, this choir was the biggest. The women’s choirs are better behaved, they also had a lot of energy. This class had more discipline then the younger sophomore women’s choir, yet it was also after lunch, so everyone was alert.  The separation between Sophomore and Junior/Senior Women’s choir happened last year, which added another class to Morton’s day.  I saw the same themes I had seen all day in the other choirs, but at the same time each hour had a different personality.

Morton grew up musically, as most of the kids in her choir have.

“I don’t think I had a choice in the matter. Music has been a huge part of my life,” Morton said. “There was a weird moment in high school when my choir director asked, ‘How many of you are going to be music education majors?’ and I just saw my hand go up.”

Regarding her curriculum, Morton had these observations:

“[music curriculum] gives students something else to do,” Morton said. “It really varies what [the students] do and gives them a different form is discipline.” Music has a different set of rules, how the students have to behave to make a choir work are different than a normal classroom,“ Morton said.

“The bonds that form in the class and throughout the program outweigh the intelligence it gives students. They feel like a family, like this is home.”
While this day was different than my normal routine for a lot of reasons, what I learned about the benefits of choir was most important. In a culture where nearly every student is focused on personal efforts to move forward beyond high school, this class that is a break. It’s learning in a different way. Teamwork is not only important, its crucial. A great choir only becomes a reality when every person in the room is on the same page. This is a class that also happens to be a family, which is rare in most other rooms in this school.

Morton’s been directing Encore since 2003, but has been the choir director since 2006. I gained a lot of respect for her after spending one day in her room, watching her power through four straight classes with no break. I have rarely seen an educator so focused and passionate about her students and classes in my education career. Choir at Free State would not be the same without her, anyone in that room can see this is her choir and she works just as hard as every student so they can grow as a choir.

“At the end of the day, I’m exhausted, “ Morton said. “But I love feeling accomplished, that’s what I love most about my job, that we work hard and we do get better every single day,”