Continuing Education

Creating Harmony as a Music Catalyst

Community Choir instructor Bronwyn Edwards calls herself a “music catalyst” and when one considers the depth to which she has immersed herself into the world of music, it is impossible to disagree. From formal piano studies at the age of 11 and a childhood spent performing piano concertos to enthusiastic houses to easing the minds of weary travelers as a pianist at ImageSeaTac airport (not to mention concerts at Benaroya Hall), her work has touched the lives of others in unfathomable ways and continues to do so.  

Edwards admits that being such a success at a young age was a risky prospect. It may come as a surprise to learn Edwards had little interest in pursuing a formal musical education beyond childhood. In fact, she graduated from the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia with Science and Architecture degrees.

“To be honest, I burned out like a meteorite after that, having done too much too soon, and not possessing the maturity or the ability to appreciate the gift that I was given,” she says. “There was always too much pressure to perform meticulously and music became a burden. For this very reasondecades laterhaving returned to music as a career after another life as a professional communications director and publicist, I live by the mantra ‘It's about joy, not perfection.’” A perspective that ultimately came to guide her teaching and her own exploration of music.

“While I always encourage my students and other musicians whom I mentor and/or direct to do their very best, I want them to LOVE music, and not succumb to the pressure of having to achieve perfection,” Edwards says. “They need to feel enabled, nurtured and supported, not incapacitated by anxiety about their music ability.”

Truth be told, teaching choir was not in Edwards’ repertoire from the start. In fact, her very first choir gig landed in her lap from out of the blue. “I began leading the choir at Fauntleroy Church in 2008 because somebody called me up and asked me to come rescue the choir in the absence of its director, who departed abruptly,” she recalls. “I felt utterly unprepared. I Imagehad zero vocal training and no experience leading a large group of people. Choir directing is partly about music, but it's also very much about managing people and creating a sense of community and camaraderie. You find yourself in a room full of people with many conflicting ideas about all kinds of subjects. There is always some tension.  The director needs to be able to bring people together and find common ground and create harmony…in more than one sense of the word.”

Edwards saw herself working with Fauntleroy Church for two months at the most…and that was over ten years ago.

Not long after, Edwards found herself directing the South Seattle College Community Choir under similar circumstances, however in this case she was working alongside her long-time colleague, John Lehrack.  “We like to think of ourselves as a team… I was asked to lead the group by its founding and retiring director, Paula Herd. Today I also direct the Fauntleroy Women's Ensemble, the D.A.M. Ukulele Band and the Bell choir at Fauntleroy church. It's been an interesting journey and not the usual path of a choral music director.”

Edwards says she learned a great deal on the job, something that compelled her to expand her musical education, particularly as it related to choral music. “I think the greatest joy in teaching choir is the fact that you end up with something that's greater than the sum of all its parts. In other words, when a group of people come together to make music, there is always the possibility of something more than just a good music performance.  I call it ‘lightning in a bottle’—a kind of spontaneous combustion of energy and sound this is thrilling.  Everybody feels it!  You do all this hard work, you learn and rehearse your music, and then something wonderful happens.  People experience this and they come back for more.”

Not one to rest on her laurels regarding community building, Edwards is always mindful of creating a supportive space for first-timers as well. “It's really important to reassure newcomers that they are here to learn and grow musically, and no matter where their starting point is, they are welcome here.  I tell them they will need to do some work at home between rehearsals, but I want them to know that being part of a non-audition choir means we have a diverse range of musical skills from absolute beginners who've never seen a music score in Imagetheir lives, to professional musicians.  We will give them the tools they need to succeed.  We offer recorded parts online that they can work with at home. We can seat them next to a strong singer so they can hear their parts and sing along.  We wear nametags so it's easier to get to know one another.”

Edwards has several goals for students, starting with elevating their faith in their own musical abilities. “I hope students take away self-confidence, improved musical skills no matter their starting level, a sense of accomplishment and joy following our final performance of the season.” In addition, she seeks to build camaraderie and, “(A)n  appreciation for the ‘whole being greater than the sum of the parts’ and an understanding that each person's contribution makes a difference.” Most of all, Edwards sees choir direction and instruction as an opportunity to give back to the community. “Music is such a gift…There are so many benefits to making music together! It's good for your physical health (all that good breathing and great posture!), and your mental health too.  Singing gives you endorphins, and then there's all that glorious sound!”

Learn more about Community Choir.

Photo credit: #1: Andrea Pineda_cc_2.0
Photo credit: #2: Rick Harris_cc_2.0
Photo credit: #3: Rick Harris_cc_2.0