Next chapter for CC vocal director
Brad Beale going to Northern Arizona University for master’s degree
By Kate Hayden
Once May begins next week, the school year is going to wrap up pretty quickly. For the high school choir department, there’s few performances left: state small ensemble contest on May 6, the final department concert on May 10, and an end-of-year banquet with the rest of the music department to recognize seniors moving on from Charles City High School.
“It’s a sprint to the finish line,” vocal director Brad Beale said.
He would know: the second-year teacher will be moving on from Charles City to Northern Arizona University, studying for his master’s degree in choral conducting. The two-year program and accompanying assistantship will give Beale working experience as head director of University Singers, a collegiate chorus, as well as an assistant director position at Master Chorale, which he could potentially take over during his second year in Arizona.
“I’m one of those people that if I could be a full-time student, I would do it,” Beale said. “I’m going to go back and learn about music, that’s what I’m going to do every day.”
“Not that that’s not what I do here, too,” he added. “It’s one of those things I just can’t pass up.”
Beale isn’t one to pass up on opportunity. He hit the ground running in the 2014-15 school year, his first as a high school teacher, to lead Charles City High School students in the school musical “Footloose”, along with co-directors Jen Burton and Linda Brant. With the encouragement of the administration and parents, he turned his sights to growing the one-chorus department, which had about 45 students when he first joined. The extra-curricular choir A Capella made its first appearance at the end of that year, and by 2015-16 Beale was establishing the Chamber Choir and additional curricular Comet Chorus to accompany a growth in interest.
“I wanted to have multiple choirs anyway, because I would have had almost 80 kids in one room if they were all in one choir. That wouldn’t have been good for anyone,” Beale said. “When I was hired, they didn’t put any pressure on me or anything, but they said, ‘we want you to build a program’…I figured, might as well take the plunge and go for it.”
Each new choir was meant to offer something different to students, Beale said, and give them a wider range of experiences with repertoire or time commitments. Comet Chorus, the all-girls choir that encompasses freshmen and sophomore girls, was intended to help younger singers stand out and build on their leadership skills.
“Sophomore year, it’s a little easy to get lost in the shuffle. Especially women in a choir program, because there are generally a lot more women then there are men,” Beale said. “I thought would allow some of them to break out of their shells a little bit and take on some more leadership roles. I’ve been really pleased, because that’s exactly what happened.”
Extra-curriculars A Capella and Chamber have added new flavors to the program, too. While A Capella gives students a chance to experiment in popular music sans instrumentals, Chamber is meant as a higher challenge for students –– and a chance for Comet Chorus girls to audition into a mixed-choir earlier.
“It’s 20 or so select singers, so it’s conceivably the students that are the most dedicated, so we can do more difficult music and we can do it at a higher level,” Beale said. “It just allows those kids to have an enrichment opp beyond what we may be able to do in the day-to-day choir.”
Growing a program so quickly has been a learning experience for him, too. While Beale’s first year in the classroom taught him the daily management techniques, everything doubled in speed as he lay groundwork on new choirs –– and new choir robes.
After a year of hearing from parents, Beale started the process of replacing 100 blue robes that CCHS vocalists have worn since 1988.
“When students come next fall, they will have all new robes,” Beale said. “They’re going to send me a couple of samples so I can make sure this is exactly what I want before I buy 100 of them, and then write the check and go from there. It’s almost done. It’s been a big project.”
Beale won’t get to actually direct the choirs in their new robes, and he’s a touch disappointed. But the new gear –– black robes with silver stoles and orange trim –– is just about ready for the kids. And at least now, with the help of fundraising parents and supporters, the project has been tackled for the department.
”It’ll be a nice little gift for whoever is in next year. I hope they like them,” he said.
Beale found out he was accepted to Arizona in early April, with all school costs covered under his program assistantship. He’ll also study under fellow Luther College graduate Edith Copely, before graduating and returning to high school directing for a number of years. Eventually, he hopes to achieve a doctorate and conduct collegiate choirs down the line. He couldn’t have gotten started anywhere better, he said.
“It really has been the best first job that I could have possibly had. The support that I’ve gotten from administrators, the community, parents, things like that…they just handed me the keys to the kingdom,” Beale said.
And, he said, it’s the students who will continue driving the program.
“(I told them), ‘I’ve come in here and pushed and pushed and pushed, but you guys ran along with me. We wouldn’t be able to do this if you pushed back,” Beale said. “This is something that they want. They’ve jumped right on track.”