When Choral Director contacted Lin Warren about being the subject of this month’s UpClose feature, his immediate response was, “I don’t like talking about myself or touting my accomplishments. It makes me feel uncomfortable. I’m not sure how I feel about an interview.” This, as one can imagine, was not the typical response to an invitation to be featured in a magazine’s cover story. However, after some reassurance, explaining to Lin that the purpose of the article was, and always is, for music educators to share personal and professional experiences with our readers in the hopes that many may benefit from one teacher’s experiences, he agreed. What CD found was that Lin may not enjoy talking about himself, but he loves, with great pride, talking about his students. Even though he may be reluctant to talk about them, a few of this exemplary director’s accomplishments bear mentioning.
In 1988 Lin received the Outstanding Young Choral Director Award from the Minnesota Chapter of ACDA, and in 1989 was named Hastings Teacher of the Year. His choirs have appeared in MMEA and ACDA state conventions and also at the MENC Divisional Convention in Minneapolis. He has been teaching for 26 years, all of which have been at Hastings Senior High School in Hastings, Minn. Lin also served six years as the secretary/treasurer of the North Central Division of ACDA and was the assistant convention chair for the ACDA National Convention in Los Angeles, Calif., in February, 2005.
Lin may be modest, but he is also, without a doubt, very passionate about music and for the past 26 years, he has shared that passion with his students at Hasting High School.
Choral Director: Why did you choose to become a choral director?
Lin Warren: In college I began as a piano major but quickly decided that I didn’t want to spend my life in a practice room. I was accompanying the college choir and really liked choral music. I decided to change direction and become a teacher and choral director. The most key moment in my life was when I changed my major in college from piano to music education. Also, I had an incredible student teaching experience with a cooperating teacher who cared so much about his students. I wanted to influence and impact kids lives just as he did.
CD: So you did some student teaching?
LW: I was a student teacher at Hastings High School, in Hastings, Nebraska.
CD: You went from one Hastings to another?
LW: Yes. I went to Hastings High School in Nebraska and Hastings College. Then I went on to get a Master of Arts in Music degree from the University of Wisconsin in Eau Claire. I got my one and only teaching job at Hastings High School in Hastings, Minn. I am convinced that’s the only reason they looked at my resume, because of Hastings .[laughs]
CD: What lessons and teaching skills did you take away from your student teaching experience and that teacher?
LW: I learned that, yes, it is all about music, but it is also about making the kids feel good about themselves. I have tried to expand on that in my teaching. I saw how it impacted the exceptional kids, but also the kids for whom choir was the only thing that they had in their life that was going well; it was the most important thing to them and something that they could excel at.
CD: When did you begin teaching?
LW: I took my first position in the fall of 1984 and I have been at HHS for my entire career of 26 years. When I started it was a small program of three choirs a chamber choir of sophomores, a small women’s choir, and a mixed choir of juniors and seniors, just over 100 singers total in the program.
CD: Now you have nine choirs and 600 students in those choirs. What do you attribute the growth and success of your program to?
LW: Caring about the students, demanding excellence, and offering many opportunities for performance and musical experiences.
CD: Can you talk a little bit about the accomplishments of your ensembles?
LW: Select Chorale was selected three times to appear at the Minnesota Music Educators Convention, twice at the state convention of the ACDA of Minnesota Convention, and once at the MENC divisional convention. My proudest achievement was a very polished and musical Select Chorale performance at the state ACDA convention in the fall of 2007. They have also been the solo choir at the Dorian Vocal Festival at Luther College. The Men’s Chorus was selected twice to appear at the Minnesota Music Educators Convention, and Bel Canto has appeared once. Riverside Company, our varsity show choir, has received many grand champion awards at competitions in the upper Midwest and has received caption awards over the years for outstanding vocals, outstanding choreography, best combo, and outstanding female and male soloist. They were also first runner up at the FAME national show choir competition in Branson, Mo. All choirs have recorded a Christmas CD with Delta Records from Chicago three different times over the past 26 years.
CD: What positive messages have you tried to convey to your student?
LW: I have worked hard to develop a program that allows students of all abilities to succeed and feel part of something special. I have also worked very hard to make singing an okay thing to do, so that it rates right up there with all sports and other activities.
CD: Do you take group trips with your students?
LW: Yes. We take a large tour every other year with Select Chorale, Bel Canto, Riverside Company, and Vocal Jazz Ensemble. The show choirs travel to competitions every year throughout the months of January, February, and March.
CD: Do you plan the choir trips yourself or do you use a tour company?
LW: I have done both. Now that we are taking such a large number of students on a tour at one time, 150 to 200, I use a tour company. The company is called Gateway Music Festivals and Tours. I have used a lot of different tour companies, but Gateway has been great.
CD: Where do you get the funding for trips?
LW: The students raise every penny themselves. We start planning fundraising almost a year in advance. We do door-to-door sales. One of our biggest fundraisers is working the concessions at the Metrodome in Minneapolis. There are so many baseball games at the Metrodome during the summer; that’s when the kids raise most of their money. It’s a great deal because they pay non-profits. So, everyone who works gets 60 dollars, which means if a student and their parents work, that’s 180 dollars. We do the same thing at the Xcel Center. We provide as many opportunities as possible for fundraising.
CD: How do you get the administration on board?
LW: There was no touring when I started teaching at Hastings, no choir or band had done it. So, I started it. I just asked for permission. It has grown, something that students look forward to and expect. For parents, it’s a viable and safe option for spring break. It also gives students performance experience outside of Minnesota. The last few tours we have gone to Hawaii during spring break, in March. It is still in the U.S., it’s warm;, and there is culture and history.
HHS Choirs at a Glance
On the Web:
Total students in vocal music program:
Three Show Choirs:
CD: Do parents go along on the trips?
LW: Oh yes, all of the chaperones are parents.
CD: How do you help students remain focused on school work while preparing for a trip?
LW: As an educator, the biggest challenge is helping busy students find a balance in their lives as they try to excel at the arts, academics, and athletics. It’s kind of a tricky thing. It depends on the student of course. I have many kids who are active in every aspect of school, from student council to drama and sports. Balance is a huge issue for these kids. As far as the fundraising, we try to pick things that take up as little of their time as possible. Plus, with all of the pre-planning and fundraising, we really try to keep it out of their school day. We try to do all of those activities during the summer. Of course there are exceptions, occasionally we will have to make reference to fundraisers and that kind of stuff during the school day, but we keep that to bare minimum; it’s just not educational. Also, there are always some kids in the choir who are not going on the tour, and I don’t think it’s fair to them to be spending time talking about fundraisers or an upcoming tour. If we do need to have those discussions, we have them in the evening, with the kids who are going on the tour.
CD: What are some of the best trips you’ve taken?
LW: Hawaii works very well for this large of a group. I think the cruises that we have taken in Hawaii have worked out the best. They get to see all of the islands and the different culture there. We do exchange concerts with high school choirs on the islands, which is a whole different cultural experience. During our next trip to Hawaii, we will visit Pearl Harbor and sing at the Arizona Memorial. Having toured a lot, logistically this has worked out the best.
CD: Are you on the cruise for the entire trip?
LW: Yes, we begin in Honolulu and then cruise to all of the other islands. We also take tours and excursions on the islands in addition to performing. There is an unlimited amount of food on the cruise. There are never meal issues, which is very important with high school kids. As far as rooming issues go, the cabins are tiny, and there is no where for them to go, once again very important with high school kids. The days are long and very jam packed, but the kids really enjoy it. For a lot of kids, it’s the first time they have been on a plane or away from their parents. They begin to get a sense of independence, in a supervised way. We went on a skiing tour once in Colorado, and had some people get hurt. I won’t be doing that trip again. You live and learn.
CD: Do you have any advice for music educators who want to travel with their groups?
LW: Traveling shouldn’t be the end all, but it is a great experience for kids. I highly recommend it because I see such growth after a tour; these kids are taking a risk being away from their parents for a week. They get good musical experience on a tour, but they are already getting that in school; we are always bringing in clinicians, et cetera. I see the growth from the teambuilding or something as simple as following rules and deadlines. These are little life lessons that you have to learn quickly on a tour. I wouldn’t keep doing it if I didn’t think it was important and good for kids. Honestly, it makes my work load ten times heavier than a non-tour year. But, it’s not about me; it’s about the experience that the kids get, and that’s why I keep doing it. For many of these students, these tours are their fondest memories.
Travel is important. It is important to get outside of your little hometown and see what else the world has to offer. It is great for high school students to get out in the world, to learn what is possible.
CD: Do you do any summer programs with your students or do they do any summer programs independently?
LW: Our students do summer programs independently. Some of them participate in camps, workshops, and private lessons.
CD: What are the advantages and disadvantages of students doing summer programs?
LW: I only see advantages. It’s just more opportunity for growth. I have a lot of students who take voice lessons; some go to opera camp, show choir camp. There is also All-State Choir camp during the summer as well. I think all of these are huge growth experiences. Students always come back with a new vocal skills and things that they didn’t have before they went. I can see no cons.
CD: You don’t feel as though there is the possibility of burnout for students who do this year-round?
LW: Perhaps, but first of all, they are choosing to do it. We, of course, encourage summer workshops if they are interested, but we certainly don’t demand it. I do know about burnout. My oldest son was a swimmer, and my younger son was a hockey player in high school. In order to stay competitive they did it year-round, and I definitely saw burnout with them. I do think there is a time to kick back and do something different that is completely non-musical. It helps students to come in and think fresh. That’s why as a school and a program, we don’t do anything major during the summer.
CD: How do you integrate students who attend summer programs with students who do not?
LW: It is rarely an issue, but it does get a bit tricky with the All-State kids. The All-State kids sing with 80 of the best high school students in the state. Minnesota has quality choirs and great singers. Then these kids have to come back to a high school choir, a good one, but nothing compared to what they have done with the All-State choir. There are times when I have to pull them aside and say, “Look, I know you have had this All-State experience, and there is no way to come back into this program and feel the same satisfaction. But, keep in mind that the other kids in this choir may not be at you skill level, but they still want to be here, and I expect your leadership.” That’s usually all that I have to say.
CD: Do you have any words of advice for other educators?
LW: Care about your students as human beings and push them towards excellence; they want it.