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Hudson High School choral director says music is chosen for quality

Andy Haase has been the director of Choral Activities at HHS since 2001. He says he chooses sacred music for his choirs to provide them with the highest quality music education experience.

Andy Haase has been the director of Choral Activities at Hudson High School since 2001. He says that throughout his years teaching in Hudson he has had one guiding principle when it comes to the music he selects for performance: to expose his students to the highest level of musical literature, whether sacred or secular.

Haase conducts the Chamber Choir, Concert Choir, Men's Choir and Exultate, as well as serving as the music director for the annual musical and the artistic director for the annual Home for the Holidays concert.

Haase said the district's most recent policy statement regarding the balance of music genres performed at HHS concerts is something he and fellow choral director Kari Heisler will consider but the emphasis of the program will not change.

"When I am evaluating a piece of music for my students, I look at a number of things. Is it interesting to learn? Can they perform it at their level and will it push them musically? Often music literature at this level is sacred music," said Haase.

Haase said that both he and Heisler work to help students understand what they are singing when performing sacred music. Many selections are in a foreign language. "We work to put it in context for them and help them understand what they are singing. Does that mean they have to believe it? Not at all. We discuss the text once and then move on to the performance."

The question of balance between secular and sacred music is something the HHS choral directors consider but Haase says that he has never received a complaint, with the exception of one anonymous call following the performance of a gospel song at last year's graduation (chosen by the choir students), about his concert selections. "On the contrary, we regularly get calls and comments from parents and the community following a performance and they tend to be very positive."

Haase said when it comes to great music it is difficult to get away from sacred music. "Historically, the majority of period music was performed in the church. It is frankly hard to find secular choral music in the historical context."

That said, the director points out that HHS concerts do include secular music including contemporary works, from pop music and musical theater. He also notes that recent concerts have included selections from around the world and from other religions. He said that while Christianity "imposes" group singing on its congregations, not all religions do that. "There is a collective effort in the choral world to look at other options."

Haase said the question of sacred versus secular rarely comes up with students. In all his years of teaching, he has only had two occasions where students, for religious or personal reasons, chose not to perform certain pieces. "And that is OK. They rehearsed and learned from the piece but the decision to perform it was theirs. Part of what we teach is respect for other's beliefs."

While he seeks to have balance in his choices, Haase concedes that the percentage of sacred music, particularly at the holiday concert, may be higher.

Haase says some people believe that no sacred music should be taught in public schools. He notes that courts throughout the country including the Supreme Court have said no to that premise. "It isn't about the quantity of sacred versus secular but the idea that we need to be sensitive to the beliefs of all students and the community... Our kids know what they believe by the time they participate in our program."

HHS choirs regularly participate in choral competitions around the state and region. Haase noted that in the Wisconsin School Music Association's Class A competitive selections, 64 percent are sacred music. He says the content of Hudson's program is very similar to larger schools throughout the Twin Cities area.

Haase said his department will comply with the district's guidelines when it comes to concert performances.

"We will continue to work to provide our students with a great musical experience."

Meg Heaton

Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

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