Jason Max Ferdinand, Associate Professor and Director of Choral Activities at Oakwood University (Huntsville, AL), takes a new approach to choral directing. In 2019 he took his ensemble, the Aeolians of Oakwood University, to the American Choral Directors Association's national conference where the singers blew away the audience by challenging racial biases in the choral world with their outstanding performances of traditional Western classical songs and Black music.
That response inspired Ferdinand to move his progressive teaching style to the forefront of the conversation, and inspired him to author a book Teaching With Heart, the first book to directly help address the societal issues in choral music and performance.
Ferdinand emphasizes that his teaching process is about choirs and teamwork. Instead of just looking at notes, rhythms and phrasing, they talk about learning life lessons from the music. “We go deep down on how this has been impacted by society."
The Aeolians of Oakwood University was originally organized in 1946 by the late Dr. Eva B. Dykes. Since its inception, the choir has touched the hearts of both young and old with their inspirational singing. Members of the Aeolians ensemble today realized that many of the songs they were learning spoke to social issues that were happening right now.
Now, his students now spend so much time talking about the nitty-gritty of the music, including why, how and where it was written, that they would be lost if all they did was learn and sing the music. It is important in this socially aware world to have a clear understanding of the music being performed.
Learn more about his book Teaching With Heart and watch the 2019 ACDA video performance.
More content from this article by Jeffrey Yelverton for Classical MPR.