Seeing that No One Misses Out…, TriangleSings’ Carol Robbins Accepts NCMEA Award, Diverts Praise to Music Educators, Statewide
Carol Robbins, proprietor of TriangleSings!, the choral music resource for central North Carolina, received the NC Music Educators Association’s Music Education Advocate of the Year award at a ceremony and reception during the organization’s conference in Winston-Salem in the second week of November. In a report on the conference, Fran Page, Chair of the Music Department of Meredith College, writes that “[s]ince relocating to Chapel Hill from New England, Carol has been extremely supportive of choral music in the public schools and in community choral programs. Through her own personal, private fund, Youth Pro Musica, Carol supports choral music in our area, through the auspices of the Triangle Community Foundation. Through this program, Carol donates funds directly to local choral directors to be used in a variety of ways: scholarships for students to attend competition and performance trips with their choirs [and] summer music camps, [for] music and supplies [and for] commissioned works, [for] having music Brailled for visually impaired students, and [for] other needs as identified by the choral directors. She has always gone out of her way when she has seen a need.”
Page continues, saying that among Robbins’ other programs that “have become institutions in our part of the state… are TriangleSings! and the Triangle Youth Chorus Trophy…, intended to encourage and promote choral singing in public schools and to recognize the achievements of youth ensembles and music educators.”
Robbins’ remarks reflect her deep-seated interest in supporting music through advocacy and action. We are pleased to present a lightly-edited transcript of her November 10, 2008, remarks here:
“In case [that] flattering introduction still leaves you wondering WHO? or WHY?…, a bit more about me:
“Professionally I am a writer, city planner and public policy consultant. Musically, Soprano II.
“That’s it. No other instrument, no musical training. I sang through college – then stopped for a couple decades. But nothing could undo the inspiration of one Janet Grimler Gleason, my amazing choral director at Westfield, New Jersey, High School. So, eventually I moved back from listening into singing.
“You know this pattern: a lone teacher gets a kid gets hooked on a vocal ensemble or playing trumpet in the band… and thus creates the passion and skills that last a lifetime. Chances are, you are such a person – which makes it awesome for me to be standing before you.
“Thank you for this honor. It stems from concerns we share about the adequacy and evenness of musical opportunities for youngsters…, the lack of support for the arts in our schools…, [and] whether the feeder system – of cultivating lifelong amateur musicians and audiences – is at risk of breaking down.
“The fund I set up at a community foundation is an experiment in helping redress the current limitations. Primarily, it provides very modest grants to choral groups and programs in Wake, Durham, Orange, and Chatham counties.
“The grants have helped a choir get decent chairs for its singers…, scores for a major concert…, new composition for children’s voices. The Fund has spawned other projects: a website… serving all vocal ensembles, young and adult, throughout central North Carolina; and the Triangle Youth Chorus Trophy, a sort of “Stanley Cup” to encourage choral excellence in public schools. The latter involves more than just me; there’s an Advisory Board including … names you’d recognize…, financial support by several of your convention clinicians and exhibitors…, and five recipients to date, all NCMEA members, of course.
“But for the most part, the Youth Pro Musica Fund helps young individuals to … participate in choral possibilities.
“Put another way, the kid trying to sell Cadbury bars or Indian River grapefruit at a public housing development might not earn what she or he needs to go on the school tour…; [and] the blind singer determined to read music in Braille, not just learn by ear, falls beyond ‘normal’ [school] resources…..
“Mostly I don’t actually meet these young people, or their families, or – sometimes – even their teachers. But occasionally things get personal – and the value of helping one child at a time comes into focus.
“Let’s take Tyron Williams (I’m altering his name). In March of 2002, I received a note from Marshall Butler – the extraordinary vocal music director at Raleigh’s Sanderson High School. The previous year, I’d helped ensure that certain members of his ‘Sandpipers’ could go to Italy, and now the group was all set for a festival in Atlanta. But Tyron had been too embarrassed to admit his couldn’t raise the rest of the money needed. Marshall had just learned about this shortfall. Could I help? Sure. The donation was so small – $201, to be exact – that I soon forgot about it.
“About six weeks later, our phone rang very early one morning. It was the student’s mother, wanting to thank me for helping Tyron to go to Atlanta. This was his first time out ever of the Triangle…; the Sandpipers won the highest honors…; he got to go to Six Flags…’ [a]nd did I know that Tyron is learning disabled? (No.) He reads at the third-grade level. But for some reason – no one knows exactly why – he [can] sight-read music and participate fully in a competitive, auditioned high school choir. ‘It is the first time in his life,’ Ms. Williams said, ‘he has ever succeeded in anything.’
“So of course I’m thrilled to help in whatever small way I can. You’re the ones doing all the great work – I’m just around to see no one misses out.”