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Photo by Hannah Klemme
The Man Behind it All: Chris Storm
Skutt Catholic's Choir Director reflects on his monumental works within the choir department
February 20, 2017
What influenced you to become a high school choir director?
When I was in high school, I had great music teachers and found that music might be a career where I could work every day without it feeling like work. I continued to have energetic and enthusiastic teachers at South Dakota State University who continued to push me to be a great musician and transformed me to the teacher that I am. Hopefully I have a positive impact on the students that I serve each day, beyond making great music in all of our ensembles.
What steps did you take to become a choir director?
There is a lot of training that goes into the education side of choral music, but beyond classes and teaching experiences, I took on a church choir right out of high school. This was some of the most valuable time I could have spent because I was getting real-world experience while just starting college. I was quickly finding out what I didn’t know and what I wanted to learn more about. My Bachelors of Music Education degree took four and a half years to complete and, once I graduated mid-year, I became a music substitute teacher in Sioux Falls and gained even more valuable experience.
Why did you choose Skutt Catholic?
Honestly, I think that God chose Skutt Catholic for me. I had resigned my position at Bishop Heelan in Sioux City and had been looking for the right job in the Omaha area for almost a year. As we got into June of 2009, I had given up hope that I would find the right place to be. That same day, I got an email from the choir director at UNO about this position and wondering if I knew of anyone who might be interested. Within minutes I had my application in to Mr. Slattery, and I interviewed and was hired just a few days later. This has been a great place to build a choir program and to have a great community of supportive parents and families.
What has been your biggest achievement since you started teaching here?
I think the biggest achievement has come from seeing the choir program grow from one choir of 21 students to a three-choir program with over 100 students involved in one or more of the groups. Seeing students commit to being in one of our concert choirs is a great achievement because they don’t receive the same recognition or visibility that the show choir gets, but they truly are the backbone of what makes the show choir what they are.
What did it take to grow the program to the size and caliber it is today?
It has really taken a lot of students trying out singing for the first time and seeing that they enjoy it. It may not always be the “cool” thing to do, but I think that once our students see and feel the camaraderie in the ensembles, they know that choir is about more than making music. We had a couple of really great years of growth where we even had more guys than girls involved. There is always a drive within me to share the love of singing with more and more students, and I try to foster that accepting environment within the music room. Everyone has the ability to sing, and I take as much satisfaction in having a student learn to match pitch as I do when a soloist or ensemble receives an award.
What kind of a message do you like to portray through your choirs?
The Skutt Catholic choirs are inclusive, and everyone plays an equal role in what we do. There is no first or second string in music – no one sits the bench. Everyone is actively involved in the music we make and the performances we have. I like students to know that they are accepted in the ensemble no matter what their background, what sports they do or do not play, and what other activities they are involved in. Choir is a place where everyone can be themselves and at the same time be a part of something so much bigger than themselves. We plan eclectic concerts with lots of different music each time, which challenges our singers to learn foreign pronunciations, mixed rhythms, and self expression through singing.
Do you have any plans for ways the program could grow further in the future?
I am really happy with the current setup of the choir program. I love having two concert choirs where anyone who wants to sing can be a part of Concert Choir and others who are interested in a bigger challenge can audition for the Chamber Choir. The singular show choir is the way that I want us to go as it is not overwhelming from a leadership and financial standpoint, but it offers many students the opportunity to experience a competitive ensemble. The future growth I would love to see in the program would be for the non-auditioned Concert Choir to continue to grow, and, if there is demand, even be able to start a third choir, maybe focused solely on women’s music. In order for that to happen we need to continue to have stable and sustainable growth within the program and for all students who enter the Skutt Catholic community to know that choir is more than just singing at Mass – in fact, singing at Mass is all voluntary.
With the grueling work that goes with your job title, what makes it all worth it for you?
During the long weeks, especially at this time of year when we are competing with Vivace and preparing for multiple concerts at once with Chamber Choir and Concert Choir, I can easily put in 80 hours a week. My wife and kids know that is the job that I have and they accept it. What makes the extra time worth it is having moments of re-fueling of the soul. I can have a hard day and feel like I’m never going to get my head above water, and then Concert Choir can come in after lunch and have a spectacular rehearsal, and it just re-charges me and lets me know that, even if I feel behind, the singers “get it” and are making great music. I have been really happy with the development of the choirs this year and look forward to even bigger and better things in the not-too-distant future.