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Finish Lines: Ethan LaPlaca

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than LaPlaca is the Director of Choral Activities at Mt. Lebanon High School, where he conducts the Concert Choir, Chamber Choir, Men’s Ensemble and Triple Trio, directs and produces the vocals in the annual spring musical and teaches AP Music Theory. He also has a robust performance resume as an organist, accompanist and choirmaster, playing concerts all over the Pittsburgh region.

What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of your career?
I think many teachers would identify the “lightbulb” moments when students grasp and embrace content as being most rewarding. Educators share and present new ideas that are often met with skepticism at first. When I introduce a new piece of music, not everyone is immediately invested. The art of teaching is changing a student’s perspective from “what is this music?” to “when can I sing more of this music?” Those are moments
of real magic.

What’s it like to work for Mt. Lebanon School District? The 2020-2021 school year marks my sixth in Mt. Lebanon. What sets Mt. Lebanon apart is its support for fine arts programming. The support offered by administration, colleagues and community is not found in every school system. I feel very fortunate to work in and utilize the district’s learning and performing spaces. There is a long legacy of excellence in Mt. Lebanon performing arts. I feel my job is to preserve, cultivate and grow that history of excellence for future generations of students and teachers when my tenure ends.

What will choirs look like in the wake of COVID-19? There is a lot of angst surrounding the future of choirs right now. I think it’s important to remember that choral music is a very old and powerful art form that has survived pandemics in the past. Choral music is integral to the human spirit and a highly social activity. Singing, unlike any other art form, allows singers to express and amplify their innermost thoughts, feelings and emotions in ways they might not otherwise be able to convey. Choirs bring together diverse individuals, providing space for each singer to acknowledge their shared human experiences and identify new human experiences they need to learn more about. Singing in a choir fosters familial bonds, promotes an understanding of hard work, and, especially following a performance, yields a sense of accomplishment unlike any other. I just don’t see that going away, ever. The next several months may require some creativity and patience as we work to return choral music to our concert halls, schools, synagogues and churches, but choral music will return.

What are you listening to right now? I am always listening to a lot of choral music! A good bit of my listening is for enjoyment, but I also listen to explore new ideas and compositions for programming concerts at school. VOCES8, an a cappella octet based in the United Kingdom, released a new album in late July, “After Silence,” that I have enjoyed most recently. The selections include sacred and classical pieces ranging from the Renaissance to present day.

What would you say to students who are considering a career in music education? I would say, “Go for it.” If our current times have shown us anything, it’s that the Arts are a very vital part of our world. No career is guaranteed and no paycheck is easy to earn. If a career in music education will ignite daily energy to go to work and inspire others, then the decision is obvious.

You are also an organist and pianist. What is your favorite form of musical expression? Choral music, without a doubt. The organ as an instrument will always be my first love; the player commands a symphony of sounds at their fingertips. Choral music, however, uniquely weds language and music together. I’ll add that any time choirs and organs can be combined, they should be!