Ask Jamie Bunce, Director of Choral Activities at Columbia High School, her philosophy and she’ll tell you, “Everyone deserves to be heard.”
“There’s no such thing as people who can’t sing,” Bunce says. “Every student has a place in the group. And everyone should have the experience of standing on stage — surrounded by others who support and value them — joining their voices in song.”
Bunce’s passion for music began in high school, when she was the only female saxophone player in the Hillsborough High School jazz band. “Back then, girls were encouraged to play the flute. I wanted to change things up, bust the stereotypes.” (Bunce still plays a mean alto sax, and will be sitting in with the CHS Big Band during their concert next spring.)
Her desire to make change continued after she switched to choral studies. “I was in the women’s chorus at Rutgers, and all the music was appropriate for little kids. My teacher said, “If it bothers you, become a choral director and do something about it!”
Under Bunce’s direction, Columbia’s six choral ensembles—Concert Chorale, Canens Vocem, Excelsior, BroChoir, Unaccompanied Minors, and the new Symphonic Choir—sound anything but childish. A combined 165 voices strong, they master challenging, thrilling music in a broad range of genres, from liturgical and spiritual to African chants, baroque classics and popular hits.
Along the way, each student gets a strong grounding in reading music, establishing rhythm, improving their vocal instrument, and being part of a team. “We’ve worked hard to establish a culture where everyone is moving on a path forward,” Bunce says. Beyond that, “Each student gets both a large choir and a small choir experience, and comes out of the class feeling stronger as an independent singer.”
Bunce has expansive plans for the future. “I’d like to offer pull-out lessons and add a sixth class period so we don’t have to turn away new students. But we’ll have to wait until we can afford an assistant for that,” she says ruefully. (Bunce also teaches AP Music Theory and is musical director for the All-School Musical.) “I also dream of bringing the honors choirs to Europe and give them the experience of singing in historic cathedrals.”
Meanwhile, she does her best to provide a transformative experience here at home. “Ms. Bunce freed my voice,” one choral student says, echoing the sentiments of many others. “I didn’t just learn to sing—I learned the importance of being heard.”