Choir director motivates students

HARLINGEN — “Sing, sing a song, sing out loud, sing out strong …”

That timeless standard by the late Karen Carpenter fits very well with the life narrative of Pamela Briones.

“I love singing,” said Briones, choir director at Gutierrez Middle School of Arts and Sciences.

“I most enjoy seeing my students being successful,” said Briones, 47. “A lot of times at this level, the middle school level, that might mean just a great concert, that might mean getting a one on a solo and making region choir or getting the sweepstakes at UIL.”

In all of her 24 years of teaching choir – 16 at Gutierrez – this year has been like no other given the awkward circumstances brought on by COVID.

“I have to tackle the virtual choir thing,” Briones said. “We did a virtual fall concert and then we did a virtual Christmas concert, so it’s been different.”

Virtual performing arts has presented difficult challenges.

“Oh, my gosh, it was rough, I’m not going to lie,” she said. “I’ve had to learn Google Classroom, learn Flipgrid, just learning different platforms to be able to teach my kids.”

Quite a far cry from when she started teaching.

“When I started teaching, we had computers but it was more like for documentation, that kind of thing, just typing stuff out,” she said. “Email wasn’t exactly up and at it yet, so I’m very old school. But I was really proud of myself when I was able to create a virtual choir.”

These days, she has more remote students than face-to-face, which she and the other instructors can hear just fine. They don’t get to hear choir students logging in from home until they have a private lesson in which they can unmute themselves and sing for instructors. They also hear students singing on their recorded submissions.

“If it’s a regular typical class, they’re muted of course and we’re not hearing that until submissions are turned in,” said the 1991 graduate of Harlingen High School.

She recalled a high school choir teacher who encouraged her to sing out.

“I was shy and quiet just like many of my own students,” she said. “I didn’t like to sing out very much but I loved to sing, and I guess he saw something and he motivated me. He gave me the confidence basically and I wanted to be like him. And I wanted to help other students too.”

And that she does.

When she’s not teaching, she enjoys canvas painting or walking the dogs with her two children.