Chorus instructor of 34 years teaches to the tune of success


Yiyang Zhang

Chorus teacher Jeff Davidson poses with his students in chamber choir, an audition-based class. Davidson was chosen as one of six extraordinary educators by Bethesda Magazine.

By Yiyang Zhang

In a room lined with trophies from years of musical achievement, chorus teacher Jeff Davidson establishes not only his tradition of excellence, but also a welcoming chorus community.

Davidson has taught at Whitman for 34 years and influenced thousands of Whitman students and graduates on their music journeys. Overseeing freshmen chorus, women’s chorus, men’s chorus and chamber choir, Davidson is there every step of the way throughout a chorus student’s time at Whitman. Bethesda Magazine selected Davidson as one of six extraordinary educators in August.

Initially, Davidson planned to become a doctor. It wasn’t until he joined his high school’s choral program, discovered his singing abilities and fell in love with the idea of singing quality music with others that he decided to change his career path.

“Music was something that really changed my life,” Davidson said. “Of course my parents were not happy when I told them I wasn’t going to be a doctor, but I’ve never regretted making that choice at all.”

Davidson hopes his students will also find their interests in chorus and aims to foster a friendly environment throughout class.

Junior Keah Sharma transferred to Whitman toward the end of her freshman year, and worried that joining freshman chorus would disrupt a choir that was already vocally established. But her transition into the class was easy with the help from Davidson, she said.

“He’s really into getting everyone to know each other—we’re all like one big happy family,” Sharma said.

Davidson gives students a lot of freedom to experiment with their choral pieces, encourages self-teaching in his classes and is always happy to give advice. Students in the past years have given him the nickname “Papa D.”

“He’s a very understanding teacher, very patient and funny,” junior Emily Mayo said. “He always wants us to be the best that we can be as a choir and wouldn’t settle for anything less than that.”

While facilitating a lighthearted environment, Davidson also offers opportunities for students to challenge themselves with more difficult songs and learning opportunities beyond school grounds. Students go on a music trip every year, compete in different levels of choral competitions and get opportunities to perform at venues from the Kennedy Center to Carnegie Hall.

The opportunity to teach most of his students through all four years of high school allows Davidson to know them well. His classes cover more than just vocal skills; he leads discussions about the context and meaning of poems and texts that students learn to sing.

“That’s a really important part of being in the choral program: studying literature and relating it to physical sound and singing,” Davidson said. “It’s such an emotional thing and so personal. I’m able to talk to them about things they’re going through and relate the singing to their lives.”