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Sing, sing a song, sing it loud (very loud!) …

May 17, 2013

“How do you choose your songs”, “Do your kids audition”, “How often do you rehearse”, “How do you handle the kids” …. these were some of the questions I was asked by a newly appointed choir director at a local school.  My first reaction was ‘why should I give away my trade secrets?’ but there is so little music in our schools these days that I really ought to share the love and spread the small amount of knowledge I have gained.

Firstly … My choir is open to everyone.  There are no auditions.  Every child who wants to sing can take part regardless of their singing abilities or experience.  I’m pretty sure that a competition choir would have a different set of rules to mine!!

It’s my role to provide a safe and fun environment for 40 mins a week where children can come during their lunch hour.  I’m also responsible for putting on two fun shows a year.  My singers do not take part in any kind of competition simply because we don’t have the opportunity to do so.

Song Choices are SO important …  I try very hard not to resort back to the tried and tested songs that so many elementary schools seem to be stuck singing.  I have found my choristers, who range in age from 6 to 11 years are very capable of singing anything I give them.  They love a challenge and they always surpass my expectations.  One of my typical shows would consist of a lullaby, a couple of show tunes, something funny, a slow song, a pop song with karaoke backing and possibly something original written by myself or a choir member.  They learn everything from Katy Perry to Gershwin.  Unfortunately, many modern songs are inappropriate for young children to sing, so, a little lyrical tweaking may be needed.

Hand out ‘solo’ parts …  I have very limited time to rehearse the choir and often have to share my time with other school activities.  To help get the ten songs I need, I dish out solos!!  This is a quick way for children to learn and perform a song without using up too much choir-time.  For those children who want a solo, they have to ask their parents to email me so I can send them music files, lyrics and dates of the extra rehearsals they will need to attend, out of school time.  I reserve full solo spots to older children and small-group singing spots to the younger.

  • Full Solos: Take one song and divide the song into parts, email out an mp3 of the song to the parents along with the lyrics that note what part that child will be singing.  It is the child’s responsibility to learn their part and come back to choir knowing their part fully and trust me, they will have their part nailed by next rehearsal!!  It’s then my job to piece all the parts together.  I always do this at an extra rehearsal, separate from the rest of the choir.
  • Group Solos: Take one song and divide the song between the choir and small groups.  For example, Food Glorious Food … this is a long song and I know my little first graders will never remember all the lyrics.  So, I have the entire choir sing the first half and then split the second half between small groups.  Or, you can take one song and divide it evenly between small groups i.e. I split my 3rd graders into groups of 4 and each group will sing a verse of one song.

As a teacher you have to animated …  Let the energy, emotions and feelings of the song come through you, into the choir.  Your singers should feel the song as well as sing it.  We’re currently learning ‘I wan’na be like you’ from the Jungle Book and we’re all swinging our arms down low like an Orangutan 🙂  I explain what every song is about, who wrote it, who sang it and where it originated from.  I also feel very strongly that it’s my job to introduce my choristers to music genres they are unfamiliar with like swing, light opera, jazz, pop from every decade, rock, international, a capella, musicals etc.

Do not strive for perfection …  These are young kids who want to have fun and also have limited attention.  We learn the songs sitting down but stand to sing them.  My singers are encouraged to move, to dance around, use expression on their faces, use their hands.  Obviously the amount of movement depends on the song.  A lullaby would be kept simple in movement but a pop song? … I want my singers to dance!!

So, above are my thoughts, my humble opinion, my limited knowledge.  I also run a choir that performs the National Anthem at sporting events and I run that choir very differently.  I’m very strict about attendance, manners, articulation, timing etc.

Schools, particularly in the USA,  are desperate for musical programs.  If you have the time and a little music inside you then get out there and set something up.  You’ll make great friends, parents will appreciate what you do and you’ll be creating memories for some young children who have no music in their life.

Good Luck!!

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