By John Bell, PS duPont Middle School, Wilmington
I believe the keys to managing large middle school choral ensembles are consistency, flexibility, patience, self-reflection and high expectations.
I have spent the past 18 years trying to figure out better ways to manage my middle school choral classroom. I have 5 choir classes that meet daily with a mix of 6th, 7th and 8th graders, and an average of 50 students in each class. Acknowledging that my teaching will be a work in progress until the day I retire, I would like to share a few things that have worked well for me and my students.
1. The tone of the class is set before the bell rings. The most important part of the class period is the time before the bell rings when the students are entering the room. If the students enter the room and there is chaos, there will be little learning for the rest of the period.
When meeting new 6th graders at the start of the year, my priority is in establishing how they are to enter the room before class begins. My new students are expected to enter the room quietly, be seated, place their belongings under their seats and wait for class to begin without talking. We do have to practice this quite a bit, and I do send them back into the hallway to line up in the hall and try again until they get it right. However, I do not want the students to view this classroom expectation as punitive in nature, so I have found it best to remain as patient as possible during this process. My goal is that they understand if we start class in a calm manner we are going to have a great rehearsal. Otherwise, there will be a lot of time wasted.
I certainly do not expect them to continue this rigid routine for the entire three years they are in my program. The bigger goal is for students to learn to be responsible for their actions and be able to come into my room and begin class without the chaos most would expect from a class of 50 middle school students. When needed, I even run my eighth graders through the same routine as the sixth graders just as a "friendly reminder" when they seem to forget.
2. An organized folder management system. I have talked to many choir directors who find folders and folder cabinets hard to manage because the students are in such close quarters trying to retrieve and return their folders. Just this year I have found a solution that seems to be working. I have two typical Wenger folder cabinets with a total of two hundred slots. Rather than assigning folders 1-50 to the same class, folders 51-100 to the next class, etc. I took three classes and alternated the folder assignments. Folder 1 is for Chorale, Folder 2 for Seventh Grade Choir and Folder 3 for Men's Chorus, and so on.
This does two things: not only does this help relieve some of the congestion when students are getting their folders, it also helps them put the folders back into the correct slot, because the empty slots occur every third time, not in a large grouping next to each other. At the beginning of the year I take time to dismiss the students by row to get their folders and put them back, with the ultimate goal of them being able to get them as they enter the room and put them away before they leave. This is another routine that needs to be practiced.
3. Don't underestimate what middle schoolers can do. I hear time and time again at workshops, "...now you middle school teachers should not try this. Middle school kids aren't quite mature enough..." And I always resound, "Challenge accepted!" I was once told in a workshop that we shouldn't do lip trill warm-ups. We do them almost every day. When teaching parts, I have my class of 64 students arrange themselves in several circles so students can listen to others in their section better. I encourage all of my students to sing by themselves in front of the class and work hard to develop a safe environment where students support each other. I expect that my students will learn to rehearse so that my class doesn't always feel like a pot of water about to boil over.
We have to set high expectations because students will fall to low expectations just as fast as they will rise to high expectations. We have to be consistent and patient because middle school students are struggling to feel like young adults while still wanting to hold onto their childhood. Finally, we must self-reflect because no two students or groups of students are the same and what works for one group will not (and usually doesn't) work for all.
This year's DEACDA Rehoboth Beach Choral Workshop was a great success with more than 50 choral directors from the state and the region gathering at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Lewes.
With reading sessions for elementary, middle school, high school choirs and church musicians, the event strived to meet the diverse needs of choral musicians in Delaware. The headliner of the workshop, Stephen Holmes of the Maryland State Boychoir, focused on the developing mail voice, bringing six young male singers in various stages of vocal maturity to use as a demonstration ensemble. Even workshop attendees who don't work with singers of this age were able to learn methodologies to try with their choirs.
Next year's workshop dates with be June 11-12, 2015. Certificates for Clock Hours or PIP's are available upon request.
In the book, Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing with Others, author Stacy Horn shares her love of singing and how, in a way, it saved her life. In this 13-minute Ted Talk, Stacy shares about her experience and how singing together in a group physically alters your body in a good way, increasing Oxytocin and Dopamine while decreasing Cortisol levels. In addition, though, Horn talks about the transcendent nature of singing together, how "When you sing a great piece of music... you become that great piece of music." And she says of the community effort of singing, "The fact that a masterpiece, like the Bach B Minor Mass, can only be achieved by intense cooperation bonds you. That kind of sustained effort, week after week after week regularly working through mistakes together all to create something beautiful, is the ultimate communion." I have found her book and the Ted Talk to be quite inspiring. I hope you will as well.
Dr. Duane Cottrell and the University Singers from the University of Delaware after their performance at ACDA Eastern Division - Baltimore.
The Eastern Division of ACDA presented their biennial conference in Baltimore, February 5 – 8. Whether you’re a director of children’s choirs, middle or high school choirs, collegiate ensembles, community choirs, church choirs, or some other choral configuration, this conference offered a tremendous wealth of resources
I have been active at the division level for eight years, chairing Auditioned Choirs for the Hartford (’08) and Philadelphia (’10) conferences, and chairing Interest Sessions for the Providence (’12) and Baltimore conferences. Wonderful choral performances and fascinating sessions by choral experts have been centerpieces for each of these conferences, and Baltimore certainly did not disappoint. On Thursday and Friday, thirty-one Interest Sessions were given by leading choral musicians from throughout the Eastern Division and beyond.
Thursday’s highlights included sessions focusing on:
- achieving choral blend by Jay White of Chanticleer
- developing life-long musical skills by Fernando Malvar-Ruiz, with the American Boychoir serving as a demonstration choir
- movement in the choral rehearsal by Ithaca’s Janet Galván
- a discussion of William Levi Dawson’s spirituals by Vernon Huff from SUNY Fredonia
- developing choral sound and resonance by Westminster’s Amanda Quist, with Kantorei serving as a demonstration choir
- life-long vocal pedagogy presented by a trio of New Jersey experts, Judith Nicosia, Deborah Mello and Marily Berrie
- working with choirs with aging voices, with the Encore Ensemble serving as a demonstration choir
Friday provided an equally interesting and diverse array of sessions. Highlights included sessions focusing on:
There were sixteen other fascinating interest sessions, and though it’s impossible to attend them all, many posted their materials on the conference app for free download.
Almost all sessions were very well attended and both participants and presenters seemed to really value the experience. Presenter Amy Beresik, who presented a session on teaching sight-singing to middle school singers said, “I can say this was one of the most enriching experiences of my career to date!”
Presenter Steven Russell, who lead participants in an early-morning yoga session said, “I thought the variety of interest session topics was great!”
Choral performances included concerts presented by auditioned choirs, invited choirs, and honor choirs. Approximately thirty concerts were given during the four conference days
. Among them:
- Conductor Patrick Quigley’s Seraphic Fire sang a flawless and inspired performance of the Monteverdi Vespers in a glorious Baltimore basilica, with inventive use of space and accompanied by period instruments.
- Westminster’s Andrew McGill conducted a fascinating Bach program with Tenet and the Sebastians performing five Bach motets (one voice per part!) interspersed with some of Bach’s instrumental music.
- Performances were given by choirs diversified by age and voice, including the American and Maryland State Boychoirs, Penn State and Rutgers Glee Clubs, Rhode Island and Nittany Children’s choirs, Delaware’s University Singers, Roxbury (NJ) High School Choir, plus many more!
The performances were dynamic, interesting, engaging, and demonstrated an amazing array of choral sounds and styles. The variety of repertoire presented provided a vast array of pieces for choir directors seeking new and interesting repertoire for their own choirs. One of the delights of attending a conference, whether it is a state, division or national event, is making connections with our colleagues.
In many cases, this includes reconnecting with college classmates and past co-workers. In other cases, meeting new friends and developing relationships, perhaps sowing the seeds for future musical collaboration or professional opportunities.
I feel that most attendees emerged from this 4-day choral immersion feeling refreshed, recharged, motivated, and full of new concepts, skills, knowledge and ideas to try with your choirs.
I sure enjoyed it! --Dave Lockart, President-Elect, DE ACDA
IT'S NOT TOO LATE to attend the Eastern Division ACDA Conference in Baltimore - February 5-8. It's going to be a fantastic conference!
-Duane Cottrell will be presenting an Interest Session AND conducting the UD University Singers in concert
-David Lockart is chairing Interest Sessions
-Martin Lassman will be hosting a Together We Sing Session
-John Bell will be bringing his students from P.S. DuPont Middle School to perform in a Together We Sing Session
-Grammy nominated Seraphic Fire singing Monteverdi
-Baltimore Marriott Waterfront ideally located along the Inner Harbor
If you're on the fence… This conference looks fantastic, and at the very least will inspire you in your work with your choirs. Hope you can come! www.acdaeast.org
"Can Santa Make it Through The Night?" by Sally Albrecht. Performed by the Cab Calloway Middle School Men's Choir, directed by Marty Lassman. December 2013.
By Clint Williams, Chair - Performing Arts, Sanford School, Hockessin
At Sanford School, we have the entire "putting on a school musical" down to an art. We successfully produce a musical each year with few problems. Here are 5 things to keep in mind when producing a school musical:
1.Selecting the Musical
- Be certain you can fill most roles with your current student population.
It's okay to have one (or possibly two) roles that are question marks, but you should concretely be able to think of a few students for each role. Also
, license the musical as early as possible.
I'm constantly amazed at how many times I hear of the licensing companies declining a request or even pulling requests after they've first given the rights.
- We have found that having students sing songs from the musical during the audition process
lessens their anxiety. This way the students only have a few songs to choose from rather than the intimidation of figuring out what song to sing on their own. We give each student an audition packet with the songs for each character (and ensemble). Additionally
, we send out an email
to the parents/students with audition tips
-- ways to have a more successful audition.
- After years of trying different ways of ticketing in-house (and it being very time-consuming for both me and the parent volunteers), we finally decided to go with an outside vendor
. We now use Vendini
. Although there is an initial set-up fee (and a per ticket charge), for us, this has been a huge positive step forward. We have no regrets and I am so happy we made this decision.
- Early on in the process (after we finish our music rehearsals and as we are beginning our staging rehearsals), we invite the parents to come hear a couple selections from the show
. The students are excited, the parents are excited, and then we ask the parents for help! I am so thankful to have lots of parent support; I never want for help in any area. This night is a great way to give the parents a small taste of what their children have been rehearsing and get everyone excited about the upcoming show.
- Make a definite rehearsal schedule and stick to it
-- no matter what. Parents will bend over backwards for you if you communicate clearly with them from the beginning. It's also
important not to keep the students past the stated end of rehearsal time. BONUS TIP:
I start an e-mail once a week - a draft. Then I add to it each day when I think of things I need to communicate to parents. At the end of the week, I have everything written down and just send out one email, instead of a flurry of multiple emails.
I hope you find these tips useful. Please email me at email@example.com
if you have any questions or other tips that make your school musical a success. You can also find this article on the Delaware ACDA website
, where you can share your own musical tips.
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