Wilmington Friends School Middle and Upper School choirs perform at The Grand Opera House.
By Margaret Anne Butterfield, Upper School Choir Director & IB Music Instructor, Wilmington Friends School
I am privileged to teach at a school where learning about various countries and cultures is highly valued. Of course, we learn about different cultures with choral music all the time! Because music is a universal language and a gateway to experiencing different points of view, I wanted to share 5 tips on including multicultural music in choral programming. 1. Singing in unfamiliar languages is easier with IPA.
(Wouldn't it be lovely if all publishers used the same system?!?) If IPA isn't included, seek out a native speaker when possible. When my choir was learning Érik a Som*, I sought assistance from a colleague from Hungary and transcribed her pronunciation into IPA to share with my students. Once we mastered the pronunciation, we gave an impromptu performance for her math class. She loved it and praised the
students for their diction!2. Drums always add a "cool" factor.
So does choreography, when appropriate. Mohland Ke Ktoglelang Hae was a huge hit with my choir and made other kids want to join!3. Don't be afraid to teach something by rote.
Doing so makes pieces from oral/aural traditions more authentic. And this isn't limited to pieces from other countries - the same practice works for our own folk songs. Those who attended Voices United in 2013 heard the Festival Choir with Jeff Johnson sing Down in the River to Pray
using this very approach. If you are looking for a good source for African songs, Vela Vela
is an excellent resource by Mollie Stone, drawn from her experiences with the Chicago Children's Choir
and University of Cape Town in South Africa
. The book comes with a DVD that includes individual part instruction as well as full performances. It also includes interviews with South African singers.4. Get your audience involved by teaching them a song during your concert.
A good resource is Nick Page's Sing With Us
collection. We often do this as a "seventh inning stretch" during longer programs without an intermission - it's a win-win for the choirs and the audience.5. Look for musical elements/gestures that are similar to something your kids know.
It helps them make connections to other cultures and provides a great opportunity to explore how many people in a different part of the world experience the same musical phenomena. Learning traditional songs opens the door to investigation of ideas and elements that are significant in other cultures.
While I may be stating the obvious here, studying music of other cultures allows students to make other valuable sociological observations. When we did Sten Kallman's arrangement of the Haitian folksong Peze Kafé last year, in addition to mastering the various rhythmic and melodic patterns, it was fascinating to learn about the important of coffee in Haitian culture. And really, who doesn't love a good cup o' joe!
*Find more information about the repertoire mentioned above, here:
Mohlang Ke Ktoglelang Hae
- Sesotho Folksong, arr. Rudolph deBeer; SATB - Hal Leonard MusicPeze Kafé
- Haitian Folksong, arr. Sten Kallman; SATB - Walton MusicÉrik a Som
- Hungarian Folksong, arr. Lajos Bardos; SAB - Santa Barbara MusicVela Vela
- striving for authentic performance in black South African choral music, Mollie Spector Stone (self-published booklet with DVD)Sing With Us
Songbook - Nick Page; Hal LeonardTo purchase these titles (or for more information), please contact our friends at The Musical Source. For questions or comments about how multicultural music in the classroom, feel free to contact Margaret Anne Butterfield.
In the fall issue of ChorTeach
(the choral director's online magazine of ACDA), you can find 119 different articles on many different topics (children's and church choirs to high school, middle school and professional ensembles). Check it out
during your "lunch break" sometime.
One article in particular caught our attention, Sabbath Rest for Choral Directors by Jeffrey Benson
. As Benson says in the article, "Most of us work long hours and dedicate our lives to this profession without stopping long enough to recharge our batteries." In the article, Benson gives 7 different ideas of ways to recharge your batteries, leading to a more inspired, renewed and rejuvenated person and choral director.
The Cab Calloway Advanced Women singing in Central Park, NYC.
By Marty Lassman, Cab Calloway School of the Arts in Wilmington
Block scheduling turned out to be a surprisingly positive change when I grouped my choirs by gender.
Last year, because all Red Clay secondary schools went to block scheduling, I was (for the first time) able to schedule choirs across the grade levels. I had heard that segregating the genders was an advantage so I tried it, and it is one of the reasons I love block scheduling!
Here are 3 reasons why I've loved having my choirs grouped by gender:
1. Combining the girls across grade levels allows me to perform much more difficult music than is available for middle school mixed choirs. In addition, behavior problems really decrease. For some reason, the girls are much more rule driven so discipline problems are negligible. But, back to the music -- much more difficult and satisfying literature is available in Unison as well as SA, SSA and sometimes SSAA formats. Singing in foreign languages with better vowels is far easier as well.
2. Having a choir of just guys is a disciplinary struggle BUT the singing is remarkable. The guys get a chance to see how older boys have gotten through the voice change and how "cool" it is to sing. The literature can be challenging because the boy who was a soprano in September could be a tenor in January, but singing pop songs (in addition to classical literature) and adding "boy band" choreography is just awesome for them.
3. Word spreads and the choirs grow. Last year, I had 55 girls in an SSA choir. This year I have two choirs with a combined 130 girls! Last year, I had 20 boys in the Men's Choir. This year I have 41 and the counselor told me that more boys wanted to be in choir, but could not work out the scheduling. The guys love being in choir!
Clearly, after my experience this year, I highly recommend that you consider making the switch as well. And one more thing -- teaching SAB or SATB literature int he separate choirs and then combining for a concert works really well, and the singers learn the music a lot faster!
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.