Band Director Goes Choral

You’re a band director being drafted to teach chorus, and you’re panicking! Your keyboard skills are rusty, you have little confidence in your singing voice, and you aren’t familiar with vocal warm-ups or much of the choral repertoire. Where to start?

First – Relax. You really know more about this than you think. The human voice is, at its essence, a musical instrument. Focus on the similarities instead of the differences. Posture and breath support are fundamentally important. Think of what you tell those beginning flute or intermediate trumpet players. Much of the language of music teaching is transferable, as are your discipline and classroom policies.

As choral mentor Susan Haugland says, “You absolutely are competent, and if you believe that, so will your students. Don’t worry about being a great singer. Singing on pitch is the main thing, and if you have some good talent in your group, let them do some of the modeling.”

Quick tips:

  • Join a church or community choir just to get yourself into the chorus “subculture.” At the very least, attend a couple of rehearsals to pick up tips.
  • Find a choral director in your town or school district, and treat them to a cup of coffee and a chat—bring your notebook!
  • If your piano skills aren’t sufficient, find a retired music teacher, church organist, local piano teacher, or college student who can play for you.
  • Consider taking voice lessons to boost your confidence.
  • JW Pepper streams some of its music (see MP3 file link next to selected pieces), so this might be a helpful teaching tool to start. There are some performance accompaniment tracks, but sometimes it’s difficult to keep your group with the track—you’re locked into its tempo, etc. At the very least, you can listen to pieces online and learn them before introducing them to your kids.
  • Start with some unison, 2-part, and/or fun, familiar pieces. Think of what you do with your band when introducing a new piece, and use those same strategies to help students learn the music.
  • Add instruments. Or, to keep your head above water for the first couple of weeks, start with unison singing, while students accompany themselves with classroom instruments (percussive, etc.).

“You’re a musician, so use your musical skills to adapt to a variety of musical situations and styles. Take stuff that the kids are familiar with and that’s immediately appealing to them, and show them how it relates to another type of music or some musical concept you want to teach,” says Christine Nowmos on the MENC forums.

For details on the tips above, as well as other tips, go to the MENC Choral Discussion forum.
You can also post your own questions and receive feedback from colleagues.

Most important, remember the kids don’t know that you don’t know everything, unless you tell them! And think of how much more marketable you’ll be for your next job search. Now, head to the shower and get your voice in shape!

Print resources:
The Choral Director’s Guide to Sanity and Success: How to Develop a Flourishing Middle School/Junior High School Choral Program, by Randy Pagel with Linda Spevacek.

Spotlight on Teaching Chorus, available from MENC/RLE (Rowman and Littlefield Education)

Some of these suggestions came from the MENC choral forum. Thanks to our members who posted them.
Sue Rarus, December 3, 2008, © National Association for Music Education