“I have boys in choir! What now??” We desperately want boys in our elementary and middle school choruses, but what do we do with them once they get there? There are three important aspects to consider: the intricacies of the changing voice, programming, and the day-to-day mechanics of rehearsals.
The Changing Voice
- Boys’ voices can begin changing as early as age 9, and still not be fully developed as they graduate high school. Treat the issue matter-of-factly, and be flexible when boys express or show discomfort singing too high or too low.
- Find music with a range that is developmentally appropriate, so as not to harm the changing voice. See resources below.
- Make use of good warm-up exercises to gently expand the vocal range. This will benefit everyone in your choir, not just the boys.
- Start with something unison that they can learn easily to gain the experience of singing with confidence. Then, put at least one unison piece on every program. Something simple, done well, is better than taking on too much and frustrating your singers.
- If they are singing in two or three parts, label the sections “Part 1, Part 2, Part 3” and place all students in each section according to their vocal range. This will take away the “soprano” stigma for the boys whose voices are still unchanged and belong on the highest part.
- Look for partner arrangements that give each part the opportunity to sing melody.
- Give the boys a piece of their own with lyrics that will appeal to them.
- Provide opportunities (for all students who want to) to play classroom or Orff instruments to accompany some of the songs. This may be a good occasional option for the boy who is struggling with singing to keep him interested in what the chorus is doing. One middle school choir did a calypso piece where the girls sang in three parts and all the boys wore Hawaiian shirts and straw hats, and played instruments—they loved it.
- Arrange for a male volunteer or two to come and sing with your boys for a couple of rehearsals. Especially if you (the teacher) are female, it will help them greatly to hear someone singing in their own octave. Ideas: other male teachers, college students needing community service hours, retired men from a local church or community chorus, or barbershop chorus (see resources below for sources). Give your guests a small bag of homemade cookies as they leave to thank them for their time.
- Your former male students are a gold mine (as are the secondary choral directors whose programs you feed)! Ask them to sing in your rehearsals, etc. If you teach an elementary choir, recruit middle school singers.
- If possible, use any of the above resources to run a separate sectional rehearsal for just the boys, or do it yourself. The point is to give the boys a chance to rehearse without the presence of the girls. You will be amazed how focused they can be!
Find an online clip of a good boys’ chorus or mixed chorus so your boys can see/hear other boys singing. Be patient. Keep your boys engaged, and make it fun. Their voices will eventually make it through the change. You want them with you when they do!
“Boys’ Changing Voices in the First Century of NAfME Journals” by Patrick Freer, Music Educators Journal, September 2008.
Male volunteer singers: e-mail email@example.com to find male musicians in your town, or check Chorus America for links to hundreds of community choirs.
Thanks to Terry Annalora, Mary Jennings, and Lois V. Guderian, NAfME Choral mentors.
-Sue Rarus, November 2, 2010, © National Association for Music Education