Choosing Choir Music for Children: Part II

“Perhaps the single most important factor in determining positive choral experiences for children is repertoire selection. Choral singing can start the beginning of a lifetime curiosity and desire to participate in the choral music experience.” — Angela Broeker, MENC member

Last week Text and Singability were discussed. This week, Broeker discusses Form and Part Singing.

The clearer the form of a choral piece, the more accessible it is for children.
Clear forms
– contain phrases of regular length.
– have large, clearly delineated sections.
– feature exact repetition, not slight variation.

Pieces are easily taught and remembered if they’re divided into easily discernible large sections with regular phrase lengths.

Composer’s use of exact repetition and contrast is perhaps more important than phrase length and sectioning.

Consistent themes and motives throughout a piece will make it easier for children to learn and remember accurately.

If motives are repeated exactly, children have an easier time learning the piece.

Motives that are similar are more difficult to teach and more difficult for children to learn, unless a choir’s reading and aural skills are “quite sophisticated.”

“Expressive singing can best be nurtured through unison melodic line. Good part singing can only occur when students have developed their ability to sing independently.” Linda Swears, Teaching the Elementary School Chorus

Unison singing is a great way for kids to learn about healthy vocal technique and choral technique. Try to include some unison songs in your choir’s repertoire.

When your choir can handle 2- or 3-part music, look for pieces with melodic parts. This can include canons, countermelodies, and ostinatos.

Choral Mentor and MENC member Kathee Williams adds: “I agree with the statements about developing choirs by beginning with unison. It is equally important to pay attention to range. Younger voices need to sing above middle C. After unison, ostinato is very natural and easy for young choirs. After the ostinato, adding a descant that does not have a very high tessitura gives you a choir that is singing well in 3-part harmony.”

In beginning choirs, the 2nd and 3rd parts should have contours, rhythms, and texts unlike the primary tune. Directors often make the assumption that second parts written in parallel thirds or sixths with the melody are appropriate starting points for part-singing. However, traditional harmony parts with the same contour, rhythm, and text as the melody are usually more difficult to master.

As explained by Swears in her book, “It is difficult for many children to hear the difference between parts written in thirds, and if a child cannot distinguish the difference by ear, it is most likely he will be unable to sing it correctly.”

Choirs with less experience can more easily master imitation with independent vocal lines.
More experienced choirs will have an easier time singing in parallel thirds.

Two-part singing should be imitative, as it’s easier for kids when they exactly imitate the melody.

However, if the imitation has expanded or contracted intervals; if it begins on a different pitch; or if it has a slightly different rhythm than the melody, it will take children longer to learn their part.
Angela Broeker, Associate Professor of Music, Director of Choral Activities, Women’s Choir, Chamber Singers, University of St. Thomas, Minnesota; used with permission of the author; from MENC’s Spotlight on Teaching Chorus

–Sue Rarus, May 7, 2008, © National Association for Music Education