Dispelling 4 Middle School Myths, Part 2

Forget what you thought about middle schoolers, says member Carol Whitworth. She dispels some common myths.

Myth #2: Working with middle school boys and their voices is impossible: False

Working with boys of this age is “just different” than working with girls, says Whitworth. “Boys… are full of energy, enthusiasm and wonder…”, raring to go. Whitworth recommends that you consider the following when working with middle school boys.

Place boys and girls in separate ensembles. This can be integral to their musical success.

>In single sex ensembles, boys can experiment with their constantly changing voice and make mistakes without girls judging and commenting.

>Rehearsals with boys are usually full of camaraderie and support, much like on a sports team (“Lots of high fives and way to go!”). This enthusiastic attitude and atmosphere pays off when boys select their classes for the next school year; they share that chorus was fun and urge their friends to join!

>Girls can move ahead at their own pace, which is usually a bit quicker than boys because they don’t have to struggle with the vocal change the way boys do. The boys WILL catch up!

>A divided ensemble lets you choose better and more appropriate repertoire.

Whitworth believes it’s essential that every boy’s vocal range is known and notated.

>Be aware of the various ranges of students in choirs, and let each boy know exactly where his voice is – which notes will be easier to sing, which should be sung falsetto, which are in the middle of his range. Being familiar with the voices in each ensemble helps you select repertoire that more closely fits the ranges of those students.

>One caution: you may need to do a lot of rearranging of music, and re-checking of each student’s vocal range. Whitworth notes that boys who “continue to sing during and through the voice change ….often find that transition much easier than those who do not sing for several years.” A lot of the frustration boys feel with chorus has to do with singing music that doesn’t fit their range.

>Carefully consider the skills and objectives that will be addressed and taught in each piece as you select literature. Whitworth says: “Remember, what we like or think boys will like and what they actually DO like are not usually the same thing.”

>A tip: Whitworth usually selects 4 – 5 pieces for her chorus. As concert time gets close, she asks students to select 3- 4 pieces they like best or one piece they’d prefer not to perform. This way, they have some input.

Depending on the make-up and skill level of choir, it may be more appropriate to have a mixed boy/girl choir.

>Ideally, students for a mixed middle school choir are auditioned or directly selected.

>Even in a mixed group, boys should sing literature that fits their range, and they need to feel they can take risks and make mistakes without ridicule. They need to feel good about their musical experience and accomplishments; essentially, “middle school boys need to feel like rock stars.” Nevertheless, boys should be held to the same musical standards as girls…..they ARE capable.

Remember to be patient and take small steps. They may be rough for a while, but “they can and will make wonderful music and become successful singers and musicians”.

Adapted from “I teach middle school choir: No sympathy necessary”; Carol Whitworth, Chinook Middle School, WA; from the Washington Music Educators Association journal VOICE, October, 2009

Sue Rarus, October 18, 2011, © National Association for Music Education