Reply To: How to Create an Attitude of Try

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Wow, you are doing a lot of the right things intuitively. Congrats! I forgot to ask what part of the country you are in. An hour’s drive is really average or even a small amount of time in a lot of the areas in our state. I would not divide up your choir and under NO CIRCUMSTANCES would I set half the choir to doing worksheets while you teach the other. You can, however, have the men do a piece on their own with your undivided attention. I can’t believe you don’t have a young lady who is dying to be a leader for the women. Keep your men together as much as you can. I assume you meant your girls were doubling the baritone an octave higher. Do not have your women sing tenor on a regular basis or if it goes below a G below middle C.
Fix your monotone singer first. This will need to be done before, after school or during lunch. Have him put his right hand cupped around the side of his mouth pointed towards his left ear. Put his left hand cupping his left ear. Right and left are arbitrary. Switch if you want. He will be able to hear himself. Then using a sliding scale you match him and then move up and down. I have only found 2 people who were not able to hear themselves and match pitch. (One was my own father!) Next when singing in the choir, he can simply close off one ear and listen carefully. I’m sure you have seen this technique used sometime. It really works.
Now as to part assignment. I know I am a bit of an odd ball, but I learned very quickly not to assign parts. I never even auditioned choirs as soprano vs. alto, etc. Kids know how their voice feels. Let them decide, but switching them of each piece of music works wonders. Since the human voice doesn’t fully mature until sometime around 30, you need them to use their entire vocal range and to extend it in both directions. Use it or lose it! This is really very easy with the women and harder for the men. You’ll figure it out.
Ear cleaning is more for you than for your students. You get used to the sound your choir makes on a regular basis and you begin to accept a level you would otherwise not. You have to listen to wonderful choirs with lovely choral tone on a regularly. Put your library on an ipod and bring the speakers out of your office. Instant stereo! The ear cleaning for your kids will be more along the lines of opening their minds to the possibilities of what a choir can do. Play for them selections (parts of) without them knowing who is singing. Play groups younger than they are, the same age and older. Have them tell you about numbers singing, ages of singers, number of parts, etc. Get some good choirs, some awful choirs and some heavenly groups. Surprise them. Play recordings of Sting singing Dowland and Renee Fleming singing pop. Just don’t do it all in one day. Do 5 minutes or so everyday. Speaking of ear cleaning, are you still singing yourself? You will be better for doing it. Go join one of the community choirs at the university an hour away.
Lastly for now, you keep students excited learning parts, etc. by exaggerating your enthusiasm when they do anything right. Caution: you must be honest. You cannot praise really rotten singing and survive. How about a laptop instead of an iPad? The screen would be bigger. I use both and for your choir the laptop would probably have more versatility.
Keep up the good work. Your kids are feeling better about themselves and you feel better about them. Some groups are hard to catch the sight of what you have for them. Don’t beat yourself up for their problems. Work on your teaching style and have fun. Each year only gets better!
Becky Jarman, retired Choral Director, Davis High School.