Elementary Choir Repertoire

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    I am a first year teacher at a Parochial School. Choir is available for K-8, but I basically only have people signed up from K-5. I am looking for good elementary choral music, as well as techniques and methods best applicable to elementary choirs. The music can be either secular or sacred. Thanks in advance for the help.


    Check out the book “Inside the Elementary School Chorus” by Patricia Bourne published by Heritage Music Press for help with getting started, warm-ups, and everything you need to get an elementary choir going and much more. Look at the Sheet Music Plus site for 2 part or unison music. You can often view the first page of music there and sometimes an MP3 recording. Find a book a folk music online and have students sing the unison melodies and even write in a second part where appropriate. Good luck in this endeavor.

    LeAnna Willmore
    Chair, NAfME Choral Education Council


    K-2 voices really should not be stretched as in a typical elementary school choir. Repertoire for these students should be kept to an octave or less and be fun. You should emphasize beginning singing technique – breathing, standing still (hard for this age). Plus you would have to teach songs by rote – echo – as the K and 1s probably can’t read too well.

    For grades 3 + go for folk songs, always safe. The former MENC put out two books of amazing folk songs called “Get America Singing” and “Get America Singing … Again”. Warm-ups should be fun: 5-note scales with silly words that still hit vowels. Some examples my Elem Choir loves are “Mommy made me mash my M n Ms”, Zany Zealous zebras at the zoo. For a brain exercise we occasionally do numbers: 1 121 12321 1234321 123454321 12345654321 1234567654321 123456787654321. These are of course pitches in the scale. You could also do this in solfege, if that is easier or clearer for your kids. After that we do roller coasters: a sigh from low up to the head voice and back down a couple times. I have them watch my hand; sometimes I start from the top. Before vocal warm-ups we stretch: a couple deep breaths imagining our lungs getting wider (not taller, as is common when people take quick deep breaths).


    Here is a list I posted a few years ago–thankfully, the old message boards were still accessible! I’ve added a few more that I’ve done since then that the kids have really liked.

    Ode To Peace – arr. Jill Gallina (partner song with Beethoven’s Ode to Joy)
    Sing a Song of Peace – arr. Jill Gallina (partner song with This Is My Country)
    Haida – Israeli folk song, arr. Henry Leck
    Jibuli, Jibuli – Tanzanian folk song, arr. Ruth Elaine Schram
    Song of the River – arr. Mark Patterson (tune of Salley Gardens, w/new words)
    My Favorite Things – arr. Spevacek
    Sansa Kroma – Ghanian folksong arr. by Michael Scott
    The Frim Fram Sauce – arr. Greg Gilpin (jazz/swing, with relatively easy to hear harmony and fun lyrics)
    O, Desayo – Angolan Folk Song, arr. Eliiot Z. Levine
    Kokoleoko – Liberian Folk Song, Arr. Donnelly/Strid
    Boats Sail on the Rivers – Mark Patterson
    Put a Little Love in Your Heart – arr. Jeff Funk
    Hitori – Japanese Folk Song, arr. Donnelly/Strid
    Zum Gali Gali – Israeli folk Song, arr. Dan Schwartz
    Ching a Ring Chaw (and Great Gittin’ Up Mornin’) – arr. Linda Spevacek
    Partners on Parade (the Crawdad Song/When the Saints Go Marching In)- arr. Tom Anderson
    So Long, Farewell (from The Sound of Music) — arr. Mark A. Brymer
    Cameroon — Dorothy Masuka, arr. Micheal Scott
    Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious – arr. Cristi Cary Miller
    Freedom Train – arr. Jill Gallina
    Rounds Around the World – arr. Mary Lynn Lightfoot
    Woke Up This Morning (Freedom Song) – arr. Cynthia Gray
    It’s In My Desk – Mary Lynn Lightfoot (really funny lyrics about a kid’s sloppy desk and great, easy to teach harmony)
    Ladybug (Marienwurmchen) – Brahms, arr. Goetze (unison arr.)
    Music Alone Shall Live – arr. Donald Moore
    Over the Rainbow – arr. Audrey Snyder
    Baseball Fever – Cristi Cary Miller (partner song with TAke Me Out to the Ballgame)
    Al Yadil Yadil Yadi – Palestinian folksong arr. John Higgins (basically unison arr., really great syncopated rhythms!)
    Scales and Arpeggios – arr. Audrey Snyder (from Disney’s “The Aristocats”)
    A Distant Shore – Donnelly/Strid (partner song with The Water Is Wide)
    Ahrirang – Korean folksong, arr. Brad Printz (this is a very accessable arrangement of this beautiful melody – it is 2-3 part, it works fine with either 2 or 3 parts)
    Al Shlosha D’Varim – Allan Naplan (beautiful song in Hebrew, partner song-type arrangement, pretty easy to learn)
    Shine on Me – Rollo Dilworth (AWESOME spiritual arrangement–you need a good accompanist for this one…)
    Fireflies – arr. Mark Brymer (this is the Owl City song that was popular a couple years ago–it’s actually a pretty nice tune)
    A Child of Song – Derryl Herrin and Andy Beck (very cool 5/4 “Take Five” type groove, and easy to learn)
    Hebu Mandari (Come Now, Dance) – John Parker (has English and Swahili lyrics…this one’s slightly challenging, I did it w/my select chorus–accompanied only w/drum and clave, and it is in 6/8 but the feel switches band and forth between 2 and 3)
    The Bull Frog – American Folk Song, arr. Lon Beery (kids loved this, has a fun refrain with silly nonsense syllables)
    Why We Sing – Greg Gilpin
    The Old Carrion Crow – Nova Scotian Folk Song, arr. Doreen Rao (another one with a nonsense refrain – the kids really seem to dig that type of thing, and it’s good for working on enunciating consonants)
    Tutira Mai (We Stand As One) – Traditional Maori Folk Song, arr. by Henry Leck and Martin Ellis
    Singabahambayo – South African Folk Song, arr. by John Higgins
    Waters Ripple and Flow – Czecho-Slovak Folk Song, arr. by Becki Mayo
    Wild Mountain Thyme – Traditional Irish Tune, arr. by Jeanne Julseth-Heinrich

    All of these should be able to be purchased on http://www.jwpepper.com. Also… I really trust most of the arrangers of the pieces listed above. If I see something arranged or composed by Audrey Snyder, Mary Lynn Lightfoot, Ruth Elaine Schram, Michael Scott, Donelly and Strid, Greg Gilpin, Jill Gallina, Cristi Cary Miller, Mark Patterson, Mary Goetze, Doreen Rao, Donald Moore, Rollo Dilworth, etc. I can usually count on it being something that’s well arranged for treble voices and usually something that my kids will enjoy singing.

    In addition, a good book of rounds and canons, such as 150 Rounds for Singing and Teaching, is a good resource to have–rounds can be turned into concert pieces and they work well both unaccompanied or with a simple piano or Orff accompaniment. Another great resource to have is Teaching Kids to Sing by Kenneth Phillips–it has a curriculum for developing children’s voices, and it also includes a lot of info about the quality and range of children’s voices at different ages and what is appropriate for kids of different ages. (The book is a little pricy, but worth it.)

    For rehearsal, it’s best to keep things moving–I have a 1/2 hr rehearsal with my 3rd/4th choruses, and I spend under 5 minutes on warmups (physical stretches, vocal exploration exercises like sirens, roller coasters, etc., and maybe a breathing exercise), then I try to touch on rehearsing about 3 pieces of music in each rehearsal. If you spend more than 10-12 minutes or so on one piece, the kids start to get antsy… best to work on a little bit and get that secure, then move onto something else and come back to the first piece the next time. I tend to teach music with a whole-part-whole format–I’ll sing one part for an entire section of a piece of music (like a 16 measure section, or a verse or refrain if the song is arranged that way) as the students move to the beat; then I’ll stop and work on echoing some rhythm or pitch patterns (either patterns that are in the song that I want them to learn, or just patterns that are in the meter or tonality of the song to help them hear/feel it more readily); then I’ll go back to singing the section again–and just keep going back and forth a few more times. After the kids have heard the section several times, I’ll ask them to audiate (sing inside their head) a particular phrase, or join in singing with me when they get to a particular phrase, and gradually add a little more singing in each time (that way, they get to hear the entire section several times and they understand how each phrase fits in with the others musically). I’ve found that sometimes if I’m introducing a new song and I don’t even have the kids sing at all one week, just have them listen to me sing it a bunch of times (and do some fun things with resting tone or patterns in between repetitions–I get out my foam ball and have them sing the resting tone each time I toss/catch it, or toss it to individual kids), the next week they can sing the section almost perfectly on the very first try. It’s amazing how much just LISTENING to something several times helps them to learn. Once the kids can sing one part independently, I’ll sing the 2nd part at the same time (to make sure they can stay on their part w/o getting mixed up), then I’ll teach the 2nd part with the same method, and finally put them together. I’ve found after 14 years of teaching elem chorus that this works MUCH better as far as the kids internalizing the music and becoming independent with it and is a lot less boring for the kids than the “I sing a phrase, you echo me” approach.

    I agree with Maria that it’s best to split up K-2 and 3-5 if possible, not just because their voices are at different stages of development and they have different vocal ranges, but also because musically the older children will probably be able to handle more challenging arrangements. With K-2 students, many of them are still in a stage where they’re just beginning to reliably match pitch in unison, and having them sing complex music in 2 parts (especially if it has a range of more than an octave, as most treble choral octavos do) may be confusing for them and might not create success for them. Although, by later 1st or 2nd grade you can start doing some simple activities with harmony, such as ostinato harmony or short partner songs, but they wouldn’t be ready for most of the arrangements I have listed above (I have used those with gr. 3-4 and I know others who’ve used a few of them for up to grade 6), and their ranges are still developing at that point. I just don’t think it’s either vocally or musically appropriate from a developmental standpoint to put kids with that wide a range of ages together in one group. Also as Maria said, the kindergarteners’/1st graders’ reading (language) skills aren’t very developed at that point, and a lot of choral arrangements have too many words that are are above their reading level and that go by too fast for the younger kids to be able to keep up (even with the older kids, it takes them a while to visually be able to follow a multi-part choral score and stay on their own part). On the other hand, if you keep the music too simple, the older kids may get bored… and knowing kids of around 4th-5th grade, that’s about the age when they start asserting their independence, so they may balk about being stuck in with the little kids–and you might end up losing numbers (which could be why nobody in gr. 6-8 was interested in signing up….). Good luck and have fun!

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