“It’s the best job in the world, and I still love it after 28 years of teaching!” – Maria Schwab, February 2010 choral mentor
MENC recently chatted with Maria, and found her thoughts to be instructional. We hope you find them so, too!
WHAT ARE THE THREE BIGGEST CHALLENGES YOU FACE AS A CHORAL EDUCATOR?
- Time constraints in general; having time enough for rehearsals. Every school is different, its schedule, some schools do pullout, some have chorus after school, etc.
- Changing personnel and new students.
- Finding the right repertoire for the right kids. You have to keep your eyes and ears open and find what fits, and be flexible if the mix of your choir or kids’ voices are not what you were planning on.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BEST THINGS ABOUT TEACHING?
- Making music with the kids, turning the kids on to different types of music and new styles.
- Seeing the joy on their faces when it all comes together. One of the “roughest toughest” girls in my group, after the piece ended during our concert, she said “we sounded like angels!” I never expected to hear that from her, it gave me chills.
- Listening to the kids.
HOW DO YOU GET KIDS TO LIKE CERTAIN TYPES OF MUSIC?
“I put as much passion into each piece as the other; kids can’t tell which is my favorite, I show no distinction between how much effort I put into one song over another – they learn to appreciate it and come to like it, especially as they see my enthusiasm and energy.”
“I tell them they’re actors/actresses, that they have to convince the audience that each piece is their favorite piece.”
“I let there be silence BEFORE the students start singing; it lets them get focused/aware. I also let the silence be there AFTER they finish. This is very powerful. It’s all about listening – the kids listening to what we sing; me listening to them. Really listening. “
HOW DID YOU GET INTO TEACHING CHORUS?
”I fell into it. First I was a band director, thought I’d turn the world around with my desire to teach. Then I came to my first job and found out there wasn’t a band. There was no money or time in the schedule (HS) for band. So, I had to teach two choirs, freshman choir, and a senior choir grades 10, 11, 12.”
“Because I’d not trained specifically as a choral educator (I’d had one class in college, done some choral singing in college, and took a choral arranging class and a workshop with William Dawson, who came to our college), I immediately joined the Queens Choral Society (at Queens College, very convenient to where I was teaching). I also took a chorus conducting course at QC – and then courses at Westminster Choir College the summer after my first year teaching.”
ADVICE TO NEW TEACHERS
- Show your students the performer in you, too; once they see you as a musician, they will rise to the occasion too. Show them the scores you study (see, I have to study too); invite them to your concerts; be a singer yourself, sing for your students a lot, let them see you sing and how you act, hold music, etc.
- Have students listen to good choral music, bring in recordings of good choirs.
- Be part of your professional organization and keep up with articles, tips, professional development conferences
- Keep your eyes and ears open, and be honest with students.ADVICE FOR THOSE NOT TRAINED AS CHORUS EDUCATOR
- Go join a chorus! There are so many to join.
- Take a class right away, over the summer or in the evening.
- Go to choral concerts.
- Keep in touch with your professional organization, MENC conferences, mentoring opportunities. Use resources available through your professional organization.
- Find another teacher to work with you vocally, to mentor and guide you.
- If you’re in a rural area far from active choruses or other folks, check on the internet for classes, recordings, videos, DVDs.Overall, immerse yourself in the world of chorus. Tell your principals you need courses to do your job. Just make the effort – no excuses! If you get thrown a course you know not much about – sink or swim, deal with it, make it work, find the help you need.
–Sue Rarus, November 18, 2009, © National Association for Music Education