Reel Guys in with Repertoire

How to get male singers interested in chorus? MENC members chimed in on the discussion forums about various challenges in engaging male singers, particularly in junior and high school.

Cultural Attitudes and Community 
Middle school: I believe that the problem with low numbers of guys in choir starts at this stage.
Image: Male students are mainly concerned about their image and appearing too “girly” if they’re in chorus.
Community: The community where you teach can have an impact. In this rural community, singing is viewed as “girly”. If a boy wants to sing in the choir, he has to really have guts, because the other boys are going to give him a hard time…


All male choirs: My music colleagues report that boys support each other when they are in choir together, especially as they go through vocal change. An all guys choir in middle school is the best way to change the cultural attitudes of guys.

Get to know them: If you want to recruit boys, you have to let them see you in a different light. Talk to them on their turf and in their language. Go to their games. Make sure they see you. Go to community events where they hang out, the county fair, food festivals, car washes, etc. Then you hit them up that you could really use their help. Proceed slowly!


If the music is good, then the kids like it. It doesn’t matter what period or style. If the arrangement is good, they get into it. Nothing is worse than a lame arrangement of a pop song. They hate that. Lame arrangement equals no fun. Kids are kids and they know good from bad.

Get the choir out there singing in the community more. This is a cultural issue. I avoid music that might be viewed as excessively “girly.” If you’re in a singing community, boys will sing almost anything.

So much of it depends on what the kids already know and have collectively decided they like. Keeping your musical options open as long as you can while you’re feeling out each individual group will help.

Young singers are often attracted to words before music, and anything that has a ‘good’ (danceable) beat.

  • old hymns (energetic ones – check out Anonymous 4’s arrangement of “Just Over in the Gloryland” )
  • spirituals (especially those with a gospel feel)
  • GOOD arrangements of classic rock songs. Some of my favorites here have been Beatles arrangements and “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.”
  • Pop music
  • Songs from musicals
  • Patriotic usually works.
  • Something that is in a foreign language is more plain and not ‘heart on the sleeve’ emotional, or something that just sound
  • Whatever the high school girls tell them to or want to sing.

The most success I had last year with my men’s ensemble
 (which consisted of mostly your average football playing, hunting/fishing, ‘manly’ rural boy): an arrangement of Schubert’s “Lied das gefangenen Jagers”, or “Lay of the Imprisoned Huntsman.” Most of the boys had never heard an art song before, and they’d surely never heard anyone sing like Dietrich Fisher-Diskau, but between the text (they identified easily with the huntsman trapped in a castle, watching the sun mark time along the wall) and the fact that they got to sing in a strong, ‘manly’ way, they loved it.

I spent a lot of time picking out music that I thought would be motivating to all students in this rural district, but only the girls really got excited about my choices. After living in the culture for a while longer, I realized that most of the boys in this area think that “pop” music is girly. “Real men” listen to Classic Rock. That little discovery allowed me to reach them a lot better. Queen, in particular, has been a great hook for them.

Kids will sing, and sing well, if they can sing songs that they like. I was standing in line at the corner store talking with a senior boy. I was joking around a bit trying to get him to join chorus. He said “no way, no one has even heard of any of the songs you sing in chorus.” So…I said, “well what would you want to sing?” He gave a blank stare, and I said, “well this year we are singing a Beatles medley” (his eyes got big and wide when I said that!), “and a Journey song…and some Christmas songs…what do you think of that?!” He was sort of joking, but said, “well, I am joining then!”

-Sue Rarus, November 4, 2009, © National Association for Music Education