Solutions To Sisyphean Song Selection

Figuring out what to sing with your classes and performance ensembles is a perennial challenge. What standards or guidelines should lead you as you move through this process?

In “How to Select Literature for Your Choirs”, author William Minton says you should add and adapt your own guidelines that work for you. “Once you find a set of standards which helps you provide the best possible music for your students, stick with it and reap the benefits! We owe our students the best possible material with which to work.” He suggests you think about:

  • Does the work have a worthwhile text?
  • Is the piece well written?
  • Is the piece within the realistic grasp of the group?
  • Will the piece be received well by the choir and listeners?
  • Is the work accompanied? Are there soloists?
  • Will you perform it more than once?
  • Is it worth spending money on? Is this one of those pieces that just reaches out and grabs you and says, “Sing me”?

Song Selection

Susan Poliniak, in “Singers Branching Out” (Teaching Music, January 2009), suggests that “choral programs at different grade levels share some common ground with the issues that must be taken into account during music selection. These things will be considered no matter what age-group you teach.” She suggests you keep in mind: Technical considerations

  • Does it mesh with vocal range and skill level of choristers?
  • Is the instrumention possible given the resources available to you?
  • Will it fit into the demands of the school’s curriculum?

Preparation considerations

Understand the time it will take to prepare the music and meet the other needs of performance/rehearsal. Pedagogical considerations Ask yourself what you want to teach. How will this music help you to accomplish these goals? Music should be age-appropriate and take into consideration your goals for student learning. Your primary goals should always be pedagogical. “Don’t be distracted by the competitions and the choir trips, or you may be communicating to your choristers that it’s not about the lesson,” Poliniak summarizes. Be especially wary not to select a song just because kids want to sing it. Set your goals first; then the music selected is more likely to be a long-lasting piece used over the years, rather than just a one-time shot that gets filed forever. “I tell the kids they may not like the music the first time through. That’s okay. We won’t perform everything we read. But I want to expose them to as much literature as possible, and they will be surprised at what their favorite piece is by the end of the year.” (“Guate”, member on the Chorus forum) Mary Jennings, NAfME chorus mentor, emphasizes: “Never, ever communicate back to your kids that you’re going for the trophy. Never give up, never surrender, stay firm to your musical goals. Why did you do this? Maybe somewhere you had an amazing choral experience, and you want to communicate that.” –Sue Rarus, originally published June 1,  2011 © National Association for Music Education