Wrap Up on Repertoire

“Finding great music that is accessible to elementary, middle level, and young high school singers is a time-intensive, never-ending quest.” — Jenks, Swiggum, Winnie; Wisconsin Music Educators Association Comprehensive Musicianship through Performance Project

The last three columns  have featured guidelines for Choosing Choir Music for Children, as well as a general guideline for How to Select Choral Literature.

Before moving on from this topic (for now — middle school and high school repertoire concerns will also be addressed in future editions!), here are a few thoughts and resources from choral colleagues about high-quality choral repertoire.

The issue was originally raised in September 2007, when an MENC member explained he would hold a debate with his class on the definition of “quality” music. In preparation for the debate, he found articles describing the importance of learning great choral literature, but was not able to find any which supported the opposing view that “entertainment” music could have merit. He cited an article by Swiggum, which lists characteristics of well-written music. (The article also lists qualities of “art” vs. “entertainment.”)

What is “good” music? What music should you choose for your choirs to sing? Does “good” music preclude or exclude pop, or “entertaining” music?

Choral member Christine Nowmos comments: Although blues, rock, pop, etc. may be part of the students’ musical heritage, not all choral arrangements of “popular” music are appropriate for all choirs. Some are not appropriate for young choirs due to the range or other vocal aspects, or complex rhythms which younger choirs would not be able to perform accurately.

“I believe some exposure to this type of music is okay when the arrangement is appropriate, but more often for younger choirs, folk music, spiritual, and multi-cultural arrangements are more appropriate literature because it allows students to focus more on basic skills such as vocal sound, blend, and part singing.

“I use blues, jazz, pop and rock as more experiential material – for listening and cultural/historical concepts. My earlier post is a more accurate reflection of what I believe regarding music selection for children’s choirs.”

Choral mentor Susan Haugland adds: I’m struggling with my stodgy old ideas of what’s appropriate to use in the classroom and what’s relevant to the kids. It’s a hotly debated subject right now, I think! Keep the discussion going, I say!”

What do you think? Feel free to keep the discussion going on the Choral Discussion Forum.

Resource: The Great Choral Treasure Hunt – Where’s All the Good Music?”  (five parts) courtesy of the Wisconsin Music Educators Association Comprehensive Musicianship through Performance Project. Strategies to find repertoire of the best quality, and ways to analyze it for great teaching ideas, using the CMP model as a guide

–Sue Rarus, May 20, 2008, © National Association for Music Education