Making Your Program Work as a Musical Organization

My previous post, where I discussed the challenges I have had over the past two years, has resonated with a few people. A huge thank you to those who have taken the time to e-mail or tweet–and as always, if a post ever resonates with you or you feel the need to talk to me about something to the post, please feel free to e-mail me.

Before I continue on my discussion of some techniques that have helped me this year, I think it is important to discuss how my 320 students experience choir at my school.

Choir is considered part of “encore,” and music classes are teamed up with another class (usually physical education) on an A/B basis. They will have choir one day and gym the next. Each grade level has a different number of students; we have a large 6th and 8th grade class, and a small 7th grade class.

To make things work for other electives, I only see a fraction of the students from each grade level at a time. We are on a modified 8 period day (really a 6 period day, as students have a double block of English and math every day), and over those eight hours, I see 11 different classes.

Four of the classes are 6th Grade classes, two are seventh grade classes (large sections of 40 or more), and five are eighth grade classes. With contractual prep time, this leaves me with one extra open hour every other day. I don't use that hour for lessons as it would impact the same teachers in every class period, and I would never be able to see all 320 students in a trimester.

With my sixth grade classes, I teach two part music, but each small class (25-35) learns the same part. That said, different classes learn different parts, which we put together in the concert to create harmony.

With my seventh grade classes, I continue to teach two part music, but I do so in the same class setting, creating harmony at the same time. This is a challenge for many of the students.

With my eighth grade students, I teach SAB music, but there are never enough students in each class to sing both women's parts. So in a fashion similar to 6th grade, I teach the men one part, and the women one of the women's part, teaching different classes different women's parts, so when we sing in the concert, we have three parts.

So…if you teach in a school where you see all of the members of your grade level choir at one time, you have a different situation than I do. If you teach in a school where you audition students for different choirs, you have a different situation than I do. It you teach in a school where students have the option to not take a performance-based music class, you have a different situation than I do.

All that said, it is easy to see how a student that doesn't want to be in choir, and thus doesn't sing, can have a major impact on the entire class. When there are 24 of you in a room, and six won't sing, that's a challenge. And I am of the mindset that you can't force someone to sing, and that you shouldn't force them to sing. That doesn't mean that you can't base their grade on their lack of participation (usually shown in a recorded voice assessment, which I will discuss as one of my strategies).

We manage to hold two concerts a year (I hold three mini-concerts on an evening, each about 30 minutes with a 15 minute break between each choir, so that we don't have to deal with student management while other choirs are singing), and the majority of the kids show up and sing. We won't be winning any awards any time soon–but we do give the students the opportunity to showcase what we have been working on.

What I want to say at this point is that you can make your program work as a musical organization regardless of the situation. If I can do it, so can you. The techniques I am going to discuss can be brought to any musical organization and adapted for any grade level. I have no doubt that if I walked back into a high school classroom (or a college classroom), I would be better a better teacher than I was before my middle school experirence. There is an old joke that says that anything that doesn't kill you only makes you stronger–and that is true in this case–my experience has been a refining fire. It helps that I really like the students as people–but they can still be very difficult to teach.

I will get to these technquies, tools, and strategies in the coming posts.


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