Foundations, Expectations, and All That Is In Between…
A solid choir culture is rooted in foundations – routines, pacing, expectations, and assessment. Without these, cracks and eventually gaping holes begin to develop, leading to frustration, negative effects on retention, poor public relations among students and parents, and more.
Today, we will discuss these foundational points as they relate to developing a culture of excellence in the choir program. First—look at your expectations—not just those of your students, but of yourself. In our previous posts, we discussed time management. Are the choices that you are making aligned with your belief system and do they provide value for students and the program? Keep yourself accountable by referring back to this point as often as you can. One of the first ways that you can define expectations is through the setting of routines at the beginning of the year. Common routines include: how students enter the classroom, what materials do they need, how do they turn in money and forms, what happens during drills, etc.
These and all other procedures that you develop help to set the pace for what is to happen in choir. In addition to the procedures, what is your “pace” with your students? It might depend on the class. Is it a varsity, auditioned ensemble with students who have been in choir for years? If so, then the bar might be set pretty high. If a class has a bunch of beginners, the bar might need to be lowered. It’s hard to truly know what a class is capable of doing at the beginning of the year. In the first rehearsals, try putting different pieces of music/activities/warm-ups in front of them to gauge their ability and maturity level. Over my time teaching, I have found that in a typical 45-minute class, I aim to teach 8 measures on each of my three pieces per day (in addition to warm-up, sight-reading, and announcements). In high school, depending on the group, it is 8-16 measures. That’s not to say I can’t do more, but I concentrate on specific chunks and move ahead if time permits and students are still focused. Regardless of the number of measures or amount of time, strive to balance the challenges that the music presents with the current ability level and future potential of the group. It’s a slippery slope, but the kids really do like high expectations.
As you’re planning to teach portions of the music, try looking at the big picture. How many weeks do you have to learn the music? Are there any holidays, testing days, or other potential barriers that will take away instructional time? I like using a unit plan (see picture below) when planning each concert so that I can ensure that I am pacing correctly. Not enough time – underprepared concert. Too much time – boredom can surface.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in all of the details, but don’t forget to celebrate the small successes (i.e., the basses finally tuned that line, or we got the piece memorized). Kids are used to such instant gratification these days and choir is simply not that; however, one of the ways to combat it is for kids to feel successful – maybe the END goal is performance, but maybe today’s goal is just those 8 measures and we can celebrate those too! Happy Singing!