Thursday, July 5, 2012

Voicing the Choir

Over the past week or so, I've been "voicing" the choir. I have several lists - all with the girls names on them - different categories. 7th/8th grade. Loud/Soft singers. Soprano/Alto. Soprano 1/Soprano 2/Alto. I pour over their final exam score sheets - reminding myself of each individual's sightreading level, and vocal tone. What I don't have yet is specific ranges of each girl. Then again, I harbor the belief the every middle school has the same or similar range - a solid B3 to E5. There are 5-6 girls who can sing down to a solid G3 or F#3 - without sounding like a hairdryer. Then, there are 20-25 girls who can sing easily up to A5 - without stopping themselves from the mental allergy of the dreaded "high note". Oddly enough, 95% of middle school girls can vocalize up to C6 without blinking an eye.

This is why I believe every middle school girl should learn to sing every part on the page within her middle school career. If they understand how to sing each part, then they begin to hear how vertical relationships work within harmonic structures. Can they name that concept? No. That's my job. Learning to sing all parts gives them a "marketable" skill in the choir room. Learning to sing all parts allows them to jump the hurdle (or at least attempt) of the mental vocal allergies: "I can't sing that high" or "I can only sing low" or "I don't sing this way anywhere else but choir" or my personal favorite "Singing high feels good and singing low makes me feel like a smoker". Learning to sing all parts provides a sense of equality in the choir room.

Every year, I teach at least 1 piece of music to each treble choir where they have to learn all parts before I settle them onto a voice part. We spend a week learning each part (1 week per part), then we spend a week flipping kids around on each part. This makes them uncomfortable. I do not care. They have to see beyond their comfort level to understand what the music needs from them. In the last week of flipping, we find who should sing what part. And often, I allow the girls to decide what sounds the best.  They will be honest and say what sounds best for the choir. By this time, the song is ready. There is a lot of polishing that occurs in the flip week. It's a beautiful process.

Girls will sing till the cows come home. Girls in choir - they are the work horses of the program, I believe. It takes some convincing for boys to be in middle school choir, so they are not work horses yet. YET. It comes with time and guidance. Girls - they like to work. They like to sing. The serious ones like to work at singing. They do not like unstructured time. Give them a challenge. If a challenge is not offered, they will become discipline problems.

All of these issues stated above, this is why I feel it is important to know every individual and their voice. I would know this information even if we weren't singing at TMEA. Success happens this way.

Today, I realize that I need more volume in the Soprano 1 section, so I will need to flip a few singers around to re-balance the volume levels. In that flip, I have to keep in mind the tone and ranges of each singer. It is a lot of information to wrestle with on paper during the summer. Usually, I work on a list and let it rest for 1-2 days. That's where I am now - letting a list rest.

When I am letting one thing rest, be sure that I am working on something else. Like sightreading plans for all choirs. Sometimes, I think that I am more of a planner than a choir director.

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