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Choosing Repertoire for the Secondary Public School Choir

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Jaci Cummings

CWU Application

Master of Music Education

21 April 2012

Repertoire planning for the secondary choir

Across the United States, the picture of the secondary choral classroom is likely very similar, regardless of the geographic location. After signing up to sing in choir, the students inevitably wait for the exciting day when the teacher passes out the musical selections they will be singing. Students eagerly wait for the moment they will have the opportunity to peruse the score, scrutinizing the words and notes with their fresh and enthusiastic eyes. What is their reaction? Are they still excited? Lacking excitement? Overwhelmed? Disappointed? Their reaction depends on how they were prepared for the reception of these repertoire choices. It is the duty of the teacher to see to it that the appropriate repertoire is chosen for the classroom, with the needs of the singers in the forefront of the teacher's mind.

Songs are the vehicle by which choral teachers can guide students to a deep knowledge, appreciation and ability of music. The chosen repertoire is not simply a stagnant moment in the singer's life, and choral conductors need to connect musical information across each song, and throughout the entire year. Through the songs they sing, students may be exposed to some of the most life-changing concepts available in high school; teamwork, time management, and cultural awareness are all an intrinsic part of singing in a choral setting. Further, the repertoire chosen by the choral conductor can tie students directly to state standards, which should serve as a guide for what they learn. The repertoire choices can essentially either lead students to success or hinder their growth as musicians.

Before the school year begins, teachers must have a clear vision of what they would like to accomplish for their vocal groups during the coming year. Teachingasleadership.org suggests planning backwards; if you know where you'd like them to be at the end of the year, you'll be able to create steps leading up to that end goal that are effective and purposeful (Teach for America). One principle that greatly impacts student learning is purposeful planning on the part of the teacher (Farr, Kamras and Kopp). Asking yourself, "How will I know that my students have reached that vision?" is a tool all teachers can utilize in order to be clear about present-day choices and long-term goals, simultaneously.

In the choral classroom, this long-term planning means having a specific idea of where the student learning will be at the end of the year. Teachers may choose a level of difficult repertoire with which students will become familiar, or a set of musical tasks they will be able to achieve, such as sight-singing a multi-part song appropriate to their age, or even as simple as demonstrating an understanding of the wealth of musical terminology. Of course, these suggestions are to be adapted to the grade level and needs of the specific classroom in mind; there are no perfect answers that work for every choral classroom. However, no matter the specifics of a choir's goal for the end of the year, it should help guide the day-to-day or month-to-month lesson planning and repertoire choices.

Teach music reading

Whether experienced or inexperienced, your musicians should be able to sight-sing a portion of the repertoire you select. Sometimes this means that beginning choir students notice a pattern of ascending notes, and imitate with their voice as best they can. In the more advanced choral setting, perhaps in the second year of experience, your students should be able to sing through block chords, as in hymn settings. By the time singers are in their third or fourth year of vocal music education, they should be able to read a polyphonic madrigal or other similar choice with each voice part singing an independent line, different in rhythm and pitch from other voice parts.

Singers need a chance to feel immediately successful with the first day of singing new repertoire. If they are successful in some aspect of the new song choice, be it a rhythmic pattern, a melodic pattern, or recognizing key signature, students may be more likely to be interested further. They will feel successful when the director guides them to those concepts that are familiar to them, which requires previously learned knowledge.

Washington State EALRs in the Arts 2.1 states that students identify, explore, interpret and implement musical concepts to the performance of the music (OSPI). Fulfilling this EALR requires, in part, having knowledge of these concepts and being able to apply them to new repertoire, also understood as the tool by which learning occurs. Previous knowledge is not always limited to the choral classroom, however. A choir who has never seen music before may feel encouraged and succeed when they recognize basic musical ideas, such as five lines on a staff or black note heads that ascend up the musical staff. Further, a more advanced choir needs to recall previous knowledge and apply it to the new chart in order to be successful. Regardless of the experience, it is the job of the director, using the musical selection as a tool, to make the students accomplish something on Day One with the new song, and thereby apply state standards.

Repertoire that challenges

Within each song, there needs to be a passage that instructs a new musical concept, which could be improving or introducing a new vocal technique, introducing a new language or culture, era or composer, encourage sight-singing, or introduce a new rhythmic concept. There are so many ways to challenge the choral student, and these suggestions are only the beginning. It is possible to introduce a new concept with nearly every song selection, and because of this, long-term learning (aside from the song's lyrics and notes itself) simply needs to happen with each new song.

The new information which is to be introduced needs to build upon previous learning and create a sequence of learning for the student. It would be impossible to explain a mixed-meter passage, for example, without having first introduced the concept and function of time signature. Directors must find a song that includes the next set of musical knowledge for the choir and utilize that teaching opportunity to further their musicianship skills, rather than limit teaching to the printed notes and words on the page.

Take care not to outdo or ignore the singer's abilities. If the group is still exploring a concept and is not fully comfortable with the previously taught



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