All vocal students in a choral program should learn solo repertoire in addition to standard choral repertoire. If the majority of students in our program receive their “vocal” training from us, it is our obligation to incorporate standard solo repertoire into our curriculum.
The benefit that singing solo repertoire has on an entire choir, as well as each individual singer, is so evident, I strongly encourage every high school and middle school choral director to infuse it into their program.
Here are 12 Reasons To Give Every Choir Member A Solo!
12. Everyone in the choir can sing and learn at the same time
We can engage 100% of the students 100% of the time when we teach solo repertoire. There are no individual sections that require attention. The focus level of the ensemble will collectively be higher since they aren’t given the chance to disengage from the music-making process. Solo repertoire is about every individual, all of the time.
11. Unison singing is beautiful, and quite a challenge
An ensemble will learn a great deal from learning an art song, aria, or folk song in unison. Vowels, consonants, rhythms, articulation, dynamics, and shape must be understood at a deep level in order to make a unison sound beautiful.
Try SIGHT READING FACTORY and save 10% using code: choralclarity
10. Everyone gets to sing the melody
Singing a melody is the most effective way to teach students how to sing melodically. As altos or basses, for example, are frequently stuck on repetitive notes and patterns, they often lose the understanding of shape and musicality. Singing the melody will improve their artistry and expressiveness.
9. All singers can extend their vocal range and gain vocal flexibility
Choir music is written where each voice-part has a limited range and/or specified tessitura. Advanced choral music form unique, beautiful harmonies with added vocal parts, which limits the range of each singer; this confines those same singers to a limited range of vocal development, hindering their long-term vocal health and flexibility. Most choir directors try to counter-balance this with extended vocal warm-ups, but when it comes to the choral repertoire, range and flexibility is lacking. Singing solo repertoire encompasses the full range of a singer; with flexibility and range comes a more relaxed sound in their choral parts.
8. Most students rarely receive serious coaching on a solo of any kind
Even students who sing in the school musical or perform lots of pop solos rarely work on perfecting their craft. They audition for our school’s version of “American Idol” or the “Talent Show”, but rarely learn how to hone their skills. When we coach a solo piece of music in a choral rehearsal, we can dive into the nuances of the shape, body alignment, gesture, etc. These are things we cannot do at the same level when working on standard choral repertoire.
7. When singers learn solo repertoire, they will improve their musical skills
Most choirs spend way too much time working on learning and retaining choral parts. Assuming students are taught to sight-sing in unison with melodies stretching at least an octave in range, choral part-reading becomes quite simple due to it’s limited range. By spending time working on solo repertoire, students will gain far more opportunity to develop enhanced technique along with musicality. This, of course, these skills transfer right back into the way they sing a choral part.
Try SIGHT READING FACTORY and save 10% using code: choralclarity
And if their musical skills (body alignment, vowels, consonants, vocal range, phrasing, musicality, stage presence, interpretation, etc) are constantly improving it leads us to the next tangible reason:
6. Performing solo repertoire is great way to assess singer
Lets face it: some students are not capable of holding their part, at least at the beginning of their singing journey; all students are capable of retaining a melody, and there are more far-reaching skills that will be developed by singing melodies than limited choral parts. Even the weakest singer in the choir can learn a melody, and within that melody, there is a great deal that can be focused on and evaluated. All students can learn basic folk songs and Italian arias. Keep in mind that assessing a singer’s performance can be done without punitive academic effect.
We can assess them with a solo vocal performance rubric as this will be useful to help each student improve; by using a solo vocal performance rubric, we are teaching students how to breakdown the art of singing and provide baby steps toward reaching attainable goals. A rubric can simply be a motivational grade, scored accurately, but count in the academic average as a simple pass/fail. Students will become self-motivated as they become aware of their strengths and what they need to improve.
5. Students will gain repertoire to sing at recitals, state festivals, college auditions,and scholarships
Students in our choir will not need a private voice teacher just to have one or two Italian arias in their repertoire. If we teach 2 solo pieces per year, many students will graduate with as many as 8 songs. This will make “contrasting song” requirements for college auditions and scholar auditions far less daunting for talented students who wish to pursue music in college. It will also encourage and motivate students to apply for solo adjudication festivals.
4. Students will more deeply explore other languages
If students collectively are exposed to Italian Arias every year along with solo repertoire in French and German, they will gain a greater sense of these languages than when they are singing choral music. Solo repertoire will frequently contain an entire poem that is set with the nuances of a language as opposed to most choral pieces where each vocal line contains fragmented lyrics and vocal lines.
3. Singing solo repertoire provides a unique opportunity for students to gain confidence as individuals
When every student knows a melody, they will be more likely to sing-out, demonstrate, or even sing for the class. Encouraging students to sing even a section of a solo for the class is a huge confidence builder. When students confidently know they are singing the “right” part (a well-rehearsed solo as opposed to a uninspiring choral line), they will be more likely to volunteer and demonstrate for the class. Each volunteer will breed more volunteers as we properly support and encourage their classroom performance.
The Most Effecitve Rubric for Guiding and Evaluating Soloists
2. “Solos” will no longer be perceived as the 2 lines in a choir song that the select few get
When students are trained to sing solo repertoire, they now have gained the opportunity to sing something solo. The idea of getting a solo in a choir song, while still appealing, is no longer the end all for successful achievement. Having a prepared solo that they can sing becomes more important than receiving a short solo in a choir concert selection.
1. Students will not leave our program only being able to sing the alto part to 50 pieces of music
I was always taught by my father that tennis is a great sport to learn because all you need is one other person in order to play. Many other sports require an entire team and a whole lot of coordinating before a game can happen. If students learn standard solo repertoire, they will have gained something they can take with them and use for the rest of their lives. When they learn the alto part to the “Hallelujah Chorus”, they can sing it once a year at their local Church with 50 other pedestrian singers. Solo repertoire is something they can sing forever and where-ever. It may also spark their desire to move forward into more solo repertoire, seeking out higher levels of independent musical development.
Are you saying everyone learn the same song like Caro Mio Ben or the water is wide, how do work with every student like you would a soloist? I don’t get it and when do they all perform or when do you assess? How do you coach them individually within 60 minutes
I’m suggesting you teach everyone a solo such as the ones you mentioned. With unison singing, you can focus on tone, vowels, consonants, engaging everyone at once. Everyone can sing out, as blend is not a factor. From there, you may ask volunteers to sing sections of the piece. Ask a volunteer to sing the first section of Caro Mio Ben for the class. More and more students will want to volunteer when they get support from their peers and from you. As for assessment, this would not be my goal in your set-up, unless these solos could align with your state solo festival. In that case, students can choose to go to the festivals and be evaluated there!