It’s not too late to change-it-up for January and get your students excited!
Our students have just come off the high of their winter concert, followed by a well-deserved break. Now they are back to regular seats, marking music, starting all over again and waiting their turn to be attended to.
Do we begin the New Year by handing out the music to our Spring Concert……..in January?
As my previous blog post explains, it does not make sense to begin learning our Spring concert music this early. January, if well-optimized, can be an incredibly productive and rewarding rehearsal month. If the month is not used properly, it may become a boring and monotonous month filled with unfocused and unproductive rehearsals; this lull can continue throughout the entire Winter, or at least until the groundhog emerges for its annual visit.
Here are some unique tips and strategies for making January a productive and exciting month for our students. These approaches may be combined or incorporated into activities that are already occurring within our programs. The purpose of this article is to brainstorm ways to approach January differently and as a result, uniquely impact our students; these concepts avoid the pitfalls of what students instinctive deem as “traditional down-time” within our yearly rehearsal cycle. For many of us, the only other time as “dead” as January is the time between our Spring concert and the last day of school.
Here are 6 Tips to Invigorate those dragging January Rehearsals
6. Reinforce effective participation in a meaningful way
Now that we are back in what may feel like August/September mode again, it is a great chance to improve upon the way students engage in rehearsal. It’s an excellent time to engage their own self-awareness of how they rehearse. When we focus on what it takes to build a “great choir”, which begins with great rehearsals, students can be trained to focus on the specific aspects of effective participation. Try utilizing a Self-Assessment Rehearsal Participation Rubric, and using it as an entry point to discuss these important characteristics. Students can self-assess what they do well and how they need to improve. This self-assessment rubric could be used weekly to reinforce the idea of self-awareness.
5. Put on a last-minute concert in 3-4 weeks
Present high-quality, less-challenging music that can foster an intense, highly productive rehearsal atmosphere. Perform a concert in a less formal setting. Perhaps this concert could be a fund-raiser and/or have one specific theme.
One year when we were preparing for an upcoming Italy tour, we performed 6 songs that we had learned in January. The audience was comprised of parents of our choir members who were attending to hear about the details of our upcoming Italy tour. We chose to sing 6 Italian pieces that we would be singing throughout Italy. The meeting/performance took place in a large instruction room, not the auditorium, so we circled the parents and performed the mini-concert at the conclusion of the meeting. Those 4 weeks were filled with intensity and motivation as we put together an entire Italian set for our tour that left over the February break.
4. Switch up the sections
Spend a month with everyone singing a different part. This will challenge and develop the students’ reading, listening skills, and utilize different areas of their voice. When the women switch parts, it generally improves their range and flexibility as well. If the tenors cannot sing low, perhaps another approach would be 3-4 part treble music where the men need to sing in falsetto; they should be able to do this and this will further develop their voices. This could allow for a complete change in seating, which could also make for an interesting change for choir members, and for us.
3. Teach concert music by rote
Treat the ensemble like a gospel choir. Without any sheet music in front of them, they will learn and connect differently. Perhaps the elimination of chairs could aid this full-body musical experience. The incorporation of riffing, added notes, and harmonizing could be a freeing experience. All of these elements will improve the ear and connection of the ensemble. The group could also learn how to create their own vocal arrangement through trial and error. This is something we’ve done when asked for specific requests last minute within our community. The experience that students get by working together to create music viscerally is pure magic.
2. Focus primarily on sight-singing (and aural training)
Sight-reading doesn’t need to be overbearing and drilled in a mechanic way. In a month where there is time to make it the primary focus, we can use a multitude of sight-reading approaches. A choir can sight-sing a different Bach chorale every day, sight-read rounds, play lots of aural training games, or just take a completely different approach to our standard way of teaching. Sight Reading Factory can generate endless chorales for the choir to sing instantly.
1. Teach solo repertoire
When an entire choir learns solo repertoire, each individual has the potential for exponential growth. The growth of each individual will make the entire choir more confident. Using solo repertoire also develops the entire range of each singer, rather than the specific vocal ranges that are limited to choral parts. Solo repertoire is one of the core elements of my high school choral program, a program that is centered around self-selection.
Teaching solo repertoire in the Choral Setting will be the topic of next week’s blog, as I believe this has transforming my choir over the past 15 years.