If your concert season is over and you still have weeks of rehearsals left, you have a great opportunity; there’s a lot that can be tried without the pressure of a performance. Even if there are a few sparse performances such as graduation, practicing the same thing over and over again loses it’s luster for most students rather quickly.
The goal of the final weeks is to “fill up” our rehearsals, not to “fill in” our rehearsals. I believe we can be “fill up” our rehearsal with new energy, new approaches and new activities. We are not trying to “fill in” our rehearsals with activities that get us by (watching movies, free periods, etc).
What does the end of the year mean to you and your students?
This is a question that I believe is worth exploring. For me, the end of a school year represents:
- a time to reflect on the current year: accomplishments, special moments, bonding experiences, etc.
- a time to recognize the graduating seniors
- a time to bring musical closure to the current ensemble
- a time to figure out what new innovations can be infused into next year’s program
- a time to celebrate as a choir
- a time to transition next year’s officers
- a time to try out new musical activities
Rehearsal Activities for closing out the year:
The activities that I list below only scratch the surface of what can be done to close out the year. While I believe all of these ideas have merit, it’s more important to recognize the concept that the end of the year is not a throw-away; it is a time for creativity, reflection, closure and transition.
Here are 8 ideas to bring value to the end of the school year:
1. Lead an effective discussion on how we have benefited from this school year
There has been so much innovation as a result of this strange year. It’s certainly beneficial to engage our students on how we can implement new technology into the traditional choral experience. Some examples would be: Flipgrid, Sight Reading Factory, Google Classroom, digitized sheet music, virtual choir videos, choral rehearsal tracks, etc.
I suggest breaking the discussion (and any other discussion) into 3 parts:
- what were the “wins” – what was successful this year
- what could we have done better?
- what can we take from this year and improve upon for next year?
For more information on how to lead an effective discussion, check out this post.
2. Listen in class to new choral repertoire and engage in conversation about it
Students can submit repertoire they’d like the choir to sing the following year. The choir can listen together in class and offer feedback. The approach may motivate students to research choral music on their free time.
3. Sing favorite repertoire from earlier in the year
Students love to go back to repertoire from earlier in the year; winter concert music or even music from the Fall can be fun to sing because it brings back memories. This reflective activity is great because it actively engages them while also being reflective.
4. Start repertoire for next year
Pick a piece or two that you plan on giving your singers next year and get them excited about it. It’s not a pressurized experience but it may be fun for the singers to envision their experience for the following year. It’s also fun for the seniors to know what the choir has planned after they graduate.
5. Sight-Sing in a fun way
It may seem like students wouldn’t want to sight-sing at the end of the year, but it all depends upon our approach. We can make sight-singing fun and positive. Try putting up an 8 measure exercise (I recommend using Sight Reading Factory so you can continually move through examples), and have each section perform one measure. An example would be sopranos singing measure one, basses singing measure two, tenors singing measure three, altos singing measure four, and then sopranos sing measure five. The metronome would continues as each section audiates their part until it’s their turn. This could turn into an elimination competition, so any section that doesn’t keep the exercise going gets eliminated.
6. Make a game out of aural training
Use the aural training sheet and, similar to the sight-singing activity, create a competition. Students generally love the aural training sheet so making a competition out of it usually fun, productive, and highly engaging.
7. Choose officers for next year by involving the current choir members
While I am a big fan of student input for officers, I don’t support elections. Class time is a perfect time for potential officers to give speeches to the choir and for the current choir members to fill out a qualitative ballot. A qualitative ballot allows choir members to support all deserving candidates while also offering confidential feedback.
8. Challenge the group with new repertoire, but learned a different way
Most ensemble learn music the same way all the time. For example, some ensembles sight-sing everything while others spoon-feed notes while holding sheet music. Why not try a completely different approach? A new approach may lend itself to new repertoire for your ensemble and a new way for your choir to express themselves musically. Here are some examples of differing approaches to try out:
- Teach a Gospel piece by rote. Keep the group standing the entire time and have everyone learn all parts. Here’s an example of Maria Ellis teaching by rote. Here is Dr. Tony Leach demonstrating how to teach by rote using a Gospel arrangement.
- If your ensemble is used to being spoon-fed, choose a completely diatonic piece with simple rhythms and have your ensemble sight-sing with absolutely no help from the piano (other than playing ‘do’). I would suggest having all singers label their pitches (d, r, m, etc.) Here is an SATB piece I wrote that is completely diatonic and almost all rhythms are the same between all parts.
- Hand out a piece of music and provide choral rehearsal tracks to challenge the students to learn it completely on their own. The rehearsal tracks could be used in class as well as at home. Perhaps sections could break off into different rooms. The goal would be to have the students learn the music completely without our help.
I believe it’s important to teach our students to finish strong. It’s extremely important, especially with seniors, that they understand that there is always something to be gained. Getting accepted into college shouldn’t be a reason for them to stop wanting to learn. It’s important that we instill this message to them and find ways to acknowledge their efforts so we truly reach the summer break with rewarding end to the school year!