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How to Plan for Choir in these Uncertain Times - Choral Clarity
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How to Plan for Choir in these Uncertain Times

Many of us have so many unanswered questions about Covid-19 and how it is going to further affect our choral program. How do we plan for choir when we have uncertainty regarding issues such as:

  • Are we returning to the classroom? (New York returns in September)
  • Will we be fully online, fully in the classroom, or on a hybrid schedule? How long will our current model last?
  • If we are in the classroom, will our students be 6 feet or 12 feet apart?
  • If we are 6 or 12 feet apart, how can students fit in our room?
  • If our class is scheduled, will we be allowed to sing?
  • If we can’t sing, what will our curriculum be?

At this point of time, I have absolutely no idea what my district is going to decide for choir. They have a tentative plan in place for academics but the only information I know regarding music classes is that students are required to be 12 feet apart.

Obviously, a choir of 60+ cannot exist in a standard choral room with students 12 feet apart and I don’t know if we will be permitted to sing, even with that distance.

So how will I prepare for this upcoming school year when every detail is uncertain?

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Plan A, Plan B, or NO PLAN at all?

Unless my school district’s plan is guaranteed to be set in stone for an elongated period of time, any detailed plan that I make will likely become useless pretty quickly. I believe planning for this entire school year is like being stranded in the ocean on a leaking boat while making plans with friends for a future get together; the only possible goals while on a leaking boat is to either patch the hole or get to land.

Proper planning assumes we understand the parameters that are going to be set for us; it assumes we have enough concrete information to make informed long-term decisions. A real plan makes sense for our students when we are provided a stable environment in which we can administer it.

Does NO PLAN mean no preparation?

No plan means I am not selecting music, having a concert program ready, writing a traditional handbook, setting classroom expectations, creating routines, etc.

Instead of a plan, I am using a big picture approach to guide all decisions. This approach accounts for any educational environment that could occur at the drop of a time: distance learning, small groups, in-person classes without singing, etc. This big picture approach connects directly with my choral teaching philosophy that every student must develop as an individual.

I believe that if we focus primarily on the individual rather than the large group, we will be able to adapt to a changing situation; when we place the focus primarily on the ensemble (choral repertoire and upcoming concerts), we may be stuck with the potential of having a year focused around virtual choir videos and essays.

Virtual choirs can be a great experience, don’t get me wrong; but since they are not a replacement for a real choral experience, we should not settle for this approach as equivalent, or it being the next best way of learning. This individualized activity, which forms visually into a collective performance, is not an anchor for my choral program. It may, however, become a part of a distance-learning curriculum if my entire choir is not permitted to meet for an elongated period of time.

Here is my approach for the start of the 2020-2021 school year:

1. Google Classroom will become our home

Instead of entrusting the daily classroom for announcements and being the main source of information, I will make Google Classroom the permanent home for my class. Handouts, recordings, assignments, homework, surveys, part tapes, and submissions of any kind will be accessible there. In addition, I will use this platform to engage in class discussion.

2. Aural training skills and vocal technique for each student will be a primary focus

Every student can learn to sing and develop their ear. The same system that I use in person for aural training, I will be prepared to use both in person and in google classroom. Aural training and vocal technique are directly related, especially with new singers.

Whether I see my students in school or virtually, I can teach them to match pitch, recognize and reproduce basic intervals, help them to sing a scale in tune, and develop he ability to reproduce all diatonic intervals.. I will be offering future posts on how to apply these concepts virtually. In the meantime, here is a blog post that describes the process to train ALL singers to develop these skills.

3. Focus on developing individual sight-singing skills

I have been giving individualized sight-singing homework for many years. Students are grouped by levels, usually by age. I use both Smart Music and Sight Reading Factory (use code “Choral Clarity” for a 10% discount). Both programs have their advantages.

With both programs, students can receive individualized weekly assignments as homework where they have unlimited attempts before submission. While Smart Music auto-grades the assignments, the learning curve is steep for most teachers. Sight Reading Factory is more user friendly but requires the teacher to listen and grade each assignment.

I suggest teachers choose Sight Reading Factory as a starting point, especially since it is by far the better resource for teaching sight-singing in class.

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4. Teach Solo Repertoire

If every student is treated like a soloist, they will gain confidence in their singing. This will transfer into all aspects of their membership to our choir, as well as build their self-confidence. Whether it prepares them later in the year for a real choir experience or allows them to sing their “virtual” choral part more confidently for the next virtual choir video, solo repertoire is a key element to developing ALL singers. Check out my article, 12 Reasons to Give Every Choir Member a Solo!

5. Empower Section Leaders

This is a great opportunity for our musical leaders to get involved. Section leaders can make part tapes, help one-on-one with singers online, and ensure their section is well-prepared. Student musical leaders have the ability to help the singers around them if we provide them with the opportunity.

6. Empower non-musical leaders

My executive board (Manager, Associate Manager, Secretary, Treasure, Public Relations, etc) are the glue that keeps the choir united. Well-chosen officers can create social events both in person and online.

During the pandemic last year, we had many social events from March through June: online stay-at-home scavenger hunts, t-shirt contests, games, etc.

In addition to fun and games, these leaders become the sounding board for group morale and understanding the needs of our group members. They can calm fears and ensure the choir remains united, even while we are frantically trying to figure out our next educational move.

But what about real CHOIR?

I understand that everything I described is not a traditional choral experience but truth be told, it has always been the core of my choral program. In my self-selected choral program, our choirs are first a product of individual musical/skill growth, then empowered by student leadership, and finally, united by collective social and musical experiences shared by the group.

Choir will be back to “normal” at some point; until then, my primary goal is what I described above. We may decide to create a monthly virtual choir performance/video. We may decide to learn music to be performed in the Spring. We will most certainly have some collaborative goals, but they not be part of the core experience for our students until choir is “normal” again.

By | 2020-08-16T22:00:39-04:00 August 16th, 2020|Distance Learning, Technology|

About the Author:

Adam Paltrowitz is a master educator, composer, conductor, and clinician. During his 21-year tenure as the Director of Choral Activities at Plainview-Old Bethpage John F. Kennedy High School in New York, his groups have toured throughout Europe, Canada, and the United States. He also has pioneered a philosophy that every student is a soloist. Adam's choral program has also gained great acclaim for the cultivation of eight student-run a-cappella ensembles; some of these ensembles have performed on national and local television programs. His compositions and arrangements have been performed by choirs around the world. Adam earned his B.S. in music education from New York University, M.A. in vocal pedagogy from Columbia University - Teacher's College, and Ed.M. choral conducting from Columbia University - Teacher's College. ​Adam resides in Manhattan with his wife, Blair Goldberg, a professional Broadway actress, and their daughter, Lyla, and son, Nolan.

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