8 ways to stimulate our Choral “Middle-Class”:
This blog is intended to pinpoint 8 specific ways to reach our choral “middle-class” students. By making them the focus, they will gain more opportunity, be more motivated, and will receive a higher-quality of education than in the traditional Choir Caste System where they are frequently neglected.
First, let’s redefine the choral “middle-class” (please see previous blog for more framework); the “middle-class” students are the ones who work hard and have an average amount of talent and/or skill. They are not elite, not soloists, will mostly likely not be a lead in the school musical. They may hold their part, but lack a refined tone. Their range may be limited and they have one or two clear technical deficiencies; they probably don’t possess great dynamic contrast and/or may not sing out like an elite singer.
As to be expected with a Stimulus Plan aimed only at the “middle-class,” there will be intended and unintended consequences that affect the other classes. This blog is only addressing the needs of the “middle-class”, as I believe in the choral community just as in society, the “middle-class” is our heart and our core; when their needs are not being met, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. After laying out the Middle-Class Stimulus Plan in this blog, I will follow-up by addressing some keys elements aimed at the “lower-class” and “upper-class” students, but urge that the needs of the “middle-class” should be addressed first.
Here are 8 ways to stimulate “middle-class” growth:
1. Structure all main choirs to be self-selected
A choral program can be comprised of many different configurations based on the number of total members and ratio of men to women. There is no one “right” way. If there aren’t enough men in the program, a women’s choir for the younger women and then placing all the men in a mixed group with the older women is a good option. In a small choral program, one self-selected choir will work perfectly. In a large and balanced choral program, there can be a beginning men’s choir, a beginning women’s choir, and then all students move into the mixed choir. If this is too drastic, simply a 9th grade mixed ensemble (no talent removed) followed by a 10th-12th grade mixed ensemble can suffice.
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2. Choose repertoire aimed at the strongest singers in any self-selected group
The chosen music should be challenging but attainable for the “upper-class” singers. Many of the “middle-class” students will initially struggle but as the “upper-class” students gain a firm grounding of the music, they will anchor the sound, which will then allow the “middle-class” to more readily access and process the music. The “middle-class”, by following the lead of the “upper-class,” will attain a similar level of success with some modifications (dropping out when out of vocal range, as an example).
3. Use the daily warm-ups to build solo vocal technique for all levels of students
The focus of the daily warm-ups should be on building the solo vocal technique of each individual singer. Keep all exercises simple, fundamental, and leave them open-ended for differentiated instruction. As an example, think of instructing a world-class violinist and a beginning violinist who are both practicing the same scale at the same time. Offer verbal direction to reach the varied levels in the same group to foster growth in each individual at the same time.
4. Require the strongest singers to frequently demonstrate for the class
The strongest students will likely learn the parts faster than the average students; when they are secure, have them demonstrate with their refined skills for the “middle-class” to emulate. We need to give the “middle-class” singers ample opportunities to absorb the sound of the vocal leaders and over time, they will gain a deeper understanding which may also aid in their confidence to sing out. A picture is worth a thousand words.
5. Empower the strongest singers to mentor the “middle-class”
We should encourage our strong singers to help average singers; this can happen in a practice room during class, or after school. Peer-to-peer coaching is helpful because it fosters musical ownership for both levels of students at the same time.
Sight-Singing Developmental Rubric – for developing students who lack the underlying sight-singing skills
6. Invite all students to be involved in completing non-musical tasks that benefit the choral community
“Middle-class” students can thrive on service and leadership opportunities. When they believe they are contributing to the group’s success, they will be more motivated to take vocal risks. The risks, which generally stem from singing out, will lead to refinement and a vocal rise of the “middle-class.”
7. Create non-musical/social experiences with the intention of unifying the group
When “middle-class” students feel socially accepted as part of the choral community, they will be continually motivated to improve. Social/educational activities such as ice-breakers and group discussions can happen during class while student-run activities can be planned outside of school for the benefit of uniting the choir.
8. Train all students to understand their own vocal strengths and weaknesses
Students who cannot reach notes or hold certain parts in the music should learn what parts to cross out, and not sing. Learning what they sing well is a confidence booster. Usually learning what not to sing will help the “middle-class” singer to improve the parts of the music that they do sing well (by keeping their voice in a particular range, for example). Confidence can be aided when students understand that every part that they are choosing to sing, they sing well. As “middle-class” students continue to gain confidence and continue to improve as a result of the daily vocal training that is given to begin each rehearsal, they will discover more and more musical elements becoming attainable; each small success breeds more confidence, and fosters growth.