Where Body, Mind and Spirit Find Voice !
Frequently Asked Questions
From Directors of Children and Youth Choirs
Here is a list of commonly asked questions from our local and national directors of Children and Youth Choirs. If you have comments or questions not answered here, at your convenience please contact Katy Lundeen, Choristers Guild of San Diego at KLundeen24@hotmail.com or call her at: (760) 807 – 6359. She will gladly answer your questions.
These answers been provided by members on the Board of Directors for the Choristers Guild, as well as composers represented in the Choristers Guild catalog.
- What are some of the reasons for pitch-matching problems?
- What are some of the remedial activities that improve pitch-matching?
Children’s Choirs-Getting Started
- I am just starting a children’s choir and want to know how to recruit. How do I get the choir off the ground?
- How can I get parents to better support my choral program?
- How can I motivate the children to keep coming back to choir week after week?
- Give me some tips about how to keep children engaged during the rehearsal.
Music and Materials Resources
- Where can I find good material?
- Where do I find music for my choirs?
- Where can I find simple but worthwhile music for my younger and beginning children’s choirs?
- Where can I go to find new ideas and up to date information on current trends in and activities for children’s and youth choirs?
- My children’s choir sings an anthem at church once each month, but they want to sing more than once during the service.
What can I do?
- How do I decide how many Orff instruments to use for an accompaniment to a children’s choir anthem?
- How can I submit an article for The Chorister?
- What if my pastor wants only contemporary Christian music?
ANSWER (provided by Judy Henneberger): Some of the reasons for difficulty in matching pitch include:
- lack of experience and training in singing
- lack of concentration
- undeveloped tonal memory
- lack of coordination of thinking, breathing, hearing, and vocalization Skills
- has no concept of melodic direction and high and low
- auditory impairment
- does not differentiate between speaking and singing voices
- poor posture
- health problems such as asthma
- cultural and ethnic speech ranges
ANSWER (provided by Judy Henneberger): Remedial activities should be selected according to the vocal and/or physical needs of the children and may include:
- the use of speech chant with varied vocal inflections that gradually lead into singing
- use every opportunity to help the child to become aware of vocal sounds and to differentiate between the speaking and singing voices
- select vocalises that focus on matching pitch and that expand the child’s vocal range
- use movement and stretching games to increase concentration, posture, and to teach the melodic concept of high and low
- use of correct posture and breathing techniques
- choose songs with appropriate range and tessitura
- use of speech, singing, and movement games which energize the body and allow for individual solo-singing
- make a tape recording of vocalizes and songs to be practiced by the child at home
- use visual aids to introduce and reinforce various concepts of correct singing
- some children do not know what “singing in unison” means, therefore one needs to establish and develop an awareness and ability of in-tune unison singing
- play recordings of excellent models of the child s singing voice and of children s choirs
- use lots of “tender, loving care” and positive reinforcement in working with the children who are experiencing pitch-matching problems
- minimize the use of the keyboard in the choir rehearsal so that you and the children can hear the voices and better assess where improvement is needed.
Children’s Choirs-Getting Started
ANSWER (provided by Michael Wustrow): It is important to establish a contact with parents as well as the children when recruiting. Contact people in your church who already work with the children, or maybe even some music teachers in your area (piano teachers, school teachers), and ask them to suggest names of people who might be interested. This will help you set up a list of priority children to target. Send a letter of invitation (maybe signed by your pastor, or tell them they were “recommended”) and follow it up with a phone call to the parent to discuss the whole concept of what a children’s choir is and what it can do for their child. If necessary offer a pick-up service at the schools for children who otherwise could not come. Once you talk to a few parents, word of mouth will spread the news and your choir will be off and running. Good Luck!
ANSWER (provided by John Witvliet): Invite them to attend a rehearsal. Children will enjoy impressing their parents with what they’ve learned. And you’ll have an opportunity to show how important music can be–not just talk about it. Statistics now prove that participation in choir, band, or orchestra raises a student IQ and increases their ability to think and reason. These same students also had higher SAT scores. The longer students participated in music programs, the more impact it had on their learning. This information passed on to parents should help increase their willingness to have their children in choir.
ANSWER (provided by Judy Henneberger): Always have a surprise or a new approach or teaching strategy in each rehearsal. Keep the rehearsal pace moving along with no big time gaps. Know the music so you can “eyeball” the children. Do not spend a lot of time “drilling” a piece. Think of different ways to repeat the difficult passages. Sing and play musical games more – talk less. This helps to maintain the interests of the children as they anticipate and look forward to the next rehearsal.
ANSWER (provided by Madeline Bridges):
- Keep them singing. The more we as directors TALK, the more easily the kids get “off-task.” The more they are involved in making music, the less time they have to become unfocused
- Have a seating chart. In my opinion, this is a must. Many directors use folders w/ names on them placed in the chairs. Others put name tags on the chairs. I do not recommend putting girls on one side of the room and boys on the other. Mix them up. However, I avoid putting a boy between two girls.
- Post an agenda. Have a chorister cross off each item on the agenda as it is completed. Engage children in the joy of accomplishment.
- Frequently call on individual children to sing an echo pattern, a line of an anthem, or anything. Move quickly from child to child. It’s amazing how quiet they will get to hear one of their peers sing. PLUS we know that children learn so much about how they sound when they sing alone. I had my choir assistant count how many times I called on an individual child to sing something in a recent rehearsal–it was over 25 times. (I don’t mean one child sang 25 times; rather, 25 times I asked one of the children to sing something back to me, etc., by him/herself.)
Music and Materials Resources
ANSWER (provided by Jane Marshall):
- Go to all the reading sessions and workshops you can; don’t rely on just the free music you get through the mail; subscribe to at least one publisher’s new releases service. (GIA is an example of many), join Choristers Guild to receive their new releases for children’s and youth choirs, much of which is appropriate for adult choirs with limited “forces”; and read what others have to say, e.g., Alice Parker in MELODIOUS ACCORD, Liturgical Training Publications; Marva Dawn in REACHING OUT WITHOUT DUMBING DOWN, Eerdmans; Leonard Bernstein in audios of his YOUNG PEOPLE’S CONCERTS, Bernstein Trust & Kultur
- Know what quality is: good music is loved in any century and in any part of the world (It’s timeless and placeless); it appeals to the whole person, senses and intellect both; and it can’t be copied successfully anymore than Bach, Mozart, Bernstein, Hammerstein, and the unknown composers of “What Wondrous Love” and “Amazing Grace” can. Much of the Christian Contemporary is very poor copies of the wonderful big band music theater ballads of the 40’s, with sacred texts that have little of substance to say and little good poetry.
ANSWER (provided by Madeline Bridges): This is easy of course. Choristers Guild and other denominational and general publishers. Until recently I usually suggested Kirkland House and some older Boosey. Plus some denominational publishers–particularly some of the curriculum by the Methodists.
ANSWER (provided by Harriet Ziegenhals): The Choristers Guild catalog has a fine selection of music for the young singer and is adding anthems to this section of its catalog continually.
ANSWER (provided by Harriet Ziegenhals): The publication of Choristers Guild called The Chorister is an excellent resource and help for directors of children’s and youth choirs. Every issue of the journal contains practical articles and ideas to use in working with your choirs. There is something in each issue for young children to teenagers, handbell directors, hymn study, workshop opportunities, and much, much more. In addition there are articles to stretch your thinking and provide personal inspiration for you, devotions to use during rehearsals, and ideas for children’s participation in worship. It is published ten times per year and a number of new anthem releases are enclosed with each issue.
ANSWER (provided by Michael Wustrow): Find out what the hymns are and locate or write a simple descant that the children can sing on the last verse of the hymn. Some denominations have sung parts of the liturgy that are the same each week; find some arrangements of those that have descants or two part writing.
What can I do?
ANSWER (provided by Judy Henneberger): The number of instruments depends on several factors such as the number of children in the choir, the mood and setting of the anthem, the acoustics of the sanctuary or worship area, the amount of instrumental sound needed to provide the accompaniment foundation and support for the singers. The instrumental accompaniment should not dominate. The singers voices should be the focus. Carl Orff himself indicated that the instruments are merely the icing on the cake.
ANSWER: Unsolicited articles that outline successful teaching strategies with either children or youth are always welcome for review. Articles that highlight worship ideas or musical programs in which children or youth are worship leaders are needed. You may e-mail the Editor of The Chorister, Susan LaBarr , and forward your idea or article to her. (You can also ‘snail-mail’ it to the Choristers Guild office at 12404 Park Central Dr, Suite 100, Dallas TX 75251-1802.)
ANSWER (provided by Jane Marshall):
- Be willing to use some
- Ask to choose what you do use and try to find something appealing that doesn’t sound like everything else we’ve heard
- Ask for talk time and/or lunch with the pastor to chat about a balanced musical diet and negotiate compromises as well as to show you’re flexible and concerned for the faith growth of the flock.
- Don’t think your whole life rides on this one problem; hang loose, learn to play, and don’t let yourself become a workaholic
- Try to find ways to have hymnsings in informal settings, like church suppers and church school, using Carlton Young’s COMPANION TO THE UNITED METHODIST HYMNAL as your source because it’s fun and pretty exhaustive, no matter what your denomination; and use a mix of old and new so all can see that music in all styles can be delightful
- Teach the kids good stuff that is engaging