Starting a HS Jazz choir
Here are the responses I received re: my jazz choir inquiry. We already
have a strong traditional choral and instrumental program with two jazz band
offerings. Just looking for info to expand our Jazz (and not show)
offerings and give our students another choice. Thanks to all who
Paul J. Raheb
Director of Choral Activities
Golden West High School
1717 N. McAuliff Rd
Visalia, CA 93292
I have two "legit choirs that meet each day during the day and a jazz choir
and a Madrigal choir that meet once per week before school (6:30am ) for 50
minutes. The madrigal group is auditioned and ranges from 16-27 members the
jazz group is open to all and in its infancy had 25 members same time 6:30
am this year we are up to 56 members it's great. I have encouraged my
select choir members to join us because the music is so difficult
harmonically- I need their ears. I also have inexperienced freshman and
students who do not belong to any other ensemble. it has worked well. TRhe
inexperienced singers benefit from the experienced singers sightreading
knowledge and sound concept and the older kids size up their future select
When we added the Jazz group, it was also an outgrowth of the jazz band. :)
For us, it was pretty simple, the Jazz Choir was a blocked after school
class two days a week (MW 3:30-5:30) at the same time as our Jazz Band.
Only enrolled choral students were considered for the group. It wasn't even
a discussion. But, my Madrigal Group doesn't have any concurrent enrollment
with the large group.
Hi, Paul. I would say that it depends on what level of accomplishment and
potential you expect your jazz choir to operate at. (And of course you and
the "band guy" must agree on this.) If you picture it as being equal in
artistic and musical standards to your Chamber Ensemble, you can
legitimately have the same requirement (i.e. concurrent enrollment in
concert choir, or in concert choir OR Chamber Ensemble). If you expect it
to be equal in expectations to your beginning or intermediate ensembles,
treat it accordingly. Since it sounds as if you already have a scheduling
nightmare, I'm sure you will find a way to handle that aspect.
However, I would like to call into question your basic assumption that
adding a jazz choir will mean a loss of singers from the traditional
ensembles. (I know, you're not paranoid if they really ARE out to get you!)
I would find it much more healthy to look on it as adding an opportunity for
singers with a special interest, talent, or career goal in jazz. Yes, those
singers might now be in a traditional ensemble because they have no other
choice, and in that sense you might "lose" them. But from the students'
point of view it would allow them to follow their own desires, or even to
try something new that they couldn't have tried before because there was no
opportunity to do so.
I'm assuming, simply because you are in California, that by "jazz choir" you
mean a hard core jazz ensemble, not something that might equally be termed a
show choir or swing choir. Those are also valid non-traditional
experiences, of course, given a director with professional standards and
expectations. My own experience has been with ensembles oriented toward the
entertainment arts, not just limited to jazz. As to ideal size,
conventional wisdom would suggest a number divisible by 4: 12, 16, 24. But
don't be afraid to think outside the box.
I had an all-women show group at Indiana University, and found that the
ideal balance for me used 18 singers. I don't like a soprano-heavy sound,
so I settled on 3 first sopranos, 4 2nd sopranos, 5 mezzos and 6 altos. In
part this worked because the 1st sopranos tended to have had the most vocal
training, and the altos the least. (Of course it also meant that I had to
pick my first sopranos VERY carefully. For 2 years I had what I call a
"focus voice" soprano, one whose own voice did not stick out at all, but
brought together and focused the soprano sound marvelously.
In my show ensemble here, I settled on 22 as the ideal size--11 couples. In
part this was a result of our set designs, in part a result of our need for
couples for choreographic reasons, and in part a recognition that there
would be varying numbers of singers on stage as someone left to change
costumes, etc. Worked very well for me. And I always had a chart for each
gender so the singers would know which part to take if their line divided
into 2, 3, or 4 parts.
Let us know what you finally decide to do. My own experience is at the
college level, but I auditioned tons of students from a wide variety of
backgrounds in programs both like yours and unlike yours. One of my best
entertainers came from a small high school in Kentucky where the one choir
did a lot of different kinds of music, from legit to show choir. You have
the opportunity to offer so much more.
Our show choir is the top group at our school, but this is my 2nd year at
this school, and the choir program here has been turbulent. However, we
still do a variety of music. In the fall, we do primarily
classical/traditional literature, 1 or 2 jazz charts, and one chart with
choreography. But the biggie in the fall semester is the Madrigal Dinner.
In the spring we do jazz charts and contemporary a cappella. Check out UNC
Jazz Press website at http://arts.unco.edu/uncjazz/jazzpress/search.html for
their online catalog. It is probably the best and largest choice for music.
Many of the charts require a rhythm section or jazz band behind the singers.
Great fun! If you haven't done so already, look into a sound system so each
student has a microphone. This will determine how large your group can be.
Personally, 24 singers is maximum for a jazz choir. Another option is to
have 2 or 3 small groups (6-8 people) working independently while you float
around to each group during class.
When I was teaching high school, I offered a jazz ensemble to students with
a cap number of 16.
The choir was set up to not conflict schedule wise with the Concert Choir
and only members from the Concert Choir were eligible to audition.
Gradually my Concert Choir numbers rose as well.
Regarding your Jazz Choir inquiry:
My Jazz Choir meets at night, 1 day per week, for 2 hours. I require
students to be in one curricular Choir (that meets during the day) to even
be considered for Jazz Choir, as it is an auditioned ensemble. OR, they can
be an instrumentalist involved in either Band or Orchestra. (In other
words, a student needs to be a member of a performing ensemble that meets
during the day).
As far as size, currently, I have 19 in the group. Ideally for me, the size
should be 12 -- 4 on a part. Five women on a part is too many (and I've
experimented and had as many as 6). Group size depends on the size of the
voices, I've found.
Good luck in your research !
As a means of introduction, I will include a bio at the end of this email,
however, I do want you to know that I have a great deal of experience in
developing choral programs, including the vocal jazz area. First, you will
find that your vocal jazz program will bring a new and exciting exposure to
your overall music program. Your traditional choirs will increase in size
because of this exposure. Given the proper and appropriate attention, each
respective choral group will complement the other. Secondly, the "ideal"
size can vary, however I have found that 16 singers is the magic number. I
know there are those who use everything form 6 students on up, but I believe
groups with less than 12 singers are really small ensembles, not "Jazz
Choirs." Sixteen singers will give you good strength in doing the Ward
Swingle charts that are 8 parts, will allow for a cappella charts with our
without a sound system and will also help with balance when using an
expanded instrumentation. I started a group called Soundsation at Edmonds
Community College. The group consisted of 16 singers (four to a part) Piano,
bass, drums, and a horn section including trumpet, trombone, tenor and alto
sax. If you are interested, I could send you a tape or recordings of the
group. As for concurrent enrollment, I strongly suggested that members of
the jazz choir also participate in a concert choir. Most of the students
were able to sign up for both. I am not sure about registration fees in CA
but in Washington our legislators have really made it more difficult credit
wise for students. Scheduling is always a concern. My jazz choirs met later
in the afternoon, so not to conflict with other programs. We met from 3 to 5
times a week, but at least three times a week. The students arranged for
sectional rehearsals on their own time. There are three important elements
to creating a good jazz choir. 1.) excellent director 2.) excellent charts
3.) enthusiastic students. If any of these areas are week, so will be the
group. I have worked with groups that had a pretty good director and darn
good students, but the charts they were doing were really pop or show choir
things. I can assure you the group was not successful. Great charts are key.
(This may sound like a plub,but.) I have a publishing company, Sound Music
Publications. WWW.SMPJAZZ.COM we handle nothing but vocal jazz charts,
University of Northern Colorado has the UNC Press and I know some of the
publishing companies are now putting out some good charts. Still, you have
to be very careful because many of the "commercial" publications are just to
watered down and do not have the important elements of improvisation, open
interpretation and quality rhythm parts. So, finding good charts is
certainly easier than it was 10 years ago, but you still have to be careful.
Finally, one of the best things you could do to establish vocal jazz in your
program would be to get exemplary vocal jazz groups on your campus. I can
recommend several groups to you. One group is a quartet, but they would help
to light a big fire of excitement with you, your staff and students. Fifth
Avenue is one of the best jazz groups in the country today. I would be glad
to send you one of their CDs if you are interested. They also do workshops
and clinics. And, there are a number of groups or individuals who live in CA
that I could recommend, too. Well, that is enough for now, If I can be of
any help please call ore email me. I am most excited to see you add vocal
jazz to your program. Here is my bio. Frank DeMiero Composer and jazz
pianist Dave Frishberg calls Frank DeMiero ³the Vince Lombardi of Vocal
Jazz.² Noted music educator, clinician, adjudicator, guest conductor,
composer/arranger and publisher, Mr. DeMiero recently retired as the
Supervisor of Music for Edmonds School District #15 where he served for 13
years. Prior to that, Mr. DeMiero was director of choral music at Weatherwax
High School in Aberdeen for two years and at Mountlake Terrace High School
in Mountlake Terrace, Washington for seven years. Mr. DeMiero founded and
directed the Soundsation Jazz Choir and was Music Department Chairman at
Edmonds Community College for 11 years. He was Director of Vocal Jazz
Studies at the University of Washington for two years. Currently, Mr.
DeMiero conducts and manages the Seattle Jazz Singers, one of the most
exciting professional jazz choirs in the country today, and is the conductor
of the newly formed Edmonds Community College ³Sno-King Community Chorale,²
a thrilling concert choir. Mr. DeMiero is the co-founder of Sound Music
Publications, a publishing company that offers the best in all areas of
choral literature, recordings, choral clinics/workshops and materials. Mr.
DeMiero attend Olympic College, received his BA in Ed degree from Eastern
Washington University, where he studied voice, conducting and choral
literature with Dr. Ralph Manzo, and received his Masters in Music from
Central Washington University, studying with Dr. Wayne Hertz. Mr. DeMiero¹s
choral groups have received top honors for their performances throughout the
United States, Canada, Central America and Europe. His jazz choirs have
performed with many great artists including Joe Williams, Anita Kerr, Carmen
McRea, Mark Murphy, the Hi-Lo¹s, the Four Freshmen, Bill Cosby, and have
toured with Bob Hope. Mr. DeMiero is the founder of the Frank DeMiero Jazz
Camp. This camp has had more than 6000 student and educator participants
during the past 25 years. Recognized internationally for his innovations in
all areas of music education, Mr. DeMiero was on the Advisory Council for
the International Association of Jazz Educators. He has served as President
of the Puget Sound Music Administrators Association, the Sno-King Music
Educators, the Washington Chapter of the International Association of Jazz
Educators and was the Northwest Coordinator for IAJE. Mr. DeMiero has
conducted honor concert and jazz choirs through the United States and Canada
and is in demand as a guest conductor and clinician presenting exciting
workshops in all areas of choral music and music education. Mr. DeMiero and
his wife, Yvonne, live in Edmonds, Washington. They are active in community
arts support groups and their church. They have three children and four
grandchildren. 30 Good luck and please, stay in touch. Ciao,
If you want to see/hear a fabulous jazz choir taught by a "band guy",
Curtiss Gaesser is the man to talk to at Folsom High School. He has been at
the school for 19 years, and has won Downbeat magazine's best high school
jazz choir award for several years in a row. The choir has been invited to
go to Montreux this summer. However, in our situation, it is almost
impossible for students to be concurrently enrolled in both the classical
groups and the jazz choir because of our 6 period day with limited zero
period offerings, our multitude of AP classes that are only offered once per
day, the jazz choir's incredibly busy schedule, etc. So, you may lose a few
great singers, but most jazz choirs are only between 8 and 12 members, and
often, he is looking for very straight, light tone, especially in the
sopranos. However, it seems like your choral program is so strong that this
would be a great addition for your department, especially if you and the
band director work out the audition process together. Perhaps you could
make concurrent enrollment in either of your choirs, or the bands mandatory.
That way, you could each hold on to the real talent. Hope this helps!