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Starting a new choir in a small school

Hello!
 
I have a few questions, but first some background:
 
I teach at a very small, newish private school-- just 100 students in 3rd - 12th grade.  We already have an active theater and art department, but several students (including my 12 year old son) really want to get a school choir going.
 
I'm an English/History teacher, not a professional musician.  However, I was an active school choir participant throughout middle school and high school, and I have been the volunteer choir director for my church's choir for several years.  I am volunteering to get a school choir started.  If we can get a choir to work in our small school, then we will look at hiring a professional school choir director to take over and expand the program in the future.
 
I am opening the choir to all interested students in 6th grade and up (age 11+), and we will meet after school twice a week.  A preliminary survey tells me I have about a dozen students interested, half girls/half boys, mostly in the 12-14 year old age range.  These kids are absolute beginners and have had no music training at all, other than learning a few songs by ear for theater and singing in the shower.  
 
After looking at a lot of different programs, I plan to use Alfred's "Sing at First Sight" for music training.  
 
As for the actual repetoire, that's where I need some guidance.  Because this is a small group and everyone is a beginner, I was planning to use 2-part music to prepare for the Winter Concert and then perhaps move to 3-part for the Spring concert if the students were up to it (or stay with 2-part all year, if necessary).   I plan to stick with music that has accompaniment tracks available because I'm not a great pianist (I'll probably purchase through Alfred).  
 
My main concern is the boys.  I have one boy with a mature changed voice-- moving towards being a bass. Of the other boys, I have 3 boys with unchanged voices and 3 boys whose voices are getting a huskier and occasionally "crack".  I want the boys to enjoy choir and have a positive experience, even with their changing voices.  I have done a bit of internet research on the "cambiata" voice, but most of the recommendations assume a larger choir.  
 
Here's a few questions that I hope someone might be able to help me with: 
 
1.   Is it realistic to expect my beginner bass to sing one of the parts in a 2-part song (octave lower, of course)?  As a beginner, he won't be strong enough to sing alone on SAB music.  If he can't sing with 2-part music, the only option I see is to tell him he can't be in the choir unless we can manage to recruit 2 or 3 more boys with low voices.  But, I hate to turn him away!
 
2.   When using 2-part music with both boys and girls, would it be better to have all the girls sing Soprano/Part 1 and all the boys sing Alto/Part 2?  Or would it be better to have a mixture of boys and girls in each part?  
 
3.  ... Or would it it be better to just start with SAB music, divide the girls into altos and sopranos, and then have all the boys sing the bass clef line, an octave higher if necessary?  
 
The main purpose of this choir is just to have fun, learn music basics, and see if there is sufficient interest to expand the program in future years.  If we can pull off a decent concert, well... that's just icing on the cake :)
 
I appreciate any input!
Replies (6): Threaded | Chronological
on July 22, 2013 3:35pm
Saw the book on Amazon.  Thanks for the heads up-- I'll check it out!
on August 29, 2015 9:41am
Dear Laura,
 
Your challenges are the same faced by many small schools that have an interesting mix of young men.  The problem with using 2-part music and doubling octaves on either part one or part two, is that the sound is not very pleasing.  Generally, 3-part mixed literature will work for all but your one true baritone.  If he can vocalize up to D, one step above middle C, then all of the young men can be on part III.  If not, he can double part I down the octave...not my preference but workable.  Much of the 3-part mixed literature contains a very melodic part, especially created for beginning guys.  The part will often provide call and answer or some type of obligato as opposed to continuous parallel harmony.  An old standby is my arrangement of "Sinner Man" which has cue notes for your one baritone.  I encourage you to look for the past works of myself, Emily Crocker, Audrey Snyder, Cristi Miller (all Hal Leonard), who have actually worked in the middle school classroom.  Good luck to you! 
 
Roger Emerson
P.S.  I applaud the fact that you are using a sight-singing method.  Essential!!
Applauded by an audience of 1
on August 31, 2015 11:20am
Hi Laura,
Beginning a new program is always exciting and offers some real "opportunities" for everyone concerned. I totally agree with Roger as he is a master at getting the most out of young singers. I encourage you to look at my website: www.singfree.net and look and listen to the material that you can download on to your teacher site. It's specifically written for middle school-aged students in an SAB format. There are complete recordings of the ensemble, individual voices and piano accompaniment as well as the complete score and lyric sheet. This gives you and your students total flexibility in learning new material. You can use the traditional method of copying the score and passing out the parts and listen to the recordings, or have them download everything on to their personal electronic devices and try a new approach. Students can practice anywhere at anytime and have access to all the material whenever they need it. Please give it a try. It's new, fun and free. Good luck Laura, stay positive and enjoy your new experience.
 
Ken Kraintz
 
on September 1, 2015 3:04am
2.   When using 2-part music with both boys and girls, would it be better to have all the girls sing Soprano/Part 1 and all the boys sing Alto/Part 2?  Or would it be better to have a mixture of boys and girls in each part?  
You really must hear each voice.  Please do not assume that the boys cannot or will not want to sing as high as the girls.  This unfounded, biased precident must be stamped out as fast as possible. 
Forget "cambiata" - I assume the three voices that are maturing are slightly older boys; have them sing alto and have the unchanged voices sing treble.  It might be ok to push some of the older changing voices to the tenor line but this really
I think does more damage than good.  It goes back to my first statement; listen to each voice and determine a good range for each boy then have them sing the part.  They're likely full of preconseptions as is, so it might be difficult to explain that
singing "alto" is not worse, it's simply a different part.
 
To your question, if the boys with unchanged voices can redily sing the alto lines, I don't necessaraly see a major issue with that; the Germans regularly have beginning boys on the lower parts.
 
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