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Immature high school choir members

First let me say I know that every high school kid is immature.  But I have an Intermediate class of 25 who act more like a begginer choir (my beginners are actually more mature than they are).  Almost half of the group only desire to sing Gospel songs and other pop songs and grow weary during our warm up time, etc.  Their tone is all over the map and intonation mostly flat.  It's a young program and they are considered intermediate becasue they have had choir before, but this combo of students is a tough one - and obviously they are still beginners.  I feel I have to keep my hand heavy on them because they like to talk out and get off task.  But if I demand what they aren't willing to give they give it half heartedly and perhaps that's why they're flat so much of the time.  We ARE doing a variety of music - including a Gospel song and a Spiritual.  I don't need to cater to their whims but I need to know how to balance getting them interested and getting them to commit to excellence.  Any ideas on this?  Ideas on good warm ups to work on intonation?
Replies (4): Threaded | Chronological
on August 25, 2015 3:05am
Dale Duncan has some great ideas to motivate the immature choir.  Mostly he plans trips at the end of the year and has them earn the privilege of going.  See his blog and website.  In the Middle with Mr. D
Also, Tom Carter's book Choral Charisma has some wonderful approaches in getting a buy-in from choirs.
If warm-ups are not going well, substitute team building games and have some limited vocalization, rewarding them for 5 minutes of real work.  Intonation is an energy problem related to breath support.  It can also be due to inattentive listening.   Dale Duncan has wonderful approaches for teaching solfege which is of course, accurate singing.
Best wishes, Jura
Applauded by an audience of 2
on August 27, 2015 7:01pm
I don't know that this thought will help very much, but perhaps part of the problem with your intermediate group is that they are singers who aren't intrinsically motivated like other groups. I don't know how your program is structured, but in my high school, all freshman were in either the freshman boys choir or the freshman girls choir. This means that the people who were motivated, passionate musicans and the people who needed to get their arts credit were in the same class. The passionate musicians (if they also have some leadership potential) set the tone because most of the others are willing to go along.
An intermediate group implies to me that you have an advanced group. It could be that your intermediate group is intermediate because your strongest musicians who shape the attitude of the group are in your advanced group. The intermediate group is probably composed of people who like to sing but don't want to put much effort into it and those who love to sing but aren't ready for your advanced ensemble yet. It's possible that some of those students from both sides of the equation feel like they get no social capital out of being in the group because they're not in the top group and may feel some resentment. Indifference+resentment can equal immature behavior. What if you treated them like beginners? Not as a punishment, but because that's really what most of them are. What do you feel is the core value of their ensemble? Do they know what you think?
on September 14, 2015 11:27pm
This might be coming from left field, but I will tell you what I did to win over just these kinds of students and these behaviors. I separated all of my students in all the choirs into four teams - I used the Harry Potter house names since they are familiar. I assigned equal numbers on each team, in each choir. And then believe it or not, I use classdojo, which is a classroom management app intended more for little kids (my son's class in third grade used it last year). Each student has a little avatar, and you assign positive points for good behaviors (great effort, leadership, high energy, part preparation, etc) and negative points for bad behaviors (not bringing music/pencil, talking, gum, tardies, etc). These are all up on the projector screen throughout the period, and you enter positive and negative points as they come up in real time. I had a "house cup" competition last year where I bought everybody in the winning house free tickets to a local amusement park at the end of the year. This year I'm throwing a pizza party for the winning team at the end of each quarter. It's well worth the expense, turning the classroom management behavior issue into a fun game has made a huge impact on my program. The classdojo thing is kind of goofy because it's obviously for little kids, but it actually makes it fun for high school students. And because they are separated into teams - and groups are handled very nicely in classdojo - they police one another. We also use the Encore board game ("Welcome to the riff-off!") as a kind of after school tournament between the houses, and the winning teams get awarded points on the classdojo system. The Encore game gets very exciting for the students. This year I'm also going to incorporate musicianship work into the house system, where the leaders of each house tutor the younger students on rhythm, sight singing, theory, etc. And as each student moves up through the different musicianship "levels" (think karate belts), they earn points for their house.
One big advantage of separating my choirs into houses is that juniors and seniors are on the same teams as the freshmen, who are usually in different choirs. So the younger students have more social interaction with the older students, who are more mature and fully bought into choir. So far I've kept the competition between the houses down to a level where it's friendly, and doesn't interfere with the cohesive feel of the choirs.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on September 14, 2015 11:36pm
There are probably some who would fault this approach for relying heavily on extrinsic motivation. I suppose I'm more utilitarian in this area. The end result has been more positive experiences for students, better rehearsals, and a stronger choral culture. Which in turn increases intrinsic motivation. So in the end it all works to the same end.
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