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First time ever directing a choir

I’ve recently started a job as a private voice teacher at a music school (largely after-school music classes), and I’ve been told that I will also be taking over the Youth Choir that was started last semester by the previous teacher. I have ZERO choir-directing experience, and the way the class is set up doesn’t seem to mesh well with my memories of being very involved in choirs throughout my childhood and college years. Here’s what I’ll be working with:
  • The class is being advertised as meeting for one hour each on Sunday and Monday afternoons, and that “students may attend both classes or just one.” Apparently it was set up this way to allow more kids who were only available on one of those days to attend, but I’m not sure how to maintain an ensemble this way.
  • I would just create two ensembles in that case, but enrollment isn’t high enough. At the moment, 3 kids are enrolled and I’ve been told that 4 more will be enrolling. Beyond that, no idea. The cap for each day is 20 kids.
  • Ages range from 7 to 14.
  • I don’t know yet what their music proficiency levels are.
  • The first two days will be “trial classes” to see if the students want to enroll or not.
  • There are about 8 2-part pieces in the music library, but I don’t yet know what my budget is for ordering new music.
  • Fall semester goes until the end of January, at which point there will be a concert.
Thoughts for how to organize the semester/keep this from getting completely out of hand?
Thanks very much!!
Replies (8): Threaded | Chronological
on September 29, 2015 8:33pm
I think you are right to be concerned. I think you need a high percentage of kids attending both rehearsals in order to make an ensemble, or you need the music school to agree to make it be one day to start with until your program grows. I have an ensemble much like the one you describe, except that everyone shows up on the same day.
Explain to The Powers That Be that no one interested in being in a choir would want to show up to a choir rehearsal of three children. Seven might work if they were on the same day. If they want this program to continue, they have to let you build community.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on September 30, 2015 1:38pm
Thank you--I'm relieved to hear that my concerns aren't unfounded! I have spoken with The Powers That Be, and while I do have someone on my side currently, they'd still like me to try it out with two days. I think I may have to just let it fail the first week in order to make it clear that it's not going to work.
on September 30, 2015 7:04am
I think your concerns are very reasonable.  I'd found out which day is generally better-attended and change the rehearsals to that day only.  Splitting the group into 2 rehearsals is going to force you to go over the same material multiple times.  It will be much easier and more productive to have one rehearsal.  Also, kids who attend both rehearsals are going to get bored and frustrated going over the same thing over and over again.  
on September 30, 2015 1:39pm
I agree--thank you! I'm in the process of doing that at the moment but replies so far are scarce. Keeping my fingers crossed that I can at least figure something out for the first two days!
on October 1, 2015 9:26am
Elizabet -
For a small, fluctuating group (much like my church's older children's choir),  I find the Voice for Life materials from the Royal School of Church Music a good resource for structuring a curriculum that works on various aspects of choral singing, including vocal development, ear training and theory.  Good luck.
on October 2, 2015 5:05pm
Thank you!
on October 1, 2015 4:07pm
Dear Elizabet,
I understand your concerns, and the responses that support those concerns.  I have some thoughts in the other direction.
1.  This is an incredible opportunity to impact some young lives in a very exciting way.
2.  This sounds like it is functioning more like a church group than a school group.  I'm thinking organization and paradigm here, not with regard to religious content.
3.  Maybe approaching this initially as a small group voice class than as a "choir" would be useful.  There are lots of textbook like materials out there for this kind of approach.  In fact, if you were trying to start a voice class, you might not want more than 3 - 5 students in it.  Let it morph into a choir as things go along.  Like any other class, expecting full attendance and participation would be normal.
4.  Don't ever "just let it fail".  That will never feel good or right.  Part of your task is to plant seeds in young, fertile minds.
Just my $.02.  Hope this is the beginning of something wonderful.
Glen McCune
Retired Planter of Seeds
Applauded by an audience of 5
on October 2, 2015 5:04pm
Dear Glen,
Thanks for your input!! This has really eased a lot of my worries. I think approaching it initially as a small group voice class is a fantastic idea.
As far as "let it fail"--you are right! I do want to clarify that I meant that more in terms of letting the administration see that their current idea for organization--in which, at the moment, I have one student showing up on Sundays and two showing up on Mondays--isn't the best. Rather than stress about choosing one day or the other before the first classes start (this weekend) and have everything be "perfect", I'm going to wait and see what happens. Once I know who will be attending and etc., I'll have more information and a better opportunity to explain my POV to the administration about why I think it would be better to meet one day or the other (or else have two choirs). Or maybe I'll see that this is actually for the best--who knows! I still do think having a cohesive rehearsal day is the best course in an ideal world!
I care very much about my students (and, really, that's why I'm stressing--I want this to be at a high level and I'm not sure I will be able to get there as fast as I'd like). I'll be working as hard as I can, and I've been observing fellow children's choir directors this past week to get better ideas about what to do. And you're right, focusing on how I can make a great impact on my students will bring it in the right direction.
Your encouraging words have really helped me feel better about this whole thing! Thank you again.
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