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Help with a beginning high school choir

     I am teaching one hour of JH and one hour of HS choir in a small high school. There has not been choir here for 8 or 9 years (the only music elective  was one hour of band which is JH/HS together). I retired last year from the regular classroom and was asked to teach part-time and begin a choir again. So, although I have 31 years experience, I'm a beginning music teacher.  The extent of my knowledge comes from playing piano and flute for over 40 years, as well as singing in various choirs.  I have spent every moment possible in the last 5 months reading books, articles and watching Youtube videos.  
      In my HS choir I have 19 students....4 boys & 15 girls.  The class was by audition only, so they all chose to be in choir....and they all have the ability to sing. The girls are super excited about singing and I was blessed with several outstanding voices and a really good alto section.  They have a really nice blend and tone.  
     The boys, however are a different story.  My main concern though is that I cannot get them to sing out.  Their range is from G/F below middle C to about F above, so I have them singing tenor.  Because they don't sing low, I'm having to modify some of the songs we're learning such as The Star Spangled Banner.  I have them standing by the piano and I often play only their part, and I also sing the tenor parts with them.   But, I can actually only hear one of the four singing.  He has a very nice voice and can usually find his part, but won't sing out. They are all very shy, and I honestly cannot even tell if the other 3 are finding their part at all because their volume level is about a 1.  This makes it difficult to choose pieces to sing when there's no bass and very little volume from the tenors.  I need suggestions of how to work with these boys.  I've begged them to sing out, bragged on them, and tried my best to give them some confidence but nothing seems to work. I need suggestions desparately.
      Also, because everything is new to me, any suggestions on great resources you know of that would help me would be greatly appreciated.  I need ideas and information on teaching them to read music and parts, warm ups, and proper techniques.  I also need ideas of directors I could watch that are good...but use very simple techniques since I don't have any training.
Thank you so much,
Cathy Deckard
on October 1, 2015 6:05am
Perhaps find a good paid bass at a local church and ask him to come in and sing with them. There is NO substitute for a young guys than singing with a guy who knows what he is doing.  I just heard the Kiev Choir an orchestra, if they are coming near you, go see them or purchase and CD and play for them.  If that bass section doesn't motivate them...
Check out these warm-ups, I have more, please write me, though I sing professionally, my career was as a Band Director.
David C. Woodard, Jr
Music Education Consultants, Inc.
6 Wintersun Ln
Fairview, NC 28730

828-628-9550 ph.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on October 1, 2015 8:53am
Dear Cathy:
Hang in there -- it sounds like you are doing a lot of things right!  I conducted an middle/high school boys choir for a number of years, and I understand your frustration, but I also see the potential.
A clinician once told us, "if you have a 'developing' choir, it is called that because they are quite yet 'developed'."  That is really true with boys at this age. 
I agree totally with David -- find a male to come in (maybe a voice teacher in area) and take the boys for a sessions by themselves.
Here are some things to consider:
1) getting boys to sing after the voice has changed is often like teaching a baby to walk -- believe it or not, I've found that you really have to teach them how to sing again -- and every little step is a mile-stone. It won't happen overnight. 
Be sure to always focus (every rehearsal) on good basic vocal techniques -- especially posture, breathing, vowels, opening the mouth and focusing the sound.  You may not notice the progress at first, but it will come.
2) I've found that boys have a tremendous difficulty finding (and holding) their parts at this stage.  When you think about it - if they are just learning how to walk -- we throw them in with more experienced girls, and then we ask them to sing a line different than the melody - it is very tough on them.  Then, on top of that - there is the fact that all the girls are looking at them at an age when everything is about social awareness.  This is one reason why the boys need some time alone. 
3) Another issue is that, as a woman, you sing in a different range than the boys.  If you sing their notes at their pitch (i.e. you sing the actual tenor notes low in your range) - that's OK -- but some boys may hear you trying to sing low, and will try to drop the octave 1 lower, because they feel they must sing lower than a woman. You may want to experiment with this (all boys are different), and see if singing in your normal range will get a better sound.  If it doesn't work, drop it.
4) Good source for music is BriLee Music -- their stuff is written with the "developing" male voice in mind, with good arrangments that are fun to sing.
Good luck - just keep them singing!
Applauded by an audience of 2
on November 1, 2015 2:19pm
You can't just ask shy adolescent singers to "sing out." As you probably found out, that usually just backfires by making them feel more self-conscious. Sometimes it's just that they are uncomfortable until they learn the music better, and if that's the case then there's an obvious fix - give them lots of supports to learn the music more quickly, and choose more easily mastered repertoire. But probably you have to work on the problem indirectly by getting them used to the *feeling* of singing with more volume. You can do lots of warmups using sound effects rather than singing (sirens, etc). And also you have to invest energy into making them feel secure in general. Apart from your encouragement.

When you say "their range is from..." I'm a little concerned. It would be a coincidence if all four singers had the same range. Have you tested all of them individually? Are you sure they are all comfortable singing around and above middle C? And what is the tone quality? Is it possible that some of them are baritones or basses, but just haven't developed their low range yet? For my beginning high school guys, I find it's much safer choosing repertoire that stays safely on the staff. Three part mixed repertoire is usually too high for them, for instance. And when you say you have them singing tenor, does that mean you are singing SATB repertoire? I wouldn't do that unless you actually had those voices to work with. Much better to stick with two-part or SAB repertoire.
Do you hold sectionals, or any other activities where they just get to "be guys?" Can you bring in any male clinicians to work with them?
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