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How do you start a children's choir?
How do you start a children's choir? Where to begin?
Singing is fun, and good for you! But how do you go from singing in the shower, or in the car at the traffic lights to becoming choir master or choir mistress and starting a children's choir?
To start a children's choir you need to think about what you are trying to achieve and who you have available who might want to take part. Are you looking to start a children's choir as part of a school group, or through church, or a youth group? Or are you setting something up completely from scratch? Don't forget to think about yourself too. Who do you want to work with? Which group would give you most pleasure and satisfaction? What sort of music do you enjoy? If you are giving your time effort and energy you need to ensure you are getting something back too, or you will wear yourself out in no time.
How do I start?
The simple answer is, you need to take the plunge and announce the choir is starting on a particular day at a particular time. Don't agonise about which day might be best for everybody else. If you are running the choir set the day and time to suit your schedule. Of course, if there is nothing to choose between two different days, pick the one with the fewest clashes with other activities in your community.
In particular for a school choir try to avoid clashing your practices with sports clubs - especially traditionally male sports. There is a great tendency for children to think that singing is 'for girls'. There is no need to make it any harder than necessary for boys to come along.
Long term, you need to build up the profile of the choir in the community. For example, if you are starting a church choir try to build up relationships with local primary schools. Find out about going in and advertising the choir, doing singing assemblies etc. The more people see and hear you singing and realise what fun they could be having, the more success you will have.
How big should my choir be?
Size isn't everything! Your choir may be small but perfectly formed...
To some extent you will be led by the level of response you get, but think in advance how many people you can effectively lead. For example, if you are experienced in working with young people a choir of 30+ kids may hold no fears for you. However, for the rest of us, anything above 15-20 children after a full day at school is an exercise in crowd control that makes harmony singing a tall order.
If you are worried about numbers getting too large, you could audition (see below for some words of warning on this topic), or you could find some other means of limiting entry. For example in my two choirs entry is limited in one case by geography - do you live in the village, and in the other case by age - which school years are the kids in? In both cases the choir leader retains some discretion to relax the rules if appropriate, but this relaxation needs to be used rarely and judiciously or you risk the criteria becoming meaningless.
Of course if you can cope with the numbers throw it open to all, and watch your success grow. Just remember most venues have a limited capacity, and you may eventually outgrow your village hall!
Should I audition them?
Again this depends on what you are trying to achieve, and whether you need to find some artificial way to limit numbers.
If you are wanting to perform or compete at a high level then almost inevitably you will need to select the most able singers. However, think carefully about whether you have the resilience and wherewithal to see through any selection process. Can you deal with telling people that they have been rejected? Can you be firm but fair with the pushy parents of a less able singer, or will you bow to the pressure and let their beloved growler in for the sake of an easy life?
If you are the kind of person who wants people to like you, then a selective choir may not be for you. You might get more pleasure and satisfaction from nurturing the hidden gems from the all comers choir.
Remember also that you will come across many adults who will tell how being told aged 10 that they 'couldn't sing' has stayed with them for life. By all means audition if you believe it to be the right way forward for your choir, but tread carefully on the musical futures of those you reject...
Do I need someone else to help me?
If you can find the right person, then yes, yes YES! Think about your skills. Can you play the piano to accompany choir practices - if not, think about finding a good accompanist. Even if you can play well, still think about finding a good accompanist. It is a rare choir leader who can play the piano part, conduct and still take in enough of what is being sung to be able to give useful coaching comments afterwards. Oh, and you will also find that if you are stuck behind the piano it gives the kids more licence to muck about in your blind spot.... Get off your piano stool and get moving.
On a practical and serious note - if you are working with children or young people you should have a second adult with you as a matter of good practice. You should both have Criminal Record Checks and in an ideal world you should ensure you have Child Protection Training. This may all seem hugely unneccessary for a small informal singing group, but the training is there to protect the kids, and also to protect you the volunteer leader. Reputations and lives can be damaged both by genuine abuse and by false allegations. Get clued up and keep everybody safe and happy - yourself included.
Guides and Warm-ups
So now what?
So, you have a day and time, an accompanist and some singers. Yikes - what on earth are you going to do with them?
It has to be fun! Make practices interesting with lots of singing games, make the children feel that they are part of leading the choir, not just singing in it. We sometimes have children conducting the choir for a song they all know well. It frees the leader up to sit and listen, or to change places and sing in the choir. If enables the child-conductor to realise how much there is to the job and to concentrate on the music in a totally different way. It also emphasises how important it is to watch the conductor, and it makes the choir realise what a good conductor contributes to their singing.
Warm ups - try Mike Brewer's books for a good start.
Familiar songs and rounds - with our kids choir we like to sing row row row the boat in three parts, whilst sitting down and then as we all march randomly about the hall. Makes you hang on to your own line! Or try heads, shoulders knees and toes - with one group being 'heads' another 'shoulders' etc. Pass the song on from one group to the next with each part of the body.
Play some games - try 'Fizz, Buzz' with some scales, picking different numbers each time - 1,2,Fizz,4, 5, Buzz, 7, 8 etc
Think also about a social life beyond choir. What will bond your team of singers together? Some will be stronger than others and for a choir to work they all need to accept that they stand or fall together - no finger pointing if someone gets it wrong - it is the choir as a whole who makes amistake or gets it right. What about a bowling trip, or an end of term barbecue. We have been singing a medley from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and so all the kids form choir have an afternoon out of school to go to a matinee performance at the local theatre. They are thrilled, and the rest of school suddenly think joining choir is cool!
Recommended Music for Childrens Choirs
What music should we sing?
That depends on what your choir wants to sing, and what their (and your) level of musical expertise is. Junior Voiceworks is a great place to start, particularly if money is tight. it comes in two volumes of 33 songs each and a backing CD for those who don't play the piano. But there is no need to stop there once you are up and running - the world is your musical oyster! There is lots of music available for junior choirs to sing.
Don't be afraid to experiment with different styles and music from different cultures. Never assume that children only want to sing kids music, or even modern poppy songs. Some of my choir's favourite songs have been old hymns or songs in other languages from all over the world.
Aim high - people will raise their standards to meet you.
Do what you enjoy - your enthusiasm will be infectious.
Let the choir take the credit - the singing and therefore the success is theirs. you can take the satisfaction of a job well done.
For more children's choir music suggestions
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