Middle School

New Middle School Choral Techniques Paying Dividends
Categories: General, Middle School, Fine Arts
Posted: 9/20/2017

By: Abe Okie, Chorus Teacher

The 2017 Middle School Chorus is well underway. I attended a conference over the summer and took courses focusing on the developmental needs of Middle School singers. This year, I'm incorporating some different techniques specifically targeting sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade students, and, so far, it is paying dividends.

One challenge with a relatively inexperienced choir like the Middle School Chorus is developing a skill called "part independence." Typically, western choral music is rich with harmonies, which means that anywhere from two to eight or even 12 distinct parts are sung simultaneously. In Middle School Chorus, we typically sing no more than three parts at a time (soprano, alto, and baritone), but it’s still a challenge the first time students are asked to sing something that isn’t the main melody.

To help students get over the hump of singing in harmony, we started this year with a generous portion of rounds and canons. These are songs in which everyone sings the same melody, but at different times so that they line up in harmonies. Think "Frere Jacque" or "Row, Row, Row Your Boat." After working part independence this way for several weeks, I finally introduced songs with full three-part harmony, which they were better equipped to handle.

In this clip you can hear a bit of their progress. They have not been working on these songs long, so they will continue to improve between now and the performance. In these clips, you may even notice that the altos sing a lot of one note over and over. It’s very boring by itself! But they are performing an important role in filling crucial parts of the chords that are being sung.

There is a lesson here which I try to impart to our students: not everyone can lead at the same time. Also, sometimes the boring stuff is important! Playing a supporting or complementary role is not what comes easiest to many children (nor to many adults, if we are honest!), but it is a crucial life skill and part of what it means to be a constructive member of a community.

Follow the Middle School Chorus on Instagram @wachorus!