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Rehearsing a Children's Choir
Keeping order in a children's choir practice is a skill ... and as a skill it's something that can be learned. If you have that rare gift of natural authority, then you're the lucky one! Most of the rest of us need to work at it and devise our own methods of keeping discipline within the choir.
Your aim is to create an environment of respect within which your children's choir can learn its music in a quiet and ordered fashion - yet with a sense of fun and enjoyment. Not an easy combination! But keep this ideal firmly in mind.
A children's choir practice is unique because you want your choristers to make a noise, but at the same time you need silence, so that you can improve the noise they make. This is quite different from the normal classroom situation! Your children's choir will need firm guidance over the noise which is acceptable (singing) and that which is unacceptable (general hubbub). If you can establish this you have won most of the battle!
Practical Rehearsal Tips
Here are a few tips for getting the best out of a children's choir practice:
- Don’t shout or lose your temper whatever the provocation – it’s always non-productive
- Plan your rehearsal carefully, remembering that a child’s concentration span is of a very variable length
- Have a very clear idea ahead of your practice exactly what you want to achieve
- Always ensure that your children's choir has a sense of direction and that their practice is centred on the eventual performance
- So never rehearse for rehearsal's sake
- Make sure that your children's choir practice is enjoyable but don’t "play down" to your choristers with awful jokes or similar tricks – they expect you to be an adult and to behave as an adult.
Children's Choir Solos
If you have a noise problem I've found that keeping silent will eventually induce your children's choir to keep quiet. It's far better to achieve stillness in the practice without saying a word than to keep on asking for it. The natural disciplinarian can do this easily – the rest of us have to work very hard at it! Asking an individual child to sing a line by his or herself is also guaranteed to stop a children's choir from talking. Do ensure that every chorister has a go. Make sure that this approach is perceived as a learning tool and not as a method of discipline, or you might get a reputation for picking on people. When you finish your choir practice the choristers should leave in a happy frame of mind having learned what you expected them to learn, and you should feel content and have a definite sense of achievement. Keep this end in mind and always be prepared to make mistakes so you have something to learn from. The more practices you take the more effective your methods will become.
You will obviously need a system of sanctions in reserve, but hopefully used only rarely. The ultimate one is, of course, exclusion. This is not to be recommended except as a last resort in the event of very disruptive behaviour. You might also consider suspension, but before any of this a good talk with the parents concerned is essential, and perhaps the Minister. It may very well solve your problem.
Bear in mind that all children have different energy levels – some are naturally mischievous and some not. Whatever you do, don’t crush the vitality and spontaneity of your children's choir. Children need to be lively in performance, eyes sparkling, faces alight with happiness. They must never appear cowed – this is always a recipe for accurate but dull singing.
The children's choir director treads a very narrow path at the end of which the gates of great performance open. Keep this part of the map firmly in mind.
Along with the "business" side of your children's choir's repertoire, you might consider the logistics of putting on a staged musical – there are many of these, both secular and religious. Or plan a programme of straightforward but lively "fun" arrangements. The trick is to devise programmes which will please both listeners and choir. If you have pieces like these in rehearsal, then you can always switch to one if your choir is tiring of something more exacting.
In my experience the areas of discipline and repertoire are the two which are most crucial for the success of your children's choir. If you can get these right you are well on your way to exciting achievement and eventual success.
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