March 16, 2017 at 10:38 am #535400
Hi – I direct a community children’s choir for ages 8-14. Many of the kids read music really well with a few who are learning quickly but still have a ways to go. Here is my question. We are rehearsing Voice on the Wind by Sarah Quartel. There is a refrain that comes back 4 times with the same words and rhythms, but the harmonies change each time. The kids do fairly well when they are reading the music, but as soon as we try to move it off book, they easily forget which harmony they are supposed to sing. Perhaps we are moving off book too soon? I have run across this before where there are passages that are so similar and only slightly different that they become easy to confuse. I would like to know if anyone has any rehearsal techniques that may be useful in this instance.
Thanks in advance.March 16, 2017 at 6:08 pm #535406
Oof that’s the worst. As a person with real problems memorizing, that always gets me too. Do they keep going fine as long as they get the first few notes of the different harmony correct? If so, can you come up with an intuitive hand signal for each different refrain and tell them what you are doing and point out why it’s intuitive so it becomes a code between you and them? “For the refrain where the sopranos have all the really high notes I’m going to point at them at the start of the refrain, so you’ll know which harmony we’re on. If I do that, do you all know where your notes are?”
Is there a reason they can’t carry music? If you don’t want them looking at the music during the whole concert, they could always have folders, open, with nothing in them but this piece, or even just the relevant pages of this piece, or a crib sheet that says “2nd time sop. descant” or whatever. To the audience, it would be less distracting than picking folders up and putting them down, and would still keep eyeballs on you as much as possible. Also a possibility, assuming you can reduce it to a really basic reminder that can be read from a distance, you can tape a piece of paper to your music stand that you flip down so they can see it for this song.
M. FurtakMarch 20, 2017 at 11:36 pm #535450
Regarding Maggie’s last suggestion about taping a reminder to your music stand and flipping it down: I used a more elaborate version of this method for portions of my 2nd-6th grade public school concerts, both instrumental and vocal. It was part of a system I developed out of necessity, to cope with the continual squeeze on our music programs. While things were different when I started 17 years ago, our students now receive one 35 minute period of music per week, and we have no weekly choir period available because test-prep is more important. I decided to retire last year, but here’s my basic system, in case anyone finds it helpful.
1. I don’t teach music reading. There’s not enough time, and I’d rather be singing and playing instruments. As an instructor in grad school said, “No one can ‘do it all’, so decide what you won’t do, in order to make time for what you value.” I want students to look at me and not be distracted by a paper, folder or book in their hands. Also, I see my responsibility as providing the best possible music experience to the greatest number of students, not teaching reading for the benefit of those who might join middle school choir and band.
2. I teach songs and recorder and marimba pieces by rote; I sing or play a phrase and they echo me. If necessary, I use a standard chart rack with 24″ wide x 36″ high lined chart paper, on which I write words (not necessarily all of them). For recorder I use numbers (BAG becomes 123, etc.) and for marimbas I use A-G, with variations in spacing, placement on line, and colors if helpful.
3. I use a lot of short music that can be learned quickly and is mostly a cappella: street cries, rounds (not necessarily sung as rounds, because of time limitations), call and response, the early Kodaly pieces, and songs from our excellent music textbooks (with CDs when appropriate) .
4. I like to include longer songs, but will not spend time memorizing words. Instead, I use my reduced-size chart rack which clips onto my music stand. To make it—
Step 1: Cut a piece of 1/4″ plywood the size of your music stand rack, +1″ extra which will overhang the top edge. You can buy this material at your local lumber or home store, and they will usually cut it for you.
Step 2: Drill 2 holes along the top edge of the plywood, with the same spacing as the holes in your chart paper. Attach loose-leaf binder rings, which will take the place of Maggie’s tape and allow you to flip multiple charts in sequence.
Step 3: Cut your chart paper down to size. I prefer sheets cut in half, so each piece will be 18″ high and 24″ wide (a standard music rack is 12.5 x 20″).
Step 4: Attach plywood to music stand with two metal spring clamps from the hardware or office store.
Step #5: Assemble your charts in order, align holes, insert binder rings, then lift the package and attach rings to holes in plywood.
Step #6: Go through your sequence of songs, and write words for each on the back side of the NEXT sheet, so that you see on your music rack what the students see facing you from the risers.
Usually, the first half of a concert consists of the short, easy-to-remember pieces, with no music stand or charts on stage. When we get to the pieces that require the charts, I’ll walk over to the edge of the stage during the applause, and get the music stand with charts attached.
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