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High school choir voice placement

I am a recent college graduate, hoping to soon find a job as a high school choir director.  As I think about how I will choose to do things when I have my own choir(s), I am stuck on the question of voice placement - not necessarily even as specific as who stands next to whom, but more who sings what part, and just what voices do I have in my choir?
Where I student taught, the music program is very fortunate to have pull-out lessons established.  Students are pulled out of their other classes for a 15-minutes voice lesson with the choir director about once every other week.  It's an excellent way for the choir director to be able to get to know each voice (and personality!) in the choir, but I know that it's not something I can count on being present wherever I might get a job.
I have thought about just hearing individuals during class, but want to avoid the discomfort singers may feel singing alone in front of their peers during that first week of class.  So, I'm looking for your thoughts and experiences about what has worked for you.  How do you get to know individual voices at the start of a new year?  How do you handle placement in sections?  When and how do you make time to hear individuals?
I would appreciate any thoughts you might have for me.  Thank you!
Replies (7): Threaded | Chronological
on April 1, 2010 5:04pm
Hi Carolyn,
What a wonderfully valid question and I hope you receive many helpful comments!! First of all let me say that I'm in my 6th year of teaching and I can tell you that I have learned a great deal from my students and... (this is important!) by watching other outstanding veteran choral directors teach.  I know this last statement is somewhat off-topic, but I HAVE to say that many of my best "learning moments" have been observing and asking detailed questions of other choral teachers.  I've even taken days off of school to do this.  You really need to see them in action.  It is invaluable.  Watching a great middle or high school choir teacher in action is worth a THOUSAND words!!
That being said, here is my current situation.  I teach in a medium sized school district (for Kansas, that is!) where I direct both the middle and high school choral programs (grades 6-12).  I have an auditioned middle school girls choir, an open enrollment high school women's choir and an auditioned mixed high school choir to which I will refer i this post.  I'm now of the mindset that when it comes to placement of the girls, they should be REQUIRED to sing with & utilize their entire range!  So, in any choral class with girls, I simply go down the list and assign Suzy to section A, Janice to section B, and Mary to section C.  This gives them the opportunity to sing Sop, Sop II, and Alto throughout the year.  The vocal and educational impact is astounding.  I now have girls who can maneuver through and fully enjoy their entire range and I'm starting to get to the point where I no longer hear ... "but I'm an alto and I can't sing that high" or "I don't know how to sing this lower harmony part!"  The high school girls were somewhat resistant... but have acquiesced to this newest policy of mine!  The middle school girls think it is cool that they are able to sing all three parts and really have no issue with it!!  Can it be tricky for me, as the teacher, to keep track of this?  Yes!  I have to write in my music which section is which and wether they are seated on my left, right, or in the middle - thus the little "L's, R's, and M's" written in all of my scores!!
As for the guys - one of the best things I learned from my college mentor - Terry Barham - was voice tracking.  This works beautifully for middle and high school boys.  You simply have them count backwards from 10 to 1 to find their speaking voice.  Everyone gets some staff paper and we all mark it down.  Each male student sings downward by half steps to their lowest note on the [i] vowel.  Then you sing until you find their highest comfortable note on an [a] vowel. Everything is recorded on the staff paper and then you can easily see where they can sing comfortably and where they may have a blank spot or how they navigate through their registers!  Not only do the guys think it is cool that they can sing both lower and higher than the girls, but it also let's them know what their vocal identity is!
Well, I've probably gone on for long enough now!  I'm sure you'll receive many helpful thoughts and suggestions.
Best wishes to you as you begin your career!
Jason Sickel
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