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Choir vs Band issues

I teach at a wonderful 7-9 Junior High with a great band teacher - that isn't the problem.  The problem is at the district level.
When I began teaching at my school, 7th graders were not allowed to take choir.  This decision was made by the district curriculum person who was a strings player.  There was supposedly all of this information about why this was so bad for 7th grade changing voices, etc....yada, yada, yada  Students who wanted music could take orchestra in 6th, band in 7th, and choir in 8th.
This year, 7th grade choir was allowed.  I currently have 2 sections of 7th grade mixed choir (mainly treble choirs with about 2 changing voices)  I have some of the most beautiful boy soprano voices you have ever heard!  No teasing by the girls or anything, just beautiful sound!  I have an 8th grade boys choir, and 8th grade girls choir, 9th large mixed, and 9th select mixed.  In total about 300 students in choir.  It's awesome!  I see the potential for great recruitment into my boys choir in 8th grade because of the excitement of 7th grade choir.
The problem?  At my recent district meeting, there was a recommendation that 7th grade choir be discontinued.  Why? A couple of disgruntled band teachers are worried that the addition of choir will take their numbers.  They, unfortunately, have the ear of the current district person.
Supposedly there is a bunch of research about why singing in 7th grade is very bad.  Has anyone heard of this?  I am of the belief that if you are taught to sing properly, with consideration for the ever changing ranges of your boy trebles, you can have great success singing.  I also believe that if I lose my new program that some of that excitement the 6th grade boys have of joining choir dissipates when they are only allowed to take other electives.  They find different interests because they were denied the one they were initially interested in.  My boys are so thrilled with 7th grade choir, that the counselors have told me that many boys are joining for second semester because their friends love it so much.  That will make about 50 boys joining this year.  Which means a great sized boys choir in 8th grade next year.
How do I fight the nonsense brought on by other schools?  Where is the research I can bring to the table?  Have you heard of any of the so-called research about singing being bad for 7th grade voices?  All the help you can give me will benefit all of the junior high choral programs in my district.
Thank You!
Lori Hayward
Replies (11): Threaded | Chronological
on November 13, 2010 4:30am
Dear Lori,
With my usual sense of tact (!), I say HOGWASH!!! There is no research I've ever run across stating that singing in the 7th grade was harmful.  My masters' degree thesis research studies and related literature searches turned up no such information.  My thesis was about middle level singers with special emphasis on the changing voice boy.  Granted, I completed my thesis 25 years ago, but I've been an active learner in this area since that point.  I've NEVER heard or read this information.
I don't have citations to send you at this point, but if you searched the topic in the index of various scholarly journals (JRME, etc.,) you might have hard, factual information to share. I would also urge you to contact Dr. Patirick Freer at Georgia State University and Dr. Judy Bowers at Florica State University.  Both are contemporary experts in academic, pedagolical and performance practices related to all MS/JH choral questions.
Keep your kids singing!  It sounds like you are going a terrific job leading a vibrant JH Choral program.  Congratulations.  Keep up the impressive work!
I appologize for any typos.  I'm without my glasses right now and this topic is so volatile, I just didn't want to stop fo find my glasses....
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 13, 2010 8:08am
I'm sorry to hear you have the uphill battle of convincing people who think they are right.  If they are right (which they aren't), then this is what they are saying to me:
all 7th graders shouldn't sing because it could be damaging as they change physiologically, which equals
all 7th graders shouldn't do math as their brains change to think like an adults (research says their brains operate differently in this stage of life)
all 7th graders shouldn't have relationships till 8th grade because they are changing emotionally and acting incorrectly during a relationship might be damaging...
I have no hard evidence to give, but that it seems like you will need both research to counter theirs (which they might not listen to) and application of the principle they are suggesting about changes 7th graders go through to other areas.
Whether this helps or not, I feel your pain. I pray they'll listen to reason (if for nothing else, to not take away something the kids obviously enjoy).
All my best 
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 13, 2010 10:34am
I neglected to tell you that my husband is a HS Band Director.  He's never heard of any such information on "his side of the world", either.  He's also a life-long learner and attends lots of conferences and in-services. Believe me, if there was data to support your district's premise, it would be VERY well known and other districts would use it to justify curricular and staffing decisions.
on November 13, 2010 11:51am
The only thing I can think of is that in a strictly traditional British boychoir model, the boys do stop singing while they are going through the voice change. And there are some who still agree with this model. However, this is not current pedagogy in the US.  Look at authors like John Cooksey, who wrote a comprehensive research based book on the changing voice, or Henry Leck who did a wonderful video called "Take the High Road," which follows the philosophy of keeping the boys singing in their upper register throughout the voice change.  My personal experience has been that when you do this, the voice change is less traumatic and you keep the boys singing!  The American Boychoir also follows this model, and might provide resources. 
You might also point out that girls voices change, and they are not told to stop singing as their voices change! Also, voices are changing as early as 5th grade and can be as late as 9th grade.  It's not like they all suddenly change in 7th grade.  They don't.   Much has been researched on this topic.  If you search in the Choral Journal I am sure you will find a plethora of articles. You need to do some research and become completely versed in current studies and writing on the boy's changing voice so that you can speak from a position of authority, citing your sources.  It's nonsense tell the boys they have to stop singing, and sends a completely wrong message. Ask them to show you the research they have!  
on November 13, 2010 11:59am
Lori - I'm assuming that because you've posted your query (and problem) on ChoralNet you are able to view other articles.  Today has an article from England about a 130-voice ALL BOYS' choir from Warwickshire, England that's in the semi-finals of a major national competition there in England.  I would recommend you read that, print it off, and ask the district person two questions:  1.  How can it be possible that 8-to-13 year old BOYS are singing at this level if it's bad for them - and they're under the direction of a guy who was responsible for an entire program countywide for years?  2.  Are you, district person (whatever his/her name is) interested in ENcouraging music, regardless of where it happens to be and with what instrument (and yes, voice IS an instrument!!!!)?  If so, kindly step out of the way and let us professionals at the choral business do our jobs - oh, and what study or studies about the "bad effects" of singing at the 7th grade for boys do you happen to have in hand, or is it just rumors of studies?
Brava to you, Lori, for taking up the cudgels for those of us who want to see more boys singing NOW so that in years to come directors like me at churches and schools and community choral societies will have more men singing.  I would also suggest that you get your fellow choral directors at your grade levels in your district to start making it known that choral musicians are fed up with this business of non-choral folk making up stuff to keep their band and orchestra numbers up and chasing off kids from your choral programs.  What they don't realize is, chasing off a kid from one part of the music world means they tend to be chased off for a very long time, if ever they come back - and that means the bands and the orchestras lose as well. 
Something to keep in mind:  I'm out here in Fairfax County, Virginia, and we have yet again this year beaten back yet another attempt to reduce music programs in the elementary schools - and the programs looked at?  Strings and bands - why?  They cost LOTS of money - all those instruments, doncha know?  And the choral programs?  Nary a word against them - why?  All you gotta do is bring yourself and a piece of music and voila!  Concert!  One of the premier educational systems in the country was thinking about reducing band and orchestra programs at the schools, and it took ALL of us (to include choral folk) to beat it back.  Your district person has to be confronted with his/her attitude as being ultimately selfish and ultimately self-defeating - because when the money runs out in your schools, it's music - ALL the music - that's going to take the hit.  And if it isn't, chorus is likely to be standing last when the dust settles.  Best start building the political groundswell with all the parents of the young musicians - band, orchestra, chorus - that will be ultimately needed.  Should you need to do so?  No, not in the best of all possible worlds - but reality demands otherwise.
Ron Duquette
Director of Music
Catholic Community, Ft. Belvoir, VA (and a proud choral person!!!)
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on November 13, 2010 1:14pm
Thank you for all of the great responses - I will find the research to validate having 7th grade choir.  As per Band, music of all types should be encouraged.  My wonderful band teachers (two different ones in 8 years) and I have always collaborated on what was good for kids.  We arrange our schedules so that our class offerings complement one another and that we can share kids who express an interest in both band and choir.  Our band numbers are not dropping.  In fact, his 7th grade numbers are up this year with the addition of 7th grade choir.  I think with more kids being involved in music of any kind, it brings music to the forefront of their minds.
If band numbers are dropping elsewhere, this could be more likely due to economic issues and the cost of instruments than the emergence of a choir elective offering.
Thank you for your responses and support!
on November 13, 2010 5:20pm
My son is 21.  From ages 8-15 he sang in a city boy choir.  He was a soprano for three years before the director requested he move to alto.  This was mainly I believe because their numbers were a little low that fall. I insisted he transition there first through doing 2nd sop. and they agreed to humor me.
Anyway, he was there for another year or so, then alto and ended his time there a high tenor.  He is a high tenor and has a very, very lovely falsetto. You can't tell his 'break' at all unless he sings ' poppy' and pushes.  I believe that easing the voice is better than plunging it because we all know if you are in a chorus or choir, most directors will not be organized or concerned so much as to constantly shift singers on parts so that they are not locked into a certain register.  Warmups for the full range are done, but singing several days a week4-6x)  on one part when a voice is transitioning is not healthy.
Just my thoughts.  Another consideration is that girls' voices change also. So, what's the deal if the focus is just on the boys? Where is this expert administrator's research evidence that proves what they claim?  Aren't they at all 'concerned' about females' voice health?
Or are they just blowing smoke? hmm?     It seems to me it is politics in play....good luck.
on November 13, 2010 9:02pm
Lori:  Great program, unnecessary proglem!  I agree with many others that THERE IS NO SUCH RESEARCH!  You need to ask for chapter and verse, and put the instrumentalists on the spot to defend their assuptions or personal opinions.
But I disagree that this should be turned into an "us against them" situation, whether it involves conflicting recommendations, parents' organizations, or anything else.  There certainly IS an "us against them" at work here, but the "us" is ALL the music teachers, and the "them" is administrators who are out of their depth when it comes to the arts, and who need serious education.  (Can you spell football coaches?!!!!)
So if I may suggest it, what's needed is to get all the music teachers on the same page, stop everyone from allowing the reflex defending of their own turf to drive their statements (and yes, that includes you!), and coming up with an overall plan that serves the STUDENTS first, and your individual turf only after that.
The real question, I would say, is how to structure things so that students can try out ALL the options in music, rather than trying to limit their options, and segregating them by grade level clearly does not do that.  What clicks for one student will not necessarily click for another, and a year can make a huge difference.  And to do that it's absolutely necessary to stop counting bodies and start looking at individual talent and interest!
By all means look into the research that's been recommended, and the boychoir research is certainly the most important at this point, because it directly refutes the band directors' misplaced claims.  In fact you have a VERY strong argument that it is preciely during the period of the voice change that your students NEED to be in an ensemble where you can work with their voices in a professional way and help them through the transition.  So put some of the endless Music Ed research to use, because that's the kind of thing that Administrators WILL pay attention to, especially if it is outside their direct field.
All the best, and please keep us posted.
on November 14, 2010 10:20pm
Lori - I like the first answer - Hogwash!  It seems to me that you should copy all of these responses and ask them for their 'data'.  Good luck!
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on November 22, 2010 7:49pm
Ms. Hayward,
I am currently working on a master's in music education at Arkansas State Univsersity. My research interest is the male changing voice. I have not seen any research that states a boy should stop singing while he goes through the voice change. All the literature I have read is quite to the contrary. HE SHOULD CONTINUE SINGING with the guidance of a good vocal instructor either through a choral program or a private voice instructor. John Cooksey and Terry Barham are the top two authors of literature regarding the male adolescent singer. John Cooksey's book Working with Adolescent Singers and Terry Barham's book Strategies for Teaching Junior High and Middle School Male Singers are both excellent resources that any director working with adolescents should have in their professional library. There are also many dissertations written in the last ten years or so on the topic...all of which stress the importance of testing the boys voices regular, correct placement in the choir, and suggestions for literature.
If they can produce the research of which they speak, I want to know the titles and see it for myself.
You might could bank on in on the excitement of your students and have the parents help this fight this as well. I know where I taught for five years, one a parent or a group of parents was involved with an issue, things were taken care of. So if you can get the parents involved, the district officials might listen to them, especially if these parents can pull their students and put them elsewhere.
Hope this helps!
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