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Problems with 9 year old in the church choir

The church choir I direct has a long history of including children in the adult choir, with some joining as soon as they could read, but it has never been a problem...until now. I currently have 4 kids in there, the 12 and 8 year old boys and 12 year old girl are giving me no problems but the 9 year old girl sings very off key, VERY loudly. She doesn't sing the right words, rhythms, or notes, and when the other sopranos get louder to try to cover her up she just increases her volume. It's very obvious that she wants to be the center of attention and very obvious that she doesn't realize what she's singing is not right at all. To make matters worse this isn't really a situation in which I can go to her parents because the child gets whatever she wants and  her father, who is in the choir, seems to be completely oblivious to the situation. Any advice?
on November 29, 2010 3:29am
Clay:  For your immediate problem, no advice, other than the obvious fact that even if the girl is spoiled you simply have to talk with her parents.
The way my wife handled it might suggest something for the future.  Her Children's Choir was actually a weekly Kodaly lesson where those problems could be worked out.  But they did not "fly up" to the Choristers Youth Choir automatically based on age.  Instead they had to have both the musical and the social development to contribute and to sit through the full church services.  (The Choristers had responsibility for the Family Service every Sunday during the school year.)  I love the idea of your allowing youngsters into the choir, but you MUST have the flexibility to judge their suitablility.  (Two of our own kids joined our Master Chorale community chorus while they were in middle school, before my wife did, actually, while our son was still singing treble.)
All the best,
on November 29, 2010 12:24pm
I would offer to give her a few 15 minute "voice lessons" for free. Try not to make it seem like she is staying after school because she neeeds extra help. (Of course, make sure you are in a public room with the door open and/or a room with a window to the hallway.) This will give you a chance to guage her real abilities and begin to show her the importance of making a beautiful sound.  It will also give her some attention which she seems to be craving and will ALSO help you establish a relationship with her. You could also add the other kids (if they are singing the same part) but not until you get her under control first.  If this is unsuccessful, you may find she really isn't interested in singing in the choir and her parents are pushing this.  Either way you will be able to talk to her parents with more information than the fact that she is disruptive in choir.  I hope this helps.
on November 29, 2010 3:09pm
I agree with giving her some private coaching, but in addition to that, I would make a recording of the choir. In the child's private lesson, play the recording. Sometimes kids aren't even aware of what sound they're creating.
Good luck!
on January 5, 2011 9:25am
Just a thought:
Has anyone considered that this child could have a hearing problem? As voice specialists we notice that mild hearing loss (especially noise-related hearing impairment, alas...) is alarmingly frequent among children today. It may go undetected for  years, and "attention deficit,"  "hyperactivity" and other such behavioral disorders (and subsequent "spoiling" by parents), not to mention speaking and singing too loudly, with wrong pitches and words and especially increasing volume when others do could be an indication of an undetected hearing loss.
I am not sure how you should (or if you should) approach this child's parents with this idea, but if you do, you might be doing them a favor.

on January 15, 2011 12:44am
As an elementary music teacher as well as an adult choir director, I hear you about not knowing how to handle this.  I have an adult choir member who is very rarely on pitch.  Fortunately he usually sings very softly so it's not really noticeable.  I've talked to him many times in a positive manner--"I'm happy to help you out with any of the music..." "I know you have a low range, you're going to have to reach really high for this one..."  "Basses, LISTEN to each other, you are not all in agreement!" and sometimes I've succeeded in getting him singing in tune with the others, but he doesn't want help so really it's a losing battle.  I find kids a lot more receptive to assistance.  If you come at it with the attitude that "I'm here to help you" instead of, "you're singing too loud!" I think it's going to work a whole lot better.  I'm guessing the girl's parents notice her behavior but either don't really think it's a problem or else don't know what to do about it.  I have a teenager who has on occasion sung with the adult choir.  Our situation is the opposite--her mom, who sings soprano next to her, is a whole lot more critical of her ability than I am.  So I've solved this problem by inviting her to join us on special occasions (she loves singing the Hallelujah Chorus at Easter) and making sure she is very well rehearsed on these pieces, even working with her alone at times.  Since you have a number of children in your choir, you could have a special "children's piece" on occasion where those four kids have their chance to shine, doing music that is more appropriate to their age level.  Tell the girl and her parents that she really needs to be introduced more slowly to the full choral experience, and that singing with other kids would be more appropriate to her age.  Good luck to you!
on January 15, 2011 1:43pm
My first response is also to offer private lessons. I have sent a letter to parents saying that "I've noticed that ____ has a problem matching pitch and blending with the group. Before s/he continues with the choir, I would be very happy to meet with her privately to work on these problems." etc etc. It has worked in two ways: the child has actually improved! -- or (b) the parents didn't bother with the lessons and withdrew the child. I would then of course go out of my way to be full of friendly smiles at any future encounters...
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