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Repertoire suggestions requested

I teach at a middle school in Charlotte with the following demographic: approx. 70% black, 25% white, 5% Latino or other. I have difficulty getting my kids interested in most of the educationally sound choral literature that's out there. Inevitably, a few weeks into the semester, a hand will go up and a kid will say dismissively, "These songs you pick--they're so boring." Mind you, I choose songs that I have heard middle school choirs sing to great success, with the kids clearly enjoying. I try to vary the rep from folk songs, to spirituals, to gospel, to pop, but for so many of my kids the only music of any worth is hip hop and r & b. I have tried having each class to choose a song, with the only rule being appropriate lyrics for school. This has had some success in that the kids like singing their chosen song, but then they start insisting on that song every rehearsal, and it has not helped them to be any more open minded about trying new things.
Two questions: If any of you teach in a similar demographic, what songs have you had success in getting the kids to enjoy? Also, when you're trying to expand their horizons, say by teaching a classical piece, or a folk song, or just a really cool contemporary choral octavo with great poetic lyrics, how have you gotten the kids to buy in? I have a very time preventing the negative attitudes some kids bring from becoming contagious.
Thanks for your thoughts.
on August 22, 2011 5:49pm
Hi Timothy,
I'm not sure that I can really help you, but this is what I do.  I don't allow complaining about rep in my classroom. Period. It is my cardinal rule.  I explain to them at the beginning of the year that everyone has a right to their own opinion.  If someone shares a negative opinion, not only does it color everyone elses opinion, it also intimidates those who might actually like the piece.  But the junior high age in particular is susceptible to outside influence.  So in order to keep that from happening, and in order for everyone to give a fair chance to each piece of music, no complaining allowed.  I am a benevolent dictator. ;)
In order to enforce that and other rules, I have a check/plus system and keep track of positives and infractions on a seating chart I keep on my podium.  If you would like more information on my grading criteria, I can send it to you via email.  
Good luck,
Cathy DeLanoy
Westmont Jr. High
Westmont, IL
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