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Cutting out show choir...

I am in my first year at my new school (3rd year choir director). I am in no way, shape, or form a show choir director. I don't enjoy it, I don't like the music, I don't like the 'costumes,' etc. I don't look down on anyone that does, but it is not my 'thing' and I am not in the business of accomodating what I do to my students' current desires or the students' parents interests. I see more value in the concert choir setting and I think it is more technical and challenging in ways that I think are worthwhile.
All that being said, I live and teach in the heart of the high school show choir world (Indiana). My school doesn't compete in show choir competitions, and not even all their music has been show choir related, but their choir attire is definitely show choir costuming, the music they have sung in the past is heavily show choir oriented, and traditionally the choir auditions are heavy on dance as well as singing. Now, if the show choir were just one separate class or it were after school it would be one thing. But EVERY choir has been expected to dance in the past, and that's what they expect this year also. The girls would cry if I changed their sparkly dresses, and though we just finished their first concert they are already asking when they can start choreography for the holiday concert.
I guess my question is: has anyone had success changing the 'choir culture' when everything is show-choir related? I would love to pull things in the direction of concert choir in the coming years, but I don't know that I can expect it to happen soon. I have good ideas and plans for how to slowly implement my own ways of doing things, and I am pushing the idea that not every concert needs to have dancing and props. But, I'm wondering if I will see a drop in numbers and participation? I guess that's not the worst thing, but I'm just looking for ideas, both in the immediate and distant future, I suppose.
I appreciate all helpful feedback. In no way do I want to demean or put down those who have show choirs or love show choir. If you have any experience with this topic, or know of something that could help me out, I appreciate it!
Replies (15): Threaded | Chronological
on October 4, 2013 4:11am
Hello, Leigh,
Might there be a way to find out if there are parents and other faculty who believe as you do?
You would then have allies in making the case if there were.
J. Olesen
Music Dept.
Brandeis University
Applauded by an audience of 1
on October 4, 2013 8:00am
Hi, Leigh! Don't worry about the past and how things were done before you.  
Don't worry about "numbers" and participation - those who are meant to be there will be there.  I'd rather have 16 singers whose hearts are in it than 30 who are there because they "have" to be.  A larger choir does not mean "better" or more "successful."  So put the "numbers" thing to rest in your mind.
Be true to yourself.  Be the leader that you are.  You are in a position of leadership.  As far as I know, you don't need anyone's "permission" to do anything!  You call the shots.  Whoever "gets on board" will support you.  You are worrying too much about what other people think.  Let the girls cry!  They'll get over it!  I'm not being insensitive at all.  It's just that most people hate change.  Most people are conformists.  
It's not too late to turn the ship around.  Show them that you are in charge - not them.
If it is not in your heart to lead a show choir, then it will not turn out well anyway.  
If the students sense that you love and respect them, all things are possible.
Don't make it about "their" choir vs. "yours."  Simply lead the choir you want to build and focus on what it is, not what it was.  There is more power in your actions than your words. 
This can be a great way for them to learn about sacrifice.  As they sacrifice what they think they want, they can learn to love a new thing, a new way of cooperating and learning that it's okay if they don't get their own way. :)
Don't let them rule you!  You are in charge!
Don't make a big deal out of it.  Don't announce it - "we're not doing a show choir."  Simply incorporate the style you want to have.  Teach what you want them to learn.  If they ask about costumes, etc., simply tell them that they're there to learn the music and to sing to their utmost.  This is MUSIC class, not dance!  If they want movement or dance, that's another subject and class! 
Be kind but bold!  Be strong and hold your ground! 
Nothing great was ever accomplished by "winning" the vote and support of people that may not "get" you.  Again, who's in charge - you or the faculty/parents?  Great things were accomplished by men and women who stayed true to their vision - popular or not!
Step out in faith and believe that it will be successful.  Don't fear rejection.  You don't need anyone's support but your own.  Believe in your vision.  Believe in what you want to accomplish.  And others WILL come to believe, too.  As the teacher, you should have complete artistic freedom.  Sometimes, there is give and take.  Sometimes, you give an inch and they want the whole enchilada!  (I know, mixing metaphors here)  Since you're new, they are learning you.  And if they sense any hesitation on your part, they will take advantage in order to get their own way.  
You're new to the school.  Don't set the precedent of letting them - faculty, students, parents - control you.  Set the standard NOW.  They will respect you for it.
Focus on your vision and goals - what is possible - and not on what was or what others want.  You will inspire followers - I promise!  People want to follow a great leader.  You have it in you or you wouldn't have gotten the job.
Keep us posted!  All the best to you!
Applauded by an audience of 2
on October 5, 2013 5:01am
While I understand your desire to expand your students' choral experience, I do think you should proceed slowly and not offend students and parents who seem to enjoy things the way they are. I agree that you are in charge, but why would you take the job if you knew the current program is geared toward show choir? Were you hired to change the program to a more traditional choir program? Be sure to check with your administrator before making too many changes.
In my current middle school position we are not allowed to have show choir classes during school, and the traditional program is strong, but our feeder elementary school had a big show choir type of program that the students and parents loved. The elementary director decided to start an after-school show choir for the middle school students, which was going to cause a big drop in my numbers, since the students could have "choir" after school. My solution was that I started an after-school show choir that students enrolled in choir classes could join. It was not my plan when I started, and takes up some of my free afternoon time, but my numbers have grown over the years. The elementary teacher who did the show choir style has moved, but I have continued the show choir because some students love it. If you are going to ask the students to be flexible, be willing to give in to them a little. In the long run they will buy in to what you want if you do great music. Is there a college with a great choir close by? Maybe you could arrange a field trip for your students to hear them sing more traditional music.  
Good luck!  
Applauded by an audience of 4
on October 5, 2013 9:19am
I had a similar situation several years ago while I was teaching (if you replace the words "show choir" with "marching band"). I had a group that played concert music quite well but struggled with competitive marching band because we didn't have the staff, time, resources or--honestly--true dedication to perform at the level of the other bands in our area. My situation did not turn out successfully as I ended up leaving teaching, but for what it's worth I'd like to share a couple of thoughts (bear in mind there are some assumptions here so this may not all apply to your situation):
A few years ago a good friend and colleague presented what I thought was the most brilliant reasoning for not doing competitive marching band (as you, not judging those who DO, but going with what you support philosophically). To give you the short version, he basically presented this as a comparison of time, resources, and benefits:
- He presented the costs of the non-musical aspects (costuming, props, choreography/drill design, etc.) and what they could do with that in the concert band setting (commission new works, bring in clinicians, buy better instruments, have more musically meaningful travel experiences, etc.).
- He presented the time aspect of rehearsal time spent. Things like band camp, outside of school rehearsals, in school rehearsals from June through October--all for 10 minutes worth of music, versus the rest of the year where they are preparing much more music with deeper musical value...and ultimately for probably less rehearsal time. As you well know, time is becoming a bigger commodity for students and parents--this was as compelling an argument for my colleague as the financial side.
I anticipate that some of those same framework arguments could be made in your situation. 
Secondly, to agree with Deborah Gray's comments about "taking it slow"....a gradual shift will likely be more successful for you. As a suggestion--have you considered implementing a vocal jazz group rather than a choreography based show choir? One could make the argument of an ensemble such as this having much more musical legitimacy, and providing a great musical growth opportunity for the ensemble with complete focus on the music, while still having the musical appeal that attracts them to the show choir aspects (to some degree anyway). You have a brilliant conductor and clinician within the vocal jazz genre in your area....Dr. Steve Zegree at IU. Perhaps he would have some suggestions on how to get started on this and navigate these changes. 
Best of luck with this. As I told my colleague when he presented that argument, had I had the courage at the time to make a stand like that in my situation, I would probably still be teaching as I would have felt that what I was doing aligned with the philosophical vision I had for my students. Take care!
- Tom
Applauded by an audience of 1
on October 6, 2013 7:13am
While I understand and sympathize with your feelings about show choir, my approach would be to seek balance and moderation. Students look to you as a role model for musical leadership, so approaching show choir with an open attitude about what it might offer to a balanced choral program will help them to be more open about other styles of music. You set the tone about this.  There is actually much to gain from using movement in singing. Do some research about Dalcroz, Laban, Alexander, and Body Mapping, also yoga.  Body awareness is vital for singers to understand and apply.   Your singers probably have a good sense of rhythm through doing show choir. Why not capitalize on this? 
Programming music from different eras and places in the world will help them to understand musical traditions from all over the world - of which show choir is one.  
To sum up, looking for common ground and expanding it for everyone will serve you well. I have been teaching for 26 years and have learned this over time.  Consider what your overall goals are for bringing the world of music to your students.
Hope this is helpful.  
on October 7, 2013 5:50am
I have a Show Choir at the school where I teach. You must be part of the regular HS Choir in order to participate in Show Choir. Over the past 3-4 years, sports have interfered so much with our rehearsal times (we were meeting on Mondays from 6-8 pm to avoid sports practices, but games now get in the way so much).  SO, my choreographer and I decided that we would try an experiment last year. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, she came during school time to work with my students. Now my choir meets in two separate hours (about half in each hour, 2nd and 6th). I know, not ideal, but a small school can't always designate just one hour to a class and have it work. So she came both class periods last year. I decided that this was too much time out of my classes, so we have cut it down to just Thursdays, and she comes 2nd hour. There are only 2 girls in the other class in Show Choir, so they have to learn more on their own, with help from other students, and with a recording of the choreography. Again, not ideal, but we'll see how it works.  Also, we will have one or two Monday night rehearsals just before each concert to practice on the stage.
Students MUST be in my regular choir to participate in Show Choir, which helps with my numbers. I think that there is room for both styles of music, and the students really enjoy being able to do more pop style things in Show Choir. I think this works out well for us, and gives me room to do what I know they need to learn musically as well as what they want to learn musically.
I would begin to switch this over gradually. Perhaps do one or two numbers with Show Choir style, and have them practice those on certain days of the week, and then do traditional Choral music the rest of the time.
Good luck!
on October 8, 2013 7:30am
In addition to Steve Zegree at IU, Dr. Tim Brimmer at Butler has Jordan Jazz and some sort of high school Jazz Festival - look it up. It's closer than IU to you.
I would start each class with a "bell-ringer," if you will of playing music from one composer a week. Each kid should have a journal (or you can provide them with paper - I get filler paper free at Teachers Treasures) and they should write each day. Have it on the board: the composer's name and the name of the piece, and what it's from if necessary. One week can be Mozart: Queen of the Night, Dies Irae, Lacrymosa, something from Don Giovanni and something from Marriage of Figaro. The next week is Palestrina. The next week is Bach. The next week is Gershwin, Rossini, Whitacre, Lauridsen, etc... Ask them to write about the music: how does it make them feel, do they like it, why/why not? There's not right or wrong answer. The idea is to get them exposed to it and it's sure to move a few of them just by being exposed to it. You can either grade them or offer extra credit on a quiz (who was the Composer of the Week October 1?) Maybe ask them to share what they wrote. This should take no more than 5 minutes at the beginning of class.
Then, maybe you could offer an after-school group to learn some of this music and next year offer a Chamber Choir and slowly replace the dance-centered groups. Eventually you can offer the dancing groups after school and the music you really want to do during school. I feel the best way to get the kids to want to do it is to expose them to it. They don't know there are other options. And there are kids there that want to just sing and NOT dance.

Personally, I have a show choir and love it. But we are not on a competing level (I have a family and want to go home...) I try to balance legit music with some of the fluff we're doing in show choir (and not all of our show choir music is fluff...). But I also have students who have no interest at all in dancing, but still want to sing high-quality music.
Good luck!!
Emily McDuffee
Director of Choirs
Southport High School
Indianapolis, IN
Applauded by an audience of 2
on October 8, 2013 8:33am
That was my exact experience as a first year teacher in a smaller school district just north of Indianapolis when I began 5 years ago.  When I realized my students thought choir was wearing sparkly dresses and having elaboratly decorated concerts with choreography to 2 and 3 part (mostly Disney) music they were not able to read, I knew life was going to be tough for a while.  I went cold turkey on them and they hated it (and me) for a good semester.  I did have more than a few drop out...although several eventually found their way back.  Yet, I would call my transition successful. I don't have much time, but a couple things:
1. Indiana is pretty big on evaluation of teachers and making sure we are teaching the standards.  I tell my students it is NOT in my job desription by the State or otherwise for me to teach dance.  We may explore the relationship between music and other subjects, but that doesn't mean necessarily mean dance.  Honestly, we are expected to teach plenty on an individual basis, when we are a group performance ensemble that it is crazy enough.  Plus, I'm not qualified to teach dance and there is no budget for hiring someone.  Additionally, I told my students that we would only add dance to songs where it would be stylistically appropriate, which not ever song that is programmed is.  I also told them that we would NEVER add dance to a song until the music was great.  And often the music isn't great until a week before a concert, which is no time to add choreography.  Ironically, when I offer to do a session after school to add choreography, no one shows or no one is interested.  Funny, no?  
2.  Indiana is a pretty good choir state, as in we have several invitationals hosted by high schools in the Spring months.  They are often advertised as show choir invitationals, but most of them have concert choir divisions and that's where I took them.  I let them see the sights, but had them all sit down and listen to every single concert choir on the schedule.  And I gave them assignments to complete while they listened.  They hated recorded concert music, but were stunned with live concert music.  I can't tell you how many times I said that first year, "Guys, I played that same song for you off youtube and you hated it!"  I've found that their perceptions and bias just needed an adjustment.  We came away from that first event and they had so much more spirit about the singing, not the dancing.  They could suddenly discuss and identify "good" singing and began a list of songs "we just had to do" in the future. They experienced the rush of tight Whitacre harmonies and the energy of a Hogan spiritual.  Now, when I take them (and I still make them watch concert choirs and complete an assignment) you should see their eyes light up when they hear a title or opening chord of a song they recognize (even when we haven't studied it) that they LOVE.  I'm at the point know where they still want to do pop songs from time to time (mostly newbies and younger students), but the older veterans know that choir music is good and fun and rewarding too.
Applauded by an audience of 2
on October 8, 2013 2:32pm
Kudos to you for asking for help.  Tread carefully.  Drastic change will certainly make students resent you, and could get you fired.  Respect culture and create change slowly from within.  Patience and respect for the groundwork laid before you are the marks of a true leader.  Changing everything suddenly to your preference is the mark of an insecure tyrant.  It will earn you no respect, and could get you fired.
Most teachers who want to "flip the culture" go about it in the wrong way, imposing too much change too quickly.  It's important to remember a few things:
1.)  This change cannot be personal.  Don't start by saying this is the music "you like".  Major can of worms right off the bat.  Instead, make it about your job requirements.  Hand out to every student the Nine National Standards in Music Education and tell them it's not up to you - it is a national requirement of music educators in our country to teach students a "varied repertoire of music".  Reassure them that even though you're required to do a variety of music, that the show choir stuff is mainly what you're still going to do, because they're SO GOOD AT IT! :D
2.)  Then, don't pick the music yourself.  Give them options to choose from, from three different categories.  Categories could be "Spiritual", "Modern Classical", and "Historic".  In the spiritual category, pick for example, "Go Down Moses", "River in Judea", and "Elijah Rock".  Modern Classical could be Whitacre's "This Marriage", Stroope's "The Pasture", and Eric Barnum's "Dreams of Thee".  Historic could be Mozart's "Ave Verum Corpus", Bach's "Jesu Joy of Man's Desire", or Beethoven's "Ode to Joy".  In your presentation of each category and each piece, be sure to have a good recording handy and that they have the sheet music in their hands so they can follow along.  It is vital that you tell them you need their help in making these choices.  Do not get overly excited about any one piece.  That will turn things personal, and may turn them off.  Students can be funny like that, especially in the face of change.  Things are... precarious. ;)
3.)  I agree with whoever said get the administration behind you.  Use the national standards to make that happen.  They can't argue against that.  Stress that you want to keep their wonderful tradition going, but that you feel it is your responsibility as an educator to expose your students to a varied repertoire of music.  I wouldn't talk to the parents about this beforehand.  Some of them will buck at the notion of change just as bad or worse than the students, and that's a nail in your coffin.  Just get admin on your back, approach it with the students matter-of-factly as part of your job (not personally), give them options and call on their help to choose.  The ownership you give them will be enough to get them over the first hump of "change".  Then, when they start enjoying the quality literature you're throwing at them, the battle is won!  :)
Good luck.
I'd bring in a guest choral ensemble (a reputable, serious collegiate choir in your state) to perform for your students and work with them.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on October 8, 2013 6:11pm
I agree wholeheartedly that it is almost never a good idea for a teacher to make many (if any) drastic changes in the first year at a school.  That first year is a time to get to know students, other teachers at the school and in the area, and school administrators, as well as a time to work toward earning the trust and respect of those people.  
on November 1, 2013 5:20pm
These are dilemmas.  How much can you, as a professional music director, lead and change; versus how much are you, as an employee, expected to continue with?  Who's in charge, and to what extent-- you or the administration?  (Or....the taxpaying customers?).  There's a lot of good advice here, so I'll just add a bit from my experience.  I was self employed in another field until 12 years ago when, at the age of 51, I became an elementary music teacher and choir director.  I had wanted to teach for years (having had so many wonderful teachers myself, and being the son and grandson of teachers), but absolutely dreaded having a "boss" and working in a "system".  Finally the desire to do it overcame my reservations, and I was hired to work under a principal who turned out to be a wonderful person and administrator with a strong interest in music and some experience, too.  I owe my success to her help, guidance, encouragement and accomodation of my preferences.  After six great years, I decided to move across the country for reasons unrelated to my job.  This time, having acquired some experience and success, I did not have to depend on luck to fiind a fulfilling job, but was able to interview them (the schools) while they iinterviewed me.  It was my good fortune to be able to say "This is what I can do, this is what I want to do; do you want me to do this at your school?" and to find someone who said "yes."   I would wish that for everyone.
on November 2, 2013 10:04am
Dear Leigh, Please take the time to email Ken Rawdon (a)  Ken94117(a)  Ken is a fantastic teacher who has an outstanding choral program which does include Show Choir (my feelings about SC is much like yours)....however his Chamber Singers and Women's choir have both been invited to perform at the ACDA Western Division Conference in February and they will "blow our socks off".  He will tell you how both has worked for him.  You might also want to contact Bruce Rogers from Mt. San Antonio College whose Chamber Singers are also singing at the conference and when Bruce taught high school he inherited a "Show Choir", but again he again had a fabulous "traditional" program.  Both of these men are highly regarded and will do their best to help you.  All the best!
on November 3, 2013 6:51am
Hi Leigh, 
When I arrived at my high school 3 years ago there were 3 choirs, two of which did show choir half of the time.  This meant working on classical or traditional choral music while also preparing a show choir set.  Show choir music was taught during the school day and choreography 1 night per week for each choir in addition to reviewing days in class.  I found myself getting burned out, and felt like we weren't doing our best at either style of music.  
This past year I made the decision, and perhaps not the most popular one, to go to one show choir and convinced the administration to make it a class during the school day.  Now I have three traditional choirs and one show choir.  After some initial grumbling by the students and parents I can report that this was the best decision I could have made!  First, having only one period of show choir allows me to feel good about it, especially since we are not taking time away from learning traditional choral music... it's show choir and pop "stand and sing" songs all the way.  Second, my numbers went up.  Enrollment in my girls choir (used to split time doing show choir) went from 32 to 44.  My show choir numbers also increased from 28 to 36.  The students are happier because they are really learning the show choir music and have more time to focus on choreography and performance.  
Before I made the change, I saw that some students suffered through the show choir music in order to sing the traditional music and vice versa.  Now they don't have to make that "sacrifice."  We are the only show choir in the neighboring cities so I don't have that same concern that you do.  The show choirs in other counties are pretty hardcore, and spend lots of money on costumes, set, band, effects, etc.  We are happy to compete at the intermediate level, and whether we win or not is inconsequential.  By offering show choir I am filling a desire for the students and parents, and am offering a well-rounded program for my school.  
on November 4, 2013 2:53am
Being a Brit I had to Google 'show-choir'. <Shudder>
Applauded by an audience of 4
on November 4, 2013 7:14pm
I feel like I need to defend show choir a little bit. Look at the success of Glee, Disney, Pitch Perfect, and so on. Show Choir groups have their place in our culture and require talented musicians. In addition, this is a place we can reach students who wouldn't participate in a traditional choral program. Also, show choirs get a bad rap because we have all seen and heard bad show choirs do bad music. I don't know about you, but I've heard plenty of concert choirs that were terrible and sung terrible literature. Point is you need to have high standards regardless of what kind of choir you are teaching. This will elevate the level of your groups. 
I am in my first year teaching show choir. I too grew up and was trained and taught for 4 years a "traditional" choral program. I honestly felt exactly the same way you did at the beginning of the year. There are days when I struggle with kids who can't read music and often fail to LOOK at their music. However, upon much reflection, these problems are across the choir spectrum, not just in show choir. 
Let me give you some suggestions that were given to me as very wise advice. 
1. Choose quality literature - whether you teach show choir, jazz choir, concert choir, or elementary there is ALWAYS an opportunity to find quality and garbage literature, choose the good stuff, not just fluff. The really good stuff requires amazing rhythmic awareness and nuance.
2. Teach your students to be musically literate. Help them to become musically independent and they will thank you for it. Give them ownership of their learning.
3. Teach them that they are singers first and dancers second. Music should always come before choreography. When they start asking about choreography remind them that when they perfect the music then they can start choreography.
4. Teach them the value of a variety of music. My kids were so tired of 70's music that they welcomed a dusty old copy of a Frank Sinatra classic with awesome rich harmonies and a very challenging a capella section.
Might I also suggest that you divide and conquer. Make one class show choir and another class concert choir. Give equal time and energy to both. If either group feels they are not important to you they will begin to lose interest and resent you.
Remember also that this may take several years to build your program. That's okay.
I honestly thought I would hate teaching show choir, but if you will keep your standards high, and similar to any other choir you would teach, I think you will grow to love it as I have. 
Best of luck!
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