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Brand new children's chorus in urban community, need advice!

Hello everyone!
My name is Melody and I am graduating from Hofstra University this month with a bachelors in Music Education. I have been recently hired to start a brand new children's chorus at a youth center in one of Long Island's most impoverished and high needs areas. The administration is very excited to be starting this chorus, and I am very excited to have the opportinty to lead it.
The chorus will include 50-60 kids, ranging in grade from kindergarten to 6th grade. I imagine that this age range may present challenges, however as I understand it, there is not much music in their schools, and when asked, most if not all of them have no concept of what a choir is, so they are all starting from the same place in terms of musical knowledge.
What I would love advice on is where to even start! I am planning on taking a more general music style approach at least at the beginning. I want them to have fun singning enjoyable songs and maybe even playing some games just to get them excited about singing with me. I figure we'll have to start with unison songs since they have no experience singing in parts. Maybe eventually I'll have them sing some partner songs or rounds, but for the beginning I wonder if anyone has some song suggestions that might be fun for this group.
I appreciate any advice you can give me! I am eager to work with these children, and hopefully expose them to a positive experience with music, inspiring them to continue to sing. Thanks!
Replies (2): Threaded | Chronological
on December 13, 2013 9:06am
Hi, Melody,
First of all, congratulations on your new job!  Creating opportunities for students to sing in urban settings is one my focus areas as an ACDA leader.  I highly recommend that you attend the Community Youth/Children's Choir Retreat in Minneapolis in January.  Many of the experts in developing community children's choirs will be there and the setting is informal enough that you can sit down with any of these people and ask very specific questions.  Many have general music backgrounds and can suggest literature, recruiting strategies, rehearsal pacing, community building activities, etc.  You also have some very successful colleagues in New York, Boston and other large cities who know exactly what you are facing and how they established their programs.  Thank you for taking on this opportunity and I hope to meet you in Minneapolis.
Karen Fulmer
on December 14, 2013 6:08pm
Congratulations Melody on what will be a very difficult but very rewarding program you are beginning!  Karen has given you excellent advice.  I would also encourage you to attend the retreat in January - I know it is an expense, but perhaps you could approach the administration to help sponsor you? If you can't get to the retreat, by all means make every effort to attend the Eastern Division conference for ACDA in Baltimore in February. There will be many there for you to speak with - and you will come back truly inspired!
You may want to get in touch with one of the many children/youth choral programs in the NYC metro region to visit and see what others are doing - no point in reinventing the wheel!  Francisco Nunez with the Young Peoples Chorus of New York, or Diane Berkun with the Brooklyn Youth Chorus come to mind, but there are several other wonderful programs in the area as well. Here is a link that lists several with brief summaries:
You can also look at the listing of children/youth choirs on Choralnet.  If you go to the individual choirs' webpage, you will learn a lot as well. You might even want to check out PS 22 on Staten Island - the school choir whose videos of them singing went viral a few years ago. 
There are also books on teaching music in an urban setting that you might want to check out:
Teaching Music in the Urban Classroom  - there are 2 volumes that might be good resources
Finally, have you thought about your philosophy/goals/mission?  Does your administration have goals for the group that they have communicated with you? Since you are the beginning of your teaching career, and also at the beginning of a new venture, it is a great opportunity to really think through what direction you woud like to take this group. It is a very exciting time!
If you would like to continue a conversation, please feel free to email me directly. As the Eastern Division R&S Chair for Children & Youth Choirs, our engagement as choral directors to promote equity and opportunity in our field is of real interest to me, and I support your efforts. I wish you the best of luck in a very worthy adventure. 
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