This is a five-part series designed to help other middle school choir teachers determine why their middle school beginning singers are unmotivated to sing in their classrooms. Click here to go to blog post #1 in which I state the first reason I believe causes students not to sing in our classrooms.
They don’t like the music you’ve chosen.
With middle school children, we cannot be musical snobs.
Wow. That is a bit harsh…
Hope you didn’t spit your coffee out! 🙂
However, based on all of my years of experience teaching this age group in the inner city public school setting, this has been my experience.
“This song is boring.”
“I don’t like this song.”
“Why do we have to sing this stuff?”
So, what can we do to improve our music choices for our middle school beginners while still helping them to learn something new?
We have to vary our music styles.
One of the first questions that teachers ask when I share my thoughts on varying our repertoire choices is, “Does this mean I have to teach Pop music?!”
The answer is unequivocally no…unless teaching that style of music really cranks your tractor! 🙂
Middle school students respond to our passion. So, if we are passionate about teaching pop music, then that should be some part of what we teach in our classrooms during the school year.
Just recently, I interviewed an incredible middle school educator for my blog because I saw a video of her work with middle school children, and I was truly blown away by it. The children were so engaged and uninhibited. It was fantastic to see. Andrea Squires, the teacher from Arizona who leads the students in the video, happened to be doing a pop song, but in my interview, I learned that only represents a tiny fraction of what she does with the children during the school year. …But it works for her, and it works for the students. Even in this blurry picture below, you can see it in their eyes and in the positions of their bodies! These children are loving what they are doing!
Personally, I don’t enjoy teaching most pop music. Instead, one of my passions is teaching Broadway songs to the students. They sense my passion. The Broadway revues that we do at the end of the year are a huge highlight of our time together, and those events are the engine that runs my choral program even though we only work on it during 4th nine weeks. I really believe they respond so well to it because they sense my passion about it.
Teaching rap music probably wouldn’t work so well for me, but it may work really well for someone else!
I believe that we must “throw our students a bone” during every term and sing at least one song that truly excites them. It certainly should be something you enjoy teaching as well.
Most of us are classically trained, and when I speak to teachers who are struggling as they try to motivate this age group, I notice that some of my peers have a sort of “high brow” approach to teaching music. “That’s hokey” they say when we mention a song that uses flashlight choreography or a fog machine or some other gimmick that the middle school singers, in my experience, truly enjoy. One of the most successful songs I perform with students is one that I introduce very early in the school year as part of my “hook” to help get them invested in the program at my school. It’s a Halloween song written by Teresa Jennings of Music K-8 magazine . I share with my students that it will be sung in the dark and that we will use fog machines and strobe lights. As they listen to the piece, they get so excited! The energy in the room is palpable.
With this age group, we’ve got to re-think some of the hard-core classical approaches to which we get so married during our university training. Should we ever teach madrigals to middle school beginners? Absolutely…but, once again, it shouldn’t be all we teach.
As we often tell our students when we introduce a foreign language piece, you must remain open! We must practice what we preach! …Especially if we want to attract a variety of students into our programs.
I’ve spent my 24-year career in public schools in three states. I have learned so much from all of the students who came from a variety of ethnic, economic and cultural backgrounds about what they want in their choral experience. They will sing just about anything you want them to sing if you have the correct balance in your repertoire of “fun” music and more serious music. The balance is crucial to the success of building a choral program at the middle school level.
When I choose music, I keep three things in mind to help keep the proper balance of motivating my students while I teach the all-important components of good choral singing.
1) Choose one “fun” novelty piece per term.
2) I want to teach at least one lyrical piece and at least one upbeat, rhythmic piece.
3) You…the teacher…must absolutely love every song you are teaching. If you don’t love it, they will sense it.
Sometimes, I swear they are psychic! If you choose songs you don’t like or songs you think you must choose for some reason outside of yourself, you will be miserable, and so will they!
If you stick to these three principles, not only will they sing for you in class daily, but your program will begin to grow in ways you may not have imagined.
Next Saturday, I’ll be posting Reason #3 right here on ChoralNet!