- April 21, 2010 at 11:19 am #254983I’m interested in knowing how other choral directors deal with high school students in the only choir the school offers, who can’t match pitches.Where do you “place” them in the choir? – Do you put them in the back row so their non-matching pitches aren’t heard? (If so, doesn’t that throw off the students standing in front of them?) Do you put them in the front row so no one stands in front of them and gets thrown off their part? (If so, aren’t they then heard too loudly?) Can you place them next to a “strong” singer in the same section? (What if all of your strongest singers have indicated that that person throws him/her off?)I’ve had a few cases of this in the past, and this year I’ve got one bass who is okay in a lower range of about a sixth. Above that, he wanders all over! He also sings quite loudly. I’ve talked to the whole group about listening to each other and blending, but he doesn’t realize that he is off in his upper range. I don’t have any individualized time to work with students, but have brought him in a couple of times with consent of his teachers. He says he can hear when he isn’t singing on pitch, but I’m not really sure he can.I’m most interested in what others have done to “mask” the occasional singer that can’t match pitch, by his/her placement in the choir. Any thoughts would be appreciated!Thank you ~
SallyApril 21, 2010 at 4:39 pm #255022
John HowellParticipantSally: I have to ask, WHO is placing these kids in your choir? Sounds like an administrative fiat, and sounds as if you are not allowed to have auditions until AFTER the roster is complete. And of course that’s a receipe for disaster, as you’ve discovered. There is NO WAY to hide drone voices!This is a battle worth fighting your administrators over. If they want non-singers in a choir, they have to provide a second training choir for them. If they can’t do that, and if they won’t allow you to audition and select your singers, you don’t belong in that school!The men’s barbershop organization used to have 5 voice classification: lead, tenor, bari, bass, and “crow,” for those who enjoyed the social aspects of the organization but could not AND WERE NOT ALLOWED to sing in public.Are there other social factors involved in creating this situation that you haven’t told us about? Mainstreaming or Inclusion policies, for example? Or is this some administrator saying “everybody can sing”? Well, you’e the professional, and you have to explain the difference between inclusion as in everyone has the opportunity to try out, and inclusion as in let anyone who feels like it play on the football team without givng the coach the authority to pick and choose. There’s a solid pedagogical reason for having JV teams, and for having lower-demanding choirs for kids who really need more help to become qualified to sing in choir.For whatever it’s worth,JohnApril 21, 2010 at 6:39 pm #255028Hi John,When I talk about “placement” in the choir, I mean physical placement within the group – where they stand in relation to others.You are talking in the broader sense, about the lack of a training choir to “feed” into our Concert Choir. We don’t have one, however, there is potential for that for the 2010-2011 school year. There is a Freshman Choir and a Concert Choir listed in our course offerings, however, as a young school we haven’t reached the numbers that would warrant both choirs being offered. I have proposed the addition of another choir (not necessarily Freshman Choir, but rather a “training” choir), and even held auditions last year in the Spring. Then, there were some financial difficulties within our association of schools, and no “extra” or new classes were added. And to be fair, I only have 31 in choir, which is certainly an acceptable number.I am currently holding auditions for next year with the hope that I will have two choirs, and my “crow” has tried out. Nicest guy, just a low, limited range of about a sixth. The good news is that there are quite a few other boys that have auditioned that can do a good job in the bass section. “Crow” will probably just have to be in the “other” choir. And, my numbers are looking good – approximately 48 students have signed up for choir for next year!I most definitely belong at the school where I teach – as I am called to a ministry with the kids there! I’ve had a vision of where I want the choral program to go, and the move to having two choirs is extremely important to me. I feel a desire to minister to the kids who are gifted and have a desire to be challenged by more difficult repertoire, and I also feel a need to minister to those who need to learn how to read music, how to sing, and how to be a part of a performing ensemble. So, while I wish I could just tell the administration that thinks “everybody can sing” that I demand to have two choirs, or be able to have auditions and turn some away, the reality of the situation is that I am where I am! I’m trying to make the best of the situation I’ve been placed in, and work to improve it so there is a JV Choir and a Varsity Choir in the future. I feel we’re on the precipice of that happening, and I’m excited about it!In the meantime, I’d still appreciate any suggestions about where to “place” my “crow” so his voice isn’t as noticeable.Your reply just validates what I already know – that I MUST continue to push to have two choirs so that those who desire to be challenged and are dedicated can be grouped together, and those that either need to be “trained” or don’t want to participate in a choir with higher demands can also be grouped together. Can’t wait for the day!Thank you ~
SallyApril 22, 2010 at 10:48 am #255078
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John: This kind of comment: “The men’s barbershop organization used to have 5 voice classification: lead, tenor, bari, bass, and “crow,” for those who enjoyed the social aspects of the organization but could not AND WERE NOT ALLOWED to sing in public.” does not help anyone, never has.
Sally: I applaud your desire to work with these kids. My university room mate was ‘tone deaf’ so he said – with a bit of work I showed him it was a skill he could learn. Have you tried having them ‘feel’ the pitch they are trying to match. I would try the vibrations coming off a cello, hand on the back of a piano, you get the idea.
Placing them in the choir – I mix them in and get them to share music with someone they like who can match pitch. Go with the sports analogy if it works – we learn how to dribble a ball, swing a bat — blend, pitch match — we can learn that too.
I get the ‘loud’ folks with a strong partner also matching kids with similar voice colour sometimes helps. Move them around in the group – I find there is no set rule for front or back of the choir – I just rely on my ears.
I find the benefits of working with these challenging situations often gains rewards – some of the benefits we will never be aware of in terms of a kid’s self esteem, learning to tackle challenges etc. etc. Often these folks have become the kids I rely on for set up, help with publicity etc.
Blessings Sally! L.April 22, 2010 at 1:05 pm #255092
R. Daniel EarlParticipantHi Sally – “If you can walk you can dance. If you can talk you can sing.” There is a place for this young man and I urge you to keep encouraging him and working with him. My immediate “solution” would to bring him in (I Know you said that you don’t have time – but you must make time) reevaluate his range and the pitches he sings most often correctly. Then identify the ones where he wanders and tell him to not sing those pitches……(actually identify them on the staff)…….until he has more experience and until the ear catches up. I would also find a solid bass that is a nice guy and can be a friend and have him close enough to give him a ‘signal’, like a slight elbow…….or whatever, to signify that he is off. In a concert situation I would tell him if he is given this “signal” that he needs to “mouth the words” of that section. Remind him and those around him that this is “a team” and we need to support each other and help each other……………much like the Republicans & Democrats……….don’t do!When working with him one-on-one, work from the ‘head voice’ down getting him to sing those pitches he is now having the most difficulty. I would also find someone in the community (perhaps a local voice teacher) or a good adult singer to come in and work with him. If possible find an adult male who can work with him.We must learn creative and positive ways to help young people……….not just in choirs, but in all aspects of life. Your efforts on his behalf will not only help him, but it will help your other students and it will give you the satisfaction of knowing that he will not as an adult say, “My choir teacher said I couldn’t sing.” Instead he will say “Boy I really enjoyed singing in high school and my choir teacher made all the difference.” I know maybe a little ‘wishful thinking’, but thinking negatively rather than creatively never solved the problem.If I lived closer I’d be there to help.April 22, 2010 at 1:52 pm #255101
John HowellParticipantSally: Yes, I certainly understood that you were asking about riser placement. But I was simply asking why you had drones in your choir in the first place, and you explained that very well and I applaud your efforts to work with these kids. I’m not sure there’s ANY kind of riser stacking that will hide the problem on a short-term basis.But just to show that I’m not an ogre after all, I accepted a young woman into my early music ensemble last fall who had a horrible time matching pitch. She was a sort of legacy, a good friend and roommate of a valued member of the ensemble, and I spent a bit of time at first determining which vocal range she could come close to matching pitch in. Some of my other singers complained that she wasn’t getting her part, and they were right, but I saw possibilities.And it’s paid off. She’ll never be (at least in the short term) the kind of singer who is instictively on pitch and accurate in her reading and singing, but she has improved to an extent I would never have predicted, can now learn her part and sing it with confidence as long as she is next to someone who sings the same part, and I assigned her a brief independent part (within a larger sound context) where she is alone on her part. I will put in a LOT of extra time with someone who CAN improve and who DOES improve!And L Pike, I’m sorry you didn’t like my comment about barbershopers, but I was simply reporting a fact, not necessarily advocating adopting it. My late wife once worked with a nun who wanted nothing more than to sing in the convent’s choir, but who had been told as a child not to sing because she couldn’t match pitch (a horrible thing to do to ANY child!). My wife simply approached it as she would have a young child, found “her note,” and worked with her to expand her range one note at a time. And the other nuns said that the first time she joined them in choir she had tears in her eyes. THAT is what teaching is all about, when you come right down to it, not just working with the “gifted” and “talented”!All the best,JohnApril 22, 2010 at 9:15 pm #255118
Clydene BalkeParticipantHi Sally,It depends on the student, but as a rule I try to put them in front of the strong singers so he can hear the part initially. As time goes on, sometimes I will move him to the top riser on the outside corner. That way he will have to listen harder and sing softer to hear the strong singers.But,,,, I am sorry, I would never ask a student not to sing.. I just believe that is completely against what I stand for as a choral director. I know that it takes time for some students to be able to match pitch and then be able to manipulate the voice to get on that pitch at the right times. I will ask them to sing softly so he/she can hear the rest of the choir. I talk about listening to the choir and not just for their own voice.Also, unless you are in a large district that supports the arts, it is unlikely to have a special “training” choir to put those “non singers”. I have singers and nonsingers in my beginning choir and have to figure out how to make it work. Then if students still are not able to match pitch after the first year, I do not move them to a higher level choir. If all I was willing to take in choir were “singers”, I would have a hard time filling a class. It is my job to make anyone who has the desire to become a singer, which I believe is possible…. Anyone can sing and be a good choir member… being a good choir member is not the same as being the “idol” singer…Good luck, I am sure that as the teacher getting to know the students, you will make the right decision. We all have to make those decisions and judgements based on the singers we have and the program that we are given to work within.Clydene BalkeGlendale, AZApril 22, 2010 at 9:47 pm #255120
Katharine HooperParticipantHi, Sally,I teach in a Waldorf High School where chorus is required for all the students. I have 60 students in chorus this year. We do very challenging music and I absolutely love this work. Over the years I have had a number of students who could not match pitch. This year, as it happens, I have only one. She really wants to improve so I work with her for five minutes after class twice a week. She is finally really making progress. It is amazing though how much the students learn by simply participating as best they can. They do learn from the students around them. I tell the students who say they hate singing, that there is no way for me to really know if they are really singing or just mouthing the words, but I will notice if they are not appearing to sing. I find that it is easier for them to sing than not to sing and that over time they come to enjoy the experience. I do try to place the “drones” next to strong singers and well within their section rather than on the periphery. I find the front row is the worst place for them because they feel so exposed, so somewhere in the middle works the best.Don’t give up. Try various solutions and encourage as much as you can.KatieApril 23, 2010 at 2:55 am #255126
Helen DugganParticipantJohn Howell wrote:“My late wife once worked with a nun who wanted nothing more than to sing in the convent’s choir, but who had been told as a child not to sing because she couldn’t match pitch (a horrible thing to do to ANY child!). My wife simply approached it as she would have a young child, found “her note,” and worked with her to expand her range one note at a time. And the other nuns said that the first time she joined them in choir she had tears in her eyes. THAT is what teaching is all about, when you come right down to it, not just working with the “gifted” and “talented”!”That is _indeed_ what (music) teaching is all about! .. And where some of the greatest joy may be found, in my experience.Helen DugganApril 23, 2010 at 9:05 am #255154Thank you to all who have offered suggestions. I have tried many of the things you’ve suggested, and in fact, had two boys at the beginning of the year who couldn’t match pitches. Now I only have one, so the things that I’ve done have been successful for the other one! I’m hopeful that with some added help, my “crow” or “drone” will be matching pitches next year! (I just “auditioned” new students for next year, and have another boy that has an even more limited range of pitch matching! More challenges!)I’ve “placed” both of them in various positions in the choir, but found that putting them next to a strong bass who can stay on his pitch has been the most helpful. I’ve never told a student not to sing, but instead have encouraged ALL singers in my choirs to listen carefully to the people around them. If they can’t hear EVERYONE around them singing, they may be singing too loud. I may even pull that student aside outside of class time and ask them to really listen the next day and make sure they’re hearing everyone else in their section. When they are specifically asked to listen, two things happen; first, they are more aware of what is going on around them and aren’t singing quite as loud, and second, they are listening to “in-tune” singing. The benefits of that alone are worth it!Again, thank you for your replies and responses. I’ve enjoyed reading them and appreciate your thoughts. I hope that other directors use these forums the same way I do – to bring up topics that might generate some discussion and suggestions that might be helpful to me AND to others. I’ve been teaching for many years, and have had many situations like the one I’ve asked about in this thread. And, I’ve dealt with them in various ways, and had good and “less than good” results. So, when a situation comes up, either in my classroom, or in my thoughts, I bring it to the experts here at ChoralNet, hoping that it will get people thinking, and that I may also glean something that will be helpful to me. I’m always ready to learn something new or different! I hope that’s how others use the forums as well. Thanks!!!Sally
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