[Editor's note: This week begins part 1 of a 2-part article by Karol Kimmell about children's choirs, with applications for all ages: this week part 1 includes attendance/scheduling, liturgy and worship suggestions, and continuing education ideas.]
In one choir year, you have seven to eight months of directing rehearsals, training young singers, leading worship, and building community. As you look back over the year and look ahead to the next, which questions should you ask yourself? How do you effectively evaluate a newly established or long-running choir program? What worked, what didn’t? How should you spend your planning time? Below are some specific questions (italicized) and suggestions.
SING OFTEN ENOUGH? TOO MUCH? DIFFICULT MUSIC? Take a look at the overall schedule. Did the children’s choir sing too often or not enough? Did it take them longer to learn anthems than you anticipated? Schedule more or less rehearsal time next year between singing dates and/or adjust the difficulty level of chosen music. Don’t frustrate them by presenting anthem after anthem that is too difficult. Find ways to challenge your singers but choose music that makes them feel successful along the way. Make simple anthems more interesting with use of instruments; be creative. Choose weekly warm-ups that advance their singing ability: simple 2-part fun songs that strengthen singing in harmony, rhythmic chants that improve accuracy and flexibility, and vocalises that encourage a wider range. Over time your choristers will be able to tackle more difficult repertoire.
ATTENDANCE: Everyone worries about attendance, but no one wants to analyze it! Glance over your roll book and look for trends. Did you take attendance consistently? Don’t rely on your memory. Decide on a strategy to keep weekly attendance and stick to it. Did you contact absent singers? In my roll book you’ll see a check mark for “present”, a dash for “absent” and a circle around that dash if I sent the child a postcard. If you send postcards, replenish your supply over the summer. Did one of the seasonal sports affect attendance more than another? Do you have more indoor roller hockey players than you thought? Was there a Sunday morning singing event that was poorly attended? You may have discovered a big sports tournament weekend or a favorite scout camping weekend. Avoid scheduling your singers on that Sunday next year. Use what you glean to help with next year’s scheduling.
MUSIC NOTEBOOKS: Did your method of providing music for each singer work; was it efficient, or do you need to make a change? Do you need assistance in rehearsals when you pass out or collect music? Think through your system. Some choirs have assigned 3 ring binders with numbered tabs (we call our tabs “door #1, door #2, etc.) or colorful folders without tabs. Some choirs pass out music each week, unassigned, or have singers pick it up from a table as they enter. Whatever your method, check last year’s supplies and replenish as needed…torn binders, etc. What else needs to be replenished…pencils, nametags, choir room hymnals?
HYMNS & LITURGY: Did your choristers learn hymns and liturgy selections as well as anthems? Did you find a creative way to teach hymns to them? Start investigating new hymns to teach next year. Glance through your hymnal and resources (Sundays and Seasons) for suggested hymns. Talk with your clergy and worship planning committee about parts of the liturgy that your choristers have mastered. Can the choir serve as cantor? Are there new liturgies or hymns to be introduced that the children can help teach to the congregation?
HYMN DESCANTS: Keep a list of hymn descants your choristers have learned and plan to teach more next year while repeating the ones they know. Within three years your young singers can master at least 10 - 12 hymn descants. Be sure to include descants to favorite Christmas hymns. Collect descant publications, check SATB anthems based on hymns (many of those end with a great descant that can be used in congregational hymns), and try to write you own. For children, the simpler the descant, the better it is. Just singing a descant on a refrain is a great way to get them singing high and understanding what a descant is. Good hymns with refrains for descants:
ELW 289 Angels We Have Heard on High, GLORIA
ELW 288 Good Christian Friends, Rejoice, IN DULCI JUBILO
ELW 283 O Come, All Ye Faithful, ADESTE FIDELES
ELW 424 Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones, LASST UNS ERFREUEN
ELW 430 Rejoice, for Christ Is King!, LAUS REGIS
ELW 471 Let Us Break Bread Together
ELW 641 All Are Welcome, TWO OAKS
ELW 705 God of Grace and God of Glory, CWM RHONDDA
ELW 731 Earth and All Stars
ELW 815 I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light
ELW 817 You Have Come Down to the Lakeshore, PESCADORE DE HOMBRES
ELW 879 For the Beauty of the Earth, DIX
RENEW & RECHARGE: Need new teaching ideas? Need ideas for new repertoire? Would you like to talk to other children’s choir directors? Do you need a conducting tune-up, a chance to work on your directing skills? Take advantage of summer music clinics, conferences, and music weeks. Many directors hone their skills and work towards advanced certification through Orff, Kodaly, Choral Music Experience, or Choristers Guild Institute. Augsburg Fortress has a series of free summer clinics that travel around the country. These two-day events have choral reading sessions, handbell workshops, children and adult choral sessions, organ/keyboard sessions, and an evening hymn festival (providing ideas for innovative ways to use hymns in worship) as well as on-site music and worship materials to peruse and purchase. Many church camps have a week devoted to church music for all ages; North Carolina has several: Lutheridge (www.llmi.net), Montreat (Presbyterian), and Lake Junaluska (Methodist). Regional and national conferences for ALCM (Association of Lutheran Church Musicians) and Choristers Guild provide opportunities to learn from clinicians, read through music, worship together, and talk to other directors. Urge your church to provide monies in their budget for continuing education opportunities for you and the other music staff. Your choirs and congregation will benefit.
OBSERVE: Find another director to observe, even if it is a director of an adult choir. Again, the summer clinics and week-long conferences provide great opportunities to watch others at work. You will be affirmed in your own work and possibly see a technique, hear a phrase, or notice a conducting gesture that you would like to adopt yourself.
Next week: more ideas from Kimmel on choir visibility, rehearsal punctuality, recruitment, and team-building.