At the start of a new school year, teachers’ thoughts may be turning to how to reinvigorate their school choir, or taking the first steps towards starting one from scratch. What are the insider tips you need to boost singing among existing choirs or encourage new members to join?
For Catherine Andrews, Music Director of Highfield Choirs at Highfield Infants and Junior Schools in Bromley, taking a bold approach and setting some ambitious goals helped to kickstart her choir in the first place.
‘My recruitment strategy consisted solely of a rousing speech in assembly in which I explained that I had a concert booked but no choir and that I needed to put one together as a matter of urgency,’ says Catherine. She adds, ‘I also told the school that if this concert was successful then we would put on another concert and perform songs from the musicals the following term. Children love musicals, so this is a great way to get them into a choir.’
Showing enthusiasm, providing regular performance opportunities and varying the repertoire are all key elements for Catherine. ‘Children do like singing songs that they know but I find that pop songs have limited appeal and don’t always translate well to children’s voices. I also believe that it is my job to introduce children to songs that they wouldn’t hear otherwise.’
Catherine encourages choir leaders to look out for more informal settings in which to showcase the choir’s work as well as on the big stage. ‘There is no point having a choir if there are no concerts. I like organising big concerts but there are other ways to do it: a short performance to parents before school, showcasing a song to the rest of the school in assembly, singing at the school fair etc.,’ she suggests.
‘When I first started the choir I was very sniffy about actions,’ adds Catherine. ‘However, I soon discovered that actions really help the children not only to remember the words, but also to interpret the music. I get the children to improvise their own actions and then we choose the ones we like best. This gives them ownership and really makes them think about the lyrics.’
Steve Cook, Senior Assistant Headteacher and Musical Director of numerous choirs at Formby High School in Merseyside, says secondary students face so many demands on their time that scheduling opportunities to sing together is vital.
‘Time is our big competition and the fact that we offer so much to the students means that they sometimes have to make difficult choices between the arts, sport and other activities,’ says Steve.
Ensuring that students have a creative space away from other academic pressures can feel like a challenge, but Steve has seen the students benefit. ‘Reality hits as we move towards the summer term and pressures of exams and deadlines do have an impact. We tend to front-load rehearsal time in the autumn/winter term – we workshop lots of repertoire, plan weekend ‘bootcamps’ to explore finer detail and performance practice. A ‘Pizza Practice’ is a great enticement if we stay late during the evenings – it also creates greater camaraderie amongst the students and encourages ‘team bonding’ in a more relaxed environment.’
He agrees working towards clear goals, whether they include recordings, concerts or workshops helps to keep things fresh for choirs and underlines the importance of regular singing inside and outside the classroom.
‘Teachers who maximise the use of singing in and out of class can only enhance the value of singing in students’ minds – so it is not seen as an add-on or specialism or elitist activity,’ says Steve.