Effective Children’s Choirs
By Kenneth W. Osbeck
Any church music director with vision realizes that not only must he develop the “faithful few” in the senior choir, but he must train a group of consecrated musicians for future use in the service of the church. If the church music program is to be perpetuated, he must begin at once to lay the necessary ground work for a total music program. It is true that not all of his ideals will be realized immediately, but a director must begin with over-all objectives before he can successfully attain specific goals. Obviously, the starting point in building a total church music program for the future is with the children of the church. Working with children offers more possibility of rewarding satisfactions for a director than perhaps any other age group, since the average child will thoroughly enjoy and respond to music if it is properly presented. There are, however, certain prerequisites that are basic for a director of a children’s choir:
1 A genuine love for children.
2 The ability to make children respond willingly.
3 The ability to administer the choirs creatively and imaginatively.
4 The qualities of patience, tact and understanding.
5 A basic knowledge of music, children’s voices and conducting techniques.
6 A desire to enrich children’s lives through the participation in and the enjoyment of music.
7 A desire to improve the music situation in our churches through a long-range program of Christian education.
8 A vision of the opportunities for winning children to Christ and of molding in them a Christian character.
The discussion in this chapter will consider the organization, administration and musical instruction of children’s choirs for the ages of four through twelve.
The Beginners’ Choir is for boys and girls four and five years of age or those of pre-school and kindergarten age. This choir does not ordinarily perform in public, except, perhaps, for special occasions such as Sunday school Christmas programs, etc. The basic purpose for such a group is educational — to give the child some fundamental concepts regarding music, especially its use in the worship and service of God.
In order to establish a choir program for a child of this age, it is well to know in advance something of his behavior patterns and characteristics. The beginner’s family and their events will constitute his main world. He is just beginning to discover the outside world. Often he will view with caution and suspicion such new ventures as a choir rehearsal until he becomes accustomed to it. His physical co-ordination is still limited since the small muscles for fine co-ordination have not yet been developed. Consequently, one must use activities involving large movements. The attention span of this child is limited. His learning is done principally by imitation. He best understands and learns new material when comparisons are made with truths that are already familiar to him. His sense of imagination is great. Children of this age do not like a competitive approach. If there are to be prizes, there must be prizes for all.
Beginner choir music should be characterized by brevity and repetition. Some of the most effective songs and choruses are not more than eight measures long. The ideal leader’s voice would be the lyric soprano, although any voice properly used can be utilized. All songs are taught by imitation and rote. The approach for teaching a new song is an informal one, with the director striving for as much spontaneity from the children as possible. A suggested procedure for teaching rote songs to beginners is as follows:
1 Give the motivation for the song. Begin a conversation about the song or some points of interest regarding it that will in turn create a desire for the children to learn the song.
2 Sing the entire song for the children.
3 Explain any of the words that might be difficult to under-stand.
4 Speak the words in the rhythm of the song.
5 Ask the children to listen for specific points of interest within the song while you sing it for them once again.
6 Talk about the song and the various points of interest the children heard while you were singing.
7 Sing the first phrase or section of the song and have the children repeat it after you.
8 Do the same thing with the second phrase, after which sing both phrases together. Continue this procedure until the entire song is learned. During this singing, help the children find the melody by indicating the direction of the melody with your hand.
9 Sing the song in its entirety. Don’t, however, expect or try to achieve perfection during this first learning.
10 Review again at the next rehearsal.
The director of any children’s choir should try to achieve a light, clear tone quality throughout the child’s entire vocal range. This does not mean that a child must sing with a timid, thin quality. However, at all times a leader should be careful not to cause strain either in getting volume of tone or in singing extreme ranges. The following suggested ranges are considered safe singing ranges for children’s voices of various ages:
Pre-school and Kindergarten, E – D
First Grade, Eb – Eb
Second Grade, D – E
Third Grade, C – E
Fourth Grade, C – F
Fifth Grade, B – F
Sixth Grade, Bb – F and an occasional G
A director must also be conscious of the tessitura problem so that no song remains consistently high or low for any period of time. This too will cause strain and possible harm if not heeded.
The director of the Beginners’ Choir is likely to have a number of children who still cannot sing on pitch or carry a tune. This is not unusual, especially if the children have not heard much music in the home. This is the ideal age to correct such problems. Most non-singing children .will be corrected simply by being in a singing group. More specific help can be given these children by getting them to distinguish between high and low tones, loud and soft tones, and to imitate sounds that they already know, such as bird sounds, fire engine sirens, and others. The director may also play musical conversations and games with the children, asking them questions on various pitches with the children imitating this pitch with their answers. A helpful book for this type of activity is Tone Matching Tunes by Colt and Bampton, published by Flarnmer Company.
The beginner child should be made rhythm conscious and taught to express pulse and rhythm through bodily responses. His rhythmic expression may be encouraged by marching, running, skipping, swaying and clapping to music when it is played, as well as using various rhythm instruments. When listening to music, beginner children should be able to recognize by ear the note combinations which suggest various physical responses. This would include: walking or marching music, quarter notes; running music, eighth notes; skipping music, dotted eighths and sixteenths; strolling music, half notes; and holding music, whole notes. Beginner youngsters are too young to be taught an arithmetical understanding of note values, so that rhythmic accuracy in their singing is gained only by imitation. The use of activity and motion songs or choruses is helpful for adding interest in a rhythmic activity. It should be cautioned, however, that the spiritual thought of the song must never be misunderstood for the sake of rhythmic activity. It should also be mentioned that songs employing activity and motion must be well learned before any action is attempted. There are various secular books containing rhythmic activities and musical games that a director can use profitably for this purpose: Twice 55 Games with Music by Dykema, published by Birchard; Games for Children, published by the National Recreational Association, 315 Fourth Ave., New York; Singing Games for Children by Hamlin and Guessford, published by Willis Music Company; Action Songs for Special Occasions by Newman, Dublished by Mills Music Company; Rime, Rhythm and Song by Martin and Burnet, published by Hall and McCreary.
Attitudes of reverence and worship can also begin with Beginners’ Choir. Children can be reminded of some of the characteristics of “big church”, soft music, quietness, everyone singing, the meaning of the word “Amen,” etc. Proper choral attitudes such as sitting up straight, attentiveness to the director, good attacks and releases may also be taught this age group.
During the 30-35 minute rehearsal, the director must do his best to keep things moving and interesting. A director’s prime de-sire should be to make children enjoy music. It is generally best to have the group seated on small chairs in a circle with the director seated on the same level with them. Rehearsals can include activities such as: singing familiar songs and choruses, learning a new song, rhythmic activities, fun games, listening to records, and perhaps an occasional surprise.
When choosing songs for this age group, a director should select songs that are geared to the child’s limited understanding and vocal abilities. The text of these songs should emphasize God’s love and care for His children, truths from the life of Christ, as well as God’s revelation in nature. These are truths that children can experience and understand. Songs with a more doctrinal emphasis will generally be beyond the grasp of the child of this age. Songs that tell a story are especially appealing at this time. In general, the texts must have simplicity, but simplicity with charm.
Some of the various collections useful for children of this age are: When the Little Child Wants to Sing by Laufer, Westminster Press; Songs for the Pre-School Age by Shumate, Broadman Press; All Through the Year by Whelan, Hall and McCreary Co.; Worship and Conduct Songs for Beginners and Primaries by Shields, John Knox Press, Richmond, Virginia; Beginners Sing in Church and Home, Scripture Press; Add a Song by Stella B. Daleburn, Lillenas Publishing Co.; Songs for Pre-School Children by Paulton, Standard Publishing Co.; Cherub Choir by Smith, Singspiration; God’s Wonderful World (Songs, Hymns and Games ) by Mason and Ohaman, Random House, New York.
Suggested names for a Beginners’ Choir: Cherub Choir, Angelic Chorus, Celestial Choir, etc.
The Primary Choir is for boys and girls who are six through eight years of age or in the first, second or third grades in school. This choir can be used occasionally in the church services with quite good results. The music, though still taught by rote and sung in unison, is somewhat more involved and interesting than that used for the Beginners’ Choir.
Again, before beginning work with this age group, a director should be acquainted with the primary child’s behavior patterns and characteristics. This age group is generally active, though still basically self-centered. At this age children become quite conscious of their individual abilities. It is for this reason that a bit of competition and the giving of awards such as ribbons, stars, etc., is a stimulating motivation for various group activities. These children are generally anxious to appear grown up, and this approach has a strong appeal to them. Activities that make use of counting, arithmetic games, etc., are especially appealing. The attention span is noticeably greater with primaries than it is with the beginners. Since primary children have such strong preconceived likes and dislikes, the wise director must learn to present his wishes in such a manner as to make the children enjoy carrying out his desires. This is also the age for “hero worship.” It should be the normal experience that these children will simply “love their director.” The wise director knows how to use and control this attitude in building a strong rapport between himself and the choir’ and in so doing establishing a sound choir program.
Not only should the primary choir sing songs with more variety and complexity, but they should be started in the matter of learning something about correct tone production, diction, phrasing, as well as some basic facts about music theory. The child should be able to distinguish between a good tone and a bad one from the standpoint of pitch correctness and quality. A clear head tone quality should be firmly established by the time a child leaves this choir. The vowel sounds “0” and “oo” are good for developing this concept, with the added sensation that this quality is carried down rather than, in any way, the lower register quality forced up. These children should also be taught the need for such basic vocal techniques as an open mouth and relaxed jaw, thus providing a free, open throat for their. singing. In addition, they should be taught the importance of good posture for supporting their singing. This is vital in teaching them to sing phrase-wise, thus overcoming their natural tendency to take a breath after every few notes. It is also quite common for children to mumble their words as they sing. A helpful technique for improving diction at this age is simply to have the children practice the words of a song in a whisper, impressing upon them the need for using their lips and tongues in saying words clearly. As mentioned previously, the average singing range for this age group is generally from middle C to E. Most authorities are agreed that there is as much danger to correct tone production in having children sing too low as there is in having them sing too high.
Rhythmically, primaries can be expected to achieve much more perfect repetition of rhythmic activities than can be expected from the earlier age group. The entire approach to rhythm is still that of associating physical responses to music rather than attempting any intellectual or arithmetical understanding of rhythm. Through this approach they should begin to realize that the first beat of a measure is always the strongest beat. This can be emphasized by having them march, clap, bounce an imaginary ball, play rhythm instruments to the pulse of different time signatures, etc. Many directors make use of organized rhythm bands in establishing this rhythm consciousness. A helpful book for this is How to Teach Rhythm Bands by Diller and Page, published by G. Schirmer.
As mentioned previously, a child’s first introduction to a formal study of rhythm should be that of physical response through listening to music. After a sufficient background of listening and responding to music, primary children are ready to begin the recognition of note values with the physical associations and activities they have already experienced with rhythm. A useful technique in this transition stage is the teaching and learning of rhythmic chants. For example, by learning the following chant, the children can associate the activity of “walking” with quarter notes, “strolling” with half notes, and then can be shown what these notes look like when printed.
After the chant has been learned, the director can show the notes above the words on a blackboard and teach the children the kind of notes in music that tell us either to make the words “walk” or to slow down and “stroll.” At future rehearsals review can be given by having just these note values placed on the board and the group asked to say the chant while different children take turns in pointing to the notes. This same procedure can also be employed for songs that the children have already learned by rote. The director can place just the note values of a familiar song on the board, and the children identify the song through its rhythmic association.
Eighth notes can be taught by first associating them with the physical activity of running. The following is a simple chant that is helpful for giving the children their introduction to “running notes.”
The same procedures discussed for the teaching of quarter and half notes should be used in the presentation of these note values as well.
Through the use of the physical response and association approach, primary age children should be able to respond to and recognize the following note values by the time they finish the Primary Choir:
At each rehearsal the director can spend a few minutes in reviewing rhythm by having the children say correctly a rhythm pattern that has been placed on the blackboard. For example, the pattern could be shown as follows with different children taking turns in saying the rhythm words:
Impersonations and games can add much interest to rhythmic activities. The children can step like giants, warriors, elephants, horses, or run or skip like certain animals. In all of this, however, the creative approach is used; that is, the children themselves choose the type of response that they feel best interprets the music they hear or sing. This should lead them to the realization that different rhythms suggest different moods. Sometimes the music makes us feel like marching, running, or skipping, etc.; sometimes the music makes us feel happy, while at other times it makes us feel more sad, etc.
Further musical training for the Primary Choir should include an introduction to the basic elements of notation, such as the recognition of the treble and bass clef signs and the names of the lines and spaces in the treble clef. In introducing the names of the notes on the treble staff, it is good to begin with just the first three letters of the alphabet “A,B,C,” and to learn thoroughly where these notes occur on the staff. After the children have mastered their “A,B,C’s,” in succeeding rehearsals they can be taught that only the first seven letters of their “school” alphabet are used in music and shown the lines and spaces above and below the “A,B,C’s” they already know. A helpful technique for reviewing this information is the use of flash cards, which can be easily made or purchased from most music. stores. Spelling games can also be used for this purpose. The children can be asked to show the positions of certain words containing the musical letters on a black-board staff, etc. Primary children can also be taught the first five notes of a scale. This can be introduced by having the children sing: 1,2,3,4,5, or by improvising little words to the scale tune such as “watch me climb the scale,” etc. Further training can include giving various children the experience of playing these five tones on the piano and, still later, of notating these notes on the staff.
In addition to some form of rhythm activity and theory work for each rehearsal, it is also helpful in developing musical concepts in primary children to include some listening to records. A director should begin to build his own library of records that are appropriate and of interest to children. A copy of the RCA Victor Educational Record Catalog will lend valuable assistance in this matter. For example, Victor E 104 is a fine recording of the various instruments in the orchestra. The Children’s Record Club of the Month also has some fine records for use with younger children. Most of these records include lessons in appreciation, rhythm and singing all on a graded level. From time to time, a director can play various types of good sacred music: hymns, gospel songs, portions of oratorios, etc. A director should also encourage the children to listen to good sacred recordings at home and should advise them of the worth-while radio and television music programs.
Some general suggestions for teaching music listening and appreciation are listed briefly as follows:
1 Avoid bad recordings or poor equipment.
2 Show a keen interest yourself when playing the record.
3 Have definite objectives in mind for each listening activity. Give the group something definite to listen for, various instruments; various moods in the music; various activities suggested by the music, etc.
4 When there is a story to the music, don’t tell the whole story at once or introduce too many details at one time. Maintain the children’s interest by telling the story as you play the record.
Since the children have an acquaintance with reading at this age, the director can facilitate learning by putting clearly printed words of songs on the blackboard. Appropriate hymns of the church make excellent songs for primaries to learn this way. Song books and music sheets are still rather awkward and impractical for primaries to use consistently. Since this is an age when friends mean a great -deal to the child, it is good to choose songs that speak of Jesus as a Friend and songs that tell how God loves children and wants to help them. God should never be pictured as One who is always watching children and waiting to punish them as soon as they misbehave.
It should be mentioned that this is the ideal age for a child to begin piano lessons. All music educators agree that the piano is the proper musical instrument on which any child should begin his musical training. At least a practical knowledge of piano will do much to give a foundation in music for future musical activity as well as life-long enjoyment. A church music director can do much to encourage his youngsters in this direction.
Some of the various collections useful for children of this age are: Hymns for Primary Worship by Curry, The Westminster Press; Father, Hear Thy Children Sing, Hall and McCreary Co.; Primary Sing, Scripture Press; New Carols and Songs for Children by Grimes, Carl Fisher.
Suggested names for a Primary Choir are: Carol Choir, Carillon Choir, Melody Choir.
The Junior Choir is for boys and girls nine through twelve years of age or in the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh grades. It should be mentioned, however, that it is not at all uncommon to have some twelve-year-old boys whose voices are beginning to experience a change. It generally is not wise to keep boys whose voices have reached a rather advanced stage of change with the unchanged voices. When this occurs, these boys should be placed in the Intermediate Choir.
The junior age is the peak of childhood. Juniors have reached a stage of physical and mental development which makes them capable of satisfying achievements. At this age their bodily and muscular co-ordination is well developed. The voice itself reaches its highest point of development during these years. The learning processes of the junior age child are much more developed than those of the primary age child. This is the age when the ability to memorize is at its peak. This fact combined with the longer snan of attention and greater fluency of reading makes junior age the ideal time to emphasize a concentrated study of note reading.
It should be mentioned that this is the age when youngsters like to hold music in their hands as such an activity gives them a feeling of maturity. In addition this will aid them in their learning to read music. Junior age is also the ideal time to teach them hymn appreciation as well as the proper care of their church hymnal.
The following is a suggested procedure for teaching a new song by note rather than by rote. ( This is assuming, however, that the proper preparatory work has been done at the earlier levels. If this is not the case, the director must first adapt the necessary readiness work suggested for the Primary Choir to the junior level before attempting this type of music reading program.)
1 Give the motivation for the song.
2 Explain any words that might be difficult to understand.
3 Look for any phrases or sections of the song that are identical or similar.
4 Study the rhythm of the song with the choir. Then have them clap or chant the words in rhythm.
5 Theory study of the song. Have the children find and sing the tonic chord notes for the key of this song ( the do, mi, sol, or the 1, 3, 5). Have the scale of this song written on the blackboard and do review work on this. Have children tell on which note of the chord the song begins, ends, etc. Have children give the letter names of the notes, etc.
6 Match the words and rhythm with the melody. Play the song in its entirety with a strong stress on the melody and rhythm of the song. This can be made into a game (children at this age love games ) by stopping on various notes and having the children tell the word or name the note where the music stopped, or they could hum back the phrase that has just been played, etc.
7 Have the children sing the song on a neutral syllable, i.e. “loo.” Correct any wrong melodic or rhythmic tendencies. If the song is rather difficult, go back and study and sing each phrase separately.
8 Sing the song through in its entirety with the words.
9 If the interest is still high, sing another verse of the song, or begin working on the second part, etc., especially for those who need the added challenge for maintaining their interest.
10 Review again at the next rehearsal.
There are other musical areas where a director can realize definite developments for this age group. Correct concepts of singing can be continued at this age level. Juniors will take quite an interest in the matter of learning that each word as well as each syllable of each word is composed of vowel and consonant sounds. These children will take a real interest in producing and sustaining a tone with as clear and beautiful a vowel sound as possible. Such simple songs as the spiritual “Lord, I Want to Be a Christian” or “Near to the Heart of God” are excellent for this purpose. Phrasing, good bodily support, and effective interpretation can also be taught at this age.
One common type of incorrect tone quality among juniors is found in the boy who pitches his voice an octave lower than the correct unchanged quality range. Oftentimes this is purposeful, since a boy feels that he wants to sing like a man, especially if the director is a man. Boys must be taught that their voices will eventually change to a lower range and a heavier quality, but that until that time, they are causing harm to their voices by forcing them-selves into a lower voice register. However, it may be possible that some of the twelve-year-old boys are beginning to experience a voice change and must be handled accordingly. During the early stages of their voice change they can be placed on the Second or Alto part, providing this part doesn’t get too high. This problem of the changing voice is discussed in more detail in the next chapter. Another common fault is that children often sing too loudly, resulting in a forced, strident tone quality. Basically, children at this age love beauty, and with the right approach, this can make for the strongest appeal in the performance of songs.
In the junior Choir most of the theory work should be in the form of review of the basic elements of music�names of lines and spaces in the treble clef, etc., all of which is geared to expedite the child’s ability to read music. Learning to read music can and should be a great deal of fun for these keen youngsters. It should not be long before the majority of the junior children are able to clap the rhythms of new songs as well as to sight read with fair facility some of the easier ones. A helpful technique in giving these children further rhythm consciousness is to teach them the basic conducting patterns. Juniors take quite a delight in knowing these patterns and in directing the rest of the group from time to tame. With the rhythm readiness work as well as an understanding of fractions which they have learned in their school studies, these children are able to be taught the relative relationships of note values. For example, walking notes are now known as quarter notes, running notes as eighth notes, etc. The arithmetical relationships of these notes can be taught by showing a circle on the blackboard representing the whole note and then dividing this into various sections with each section represented by its corresponding note value and rest. Following an understanding of the relative relationships of note values, these children can then be taught the meaning of time signatures. They should be told that the top number tells them how many notes or the equivalent of the kind indicated by the bottom number will be needed to fill any complete measure of music in that song. The bottom number is, then, merely another name for a note, i.e., 4 for quarter note, 2 for half note, 8 for eighth note, 1 for whole note, etc., identifying the kind of note that gets one of the beats in each of the measures. Through the use of the conducting patterns, the children can realize the meaning of “beat” as well as the fact that the first beat after each bar line is always the accented or “downbeat” in each measure. These children should also be taught that the letter “C,” indicating Common Time, is oftentimes used in the time signature instead of the 4/4 time indication.
Further theory training for the Junior Choir should include the building of the complete scale. This should be started by showing the children the difference between half steps and whole steps on the keyboard. Practice should also be given in having them move their voices up or down half or whole steps from any given pitch. The children are then taught that to build a scale from any note there must be a whole step between every note except between the third and fourth notes and between the seventh and eighth notes of the scale, which will always have just a half step. After the children have participated in such activities as singing scales either with the numbers or by do, mi, sol, etc., or in having a turn to play a scale on the keyboard, or even on a toy marimba or filled glasses of water, they should be shown how to build a scale on the staff starting from any note. Following this introduction to scales and keys, .concentrated study should be started to have them memorize the names and the accidentals of at least the first four sharp and flat keys as well as the key of C. Following a grasp of scale building, a study of intervals can be started. A useful technique for this is to play a game in the rehearsal using a “human scale or marimba.” Eight children can be lined up and after they have sung a scale from a stated pitch, the number one child can sing his pitch and then call for a number to see if that child can sing his number and pitch quickly. By the time a child leaves the Junior Choir he should be able to sing a tonic chord from any pitch — the 1,3,5 notes of a scale, as well as any interval such as a third, fourth, etc., quickly and accurately. Junior age children should also be taught the names of the lines and spaces in the bass clef before completing the junior Choir program. This is especially needful for the boys with changing voices who will be singing with the Intermediate Choir in the near future.
During the Junior Choir program the children should also be introduced to more complicated rhythm patterns. This would include:
1 The dotted quarter and eighth
2 The dotted eighth and sixteenth
3 The dotted half note
4 6/8 meter with a two beat lilt to each measure
5 9/8 meter with a three beat lilt to each measure
6 The triplet figure
Again, for each of these problems, the child must first of all know rote songs or have physical sensations that can be associated with the new problems he faces. For example, the dotted quarter and eighth can be associated with a familiar song such as “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” which the child already knows by rote.
It should again be mentioned that at this point no attempt should be made to teach the mathematical value of the dot ( one half of the time value of the note it follows ). After a sufficient back-ground in the response and association approach, the intellectual understanding will follow naturally.
The dotted eighth and sixteenth rhythmic figure, previously introduced with the physical response of skipping, can now be shown and associated with a familiar song such as “Standing on the Promises.”
In introducing the dotted half note, it is not necessary nor wise to make a mathematical study of the meaning of the dot. Through a rhythm activity such as the conducting patterns, the children will begin to recognize the half note as a two-beat note and the dotted half as a three-beat note and will naturally assume that the dot is responsible for the extra beat. Later on, when further questions are asked, the director can give the technical explanation more fully.
In teaching a concept of 6/8 rhythm with a two-beat lilt to the measure, a director can put a chant such as “Humpty Dumpty” on a blackboard, showing the youngsters the value of these notes when taken in a “lilty” rhythm. A helpful gospel song that can be taught first by rote and then used as a basis for associational purposes in future learning is “Wonderful Words of Life.”
A junior Choir rehearsal should also continue the activity of listening to records that was begun in the earlier age groups. Listening and studying the recordings of other good children’s choirs can be especially interesting and helpful for one’s own choir in developing a better level of interest and performance .
Another activity that many directors find useful for the junior age is the making of individual notebooks. Each child should have his own notebook cover to contain the individual pages for his book. This notebook would include any information that the director feels is pertinent for his particular group It is likely to include the following :
1 The name, address, telephone number, birthday and robe size of the child.
2 The rules of the group, its system of awards, points, etc.
3 Information regarding the care of robes, music, etc.
4 The words of a song to be memorized — i.e., the song the choir is singing at its next performance.
5 Music theory material that the choir might be studying: note values, clefs, names of notes, time signatures, key signatures, etc.
6 The words and meaning of the various congregational parts of the church service, Doxology, Gloria Patri, Offertory, Benediction, etc.
7 Outside work to be done on some aspect of music, special reports, pictures, etc.
8 Suggested Bible readings, Scripture verses to be learned, prayers for meal time, recordings for home use, radio or television programs of worth, etc.
9 Hymn appreciation material, stories of various hymns, etc. Good source books for this are 101 Hymn Stories and 110 More Hymn Stories by K. Osbeck, Kregel Publications.
10 Any special suggestions or instructions the director desires to send home to the parents.
An award system based on faithfulness and attitude can be an effective means of stimulating interest for the juniors. An appropriate award, such as a choir pin or bar, a certificate, a free time at camp, etc., presented at a special recognition service at the end of the season will do a great deal in establishing group pride and enthusiasm for the next season. This point system can be based on the following:
1 Attendance at rehearsals and performances.
2 Promptness at rehearsals and performances.
3 Behavior in rehearsal and in the services.
4 Memorizing the song to be performed.
5 Completing the notebook assignments.
6 Attending a musical concert or program.
7 Taking private music lessons.
8 Participating in some musical group at school.
9 Attendance at regular church services, Sunday school, youth group meetings, etc.
10 Some particular emphasis the director desires to make.
The task of recording these points is generally the responsibility of one of the choir mothers or sponsors. It may also be necessary for the director to give demerits for the sake of discipline.
Using the various activities and techniques discussed in this chapter, a one hour rehearsal for Junior Choirs can be arranged as follows:
1 Theme Song: one that begins the rehearsal right on the stated time.
2 Greeting by the director.
3 Singing a song from memory that is well-known and well-liked.
4 Teaching a new rote song, chorus, or hymn of the month.
5 Theory work: work from the blackboard; various ways of studying a new song, etc.
6 Teaching and working on a new song by note.
7 Playing a musical game, or having some fun activity.
8 Working on a two part round, song, etc.
9 Listening time.
10 Notebook work.*
11 Discussing any group business, reminders, points and awards, socials, etc.
12 Singing several of the group’s favorite songs.
13 Reviewing the song to be sung at the next service, possibly from the church sanctuary. Reviewing of seating or standing plans, how to march, etc.
14 Devotions and prayer.
The following suggestions are offered for having a successful rehearsal:
1 Know in advance what you want to accomplish in each rehearsal.
2 Arrive 20-30 minutes before rehearsal time. Have every-thing in readiness when children arrive � blackboard work, phonograph, chairs, etc.
3 Make atmosphere of the room attractive and interesting. Use a bulletin board, little displays, etc.
4 Greet each child cheerfully as he arrives. Invite him to re-move outer garments, etc.
5 Have a planned pre-rehearsal activity when it is necessary for, certain children to arrive early. These activities could include listening to special records, games, reading special articles or books on music, looking at display materials, working on notebooks, memory work, etc. This pre-rehearsal activity can be the responsibility of the choir mothers or sponsors.
6 Have a theme song or special signal that begins the rehearsal right on time. End the rehearsal on time as well.
7 Have regular seats assigned for the rehearsal.
8 Begin the rehearsal with a song that is one of the children’s favorites. End the rehearsal with a song that the children can sing well.
9 Don’t rehearse too long on each number or stay too long on any activity. The entire rehearsal must have much variety and change of pace.
10 Begin each new instruction by reviewing what was taught at the previous rehearsal. Make new explanations clear and simple.
11 Don’t show your displeasure with musical mistakes. Make corrections cheerfully. Give a lot of praise for any improvement.
12 Don’t introduce the accompaniment to a song until the voice parts are well learned.
13 Don’t be afraid to have fun with the group. Take time to play games such as “Simon Says,” or to sing fun songs, or just to chat informally with the group regarding future plans, etc.
14 Be systematic regarding any group business, the keeping of attendance records, the enforcement of rules, etc.
15 Be the children’s friend but don’t become “palsy-walsy” with them. Speak in terms that they understand but never give the slightest impression that you are talking down to them.
16 Give a spiritual emphasis to the choir program. Conclude each rehearsal with a brief devotional challenge and with prayer.
17 Evaluate and analyze the results of each rehearsal.
Since the children of junior age are becoming quite social minded, two or three well planned social events throughout the year can do a great deal in developing group enthusiasm and prestige. The end of the choir year is an ideal time for a major social. This could include a picnic, skating or swimming party, a trip, etc. Plans for a group picture or a recording at the close of the season always stimulate interest. Many churches have developed excellent interest in the junior age group by combining the activities of the church’s youth work with the choir rehearsal.
For example, the juniors could be invited to the church right after school, have a recreation, craft and Bible study under the direction of the pastor or youth leader, attend a choir rehearsal, and still be home in time for dinner.
The spiritual content of the songs that a director chooses for the junior age group is especially important. This is the age when children can fully understand what it means to accept Christ as their personal Saviour, as well as to dedicate their lives to God’s glory. Songs of salvation, praise, service and devotion should pre-dominate. This is an ideal time to teach the great hymns of the church which speak of worship, prayer, stewardship, as well as the other areas of the Christian life. Far too many of our evangelical churches give these keen youngsters nothing but the lighter songs and choruses, with the result that many never develop any real musical as well as spiritual depth and maturity.
A church music director can do much to encourage his junior age youngsters to further their musical training and enjoyment beyond their choir experience. Those taking piano lessons should be encouraged to continue their lessons. Whenever possible, these children, when they become proficient, should be used for various church occasions. Those who have not yet started piano lessons should be encouraged to begin as soon as possible. This is also the ideal time for these youngsters to begin an orchestral instrument, as this will give them countless hours of personal pleasure during their future schooling as well as in the church program.
Suggested names for a Junior Choir are: Carol Choir, Crusader Choir, Sunshine Chorus.
Materials And Helps
Since there is such an abundance of good materials for Junior Choirs, only a brief listing of various collections is made here. A list of individual octavo numbers can be obtained from most publishing houses.
1 Junior’s Praise, by Osbeck. Published by Kregels.
2 Let Youth Praise Him. Published by Eerdmans.
3 Hymns for Junior Worship. Published by Westminster Press.
4 Our Songs of Praise. Published by Concordia.
5 Quarterly magazines for both Primary and Junior Choirs available from The Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 127 Ninth Ave. North, Nashville, TN 37234. Includes interesting stories and activities with seasonal music and demonstration record.
6 Music for Children: A comprehensive music education pro-gram for the entire graded choir curriculum. Published by David C. Cook.
7 The Alleluia Series. A coordinated two year program of worship, music and arts for children. Published by the Augsburg Publishing House.
From time to time the junior Choir program can be greatly encouraged by combining the Junior and Senior Choirs for special occasions such as Christmas and Easter. It is especially effective to use songs that employ the Junior Choir as a descant or obligato to the Senior Choir voice parts. Most publishing houses have a good supply of numbers of this type and will supply approval copies upon request.
With the proper amount of background in rote singing, theory, rhythm work, ear training and sight reading, two-part singing can be introduced at the junior age level once the choir program is well established. The initial approach should be that of training the ear and developing singing independence rather than mere drill on each part. It is an established fact that the ear must be trained to hear harmony first before it can be read. Also, it is wise at first not to designate voices as either soprano or alto. Rather, until about the time of the sixth grade, simply divide the choir by Part I and Part II with everyone getting experience in singing a harmony part. In choirs where there are only sixth and seventh graders, even three-part music may eventually be used. A suggested procedure for developing part singing in a junior Choir is listed as follows:
1 Use songs with a good piano accompaniment to establish the sound of harmony.
2 Use songs with an instrumental obligato part. This is good practice for the youngster who plays the instrument as well as good training for the group in hearing a harmony part while they are singing.
3 The director or another adult can sing a harmony part while the choir sings the melody.
4 Use songs and choruses by rote that employ a simple round or descant. For example, the following chorus sung to the tune of “Sweet Choral Bells” in the key of C makes an excellent two-part round:
“Only one life and it will soon be past;
Only what is done for Jesus Christ will last.”
Such books as Rounds and Canons by Wilson, published by Hall and McCreary, Our First Songs with Descants and Songs to Sing with Descants, both by Krone and published by Kjos, are helpful for this purpose.
5 Teach songs that have a second part that is very melodic, one that can be learned as “another melody” to the song.
6 Begin a concentrated program of two part reading using the same procedures as those employed in unison reading, only doing the two part reading simultaneously as much as possible.
7 Gradually begin using songs where the second part is more of a regular alto or harmony part.
One of the rather difficult problems that confront directors of children’s choirs is the problem of monotonism. In the majority of cases the non-singing child will find his singing voice naturally himself merely by having the opportunity to sing, especially if he is introduced to music and learns to enjoy it at an early age such as in the Beginner or Primary Choir programs. There are, however, numerous cases of children who need more specialized help in this matter.
There are a number of possible causes for monotonism. One of the most prevalent is a limited musical background in the home. The child has just never been encouraged to hear or experience much music. It is possible, however, that a non-singing child has some physical difficulty. This could include such defects as the lack of normal bodily co-ordination, defective hearing, diseased throat, adenoids or nose.
Most generally, though, the basic cause of monotonism is a psychological one. It might be a lack of concentration by a nervous or neurotic child or some complex that a child has developed about singing due to an embarrassment it has caused him in the past. Generally speaking, most non-singing children are suffering from some form of self-consciousness and inhibition.
Since monotonism is, then, so often associated with the psycho-logical make-up of the child, one of the first things a director must do is to establish the proper rapport between himself and the child. The director should treat the matter in a sincere, matter-of-fact manner. The child must learn to have complete confidence in the fact that the director is his friend in helping him with his singing problem, rather than someone who will add to his embarrassment. One of the most important things a director can do for the child at this stage is to win his confidence and to develop his desire and will to find his singing voice.
It should be of encouragement to directors to note that music educators in general agree that there is no such thing as a hope-less monotone, and that with the exception of extreme physical and psychological handicaps, every child will respond to treatment. Once the director has gained the child’s confidence and has developed his will to sing, there are several sound techniques that can be used. For the most part, all of these techniques are concerned with helping the child find his head or upper tone quality. Often there are children who are partial monotones or who are able to sing several tones on pitch as long as they sing them with their “chesty” quality. These children lose all concept of pitch, however, as soon as a song gets into their upper registers.
For younger children the tone matching games discussed previously in connection with the Beginners’ Choir are excellent. With a little imagination these can be a great deal of fun and help for the child. Another technique is that of associating a physical sensation with the singing voice. For example, a stairway can be used and as the child ascends or descends he sings the numbers 1,2,3,4,5, etc., or 5,4,3,2,1. Sometimes just a slight lifting of the child will help him get this up and down concept with his voice.
What many directors like to do is simply to have an “extra special session” or a training rehearsal of just the non-singing children in an informal session for fifteen minutes or so before or after the regular rehearsal. Here in a small group around the keyboard, with everyone experiencing the same problem, effective help can be given without causing individual embarrassment. A child can be asked to make any ‘singing sound that he can. On the piano the director can then show the child the note just sung. The director can then show him that the next note to the right or left would mean that his voice too would have to go up or down just a little. Gradually larger jumps can be made at the keyboard and with the child’s voice. Within a relatively few sessions of this type, the child will begin experiencing his singing voice. Soon little well-known tunes such as “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” “Jesus Loves Me,” etc., can be sung as well as played with one finger at the keyboard.
Once this step is gained, it isn’t long before the non-singing child is able to take his regular place as a worthy choir member. It may be necessary for a time, however, to have these children seated so that the exceptionally strong singers are placed behind and around them.
Again it should be emphasized that the main approach in helping monotones is to establish confidence in their own singing ability in a patient, helpful manner. Never should a director show the slightest displeasure with these children by placing them in another part of the room and telling them to listen while the rest of the choir sings. Never should a non-singing child be corrected before the entire group. Directors who employ the technique of having the non-singing children merely mouth the words during a performance while the choir is singing should be completely aware of the possible psychological danger of this practice to the child. It is our personal conviction that no individual performance is nearly as important as the possible harm that can be caused a young child.
Starting A Children’s Choir
The following suggestions are offered for starting and promoting a new children’s choir in a church. Foremost, obtain the approval and support of the pastor, church board and music commit-tee for such an endeavor. It is also wise to enlist the cooperation of several key mothers and fathers who are especially interested and concerned about such a project. This can be followed by a survey of the potential children in the various departments of the Sunday school from which the children will be drawn. About three weeks should be allowed for promotional work before the first rehearsal is announced. During this time verbal announcements can be given in the church services and in the Sunday school sessions, with letters or cards sent to the various homes.
At the first rehearsal parents should be invited to attend with their children. At this meeting both parents and children can be impressed with the objectives and responsibilities of the choir program. Some directors use pledge cards at this session that are passed out and signed by both parents and children, pledging their faithful attendance and support of the choir. Often directors include brief voice tests at this time. This can either be done individually or in small groups of children. This gives the director a quick survey of the talent and guides him in his choice of music. It also helps him to spot the non-singing children so that he can make plans to give them special attention. It should be mentioned, however, that these voice tests are never given for the purpose of eliminating anyone from the choir program. Following several weeks of faithful attendance, each child can be given a membership card entitling him to remain permanently with the choir and to receive his robe.
Disciplinary problems and weak control of children’s choirs are caused most frequently by a lack of real preparation and genuine enthusiasm on the part of the leader. Most discipline problems will automatically take care of themselves with plenty of well-planned, interesting activities.
A good children’s leader is one who combines strength with tenderness. A child must realize that the leader is absolutely fair and sincere even in matters of reprimand. Children basically want to sense that a leader is in absolute control of every situation. To permit a child to do whatever he pleases is to remove the basic securities that are necessary for his growth, development and maturity. When these restraints are wise and firm, they become a source of stability rather than a source of irritation and unrest.
The following suggestions are offered regarding discipline:
1 Take time to know each child personally.
2 Keep a balance between genuine friendliness and mature dignity.
3 Don’t talk down to children or speak in a pedantic manner.
4 Use praise much more than scolding.
5 Never use ridicule or sarcasm as a means of discipline.
6 Don’t try to out-shout the children. Don’t talk as long as anyone else is talking. Speak with a low, confident tone when leading.
7 Be aware of the possible causes of disciplinary problems:
a The weather, gloomy, rainy days cause much more restlessness than do bright, sunny days.
b Misdirected energy;
c Resentment of control on the part of a “spoiled child.”
d Distractions in the rooms.
e Imitators of other children.
f Those desiring special attention and affection.
g Inadequate facilities : improper lighting, heating, ventilation; not enough space for the games and rhythm activities; chairs that are not proper size for the children (their feet should always be able to touch the floor ), etc.
h Limited mental and physiological abilities.
8 Work in close cooperation with the parents.
9 Remember, as long as you the director are in control of yourself, you can control any situation that might arise.
10 Bear in mind that in your leadership you are not alone, but have the aid and strength that the Spirit of God will pro-vide in times of emergency and need.
Choir Mothers And Sponsors
To administer a complete music program in a church, a music director will need the cooperation of a large number of people. Foremost will be the wholehearted cooperation of the pastor and music committee. However, for the children’s choirs, one of the most important groups in assisting the director can be the choir mothers and sponsors. These mothers and fathers can assist each choir in such matters as: the enlistment and enrollment of new members; notifying parents regarding choir policies; transportation problems; clerical work — attendance records, point system, etc.; pre-rehearsal activities; supervisory assistance during the church service performances; care of the robes; help for the social functions, etc. Needless to say, helpers for matters such as these can provide invaluable assistance for the director. A director should generally plan to have one choir mother or sponsor for every seven or eight children.
Robing Children’s Choirs
Almost every choir leader will agree that there are real benefits in vesting all of the various choirs in the church. To mention just a few of these benefits: robes give dignity and richness to a church service; robes minimize the individual, placing the rich and the poor on the same basis; robes give a unity to a group of individuals; robes lend prestige to the group; and, especially with children, the director can make the issuing of a robe a meaningful experience. However, the cost of vesting several choirs is generally quite a financial undertaking for most churches. Commercial robes for children’s choirs will usually range in. price from $25.00 to $30.00 each. This cost generally necessitates that most churches make their own robes.
Robing can be as simple or as elaborate as desired. For example, a children’s choir can be robed by simply cutting out of stiff paper or cotton cloth a simple cape that fits over the head. Another possibility might be a simple bolero vest, worn over white shirts and blouses and tied around the neck with a big bow. Several of the more elaborate patterns for children’s choir robes are those shown by McCall’s, model numbers 689 and 1957, and the Butte-rick pattern, number 6596. There is also a Vestment Cutout Kit sold by S. Theodore Cuthbertson, Inc., 2013 Samson St., Philadelphia, with all of the vestments cut out and packaged, with easy to follow sewing instructions. Both McCall’s and Butterick patterns can be used as a basis for making different robes for the various children’s choirs. For example, for the Beginner’s Choir, a single piece, fingertip length cotta could be adapted, with special ties that could be pinned on. The Primary Choir could have much the same idea with perhaps a variation in color or with a different type of bow. For the juniors, a two piece idea of cotta and skirt adds smartness.
There are several other considerations that one should keep in mind regarding robes. All of the robes should harmonize with each other as well as with the carpets and furnishings in the sanctuary. It is generally best if the robe provides light color next to the child’s face. Robes with too light a color generally will not be practical since they will show dirt too easily and require a great deal of dry cleaning. The collars or bibs usually add enough of the lighter and contrasting color to the darker color of the skirt or cotta. Robes must be easy for the child to get into quickly before the service. In this regard, children must be taught proper care of their individual robes. This means that all robes must be hung after each use and stored where they can be covered and free from dust and fumes. The added accessories, such as collars, bows, stoles, should be stored separately without folding.
The following are miscellaneous suggestions regarding children’s choirs;
1 A competent pianist is an absolute necessity for all of the children’s choirs. Just anyone will not do. The accompanist should stress the melody, steady rhythm and lightness of style rather than the heavier, congregational style of playing which emphasizes full harmonies, strong bass, ornamental notes, etc.
2 Do not have too wide an age range in any group. If a church can have only two children’s choirs, it would be best to have one group of children from age 5 through 7 and another group from age 8 through 12. If a church can have only one choir, it would be best to begin with the 8,9,10,11,12 year age group and to lend whatever assistance possible to Sunday school teachers, etc., in the way of appropriate materials and suggestions for their work with the younger children.
3 Plan the entire year’s work in advance, preferably in the summer. Build the schedule first around the special days of the year — Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day, Recognition Sunday, etc., and then fill in other times that are possible. On an average, a junior Choir director should allow himself at least four rehearsals for each performance. A director should make every effort to have the children memorize their music for each performance. In the rehearsals immediately preceding the performance, a director must allow enough time to practice the mechanics of a performance — how to march, where to sit or stand, etc., so that these mechanics are thoroughly impressed in each child’s mind. Generally, a child who misses these instructions should not be allowed to sing for the service.
4 Scheduling a rehearsal time is always a problem. Most rehearsals are generally held after school or on Saturday morning. Occasionally some churches schedule the rehearsal after the evening dinner hour, Sunday afternoon, as part of the mid-week or family night service, or possibly before the Sunday evening service. There is also the possibility of having a rehearsal as part of the Sunday school, junior church, or the youth group meeting. If at all possible, how-ever, avoid conflicts with other church activities.
5 If at all possible, try to obtain some and eventually all of the following:
A basic set of rhythm instruments, a set of resonator bells, an autoharp, possibly song flutes, tonnettes or recorders for each member, a record player with good fidelity, a hymnal geared for -children, a blackboard with staff lines, a piano in good tune, workbooks and quarterly music magazines.
6 For directors who like to include choral reading work with children’s choirs, a good book for reference for this purpose is Choral Reading for Worship and Inspiration by Brown and Heitman, Published by Westminster Press.
7 A children’s choir will enjoy working on a mini-drama production to close the season. Many fine works have been published in recent years.
8 Conclude the season by having a picture taken of the group. Also a special recognition night for those who have been faithful members throughout the year.
1 Give at least five important reasons for having a graded children’s choir program in the local church.
2 Why is it important that the choir experience include every child and not just the obviously talented? Why is it so important that the non-singing child be given special help and attention? What psychological harm can be done in having the non-singing children merely listen or perhaps mouth the words during a performance? As a director, if a choice has to be made between a quality performance and psychologically injuring a non-singing child, what would be your choice?
3 Prepare a typical 25-30 minute rehearsal plan for a Primary Choir. Show all of the various activities to be included and the time to be spent on each.
4 Prepare a typical 45-60 minute rehearsal plan for a Junior Choir. Show all of the activities to be included and the time to be spent on each.
5 Discuss ways in which discipline problems can be avoided or lessened by proper planning and management in a rehearsal.
This article “Children’s Choirs” written by Kenneth W. Osbeck is excerpted from The Ministry Of Music written by Kenneth W. Osbeck.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”