YOUNG PEOPLE’S CHOIRS
BY KENNETH W. OSBECK
The Intermediate Choir or the age group from the ages of thirteen through high school is generally considered the most difficult of all church choirs for any director to administer. The adolescent personality combined with various difficult musical problems present a real challenge for any director.
BEGINNING AND PROMOTING THE CHOIR
When beginning an Intermediate Choir to span the gap between the Junior and Senior Choirs, it generally is best to have just one choir for the whole thirteen through high school age span. (This might possibly include some twelve-year-old boys whose voices are changing.) If this choir grows beyond its most efficient size, or if there develops too great a problem with the younger boys and their changing voices, or if social conflicts develop between the older and younger members, it will be necessary to divide the group, starting from twelve or thirteen years to or through fifteen years of age, with another choir for the remainder of the high school age. The first choir would represent the junior high school age group while the latter choir would represent the senior high school age level.
Since teen-agers are especially aware of and concerned with the approval of their friends, it is important when starting an Inter mediate Choir to get first the key young people in the Sunday school classes or youth department sold on the idea of a choir program just for them. In the initial promotion it should be stressed that this choir will be open to all young people of the church as well as their friends regardless of individual musical ability. This, then, can be an excellent evangelistic endeavor in attracting non
Christian teen-agers into the group and in so doing bringing them under the influence of the church. In addition to having the enthusiastic support of the pastor, youth leaders, Sunday school teachers, etc., it is also necessary when starting an Intermediate Choir to contact the parents individually to gain their cooperation in encouraging the faithfulness of their young people for the choir program.
THE JUNIOR HIGH LEVEE
The junior high school age is in particular an age of turmoil. The physical changes which take place during early adolescence are the cause of the many problems which accompany this period of life. Rapid physical growth and biological changes often are the cause of much self-consciousness. Emotionally, the adolescent finds himself face to face with problems which in previous years had no bearing on his life, namely the emergence and rapid development of sex feelings and impulses. Often there is a sense of frustration as the adolescent’s intellectual maturity and his desire to lead an adult life are not compatible with his muscular coordination and emotional maturity. All of these changes and developments account for such traits as boisterousness, silliness, restlessness day-dreaming, awkwardness, etc. Generally there are many individual differences as far as maturity is concerned. Especially is this true of girls, who are much more mature than the boys at this age level. The adolescent age is often an age when inferiority complexes develop, especially for those youngsters who mature more slowly than the rest of their group. Such young people often withdraw from the rest of the group and become sullen and unusually sensitive.
A choir director working with young adolescents must understand their physical and emotional problems and accept them as they are. He must cultivate a sincere attitude of friendliness, kindness and patience with them. Although there must be firmness and discipline, it must be a discipline with love. When impatience replaces love and a dominating attitude replaces friendship, the choir director has ceased being a real leader. He must take a keen interest in the teen-ager’s school life, his personal problems and local interests if he is to gain his support and confidence.
A director’s choice of songs is especially important in working with this age group. Although the junior high school age is an age of turmoil, it is also an age of decision. This is the ideal time to challenge the youngsters to make a personal acceptance of Jesus Christ as the Lord and Saviour of their lives. Although the music director does not want to be preaching all of the time, an occasional word as well as the songs that are chosen can do much to impress this vital truth upon the minds of the young people. The director should also use songs that emphasize the faith and confidence we can have in Christ as Christians if we trust our lives to Him for daily guidance.
THE CHANGING VOICE
One of the most difficult problems confronting a director of a junior high age choir is the peculiar problem of the changing voice. The process of change occurs with most boys between the ages of twelve and sixteen. After the adolescent voice has gone through its complete change, which may take from several weeks to several years, a boy’s larynx and vocal chords have approximately doubled in length and in thickness. This doubling in length lowers the pitch of boys’ voices approximately one octave. A girl’s vocal chords during adolescence also experience a change; however, the pitch and quality changes are not nearly as great or drastic as those of a boy.
There are several characteristics that the alert director can detect to determine when the boys’ voices begin to change. They are:
1. Unusual physical growth, heavier facial features, downy skin, enlarged “adam’s apple,” etc.
2. A speaking voice that becomes husky and heavier and lacking in control.
3. Often a brilliant treble quality just before the change occurs.
It is now generally agreed by most music educators that adolescent boys can continue singing even during the “break” if they are kept from straining or forcing the voice in any way. One of the chief vocal considerations when working with adolescents, then, is to be sure that they stay within their most comfortable singing ranges. Also, there is often a tendency for younger boys to try to be basses prematurely, while older boys sometimes sing either a timid half voice, resulting in fuzzy tones, or attempt tones beyond their range by means of straining. All such poor singing habits must be discouraged. Rather than singing with this type of restricted throat and chest tone quality, singers of this as well as of all age groups must be taught the basic concepts of good tone production which are: body support, relaxed jaw and throat, tongue, and the development and blending of the upper register quality with the rest of one’s voice.
The boy’s voice in the early stages of change has several names. Some educators refer to it as the alto-tenor voice; others speak of it merely as tenor, while still others refer to it as the cambiata voice. Authorities vary on the actual singing ranges of these voices, opinions ranging from F below Middle C to anywhere to third space C on the treble staff. A range from G or F below Middle C to Middle C, D, or possibly Eb is considered a safe, average range. As a voice gradually changes, a boy should be assigned to a lower part. This whole matter of a boy’s changing voice should be treated in such a natural, matter of fact manner by the director that it should be the normal experience for a boy to develop a natural curiosity about his own voice so that he will of his own initiative ask the director to test his voice occasionally to see how the change is progressing. Often the attitude develops with boys of this age that singing is “sissy.” One helpful way of overcoming this type of thinking is to play recordings occasionally of outstanding men singers, boys’ choruses, male choral groups, etc. When testing these changing boys’ voices, a director should always vocalize on descending scales and chords, thus bringing their upper quality down rather than encouraging any strain of pushing the lower quality up. A voice part should always be one that a boy can sing easily and comfortably. Where there are unchanged boys’ voices in the choir, these boys should be placed on the regular soprano or alto parts but allowed to sit with the rest of the boys.
It must be admitted that practical, sacred music that is geared for the junior high and early senior high school ages is limited both in quality and quantity. Some directors try to solve this problem by using regular SAB arrangements. This generally is not too satisfactory since these arrangements are made especially for adult voices, and the baritone parts are usually too demanding both harmonically and vocally for teen-age boys. More music that is especially arranged for early adolescent voices is definitely needed for the church music program.
As a result of this lack of music, I have found it necessary to make most of my own arrangements when working with teen-age choirs. Invariably these groups in their early stages have been limited both in size and in musical ability. Boys at this age have little concept of a tenor or bass harmony part, in fact, a director is quite fortunate if the majority of these boys can even carry a melody with reasonable accuracy. This experience has prompted me to prepare a collection of these arrangements for publication. These arrangements, Teen-Age Praise, have the following underlying features:
1. The use of appropriate, standard hymns and gospel songs whose message is-geared to the spiritual needs of teenagers.
2. Basically arranged in three parts with the boys parts arranged in a voice range so that both the changing and changed voices sing the same part. This vocal range is generally in the C to middle C octave.
3. The boys’ parts generally carry the melody of the song with the girls furnishing the harmony as interestingly as possible.
4. Cadence progressions in easy four-part style to give occasional practice in four-part singing.
5. A piano accompaniment that adds interest and fullness to the voice parts.
Once the group develops musically and as the changing voices begin to mature, one can gradually lead them into a better quality of SATB music.
THE SENIOR HIGH LEVEE
The senior high school age is an age of vision and adventure. Here the young people are beginning to do some serious and individual thinking about their future plans. Spiritually, this age group is often filled with doubts regarding spiritual truths, with the result that there is generally a time of uncertainty and searching for ideals and standards of their own. Needless to say, a music director has a real opportunity to be of help to these young people when the right opportunities arise by encouraging them in the Christian faith and by facing their questions and doubts in an honest and frank manner. Although the moods, plans and ideals of these young people can be quite changeable, they generally have a great deal of aesthetic appreciation for beauty and the finer qualities of life. The music director should always be aware of choosing songs that speak of decision and determination to put God first in one’s life and in so doing to know the meaning of a victorious Christian life. This is also the time to enlarge these young people’s appreciation and understanding of the great hymns and other forms of sacred music and to instruct them in the meaning and practice of personal and corporate worship.
Once the changing voice stage is passed and the young people have gained some basic concepts of singing, the problem of choosing music for the high school or young people’s choir is not too difficult. The possibilities for fine musical achievement by this age group are practically unlimited. Generally there is more danger in underestimating the abilities of these keen-minded young people than there is in over-taxing them. The director has a wealth of good sacred SATB music that will inspire and challenge this age group. Such a choir will enjoy singing numbers that employ a wide range of moods and styles, ranging from spirituals and hymn arrangements to all types of good anthems. However, it must be cautioned that real vocal harm can be done teen-age voices by having them sing demanding choral works intended for trained, mature voices, especially where these works employ extreme ranges for prolonged passages. The music chosen, then, must strike that happy balance of having sufficient musical difficulty to present a learning challenge and yet of not being beyond the vocal capabilities of the group.
It should also be mentioned that valuable encouragement and assistance can also be given the more interested and talented teenagers in a church by organizing smaller ensembles such as girls’ trios, sextettes, boys’ quartets, mixed quartets, instrumental groups, etc. A vital music program for young people will do much to insure the success of a youth program in any church.
The following suggestions are offered with respect to conducting a successful rehearsal for a teen-age choir. Generally, a rehearsal period should not be more than 45-50 minutes in length. Above all, the rehearsal time must be kept moving and interesting. Should the rehearsal become lax or uninteresting, the group will use the time as an excuse for frivolity. It should be cautioned that continuous frivolity with lack of leader control will eventually cause the individual members to lose interest in the group. It should also be mentioned that a fine accompanist is especially needful for this age group. An accompanist who plays in a stiff, mechanical and inaccurate manner will become the object of many “behind the back” jokes. The accompanist should also be sensitive to helping the various voice parts. For example, when a new song is being learned, the accompanist should play only the voice parts and be able to give special emphasis to the part that needs extra help. To control a group of teen-agers, then, there must be an enthusiastic and vital spirit in all phases of the leadership.
There are several definite DON’TS that a teen-age choir director should heed when conducting a rehearsal. These are listed briefly as follows:
1. Don’t have your back to the group any longer than necessary.
2. Don’t be stationary. Rather, be active. Move about the group helping whatever part needs help, etc.
3. Don’t display emotional, personal feelings.
4. Don’t reprimand individuals in front of the entire group.
5. Don’t start or end rehearsals late. Rather, be businesslike about all group activities.
6. Never appear discouraged with the results. For example, never allow complete failure with any song. Don’t let the rehearsal end poorly. Keep a positive, optimistic spirit about the group.
7. Don’t have favorites.
8. Don’t treat teen-agers as children.
9. Never show any awareness of any physical abnormality–voice control, skin blemishes, awkwardness, etc.
10. Don’t make any statement you cannot fulfill.
A director must make every effort to plan his rehearsals thoroughly in advance. It is good to have more activity planned than can possibly be accomplished during the regular time. Although a director must “think through” his rehearsal in advance, he must be flexible enough to inject some new activity or new song whenever he senses that the interest is lagging. In arranging one’s seating plan, it is wise to place the best singers behind those who need help. All physical preparation, such as room arrangement, music distribution and blackboard work, should always be done before the entire group assembles.
A sample rehearsal can be planned as follows:
1. Sing through from memory several well-known, well-liked choruses, hymns or gospel songs. This is for the purpose of warming up, attracting attention and establishing interest. However, be sure that these songs are pitched in the right vocal range for the fellows. It can also be helpful to have a mimeographed list of songs for this use.
2. Have a brief time of welcome, greeting, informal fun, etc.
3. Teach a new “sure-fire” chorus or song by rote.
4. Theory work. This can include a brief injection of musical knowledge such as rhythm patterns, key and time signatures, tonic chords, etc. It can also include having on a blackboard various chord progressions which are taken from one or more of the part songs to be sung. This provides an excellent opportunity for brief drills on various sight singing problems, emphasizing blend and sensitive listening on various vowel sounds, humming, etc. (Adolescent youngsters are enthusiastic hummers. Teach them to hum correctly-say the word “Hun” and very easily bring the lips together.)
5. Read through and study a new part song for future use. Whenever possible use a good recording of this number to introduce it to the choir.
6. Sing through and perfect the number to be sung at the next service. Use the piano/tape accompaniment, stress interpretation, tone quality, diction, phrasing, etc.
7. Review and drill briefly on just the places that contain a problem in a song that the choir has recently started.
8. Work on some long-range project–musicale, drama production, etc.
9. Sing from the choir loft the number to be sung at the next service. Work on the mechanics of performance–marching, sitting, uniformity of holding music, etc.
10. Close with some familiar, favorite part song or chorus. A discussion of any organizational business, a brief devotional challenge, prayer, etc.
A teen-age choir, like most choir groups, should have its own plan of organization. This would include the necessary officers such as president, vice-president, secretary-treasurer, librarian, social chairman, robe chairman, etc. Such policies as the admission of new members, the collection and expenditures of finances, standards for rewarding faithfulness, planning of socials, etc., can all be the responsibility of the group, with, of course, the careful and tactful supervision of the director. The wise director will, then, let the rules and the enforcement of those rules be a group action rather than his own direct and strong-armed type of leadership.
Although most teen-agers like to pretend that they are extremely busy and have no time for any new activity, they generally respond quite readily to any social program. In some church youth programs it has proved extremely successful to make for this group a complete evening’s program built around the choir rehearsal, with the assistance of the pastor and other youth leaders. For example, the program could begin at 5:45 P.M. with a supper at the church. This could be followed by the choir rehearsal, after which there could be a time of Bible study, recreation and fellowship. This type of activity can do a great deal in developing a strong youth organization within a church. The important matter of choosing the right time for such a program will, of course, have to be done with consideration of existing local community and church situations. In some churches it has proved successful to have the music program as part of the weekly prayer or family night service. Here, the young people could have their own group for Bible study, prayer, choir rehearsal, etc. Periodic socials such as roller or ice skating parties, picnics, hikes, hay or sleigh rides, Christmas carol sings, etc., will always do much toward establishing stronger loyalties for the choir. An occasional small treat such as a box of candy from the director will also do a great deal to further enthusiasm. As with the other choirs of the church, attractive and distinctive robes, especially attired with nice stoles or surplices, will add real prestige to such a group. Singing with the other choirs of the church for special occasions will also add interest. A distinctive name, such as the Choraleers, The Ambassadors, The Coronation Choir, The Harmony Chorus, The King’s Heralds, The Chorale, The Chapel Choir, is also important in this respect.
Today, teen choirs are especially interested in performing contemporary musicales, dramatic productions, singing with sound tracks, etc. Many fine materials have been published in recent years. Broadman Press and the Lexicon Company have done a great deal in this area. Several of the more popular works include:
“Tell It Like It Is” “Show Me” “Decisions” “Life”
Valuable encouragement and assistance can also be given the more interested and talented teenagers in a church by helping them with solo work, or by organizing smaller ensembles such as girls’ trios, sextettes, boys’ quartets, instrumental groups, gospel teams including drama-puppets-music, etc. These special groups can be used effectively not only within the church program but in an evangelistic outreach ministry as well.
Another musical activity especially geared for younger high school boys is the handbell choir. This activity has been successfully used in many churches in recent years. Although the financial involvement for a complete set of quality bells is a sizable investment for most churches, directors who have organized such groups and have experienced the enthusiastic response from these teens, generally agree that it is a worthy endeavor. Two helpful books on this subject are: The Art of Handbell Ringing by Nancy Poore Tufts, published by Abingdon Press, and Handbell Ringing’ in Church by Ellen Jane Lorenz, published by the Lorenz Company
Despite the problems and hard work involved in working with teenagers, one must continually remind himself of the importance of this particular group. Not only is the musical development important as new members are groomed for the senior choir, but of far greater importance is the spiritual responsibility. This often is the age when spiritual convictions are either deepened or the young person is permanently attracted to interests outside of the church. It is often the case that a musical activity is the last interest a young person clings to in the church to tide him over till he reaches sounder spiritual maturity. This truth places a real challenge and responsibility upon any music director. However to see young people commit their lives to God and to give themselves wholeheartedly to His service is a thrill that is worth many hours of toil and preparation.
The following is a brief list of collections and individual numbers that can be used with intermediate choirs:
1. Teen-Age Praise by Osbeck. Distributed by Kregels.
2. Gospel Choir Classics, Vol. I, II, III. Published by Zondervan.
3. The Chapel Choir Book by Perry. Published by Presser Co.
4. Sing God’s Praise by Tkach. Published by Kjos Music Co.
5. Young People’s Choir edited by Perry. Published by Presser Co.
6. Anthems for the Youth Choir edited by Curry. Published by Westminster Press.
INTERMEDIATE–TEEN-AGE–YOUNG PEOPLE’S CHOIRS
7. Carols for Christmas by Heller. Published by Hall & McCreary Co.
8. Tunetime for Teentime by Cooper. Published by Carl Fischer.
9. The Singing Teens by Cooper. Published by Gordon V Thompson, Ltd.
10. Cambiata Hymnal by Cooper. Published by Charles H. Hansen, Corp.
11. Easter Cambiata Hymnal by Cooper. Published by Hansen, Corp.
12. Soon Ah Will Be Done err. by Clark; No. 5148. Kjos Music Co.
13. Thanks Be to Thee, Handel, No. 5103. Kjos Music Co.
14. My God and I by Sergei, No. 216. The Kama Co.
15. This Is My Father’s World by Ringwald. Published by Shawnee Press.
16. Let Us Break Bread Together by Currie, No. 1589. C. C. Birchard Co.
17. Were You There? by Wilson, No. T2. Bourne Music Co.
18. God Is My Shepherd by Clokey, No. 949. C. C. Birchard Co.
19. O God of Youth by Darst, No. CM2147. H. W. Gray Co.
20. Lord, We Cry to Thee by Dickinson, No. SC212. H. W. Gray Co.
1. Why is it so important that teen-agers be involved in the music program in their local church?
2. Discuss what you consider to be the most important qualifications for any Christian leader working with teen-agers.
3. From your own experience, discuss the physical, emotional, spiritual and musical problems characteristic of the adolescent age.
4. Discuss ways of maintaining interest in each rehearsal. Discuss ways in which interest and enthusiasm can be maintained for the choir program throughout the entire year.
5. Plan a complete 45-50 minute rehearsal, showing the numbers to be rehearsed, the various activities to be included, etc.
1. A Guide for Youth Choirs by Ingram. Published by Abingdon Press.
2. Music Education for Teen-Agers by Sur and Schuller. Published by Harper and Bros.
3. Music Levels in Christian Education by Tovey. Published by Van Kampen Press.
4. Raise a Jubilee: Music in Youth Ministry by Jensen. Published by Methodist Publishing House.
5. The Boy’s Changing Voice by Mellalieu. Published by Oxford University Press.
6. Youth Choirs by Miller. Published by Flammer Company.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY KREGEL PRESS, 1961, PAGES 99-110. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARH PURPOSES ONLY.