Each school year, when a new crop of chorus students shows up for their first rehearsal, I ask them to answer three questions:
- What do you like to sing?
- Where do you like to sing?
- Why are you here?
The third question usually gets some interesting replies — including “my parents made me” or “I needed an arts credit” — but without fail, every person in the room, whether new to group singing or not, is easily able to answer the first two questions.
Everyone sings. Some people, sadly, only sing in the privacy of their home or the relative privacy of their vehicle, but everyone sings.
I have been involved with choral singing since I was quite little. It wasn’t until I started teaching chorus, however, that I began to really consider its benefits, whether my students go on to be lifelong singers or not.
Developing listening skills
I am convinced that the more plugged-in we are with technology, the less we actually listen to other people. As a teacher, I have seen this issue get worse with each passing year. Ensemble singing demands that you hone your listening skills, both within your vocal part and with the group as a whole.
We develop listening skills by having students match pitch and by singing rounds as part of vocal warm-ups, and we reinforce those skills by having vocal part sectionals and occasionally having each part stand in a circular formation to rehearse.
Learning how you learn best
Choral students have to memorize the many aspects of a piece of music (words, notes, dynamics, nuances, and, at times, movement), and often in a short window of time. In order to make learning as efficient as possible, it best serves students to figure out how they learn.
Auditory listeners can take the mp3 files uploaded by our accompanist, Mrs. Scolan, and listen to them as they work on other homework. Visual learners need to spend some intensive time with the sheet music or a copy of the lyrics. Kinesthetic learners need more time singing the actual piece and may want to move as they do.
Once students have figured this out for chorus, it can unlock test preparation for other classes too: Will flashcards work for language class or should I be recording my vocabulary words and listening to them?
Developing leadership skills
In both our Middle and Upper School choruses, students learn to sing in harmony. Middle School pieces are usually in two-part harmony; Upper School are either in three- or four-part. At the start of each school year, Mrs. Scolan and I take student nominations for section leaders, whose responsibilities include advocating for more rehearsal time of a particular piece or section, learning the music first so their section members may rely on them, ensuring that each section member has music (and brings it to rehearsal) and encouraging their section members. It gives me great joy to watch students take ownership of these leadership roles, both encouraging their classmates and holding them accountable.
Building confidence on stage
MPA students begin performing on stage regularly in preschool, but sometimes I forget that some of my chorus students didn’t join us until Middle School or Upper School. Last year after the winter program, an upperclassman remarked that she was very proud to have participated in the concert; it was her first public performance. It is indeed a nerve-wracking thing to sing in front of a live audience. People are looking at you and listening to you, and there is the ever-present possibility of making a mistake.
We prepare our students to roll with their mistakes in rehearsals, and always evaluate each performance afterward, by inquiring, “What did we do well? What would you like to change for our next performance?” The ability to learn from mistakes and correct them with confidence moving forward is a valuable life skill.
Every MPA student has the opportunity to take chorus, and I encourage all of them to take advantage of that opportunity. I’m confident they will learn more than songs.
By Heather Kurut
Mrs. Kurut is our Lower School and Middle School principal and director of our Upper School chorus.