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From The Trenches: The Non-Vocalist As Choir Director

Posted on September 4, 2010 at 10:00 AM

(Note: This article is brought to you from a guest author)

I sang in high school.  When I got to college I sang in the big choir (Brahms Requiem, etc...).  Same at Syracuse.  But I am not a VOCALIST.  I’m also a Teach for America alum.  I never took a vocal methods class.  I can’t really play piano.


To many (trust me!) I have no business teaching choir.  I do not go to conferences and have discussions about soft palettes, resonators, or how important it is to use/avoid the head voice.


Yet, it is working.  I have been doing it for a long time and I haven’t been kicked out yet.  I thought it might be productive to share how my program is structured.  Yes, my band program is structured almost exactly the same.


1. We break our year/month/week into thirds.  Solo work, small group (one to part), and large ensemble get equal time.  We spend the first month of each semester working on solo work.  During this time we spend a lot of time working on vowels, phrasing, diction, and breathing.  Right now we are working on the 24 Italian Songs.  Our All-State auditions use them.  We learn four every fall and add two in the spring..  By the end of their high school career they will know the whole book.  In January we work on Broadway or American Songbook work.


2. My goal is for all choir seniors to be able to take and pass the AP Music Theory test.  We spend at least 30-40% of our time on theory (solfeg, compositions, voice leading, sight-singing, etc..).  It took me about six years in my previous school to get to this point.  


3. We work hard on preparing for regional and All-State auditions.  Very few of my students can take private lessons.  I am their voice teacher.  To prepare we use YouTube to listen to versions of the song.  We sing at least 2-3x per week for the class.  We bring in judges (from serious vocalists to the custodial staff) to listen and critique.  We videotape and evaluate growth.  We work hard to instill the belief that everyone can make the attempt.


4. We don’t sing nearly as much choral repertoire as other choirs.  We don’t have the time.  I do try to sing three languages at each concert.

5. We use Noteflight for our parts singing.  I put the music in and students can select what accompaniment they want.  I use for theory help.  We use grouply for our class work.  All students post videos of their singing to this site and make comments/evaluations here.  It is a great way to share.


6. To obtain honors credit students must audition for All-State, take private lessons, and perform a 30 minute recital every Spring. My students enter college knowing a lot of solo repertoire.  We find the money for lessons when we need to.  This takes A LOT of time but it much more like the college experience of some big choral work and a lot of solo work.


Every year I get a little better and Twitter and the internet have been life savers.  For example, there is no way I could have survived teaching “Dirait-On” last year without YouTube.


I have a few samples of past groups on my blog.  In my second year here in Seymour and I’m hoping (really hoping) that success continues. 


About the Author

Brandt Schneider received a BA from Oberlin College in 1991, a MPA from Syracuse University in 1994, and a Sixth Year degree in Educational Leadership from Southern Connecticut State University in 2008. While at Oberlin he studied jazz composition with Wendell Logan, Donald Byrd, and JJ Johnson and was a four year member of the Oberlin Jazz Ensemble. In 2001 he was designated a Palm Education Pioneer. Mr. Schneider is a member of Teach for America’s Class of 1991.


As a track coach Mr. Schneider has led several teams to league and state titles in Louisiana and Connecticut. Mr. Schneider currently teaches band and choir in Seymour, CT.

Visit his blog for more insightful articles.

Categories: Guest Authors, Vocal, Music Education

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