Hitting the bull's-eye
by Nina Niederbrach, Choral Director, Searcy H. S., Searcy, Arkansas (article used by permission from SWACDA)
At the beginning of the summer, all of us are rushing to any four points elsewhere, whether they be South, North, East, West. Now we are all rushing to hit the target, honing in on every old or new idea that will help us hit the “bull’s eye” or mark of success. The following points will help you hit the “bull’s eye” with your students and choirs. Perhaps they will trigger your own ideas to foster success in your choral program.
1. Be Prepared - Just like the Boy Scouts, you need to have a plan of action with your classroom procedures, your literature, your conducting, your understanding of pedagogy of the voice, technology,and your students.
2. Learn your required curriculum mapping, unit, weekly, and daily lesson plans - There are many good plans out there
(just Google and you will be amazed). Recently, the one we were introduced to in our district is the UBD -Understanding by Design plan. I love it. From curriculum mapping, unit planning, and weekly or daily lessons you have everything you need as you plot out your time with your choirs. If I plan, I can even provide myself with a Plan A, Plan B, or even a Plan C for those moments when no method you have used before has worked. If you are interested, I can share with you some examples using this method.
3. Literature- As a literature hound, I could spend days listening to new music and music from the masters. How do you search? Briefly, it is so much easier today: online sources of publishers, Composer websites, Choralnet, Youtube, and trusted colleagues. State Festivals are a wonderful source of literature. If you can’t stay for all of the performances, then peruse the lists, and look those selections up that pique your interest, or better yet, contact the conductor and ask if they wouldn’t mind sending you a recording. I would imagine that you would make their day just making that request!
4. Score Study - Whether this is the first time you have conducted a piece or the last time you will conduct a piece, you mustpersonally be knowledgeable, prepared, and capable of presenting that piece in all its mysteries to your choirs. Marking cutoffs, breath marks, phrasing are minimal items for your music. Where will the students place a consonant or the end of a diphthong? Can you sing all lines both horizontally and vertically? Do you need to mark your solfege (or for us dinosaurs your numbers)? Where are the unisons, and strong dissonance, and suspensions? Which words are most important in the phrase? Can you lead them to discover the meaning of the text and its beauty?
5. Inspiration - How will you lead them to discover the magic of choral singing? It is truly a lifelong thrilling activity! As part of their unit assessments, the students voice what becomes significant for them through their performance. This becomes a strong outlet for them to express in writing and sharing what singing together means to them personally. Your choirs need to grasp that what they do together is an incredibly amazing activity.
6. Your Career - Some choral directors take awhile to find their special place; where the students, the school, the community, and the director have a symbiotic relationship. Others find their place immediately. If you are searching because you have wanderlust or even worse, a search for power or Valhalla, then I truly believe you may never find that place and in searching, you will not serve your students and school to your best ability. Our ultimate goal should always have our students and their enrichment through choral music first in our career. You are their catalyst. When you believe you cannot help those students, then perhaps it is time for you to find a situation where you can refresh and invigorate yourself for the tasks ahead of you.
6. Passages - For those of us who are in the twilight of our careers, passages has a very special meaning. Time does fly, and even though at the present moment, you may be rocking a baby to sleep while you are listening to your all-region music or you are sitting in the hospital room with your parent studying scores and writing lesson plans, our world of choral music provides us with a sanctuary few others have in their vocation. Your choral colleagues have walked with you through many accomplishments and some defeats in our careers, but they have also witnessed great personal moments in all of our lives. Cherish them and the great gift of choral music we have together.