Katherine Bartol Shares how to Motivate Middle-School Choirs
It’s all too easy to forget how diﬃcult it is for any group to come together and do their collective best, especially when it comes to musical performances. Put frankly, there are a lot of things to keep track of: pitch, tone, tempo, breathing, rhythm, and the list goes on. While it’s certainly possible to master every one of these, it doesn’t just take time; it takes discipline and motivation.
Within every successful middle school choir there must be a strong sense of motivation that begins with the teacher. As any teacher of middle level students will tell you, it can be quite challenging to stir up such motivation, but Katherine Bartol has a guide to get your choir students at their A-game. Middle school students will give the teacher 100 percent of themselves with great enthusiasm when they are properly motivated. Their brains are developing at the fastest rate of all of their school years, so the choir director has the privilege and opportunity to leave a lasting, positive impression in their lives.
Katherine Bartol is a professional singer, pianist, and vocal coach based out of Northumberland, Pennsylvania. Katherine Bartol is an original contributing author for Pennsylvania State University’s Partnership for Music Teacher Excellence: Guide for Cooperating Teachers, Student Teachers, and University Supervisors. Her expertise stems from a decorated list of performances at impressive venues such as Carnegie Hall, and from teaching music from the primary to university level, specializing in the Kodaly method.
Passion is Your Fuel
As a teacher, a good starting point to use as the foundation for motivation is your passion. According to Katherine Bartol, this is the best way to communicate to your students that the end goal is not to have them adhere to the rules, or to feel that they are learning in a very strict environment; rather, it is about how passion leads to dedication, and dedication leads to success. Actions speak louder than words, and when all eyes are on you, the best action to take is to transfer your passion into everything you do. As an educator of a performing art it is crucial that you show your students your own enthusiastic performance power. Share your talent, performances, and musical opinions with them. Discuss and critique current singers with the students. Let them know that all of these artists were once in their shoes and that much talent exists everywhere in the world, including in their own classroom. Success becomes a matter of love and dedication to one’s art.
Sometimes it can be tempting to work at a rapid pace, sprinting to the ﬁnish, while aiming to teach the music by rote procedure. The rote procedure is having the students echo back what the teacher sings. Too many middle school choir directors teach most of the music this way; which is good for developing the musical ear but not for teaching the comprehension of a musical score, or the ability to read music. While you do want to push your students and motivate them to do their best, it’s still a better idea to make sure you have the fundamentals covered ﬁrst. Katherine Bartol suggests that you start slow, with basic exercises in order to ensure you have a strong musical foundation. You should focus on developing intonation with regular interval drills by using solfege syllables with Curwen hand signs for visualization of interval measurement. The knowledge of a variety of rhythm symbols and syllables, their relationship to the steady beat, and the ability to perform them is also crucial in advancing music reading skills. After a warm-up of vocalises or rounds covering vowel shapes, consonants, and intonation, the choir director should employ game-like drills with intervals and rhythms selected from the music to be taught in the rehearsal. Make it fun to learn musical concepts and reading skills while allowing your students to steadily build their conﬁdence so they can better approach the more challenging materials ahead. This may seem like a slow start to get that concert material ready on time but it will pay off when the students actually become proficient at score reading and intonation. This will lead to a beautifully executed concert that shows quality rather than quantity.
Taking Things Seriously
Another way to motivate middle school choirs is to establish what they will be undertaking as a group. Performing at venues is a privilege, and it is up to them to represent their school at their best when they perform. Establishing a special representational performance that requires an exciting trip away from the school is always a great motivator, even if it is a trip to the local nursing home. The goal should be excellence and to keep the “hard- of –hearing” grandfather in the last row or the overly-active toddler excited to hear what is happening on stage. Additionally, Katherine Bartol states your students should be adjudicated by a strict standard, and it is by no means easy to get the highest grade. Allow the students to hear recordings of ensembles such as the Vienna Boys Choir or youth choirs involved in royal performances to set the standard of excellence that all young people can achieve. That being said, feel free to remind them that they can achieve it only if they are willing to put in the necessary work.
Pushing Them to Succeed
Within the group, everyone must be evaluated fairly as an individual. Take the time to complement each student’s individual strengths. Let your students know if they need extra tutoring and be prepared to oﬀer it. Remember, it doesn’t matter how much experience they have to start with; only how hard they are willing to work. As long as they want to be there, that’s all that matters. In addition, don’t hesitate to be realistic when it comes to letting your students know how they sound as a group. Record your choir regularly during rehearsals to help the singers understand their progress and what they need to do to improve. Constructive criticism with fast, efficient, and clear solutions relating to basic music fundamentals, followed by your complimentary reinforcement of the ensemble’s progress will help create an excellent-sounding middle school choir.