Repertoire – Choosing Quality Choral Music, Conclusion

Posted By on February 24, 2014

Now that you have found some potential pieces and they fit the “who, what, when, where and why” of your practical considerations, what now?  Consider the following additional questions:

  1. Is the piece singable by your choir?  When I was hired to teach my first high school choir, I was on fire for music that I sang when I was in college.  I thought it was so great, I wanted my student choir to sing it as well.  But, I had not given any consideration to “who, what, when, where and why.”  Well, as you can imagine, much of the choir was frustrated with the level of difficulty of the piece and I ended up removing it from their folders.
  2. Looking at the text, what is the piece saying?  Is the text suitable for the age of your students?  Make sure that the text is age appropriate.  Some years ago, I took a poll in my classes about the importance students placed on words in the popular music they were listening to.  Overwhelmingly, the majority of my students said that the words are “extremely important” to any song.  So I began paying more attention to what the text was all about in the music I was choosing.  Oftentimes we would discuss the text of a piece as a class, and sometimes we would even write in journals.  I was amazed at the reflections my students offered to “read aloud” to the rest of the class, about what the text meant to them.  Through these reflections, the students were able to connect the text and music to their own lives, ultimately creating a real and honest performance.
  3. Is the piece range appropriate?  Does the range of the notes in the piece fall within the capabilities of the choir for which you are choosing it?  Check to make sure that there are not many notes that fall outside the tessitura of each section.
  4. Will the piece pass the five-year test?  Does the piece have staying power?  Will it still be something your choirs can sing in five years?  If not, can you justify making the purchase for the present?
  5. Does the piece contribute to the variety of music chosen?  It is always a good idea to sing a number of different styles and a variety of music on any one program.
  6. Will it contribute to building the vocal ensemble sound?  An important thing to consider.  Sure, sometimes you’ll want to sing something for the fun of it, but that should be the exception rather than the rule. What specific vocal techniques can this piece help you teach?  Legato, staccato, singing chromatics, crescendos, etc.  Plus, knowing this will help when you need to educate folks as to what educational reasoning you used to consider this particular piece.
  7. Are you excited about the music?  If you have high-quality choral music and you’re excited about it, chances are your students will be excited as well.  If you and the students are excited and perform it well, the audience will recognize this and enjoy it too.  Occasionally, you will have to “sell it” a little more if it is a challenging piece, but if it’s high-quality music, they will grow to really enjoy it and recognize its intrinsic value.

The repertoire we choose is an important tool that can have a very powerful and positive influence on our students.  It is essentially our “textbook” for the class, and can determine the success or failure of a program. Balance in choosing music is important. Sure, you should choose some quality arrangements of popular songs, but don’t forget the rich music of our cultural past.  I always loved the statement the character Glenn Holland made in the movie Mr. Holland’s Opus: When speaking to the principal he states, “Mrs. Jacobs, you tell them that I am teaching music, and that I will use anything from Beethoven to Billie Holiday to rock and roll if I think it’ll help me teach a student to love music.”

In this results-oriented society, let’s not forget that the most important thing is not so much the concert, it’s what’s learned on the journey toward the performance.

About the author

Thomas Sabatino has taught music in the public schools for 31 years. His teaching credits include elementary general and instrumental music, high school vocal and instrumental music, university choirs and church choirs. He currently works for J.W. Pepper in Choral Product Sales as a Choral Editor.

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