Of the responsibilities that music teachers have, perhaps one of the most challenging is that of finding and choosing quality repertoire. With the amount of literature available for all types of ensembles, the task of selecting the best music for student ensembles has become somewhat daunting. Not only do we need to keep the capabilities and interests of our students in mind, but also our audiences; both parents and administrators alike!
Finding excellent repertoire doesn’t just happen. It’s a career-long process. Much of what follows regarding this process is a combination of advice I have received from colleagues who have developed successful programs, books and magazines I have researched, and the results of trial and error.
Before choosing a particular piece of music there are some things to consider:
Who is singing? Is it a mixed chorus, men’s or women’s chorus? Auditioned or non-auditioned group? Is it large or small in number? What is the balance between the sections? Motivated singers or social singers?
What are their capabilities? And what are the language and diction requirements? Is it a group of beginners, intermediate or advanced singers? In other words, what is the ratio of music readers to nonreaders? This can be a challenging aspect, as you want to make sure that music chosen is not too difficult to frustrate singers, yet challenging enough to maintain interest.
When will it be performed? How much time do you have to educate students and rehearse the piece so the performance reflects what the composer intended?
Where is the performance? And for whom will it be performed? Will it be in a school auditorium, local church, on a stage, in a hall or an outside venue? Some of these aspects may affect your choices.
Why are you performing? Is it for a winter, spring, or pops concert? Will it be a themed or non-themed concert? A festival or competition? Are there sacred or secular considerations? Let’s face it — we’re all headed for a performance of some kind. The skill is in making the journey toward the performance an exciting activity for the students. Not only should they learn how to sing the piece well, but sing it with proficiency, artistry, and understanding of the music “behind the notes.” Once these preliminary questions have been addressed, you can move forward.
In my next installment we’ll discuss where to look for quality repertoire.