Tuesday, November 26, 2013

AOSA 2013 Conference Highlights - Part 4

When passionate elementary music teachers get together, the energy overflows!  Regardless of setting, we tend to be enthusiastically passionate about helping our students achieve high levels of musicianship without leaving the spirit behind.  We want our singers, players, movers, composers, and listeners to develop the habits, dispositions and attitudes that keep music learning engaging, attractive, and inspiring. 

When that doesn’t happen—when students don’t respond to our instruction or participate at maximum levels—it can leave us confused and a bit frustrated. (That’s certainly the case with me!).

At the recent AOSA conference, several music teachers gathered around the topic of elementary choirs within the public school setting.  The familiar flow of energy was there, even at 8:00 am on the third day of the conference! It was obvious that the folks in attendance value artistic achievement, joyful classrooms, and full throttle participation from their kids. It was also obvious that they, like me, become confused and a tad frustrated when their desire isn’t necessarily reciprocated.

During and following the workshop, questions were posed related to singing/choral participation at their schools, particularly the boys. Since we want ALL of our students to participate willingly, happily, and joyfully in singing, these queries were stated with a desire to remove the confusion and frustration.  

For the purpose of this blog post, the focus is on boy participation….

“I have a chorus of 65 voices and only 8 of them are boys.  I can’t figure out why more boys won’t join!”


Then consider…

•Boys do not join unless they see other boys joining; they are not natural joiners.  They need to see and hear from boys who have joined, hopefully boys with a bit of “power”.
•Boys will (usually) not give up recess to be in chorus. It’s an unfair choice, and one I always lost (when trying to maintain chorus once the weather got nice outside).
•Boys respond to competition.  I normally posted the number of students who’d joined the chorus from each classroom, with some kind of “you win” to the class with the greatest number.  Some boys joined for that simple fact.
•Boys are picky about what they wear. I had three boys choose to not do choir because I required long pants for concerts.  These fellows wore basketball shorts only.
•Boys must engage in doing.  I remember talking to fellow about why he decided to join chorus, when it seemed he didn’t really enjoy singing in general music. He joined because I let him set up the sound system.  It was deemed a “manly job” that he could do before and after chorus.
•Boys often need a visible incentive.  I have purchased their participation with sundae tokens/certificates to DQ.  I know of other teachers who go to the dollar store to buy miscellaneous things.  Sometimes a teacher’s got to do what a teacher’s got to do!
•Boys in most of my schools “do” baseball starting in late March.  I chose to end chorus in early March.  They knew the commitment began in late September and ended in March.  Approximately 15 rehearsals, total.
•Boys are attracted to field trips, food, and fun: the 3 Fs.  BUT they will adhere to a high standard of sounding good.  They can be worked and worked hard and tend to respond when the field trips, food, and fun come as a reward/result of quality work. “Fun”, in this case, equals stimulating and injecting their natural competitiveness.

Boys have a “need for movement, hands-on projects, and experiential activities”.  A chorus rehearsal that finds students sitting in chairs the entire time “punishes boys for their natural tendencies to be active and competitive”.  (Helping Boys Succeed in School, Terry Neu and Rich Weinfeld, Prufrock Press Inc., Waco, TX: 2007).

Don’t let chorus become known as the part of the day when you sit totally still and listen to someone talk about beauty.  (The. Kiss. Of. Death.).

Let them sing with joy, with exuberance, with manly texts and energy!

Patricia Bourne teaches K–6 general music, fifth- and sixth-grade chorus, and a sixth-grade marimba ensemble at Canyon Creek Elementary in Bothell, WA. A frequent guest conductor and clinician, she has served on the editorial committee of General Music Today and recently authored Inside the Music Classroom: Teaching the Art with Heart. In 2010, she was named the Elementary Music Teacher of the Year by the Washington Music Educators Association. Patty received her BME from Murray State University, MME from the University of Oklahoma, and doctorate of education from Arizona State University.

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