Have you been thinking about starting a children’s choir at your church? Perhaps these tips might help you to get started.
1. Have organisational aims and objectives.
It is important that you have clear aims and objectives for your children’s choir or choral group, and that these are articulated to everyone who will be involved – preferably in writing. Why does your church want to start a children’s choir and what will the role of such a choir be?
Your aim might be quite general and could be – to provide an opportunity for young people to contribute to worship through music and to develop children’s skill development in choral singing.
Objectives might be more specific, relate to the members of the group and encompass some of the following:
- to contribute to the church community
- to be part of a team and work with others
- to take responsibility for attending rehearsals and services
- to take responsibility for learning the chosen music
2. Age group
Decide on the age group that you will start with and try to stick to it. You can, of course, adopt a “whole of primary school approach” but a wide range in ages makes rehearsals and choice of music very difficult. I have found that a grouping of children in grades one to three, and four to seven works successfully. These age groups are quite homogenous socially but at the same time allow for the older children to take responsibility for leading a section, doing solos, providing good models for new choristers etc. I don’t include pre-school or prep children in the group because the even wider age range can be difficult to handle and the length and intensity of rehearsals and performances can be taxing for the younger ones. You might decide to start with one age group, and then expand to the other group as the number of choristers grows. Both groups can eventually join together for some occasions but have separate rehearsals
3. Type of music
The style of music that you want to present at your church may have a bearing on the
type of group that you put together. Are you intending to sing traditional hymns (in
unison or parts), children’s unison worship
songs, popular songs with instrumental accompaniment or one of many other styles? Once you are clear about the type of music that suits your congregation, make this clear to anyone who might like to join so that they know what to expect. I once had a little boy who joined one of my choirs and was disappointed because we never went on a plane – he thought that he was joining the “Qantas”
4. To audition or not to audition?
I prefer not to audition in this age group because I see a children’s choir as a beginning and formative activity in choral singing, and therefore my responsibility to provide the experiences and materials that will help a child become a good chorister. Yes, there is a downside to this, but even with adult choirs I have observed many instances of people who have developed into very competent choristers but probably would have been passed over in an audition process. If you have to audition, try to see the children in groups of 4 or 5 and play some music games that will enable you to see potential. One-on-one auditions are difficult for anyone!
When will rehearsals be held? How long will they go for? and How often will the choir sing for church services? Families are very busy these days and need to plan ahead for all of their children’s activities so, the more notice you can give, and the more consistent you are, the better. My children’s choir (5 – 9 year olds) rehearses for one hour per week. At the beginning of each year and with many new members, it takes us quite a while to be
ready to sing for others. In the second half of the year, we are able to plan for more
It is always preferable to have someone to assist you in rehearsals and when the children are singing at a service so that you are sure that you can meet your “duty of care” obligations. You can’t leave the choir to supervise someone who needs to go to the toilet, or to assist a child who is feeling ill or upset. I invite parents to stay for my rehearsals and they are always a great help. However, if you can have a specific person whose role it is to look after the children, it allows the conductor to concentrate on the rehearsal or performance without distraction. Make sure that everyone who is working with the children has a BLUE CARD well ahead of the start of rehearsals. They can take up to 8 weeks to be processed.
A good accompanist is an invaluable asset and can assist with warm-up exercises, games, and part-work, as well as actually playing for the choir. Having an accompanist, and preferably a paid one, also gives you an ally and another musician to bounce ideas off or contribute to selection of repertoire.
Technology can help in a number of ways:
- Have an email contact list or sms distribution list for the families involved in your choir so that you can easily let them know what the choir is doing, any changes to the schedule, how parents can help the children to learn their music at home, what pieces are needed for the next church service etc. Communication is the key to consolidating your work in the early stages.
- If you don’t have an accompanist to start with, there are many publications now that include both rehearsal and performance tracks. There is no need to sing along with a group of adult singers on a pre-recorded CD.
- Consider creating rehearsal tracks for the children to use at home for practice. You might record these yourself and send them to the families as mp3s or burn the tracks to a CD. You can also create scorch files of the music you are using and make them accessible to the children. If you don’t have the equipment or time to prepare these yourself, there is sure to be someone in the parish who does. Access to practice materials contributes to the success of the choir and engagement in its activities.
If you have clear aims and objectives, it is easy to communicate these to potential choristers and their families. Can you talk about your plans for a choir at regular church services? Put clear information in your church newsletter? Have an “Open Rehearsal” or “try before you buy” session? Advertise in local school newsletters? There may be families who attend a non-denominational school who would be very happy to attend your church. Ask a local newspaper to do a story and include a photo to catch people’s attention.
Singing in a choir should be a joyful and enriching experience for everyone – the choristers, their families and most importantly, yourself. Your choir may be the first experience of choral singing for some children and, wouldn’t it be wonderful if the experience of being in your choir was one that lead them to a lifelong engagement with choral music and the worship of God through singing?
[Judy is a Senior Lecturer in Music at Australian Catholic University, Brisbane Campus, and is the Musical Director and Conductor of The Young Conservatorium “Melodic Minors”]