A Report on Lifeline for Children's Choir Directors by Jean Ashworth Bartle

Prepared by Ruth E. Andrieux Class:

Voice Pedagogy Professor: Dr. J. Kempster

She discusses the many ways of teaching children rhythm, but she also advises, "let us not disregard the old". (ps. 28-9) She also advises not to increase or decrease tempo during the performance, there shouldn’t be any surprises. Any conductor should study rubato, by listening to some great artists in the past of keyboard, solo voice and chorale conducting. (p. 29) She gives exercises on how to achieve good balance and blend in a choir. (p. 20) How to conduct children’s choirs is discussed in the following pages of this book. She describes each ’step’ and how to do them carefully: how to introduce music to the choir, what the choir director should read, how to study a score and practice conducting it, if a conductor should mouth or use a baton while conducting. To produce artistically played music, she believes that strict technique must be combined with musical ability. (ps. 31-3) She tells how to recruit for a school primary choir, grades 1- 3. In September she has the 2nd and 3rd graders sing familiar songs alone or with a friend. She then hands out letters to all the third graders, and half of the second graders. First graders are not in the music classroom until after Christmas. She wants about 55 voices in this choir. She then sends a letter home to the parents containing information on the time and place for rehearsals and programs, requested information on the child, concerts, uniforms, and the rules. (p. 35) A seating plan and the way the chairs are set up are two of the physical factors that help make a good choir rehearsal. She advises to have a seating plan that organizes the children by height, voice and conduct; putting the ones that ’aptê to misbehave with those that usually are the ’well behaved’. I believe that her rehearsal techniques lend themselves to promote good behavior and member participation. Such as, having the children take their music home, and using the chalkboard to note the ’Singer of the day’. (ps. 37-8) When she discusses how to teach a new song, her methods seem to be like Fred Waring's School. (ps. 41-2) She wants good enunciation. To help children read music she teaches them how to write it. (ps. 42-3) The children must have goals to keep them motivated. The goals they work for are; special guest (early in the year) that visit during rehearsals, open house, a Christmas/Holiday concert, a number of other places to sing at, music festivals and the Spring concert. (p. 45) She shares her ideas concerning the role of the piano accompanist, suggestions for a choir uniform/vest, the role of a home and school and the administration’s role, important extras a choir director should tend to, (p. 47) and a list of suitable repertoire for the primary choir is included on Pages 47-50. In Chapter 8, she gives her suggestions on how to recruit for the School’s Junior Choir in June, for the following year. (p. 51) The organization is much the same as for the primary choir, only the altos are on her right. The chair setup is the same. The singers who sing alto must have an ear for it; but be careful that you don’t assign a singer with a soprano voice to sing alto all three years. (p. 52) The procedure for how to discover who will sing the alto part, is by testing them with two different pieces of music; the second piece being more difficult. (ps. 52-3) Her ideas for the first rehearsal and choir schedule help establish good routines. She teaches notes by names; tries to stay away from the rote method and the 'tonic sol-fa' approach, ”because there has been a sharp decline in the children's ability to read music". (p. 54.) However, later on she uses both the 'note-rote' method and the 'sol-fa' method. She uses the 'note-rote' method to help them to read music, (p. 58) and uses the 'sol-fa' method to teach the harmony part. (p. 72) She has a piece entitled 'Song for the Mira' by Allister Mac Gilloray printed to show what a good junior choir can do at the end of the school year. (p. 59-67) She also gives a teaching plan for five days. (ps. 71-2) She warns of musical 'pitfalls' accenting in the wrong places, how to teach parts, syllables, staggered breathing and rhythm. She gives additional rehearsal techniques. One of them is, "Children should be given deadlines when the music has to be taken home and memorized." (p. 72) This reminds me of the Christiansen method of hard work and more hard work. Her format for planing the concerts for the junior choir are almost like the primary choir, only she advises to plan a year ahead and then have more 'sophisticated venues'. She advises to plan a concert's program around a themes or a specific composer. Show people where they may applaud in a concert by having asterisks printed in the appropriate places. (p. 73) Pages 74-78 gives examples of printed concerts. Some suitable ways for the junior choir to share their music, learn their music, and have potential goals are to have: children’s choir festivals, competitive music festivals, workshops, and out-of-town choir exchange with other schools. Also, they can perform at nursing homes, hospitals, universities, and libraries. (p. 79) On the pages 80-86, she gives an alphabetical list of the pieces of suitable music for the Junior School Choir. She also suggests how to select music for this age group. In the Junior Choir have elections: elect a president, co-president, secretary and librarian. The officers have their responsibilities; the president helps with thank-you speeches at special performances, and helps you to keep track of birthdays and special days. Have parties after concerts, festivals and at the end of the year. Don’t forget to say thank-you to all your volunteer helpers, parents and so on. (p. 87) In chapter nine she tells how to start a Junior Church choir. She also advises to take a course from Helen Kemp, who use to give summer workshops at Westminister Choir College. She says to plan a year ahead, have goals for the major festivals and weekly rehearsals. She tells how to recruit, advertise, talk with important community people, how to gain support from the minister, and to run announcements in the church bulletin. In a church situation, you could organize children into four groups: Kindergarten and grade one; Grades 2 and 3, Grades 4-6, and Grades 7-9. However, in her own individual situation, she has two different groups of children meet for her choirs: the children from grades 4-10 meet and the youth choir at a different time. In the younger choir, she has the older children help the younger ones and uses ’officers and has awards. (ps. 90-1) She suggests planning the music a year ahead with the clergyman, music director, Christian education director or music committee chair. The children could sing once a month, or when they have an anthem prepared. (ps. 91-2) During the first rehearsal organization of the choir takes place. Fill out an information sheet on each child, set up the chairs, and use a 'choir parent' to deal with discipline problems that you can't deal with during a rehearsal. Have a sequence of order for your rehearsal, have the weeks plan outline on a chalkboard, and have the secretary check off the items you complete during the rehearsal. Suggestions for rehearsal techniques are made regarding the time of, how to begin with and with what to begin. She discusses the choir director’s demure and voice, how to keep and use discipline. She says to stress beauty of tone. She has a way to have the children select between a well-placed forward, relaxed, ’pear-shaped' tone and a forced throaty tone. She plays two different singers on a cassette recorder and has the children choose between both. (ps. 92-3) She demonstrates a teaching plan with the song entitled: Song of Praise by Harry Somer, words by Willis Scott. She demonstrates that some syllables receive heavier or lighter stress, and in addition she watches to make sure that the children don't wallop the light syllables. She advises to ”learn about sensitivity to words by listening to the Anglican chant and plain song". (p. 98) This reminds me of the Westminister Choir College approach. Involve your parents. Have a 'Head Choir Parent', to work with, organize a parent's committee and have meetings to hand out lists of jobs and parties to thank them. A list of suggested music for the Junior Church Choir is given on pages 99-105. It is important to rehearse with the organist, because the many stops on the organ make accompaniment different from piano accompaniment. She suggests to have a knowledgeable adult sit half way back, to check for the balance between the choir and the organ. (p. 105) In her additional thoughts, (ps. 105-8) some of the top ideas are: don't neglect our rich musical heritage just for the sake of something new and ’upbeat. She gives ideas for performance: Sunday afternoon concerts, 'Family Hymn Festivals', Seasonal Concerts. Provide food treats occasionally. Have the 'officers' of the choir plan some parties, as well as planning some yourself. (p. 107) Chapter 10 discusses "The Community, or Professional, Children’s Choir". This choir is unlike the school or church choir, it is paid for it's services. A choir director of this choir can develop it to the highest level of musical artistry, unlike the other types of choir. In this type of venture, the conductor must be concerned with he business side of this endeavor as well as being prepared well musically. All parents, the conductor and everyone connected with this venture must be totally dedicated, they must also put in an extraordinary amount of work. (p. 110) For this choir, you audition the children. You want to make sure they have a high degree of motivation, a good musical ear, a pleasant voice, an ability to read language, good physical health, self-reliance, and social skills. You assess the children by asking certain questions: "Why do you want to be in the chorus?", or "How important is it for you to get into the choir?". If the child plays a musical instrument you can judge their musicianship, phrasing and concentration, by listening to their playing. Have the child sings a few measures, so that you can judge the voice quality, color, production and potential. This is how you can tell if the child can sing the notes absolutely in the center and if he/she has had good or poor musical teaching. She tests for tonal memory, rhythms and sight reading. She tests for reading ability, vocabulary level by having the child read some poetry. For social skills, she asks the child some appropriate questions like: "Who is your best friend?", and "What qualities do you look for in a friend?" Then she has all children come back a second time, explaining to them that she needs to hear all the children who want to be in the chorus before she makes a final decision. She likes to have about 80 children in her chorus, with about twenty 'apprentices'. Ever year she re-auditions each child. (ps. 111-3) She gives her suggestions for the techniques to use at the rehearsals of this choir. The length should be about two hours, with a fifteen minute break after the first hour and fifteen minutes. "Warm-ups should concentrate on posture, diaphragmatic breathing, ear training and how to release tension. In the rehearsal teach musicianship, skills can be organized by having the repertoire listed on the chalkboard. Children of this choir should know some music theory. To have a successful rehearsal know what quality and color of sound you want, understand all aspects of the piece and be thoroughly prepared, and have a concept of what you want the ultimate performance to be like." (ps. 113-4) In the next thirteen pages, she outlays musical score for the contemporary piece entitled "Keewaydin?", by Harry Freedman. This piece will help your choir with ear training, and one of the "fringe" benefits of the piece is that the ability of the choristers to sing anything in key will be enhanced. Their ears will improve remarkably after they have prepared this work. (p. 114) The teaching plan is complete, with suggestions about phrases, dynamics, tempo, vocal interplay, enunciation and how long notes should be held. (ps. 115-128) In this chapter, she gives an in-depth teaching plan on how to do pre-score preparation with the children, as well as what to do in the next ten rehearsals. (ps. 129- 131) She has a list for suitable music for a children's choir, and gives suggestions on how to choose repertoire, pages 132-8. Adult involvement is essential in her choir(s) and includes the choir director, the organizational type of things, and volunteers. She also uses adult help for assistants at rehearsal, concert organizers, fund raisers, applying for grants, librarian, publicity, recordings, the office of secretary and treasurer, touring, uniform coordinator, hired staff, board of director/guilds and volunteers. For volunteers she is most thankful for. I liked this lyric at the end of this chapter, "What are Volunteers?” Volunteers are like Coke: they’re the real thing. Volunteers are like Pan Am: they make the going great. Volunteers are like Pepsi: they’ve got a lot going Volunteers are like VO5 Hair Spray: their goodness holds in all kinds of weather. Volunteers are like Hallmark Cards: they care enough to give their very best. Volunteers are like Standard Oil: you expect more and you get it. But most of all Volunteers are like Frosted Flakes: they’re GRRRR-EAT!" (ps. 138-142) In the following next three pages, she shares her Chorister Handbook; a ten page summary on what she expects from each chorister. When they sign on page ten they agree that they understand how she wants them to conduct themselves, the treatment of their uniforms and music, and what musical knowledge they should posses. The first three and a half pages explains the formation of the different groups of choirs. (ps. 143-5) This handbook is put together very thoroughly. Towards the end of this chapter, she talks about the importance of music camp at the beginning of the year. It helps the children to get to fill-in some musical gaps and to socialize. Accompanying a choir on a piano is an art, different from the art of piano playing. The Conductor should keep the choir under control, and the accompanist shouldn’t overpower the choir or ’take over’. (p. 86) At the end of chapter ten, Ruth Watson Henderson, a distinguished piano accompanist and composer, gives her ideas on the accompanist’s role and important advice on rehearsal techniques. Playing for a choir is much different than playing as a solo instrumentalist or as an accompanist for a single soloist. Then, Mrs. Bartle talks about the all important extras such as being kind to people and showing your appreciation to your volunteers and choristers. (p. 148) In Chapter eleven, Mrs. Bartle answers "Questions Most Frequently Asked". A diversity of questions are asked and answered. Subjects like, how to get children to watch the conductor, how to overcome sharp singing, how to choose repertoire, how to encourage students to have good attendance, long and short-term goals for a junior school choir, and techniques for building enthusiasm among ’turned-off' singers, are dealt with. In the final chapter, she gives eight 's sanity saver's, that a choral conductor should posses. She believes that good choral conductor must have a sense of humor, have good health habits and not take themselves too seriously. Dr. Max T. Ervin gives good advice on what a musical educator should posses: "Every great teacher needs these things: the health of an Ox the skin of an Elephant the eyes of a Fly the stomach of a Goat the patience of a Turtle the speed of a Jaguar the loyalty of a Dog the charm of a Kitten and the appearance of a Sea It would also be helpful if he has: a bag full of tricks a head full of Tools a lifetime of Ideas a background of a few failures as well as success and a heart full of hope and faith in people." (ps. 155-6) At the very end of the book, she has a bibliography of twenty-six sources, and six commentators of note such as Sir David Willcocks. (ps.157-9) I enjoyed reading this book. This book would be a handy aid in assisting any Children’s Choir Director. I like the way she borrows from a lot of methodologies to develop her own. By burrowing she has developed a very good way to direct choirs. Work Cited. Bartle, Jean Ashworth Lifeline for Children’s Choir Directors. Published by Gordon V. Thompson Music, a Division of Canada Publishing Corporation. Toronto, Canada. 1988.  Ruth would love to hear your comments about this paper or if you have any other comments, please fill out the form below.