Kids have had an incredibly challenging year. However, hope is springing eternal this spring. Some New York schools are allowing kids to attend in-person five days per week instead of the two-day-per-week-hybrid model (with remote learning still being an option). After-school sports are returning, if somewhat cautiously. As for choirs: in some states, like Ohio and Washington, choristers in various counties got the go-ahead to resume indoor rehearsals with all safety/masking provisions in place. And in other countries, such as Northern Ireland, indoor singing is still prohibited—however, singing outdoors with protocols in place is allowed. I guess we can say that things are beginning to get back to ‘normal’…whatever that means, ha.
We must remember that singing in a choir, whether virtually or in-person, is fantastic for young minds and psyches in so many ways. Let’s look at a few positive traits singing can foster:
Sense of community: Singing, while solitary with regard to honing skills, is an unparalleled activity for connecting with others. Getting to know the sound of your voice in relation to the group, blending, soloing and even teaching. A large children’s choir in Bristol, UK, enlisted singing ambassadors, i.e., choir members ages 7 and up who taught members of their households to sing while on lockdown. This is invaluable, as it teaches little ones to teach even littler ones going forward, which brings me to my next positive trait:
Confidence: Hearing little ones singing at the top of their lungs, in pitch or not, gives me faith in humanity. And by little ones, I do mean little ones. For the most part, they just go for it. Ever notice that the older kids get, the more self-conscious they get? Of course, you’ve noticed; it happened to you, too! What’s with this idea that we shouldn’t stand out, or sing too loudly? Yes, it’s part of growing up. Still, singing in a choir can help tweens/young adults realize that you can still find your voice in a safe space. See, some kids don’t realize how outstanding they are until they’ve blended in, y’know? And that safe space a choir can provide can change a young adult’s life. It sure did for me.
Music theory: Possessing knowledge is always powerful, and when a kid feels powerful about something they’re passionate about as well…that’s a recipe for creating a life-long learner. Choirs can teach solfege to kids of any age. I find it helpful for kids to learn both the Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti Do syllables in addition to the 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8 numbers. The mixing and matching make for lots of fun, and takes full advantage of their spongy brains. In addition, I love to use the Kodály method for a physical connection. The hand signals are super-groovy for kids’ I-wanna-keep-moving bodies, as many choir directors know. Here’s Mrs. Musical Pants, a teacher I adore, giving you the low-down on it (she demonstrates the hand signs at 4:13): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gXWU68mH5bI
All this brain and body work is so valuable for kids because it helps them learn how to:
Focus – True, we tend to focus on the things we enjoy learning about, but if kids are in a group with others and they’re given a task to perform together, the results can be magical. I once kept 15 five-year-olds busy by teaching them the words, melody and Kodály hand signs for Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds”. (Notice I said ‘once’…ha!) And they killed it. They killed it because they loved the song and were happy to have me show them how they could put all the facets together. We may have only worked in 10-minute spurts, but their focus was true. And focus begets more focus, I have found. So don’t underestimate the amount of concentration kids can exhibit. Build it and they will come. Lastly, I believe being in a choir can exemplify one of life’s greatest tools:
Experiencing happiness as choice – Too often we are ruled by our feelings…and look, we should be, to some degree. It’s too often we stifle our feelings, or keep them locked inside for too long. However, when we see that by shifting our thoughts our feelings can shift, too….that’s some knowledge/power right there. Singing in a group is one of the best thought-shifters I know; I’ve seen singing with others change a sourpuss into a cool cat in no time flat….and kids should learn that as soon as possible. That knowledge promotes a certain kind of self-reliance that’s hard to come by: the idea that raising your voice in song can change your mood (without relying on food, drink, TV, movies, video games, et al…which we all need sometimes, but not all the time.)
So, upon the world’s return to the somewhat familiar, get your younger folks into a choir and watch them have some long-awaited fun with others…hey, join one yourself, while you’re at it!
Jaime Babbitt coached voice for Disney and wrote Working with Your Voice (Alfred Publishing). She ‘jingled’ for Coke, Pillsbury, Chevy, Folgers and more. Jaime sang live and digitally with Leon Russell, Sam Moore, George Strait, Courtney Love, Barbra Streisand, Willie Nelson, Jimmy Webb, Miley & Billy Ray Cyrus, Johnny Mathis, etc. For more info: http://www.workingwithyourvoice.com