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My philosophy of choral education has always been anchored by the statement: “My job is to help my students to become lifelong independent musicians.” For years, I’ve focused primarily on teaching my middle school singers to become musically literate. We spend a lot of time on learning to sight-read so that they (hopefully!) won’t need me to play out their parts by the time they leave me and move into the high school choir program. I still believe that this is the foundation of learning to sing independently; however, now that I’m older, I have moved from focusing on the “independent” to focusing on the “musician.”


What will help my singers to become “independent musicians” is more exposure and experience in interpreting and creating music, not just reading. T is does not mean turning your choir rehearsals into composition class. Rather, there are always opportunities within what you are already doing to allow students to create more. For example: when you teach students to read dynamic markings, do you always follow exactly what is on the page? Or, do you take suggestions from students as to “how else could we sing this phrase?” After they try diff erent expressive techniques, they may agree that the composer has chosen the best one (and then you get to discuss why the composer wrote what he or she did!). But throughout this process, your singers were experimenting and creating diff erent sounds to express a piece more musically.


A great time to experiment and create is during warm-ups. It can be as simple as asking a student to change the fi rst consonant of your nonsense syllables (doo-dah-dee becomes moo-mah-mee, etc.), or as complex as letting your students make up and teach the class their own warm-ups. I have a song for each grade level chorus that is their “Friday song,” sung at the end of warm-ups. In eighth grade, by the middle of the year, we start harmonizing the song by ear. I teach them a process which we practice for several weeks. By spring, they are able to sing the song with beautiful harmonies that they have created. I enjoy the fact that it sounds diff erent from week to week, because once they’re comfortable with harmonizing, they continue to change it. T ey are learning to create and become better musicians, and they don’t even know it!


T e more opportunities that I can off er my students to be creative within choral rehearsals, the better musicians they become. T at leads them to the “lifelong” part of my philosophy–the more ownership they have over their choral singing, the more likely they are to continue to sing in choirs long after they’ve left me. Isn’t that what we all want for our students?


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Illinois Music Educator | Volume 72 Number 1


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