Cell Phones Prohibited in the Middle School Choral Classroom! Seriously? It's 2015!

Times have changed.  

I'm old.  I've been teaching middle school choral music for 23 years, but I recognize that if we don't move and change with the times, we become stale and uninteresting to our students...

and...well...in many ways as harsh as it sounds...


When I see this sign on the door of one of my colleagues...

...I know they won't be around much longer, and if they stay, they'll be so mean to the kids that they'll be bitter for most of the time they stay past their "sell by" date. 

That doesn't serve anyone well.

There are two Broadway songs that pretty much sum it up:

I'll take Spamalot for $500 please Alex!

...A culture reference that may well fly over the heads of folks under 30.

Here is how I see it...Change is constant in everything in our lives. We can move with it and continue to learn and grow, or we can constantly harken back to the 1950's when our home phones were all on "party lines".  I mean, at some point, wasn't television "new"?   My guess is that some people resisted TV too.  

Can you imagine your classroom without access to visual media like television?

I certainly cannot.

How can you use technologies in your 21st century classroom to involve and engage your middle school children?  Comment below with your ideas!  

Here are a couple of ways I've used them with my 300 non-auditioned students, and specifically, a way I use technology at the end of the school year.


I created an Instagram page.  Here is the link.  I follow them.  They follow me.  It's professional not personal.  This is their "Facebook".  
Middle school students wanted to fly under the radar of their parents about 5 years ago, and this age group stopped doing Facebook.  It'll be something new in a couple of years, but for now, this is it. When it changes, so must we.

We do a spring musical each year.  This year, I created an HMS Musical Instagram page.  We posted rehearsal videos, and we generated excitement about the work we do...on their turf.  New kids decide they want to join chorus.  

It's a new way to recruit students!


Now, at the end of the school year, I tell them to bring their cell phones to my room.


So they can create their end of the year project.

After our spring musical revue, I ask them to create "musical parodies".  I teach them what a parody is.  I show them great parody artists from Saturday Night Live, and I use the internet to find examples of parodies like many of those created by the folks at Forbidden Broadway.  Then, for the next three class periods, I let them work in groups to come up with ideas to parody songs from our most recent musical revue.

They use their phones to videotape.  The most advanced kids use their phones to edit.  The less technologically advanced kids take it home to edit on their laptops.  

They absolutely love doing this project.  

For the students who aren't as comfortable with technology or who don't have smartphones, I allow them to present "live" so everyone is engaged.  

We discuss how tricky comedy can be, and how I want them to dig deep to find "smart humor".  They need role models, so I came up with two ideas.  I asked if they know who David Letterman is and most just stared at me...even with his pending retirement and the media blitz that is happening right now.    Then, I asked if they knew who Jon Stewart was, and their hands flew up in the air. With his retirement planned for August, that will change too...

I also encourage students who aren't comfortable using iMovie or other editing apps to explore other options for the parody that utilize both their personal talents and current technologies that are available.  

I ask questions like this:  

Do you draw?  Can you make a cartoon online?  

Let your brain go even further as you offer your children opportunities to share their personal talents while using technology.

Technology is moving so fast that each year I do the project with the students, I have to be flexible enough to be open to new ways of allowing them to present it.

The biggest goal is to engage at the end of the year and to allow them to develop and share their own individual talents and unique sense of humor.

Everyone loves to laugh!

I learn.  They help me stay current, and the best part...they get to have fun using the latest technologies about which they are passionate.  

That's why I created S-Cubed Middle School Sight Singing Program for Beginners.  Sight Singing books are a dime a dozen. I've bought them and used them.  They helped a bit, but now, we have more modern means available.  We can actually WATCH a teacher in a real public school classroom teaching the curriculum.
We can actually watch video teaching tips for specific lessons so we might have a chance to be more successful as we teach the new material for the first time.

It's a new day.  It's good to move with it. 

Notes that Nourish the Spirit of the Middle School Choir Teacher

I found this note in my inbox this morning from a parent...four days after our spring musical revue.  Made my day.  We don't get paid huge salaries.  We give our hearts to our endeavors in our classrooms.  So, when we receive a letter like this one after pouring ourselves into the production of a musical revue for 300 children...well...the timing is perfect.

Dear Mr. Duncan,

I suppose you may get a lot of notes like this but I hope you don’t mind
one more.  

You are awesome.  You bring out the best in every life you touch.  Your
students love you.  That is apparent by the dedication they have to the

Chorus program at Henderson Middle School.  You inspire young people on
and off stage to persevere through the often-awkward first years as
teens.  Their minds are expanded through more challenging curriculum,
their bodies are challenged through growth spurts and releases of
hormones, and their hearts are captivated by a man who shares his passion
for music with them.

My daughter, Joy, played trumpet for a bit at Briarlake (both of her
uncles and both grandfathers and her great-grandfather played or continue
to play trumpet—no pressure, huh?).  She was patient with us as we
nudged her and tried to nurture her talent.  My wife and I (and all our
family) LOVE to sing.  That is how we met—in a bar where she worked and
I played.  I eventually played upright bass in a bluegrass band and I was
in a production of Cotton Patch Gospel by Harry Chapin and Tom Key with
the Theatrical Outfit in 1999 at the Rialto in Atlanta.  For Joy, singing
won out over trumpet when it came time to choose which track to pursue at

I credit her participation in chorus with preserving her interest in
school over all.  When asked about her day, she skips over the core
classes and goes into excited, extended explanations of what is going on
with Chorus and more specifically the Musical. 

You and the students, along with those who assisted with choreography and
directing, put on a great show again this year.  It was thoroughly
impressive and enjoyable.  You exposed me to some new favorites that I
can’t stop humming (Superboy and the Invisible Girl, Crazier than You,
and Revolting Children) and reminded me of some old favorites that moved
me to tears.  The way each song was staged and executed demonstrated a
level of professionalism that is rare even among paid performers.  The
solos, duets, trios and the chorus transformed the HMS gym into a musical
wonderland that I did not want to end.

Please, take a moment to let it go to your head.  You deserve it.  OK,
now back to reality.  Have a great summer!
Paul Carpenter (Joy's dad)

And one more:

Kim Speece 
Fri 5/8/2015 9:56 PM

Dale Duncan (Henderson Middle);

Thank you for what we believe was the best show yet! The talent you are able to pull out of these kids each year is amazing. Please keep doing what you are doing because you are making a huge impact on these kids' lives - an impact that goes way beyond the stage. You have taught them the importance of hard work, dedication, team work and pure grit. All of these are lessons that typically don't come from a classroom unless that classroom has Dale Duncan as the teacher.
Tonight, Kenley said she wanted to do the show one more time just because she does not want the whole experience to be over. As a parent, I thank you.

Sent from my iPhone

Middle School Choral Teachers...keep going.  Keep giving your hearts to the kids and sharing your passions.  Keep organizing parents to support you and help you so that it isn't all up to you. Ask administrators for the support you need.  When they say no, ask again 6 months later.  Be tenacious.  Be positive.  Look for solutions.  Keep striving to create the program you've envisioned in your heart and brain so that every day, you are working toward its ultimate birth.

It all pays off.

Here are some pictures from out spring show.

Go to "YouTube" to see our rendition of "You Can't Stop the Beat".
Link to "Carry the Banner" opener 2015.

Check out my blog!
Creator of the S-Cubed Middle School Sight Singing Program for Beginners

Some Song Choices that I like for My Middle School Choirs

Here are some repertoire ideas from the creator of S-Cubed Sight Singing Program!

Slow for 7th Grade or 8th grade TB choir.  Good for adjudication.
I'm Bound Away arr. by Mark Patterson.

Fast for 7th/8th Grade TB choir.  Good for adjudication.
Who Will Be A Witness by Donald Moore and Aura Lee arr. Snyder.
Here is a YouTube video of my Men's choir performing these two songs at adjudication.

Slow for 6th grade/7th grade beginners for adjudication.
The Little Birch Tree arr. by Goetze.

A Capella fast for 6th/7th beginners for adjudication.
Drunken Sailor arranged by Emily Crocker.

Wonderful musical theater piece.  They LOVE this.  Upbeat.
Revolting Children from Matilda

Great for finale.  Idea:  Use flashlights.  Cover the flashlight with black cardboard.  Punch a pin hole in it.  Do song in the dark.
He Lives in You from the Lion King

7/8th Mixed Choir, Slow, for adjudication.
Turtle Dove by Linda Spevacek

7/8th Mixed Choir, Fast, for adjudication.
Misty Morning by Carl Nygard

Great for beginning of the year Mixed Choir.  Limited men's range.  7/8th.
Sinner Man by Roger Emerson

Awesome intro to madrigals for Mixed Choir 8th grade.  A Capella.
Carol of the Bells

FUN!  Rap.  Add kid in Santa suit.  Great opener for holiday.
Sounds All Around Us from Music K-8.

I use the next two with flashlight choreography and fog machine, and I do them in the dark.  I use it in October.
Thunder Lizard from Music K-8.

Dweller of the Cave from Music K-8 Magazine
Super fun for fall.  Add flashlights and fog machine in the dark, and it's super memorable.

This includes partner songs.  I like "Home", "City Life" and "Fifty Stars", but they are all good!
John Jacobson doesn't miss when you are trying to keep things fun with this age group!

He never misses for 3-part mixed choir,  but this is one of my favorites.  I use it with my mixed choir in the first nine weeks.  Lots of opportunities for unison octave work (S-Cubed Level 2), and it's fun and simple to learn.  

Perfect for beginning 2-part choir.  It has unique textures to it with whispers and "sh" sounds.  The kids love the upbeat nature.  Excellent for adjudicated festival.

Great to beginning Men's Choirs.  It ends with a 3-part chord.  It has lots of rhythmic interest, opportunities for solos, and is very upbeat.  Great for adjudication.

Super song for the beginning of the year with your Middle School boys.
It's easy and makes them feel super!  I often raise it a half step for the younger boys.

This is great for an advanced 8th grade mixed choir.  You need three strong parts.  It's rhythmic and exposes them to the start of singing in languages other than English in a non-threatening, easy way.
Great for adjudication.

Super easy but exposes the singers to 3 parts.  It it like a partner song on steroids.  Upbeat and very rhythmic.  Ends with 3 part split that is quite simple.  They love it.  Good for adjudication.

Lyrical, two part for an experienced choir.  Most of it is quite simple, but the two "chorus" parts are homophonic and offer some challenges and dissonances.  It is a great piece for taking students who have mastered simple two part singing to a new level.
Great for adjudication.

5 minutes 53 seconds on this video.

You will be Found from Dear Evan Hansen, arr. Mac Huff.  This is great for SAB choirs.  The kids absolutely love it.

Hitch a Ride for 8th grade Mixed with strong Men's section for adjudication.

This is an oldie, but it is so majestic.  I am but a small voice arr. Coates.  Great for 8th grade mixed at adjudication.

Antiphonal Kyrie arr. Strid.  Super for 2-part and not that difficult to learn.  There is a 3 part split at one point, but it's short.  Mostly it is question/answer in typical antiphonal style.  I like it for my 7th grade girls at adjudication.  

Light Up the Tree by Hank Beebe for holiday concert.  I use flashlights covered in Red, Green, Blue and White.  It's really magical and fun.  It's super for rhythm precision work both in the music and with the flashlights.  2-part.

Almost Christmas arr. Huff.  3 part-mixed.  Super opener.  It glistens.  The kids love it.  

Light the Candles All Around the World Teresa Jennings.  It's great unison work.  It helps us teach phrasing.  And they love actually lighting the candles.  Great close at the holiday with a strong inclusive message.

Here comes the snow Teresa Jennings.  Easy two part.  Perfect for 6th grade.  They cannot stop dancing to this.  They LOVE this song.  

White Winter Hymnal Arr. Billingsley.  Great for 8th grade mixed choir.  The track is super.  

Noel Noel Vijay Singh.  TB.  Accessible but challenging.  Always looking for TB for 7th or 8th grade boys.  They enjoy this one at the holiday concert.  

Silent Night arr. Gilpin.  SAB.  I do four verses.  Starts with solo in German.  Then, I do a verse on "OO" unison.  Third verse, I do english in 3 parts.  Fourth verse, the students use sign language in silence.  It's magical.