Recruiting Boys to sing in Middle School Chorus

Oh my...

Haven't books been written on this subject?!?   And aren't seminars almost always presented at every major conference about keeping boys in your chorus?

And I'm trying to sum it up in a quick blog post?

Impossible. I always say each time I write, I don't have all the answers...or even half of the answers.

I can only share some of the things that I do that work for me in the Title 1 Atlanta middle school classroom setting where I teach, and let you decide if you can use any of the ideas or not.

So here we go...

Right now, this video of my current class of 7th grade boys is my recruiting tool for next year.

Yesterday, these 40 young men went to the Georgia Music Educator's Association Large Group Performance Evaluation, and they scored the highest score of all four of my choirs.

So, what am I doing in this moment?

More importantly than anything, I am praising them.

But, let's get specific...

1)  Last night, I emailed a copy of this video to all of the parents of all of my students.  In the email, I featured the video of the boys and also commended the other choirs for their superior ratings and thanking them for their work.

2)  This morning,  I emailed parents of 6th graders to ask them to encourage their children to recruit boys for 7th grade chorus, and I included a link of this choir's performance.   In the email, I write, "I don't care whether they think they can sing or not.  I just want students with a desire to sing and a strong work ethic."

3)  This morning, I also sent a "remind" message to all of my 6th graders asking them to help recruit boys.

In both of the correspondences, I gave specific times and places for the interested boys to meet me to express their interest, and I included a deadline for signing up.

4)  I needed to find a way to meet the students where they are...

OH!  Their peers!  That's what matters to them the most.

So,  this morning, I emailed the teacher in charge of creating the morning announcements and asked her to include a link to the video and to congratulate all of the chorus groups on their results yesterday.  I had other videos of other choirs who did a great job, but featuring the video of the boys would help me give their classmates the visual they needed and would also instill an enormous sense of pride in the boys who achieved the result.

In our school, being featured on the morning announcements makes you a celebrity of sorts.

So, this is what I've done in the last 24 hours since the students achieved their results to help keep the energy flowing.

I knew I needed to make the most of this moment.

What about "before" this moment?  How did I get here?

One gradual step at a time...

Here is a quick summary:

1)  In 6th grade, most boys are treble, so in my view, it's most effective to include them all together.

2)  In my experience, I had the least success when I combined 7th grade boys with 7th grade girls. The girls are getting shy at that point about boys.  Some of the boys voices are starting to go crazy.
The girls are singing sharp.  They boys whose voices are changing can't match pitch so well.
I just felt like they needed to be separate...even if some of the boys voices weren't ready.  I felt like the boys needed some time for me to teach them about their changing voices without the glare of the girls...who were singing sharp as I mentioned, but that's another story.  Somehow, the girls manage to feel superior to the boys and to convey that to them...which discouraged the boys from singing.
...And I always leave the door open for boys who really prefer to stay with the girls to stay with the girls because I know that not all of the boys voices change at the same time.

Everyone wants to feel successful at what they do.  When my boys weren't feeling successful while they sang, they chose to take other classes.

So, I worked to split the genders in 7th grade.  Did my administrators support it in the beginning? Absolutely not.

But I fought.

And fought.

And created good results to continue to gain their support.

That isn't the only answer though.  You have to look at your situation at your school and make the decision along with your administrators about what works in YOUR circumstance.   If you change schools, your circumstance may be different.  As the leader of the choral program for your school, it is your job to assess the situation you are facing and to make the decision that is best for the program.  Whatever your recommendation is, remember that achieving it is a collaborative effort.  Choral music is not the only consideration of the administrators.

3)  Use competition.  Boys love it.  They love to win.  Stoke the fire.  I use it with my forbidden pattern game for sight singing.  I keep score all year, and I always point out who is winning the most.
I have many other ways that I encourage competition, but, in my experience, the boys seem most interested in being the best.  It even surpasses their need to be silly and to impress each other.  They love to be the best.

4)  Help them sound great.  Find their voices.  In sixth grade, teach him to listen.  Don't assume that he "has to be in the basement" or that he is tone deaf.  Also in sixth grade, help him learn to use his falsetto if his voice has changed and encourage him to continue to use it in 7th and 8th grade when it is needed.  Tell him that matching pitch is part of being a smart singer and then help him do it.

5)  Help him FEEL the energy it takes to match pitch and support his new voice when it changes. You can talk until you are blue in the face about imagery or what he should feel when he sings, but until you actually get him to feel it, he's going to keep droning along an octave below middle C when you want him to sing middle C.  Remember that teaching middle school boys is not the same as teaching class voice while you were a master's student.

6)  Find songs they can sing well.  Modify when you need to.  They want to look and sound good in front of the girls, in front of their peers and in front of their parents.  In fact, peers are often more important to them than their parents.  :-)   When they don't feel successful, they leave you and sign up for band because it's easier and less personal to blow a horn.   I've listed some of the songs I use with my boys here.   Use what works for you, and email me with ideas you've found that work well, and I will add them.

7)  Find what you enjoy teaching them and teach it to them.   I enjoy teaching musical theater songs to my students.  During fourth nine weeks, we do a big fund-raiser.  When I pick songs for that show, I always try to find songs that excite the boys.  For example, songs from "Newsies" really get them going.  Songs with silly humor like the sort used in Spamalot seem to get them excited.    Keep in mind that in 7th grade, most of them bottom out at F below middle C.

8)  Recognize that teaching them is not the same as teaching girls.  For me, teaching 84 girls is far easier than teaching 40 boys.  Boys are louder.  They need to move more.  They need to be sillier. Many days, someone is going to pass gas and the students who are nearby are going to pinch their noses while you are teaching.  You can laugh about it, you can ignore it or your can fight them about why it's not appropriate. I choose to laugh sometimes and ignore it sometimes.  They already know it isn't appropriate.  Mom and Dad taught them that already...but they do it anyway.  It's a rite of passage.

Let it go.

9)  For parents, in my experience, in general, boys are harder for them to raise in terms of behavior. Recognize it.  Perhaps you may have taught their lovely daughter 3 years ago.  She did everything she was supposed to do without any work from you.  She just did it.  Her parents don't even know why she did it.  She just did.  Then, in walks the son who is loud and out of control.

Accept it and move with it.

Have the hard conversation.  Tell them you are sorry that this is their difficult child, but that you still need for him to do the work and to be held accountable for inappropriate behavior.   Hold both the boy and the parent accountable and create structure for him so that he can be successful.

I can't tell you how many hard conversations I've had with parents who are struggling with their boys. Parents sit across from me and cry when I break it down for them real time.

They already know.

They live with their child.

...But hearing it from a teacher who is working hard to help them have success is hard for the parent.

Many times, they are embarrassed, and they feel like failures.

I don't subscribe to that at all, but perception is reality.

So, do your best to help the parent.

And for the parents who copy every administrator under the sun when you are working so hard to help hold their boy accountable for his poor behavior because they simply can't accept that their little boy isn't perfect in school even though he is a terror at home, go in.

Be real and don't be afraid.

You know what you've seen from their child each day.

Document the actual behaviors and deliver the information to the parents without judgment.

...And when the parents keep making excuses, you say:

"I have you son for 1-3 years.  You have him for life.  I am doing my best to help your son.  That is why I am taking the time to deliver this information on a Monday morning at a 7 AM conference that I arranged to help you and your child."

...And, by the way, sometimes we need to say that to the parents of girls too.

So, those are the things that have worked for me as I've recruited boys for my program.

I hope it gives you some ideas.

It's worth the effort.

Check out my blog!

A letter I sent to Chorus Parents After Adjudication Today

Hello Parents!

Today was a magical day.  Your children were magnificent.  I am so proud of their hard work, dedication, discipline and perseverance.

On Remind, I sent photos of all of the results from every judge.  Some of the comments from the judges were truly amazing.  There were times today when the judges stood up and clapped for the HMS students after they sang.  All four groups received Superior Ratings on their songs and on their sight singing.  This is not an easy accomplishment, and it is something in which they should take great pride. 

I had professional audio recordings done of each group.  Once I recover from the events of today, I will figure out a way to get you copies of the recordings so you can truly appreciate the hard work your children have done.

After I returned from the adjudication, I uploaded several videos from todays events onto YouTube.  If you go to this link and look under "most recent", you will find samples of their work from today.  I've tried to label each one for you so you can find your children.  Some are still processing, but they should all be up and ready for viewing by 7:45 PM. I included videos from all four singing groups.  

Thank you so much for the parent volunteers today who helped to chaperone and take video of the activities of the day.   And thank you to all of the parents who donated on Donor's Choose to help get the students back to school.

The last thing I said to each group today before they sang was a quote from Maya Angelou.  "People forget what you say, but they don't forget how you make them feel."  Your children gave me goose bumps multiple times today, and I have no doubt that the audience was moved in a similar way by their performances.  I firmly believe that your children inspired teachers and children from other schools who heard them sing today.  

Thank you for your support in helping the students learn the importance of working hard and more importantly, the fruits of their labor.  They may stop singing one day, but life lessons like these will serve them for a lifetime.  

With gratitude,

Dale Duncan

Myths about Classroom Management

This week, I found this article about classroom management, and with permission from the author, I am sharing it here with you because I believe firmly in the ideas presented in it!

Educators tend to think about the reactive part of challenging situations when it comes to classroom management – how to respond to inattention or misconduct.

But the truth is that classroom management is mostly about being proactive so that less of those situations arise.  According to author Harry Wong, “The number one problem in the classrooms is not discipline; it is lack of authentic learning tasks, procedures and routines.”
Laying a good foundation from the beginning will motivate most students to work up to expectations and reduce the number of confrontations that cannot only disrupt but also completely de-rail good lessons.  Unfortunately, there are still many common misconceptions among some educators about classroom management that persist despite 21st century research and reforms.