Mr D's survey results: Splitting by Gender in Middle School Choir

This post was created by Mr D, who is the creator of the S-Cubed Sight Singing Program for Beginners.

So, when I started teaching middle school chorus in Greensboro, NC back in it was (I can't write it because I haven't finished my 40's therapy thanks for bearing with me.) the early days, I simply could not figure out how to deal with the boy's voices in 7th and 8th grade. I heard them droning on and on, and I taught my ear not to deal with it because I had no idea what to do to fix it.

If I stopped and worked with them, the girls, who were the majority, would start talking. The boys felt insecure because there weren't that many of them. Behavior went haywire.

I was frustrated. The boys were embarrassed because I was not effective in helping them to sound better.

It was a recipe for disaster.

The boys didn't feel successful, and as a result, I didn't get that many boys to sign up for chorus each year.

So, I dug deep.

Life took me out of that North Carolina school and into a middle school in New Jersey.  I went to adjudication with my mixed choir, and I saw an amazing 8th-grade Mixed Choir sing. I took "sick days" and went to observe the teacher of that choir on two occasions.  I learned so much from her teaching style, but the biggest thing I learned was that she took the time to work in sectionals with her students. She grabbed time at lunch, and before and after school. She was so dedicated, and so were her students.

So I did the same.  I found every pocket of time I could grab during the day in the schedule, and I worked in sectionals with the students.

The results completely changed my program. I was finally proud of how my middle school singers sounded. Pitch improved and the students confidently held their parts.

Then, I moved my current school in Georgia.

And I was aging. :-)

While I have a lot of energy for someone of my age (154...yep...some days it feels like that), grabbing time for sectionals was becoming less and less appealing.

When I first got to my current school, I knew that I had to prove myself and my commitment to the program.

Nobody cares what you've done in the past.  They want to know what you are going to do now.

I had to produce solid results. Without that, I could ask until I was blue in the face, and the administrators would find every obstacle possible not to give me what I asked for.  So, in year one at my current school and during my 11th year teaching public school and creating solid and consistent results, I did some more sectionals with my students.

We went to state adjudications and to Six Flags adjudications.

The turning point for me and my students at my current school was my spring concert in 2003.

I took the time to teach my boys the "My Girl" by the Temptations in their sectionals.

I gave them some simple choreography, and wow...

Those boys were in heaven.

Their parents absolutely loved it, and they felt like superstars.

I kept doing something similar for the next few years, and each year, soon after the concert, I asked my administrators for a gender split in 7th or 8th grade.

It took three years to make it happen.

I chose 7th grade as a compromise with the administrators.  It's a little early for a gender split but it totally works for me and my students.  When they come to 8th Mixed Choir, the boys are solid as a rock, and they are confident.

To this day, I always find ways to feature my boys during concerts in ways that make them feel excited and like little "superstars".   The most success I've had recently with them is with songs from the Broadway show "Newsies" during the spring concert.    This year, we had over 30 boys who voluntarily danced and sang during our spring musical revue.  Here are some photos from this years show:

So, what are the lessons here?

*Be flexible.  Your admins have many considerations.  Yours aren't the only ones that matter.
*Find what works in your setting as you consult with your administrators.
*If you have a vision for what you want for your program, fight for it, but be reasonable.
*Every school has different needs and challenges.   Your job is to recognize them and work around the challenges to find the best solutions for the students you teach.
*Give the boys moments to shine.  There is nothing more powerful and persuasive than adults who see students thriving under your tutelage.  Presenting research to administrators is awesome, but until the children you teach in that building are given moments to soar, it is highly unlikely that administrators are going to be persuaded by anything you present regarding scheduling changes.

...and that holds true for any idea (gender-split or something else) that you have about gaining support for your program.

With all of that said, my perspective is just a singular one that is based on my experience.

My way is just one way.

So, in March, I reached out to the choral music community and asked for our peers to share their thoughts on splitting gender in middle school.

Here are the results.

Please share with your peers...especially those who are just starting to teach middle school chorus.  I've written and spoken about gender splitting in middle school chorus many times on my blog, on YouTube and on Facebook LIVE

Come talk with me about this issue and the many other joys and challenges of teaching middle school chorus on Facebook Live later this month.

1 comment

  1. I heartily endorse gender split at middle school, with mixed for 8th grade if possible. No need to repeat the reasons -- you stated them well. My admin loves it too.