Category Archives: Secular Choir

Music from La La Land Now Available from Alfred Music

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Alfred Music is thrilled to announce the release of four new choral arrangements from the critically-acclaimed and highly-awarded motion picture La La Land. These exciting arrangements from La La Land are sure to be a hit with both singers and audiences. Each song is available for SATB, SAB, and SSA voices.

Another Day of Sun,” arranged by Jacob Narverud, is the optimistic opening number from La La Land. Who can forget those boisterous singing and dancing motorists on L.A.’s jammed 110 freeway at the start of the 2016 box office smash? This dynamic arrangement captures the excitement of the score with rhythmic drive, varied choral textures, and a rousing accompaniment. A perfect opener or closer, and a golden opportunity for choreography. Listen to a sample here.

The cast of La La Land gets all dolled up and heads to a lavish Hollywood Hills party during “Someone in the Crowd,” arranged by Alan Billingsley. The lively tempo, jazzy feel, and cheeky lyrics are fantastically fun and fuel the fire to become (or find) that someone special amongst a crowd of hopefuls. Listen to a sample here.

Audition (The Fools Who Dream),” arranged by Andy Beck, is the stunning, emotional showcase for actress Emma Stone in her award-winning performance as Mia. Nominated for Best Original Song, the poignant piece tells the story of one woman’s life and acknowledges the dreamer in all of us. Listen to a sample here.

And “City of Stars,” arranged by Jay Althouse, is the Academy Award-winning, instantly recognizable signature song. Winner of “Best Original Song” at the Academy Awards®, the Golden Globes, and the Critic’s Choice Movie Awards, this melancholy yet hopeful ballad features a haunting tune and a distinctive piano accompaniment that are instantly recognizable and extremely well suited for choral groups. Listen to a sample here!

Another Day of Sun,” “Someone in the Crowd,” “Audition (The Fools Who Dream),” and “City of Stars are all available in SATB, SAB, and SSA voicings, and with corresponding SoundTrax CDs at music retail stores, online retailers, and alfred.com.

Middle School Singers: Turning Their Energy into Wonderful Choirs

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By Dr. Russell L. Robinson

I love working with middle school singers. (Some people might ask, “How could you love working with middle school singers?”) Here are some of the reasons why:

  1. Their energy! As students this age make the transition from child to adult, they have boundless energy. Unbridled, unfocused, and unguided, this energy can be an “interesting challenge,” but as veteran middle school teachers will tell you, if you get the students going in the right direction and they know you are sincere, they will “go to the wall” for you!
  1. Their voices! Although the girls’ voices are also going through many physical developmental stages, their vocal changes are not nearly as dramatic as those the boys go through between sixth and eighth grade as their vocal cords lengthen and thicken. Some boys’ voices literally change overnight—or over Thanksgiving or Christmas vacation! You cannot force a boy’s voice (or any voice for that matter) into a range or part that they do not have. Middle school choral teachers must realize that they will likely have boy sopranos, altos, and changed-voice baritones all in the same class.
  1. Their potential! The expectations for middle school choirs can be too low. Often, parents and audiences (and sometimes teachers) simply do not expect middle school choirs to sing and perform at a high level of choral art. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have heard well-trained middle school choirs sing and perform choral music at the highest level.

So, given the above, what can you and I do to “turn their energy into wonderful choirs?” Let me offer the following suggestions:

Keep lessons well-paced. There is very little (to no) down time with middle school singers. Start class on time. Lead a sequential warm-up of no more than seven minutes, before transitioning into the first choral piece you are going to rehearse. Make sure that transition times between warm-ups, pieces, and activities are minimal and well-planned.

My particular sequence in a warm-up is as follows:
1. Warm-up physically.
2. Warm “down” on the “oo” vowel (five-note descending scale).
3. Warm “up” on the other vowels. For example, “noo, nee, noh, neh, naw” in arpeggios.
4. Diction exercise.
5. Chordal warm-up in the key of the first piece.

Select quality music that is appropriate for the ensemble you are teaching. Some middle school teachers are determined to have their choirs sing 3 and 4-part literature regardless of the age and experience of the choir. This can lead to a frustrating experience for both the choir and the director. Many beginning level middle school choirs (particularly those with sixth graders) would be better served by singing unison and 2-part pieces, rather than beginning with 3-part or SAB literature, as is common. I suggest that when performing 2-part literature, have the girls sing parts I and II and the boys sing Part I (in the normal octave if they are unchanged or down the octave if they are changed). My experience is that girls have an easier time singing harmony at this age, and having the boys sing with the Part I girls allows them to solidify singing on pitch. Also utilize rounds and canons with your beginning middle school singers. You must lead them into loving to sing!

Each lesson or rehearsal should accomplish clear and well-defined objectives. Remember, the purpose of each rehearsal is to get a little better, closer to your ultimate goal. Middle school singers (and all singers) want accurate reinforcement and feedback. If they are doing something right or at least better, specifically tell or ask them about what has improved. And, if they are doing something incorrectly, tell them what it is and demonstrate how to correct it. Then, get back to singing! Remember, students in choir want to sing, not listen to us talk too long about singing. We learn by “doing” and so do middle school students, especially when they see and hear the results of quality teaching and music.

Make middle school choir fun! Rehearsals can be fast-paced, exciting, and fun, or they can be drudgery. Remember, your best recruitment tool is what the students say to their peers in the hall after class. Use this unique age group and their natural social skills to your advantage. Make choir their best period of the day, and you will turn their energy into wonderful choirs!

RobinsonDr. Russell L. Robinson has been on the faculty of The University of Florida since 1984 and is Professor of Music and Coordinator of Music Education. The recipient of numerous teaching awards, he teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in choral music and music education, and has made over 300 appearances as a conductor, speaker, and presenter at festivals, workshops, honor choirs, all-state choirs, and conventions all over the world.


 

Top 10 Reasons to Perform Musicals in School

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In our age of the Internet, social media, reality television and other “worthy” pursuits that can steal away our students’ attention, are musicals still worth preparing? Of course, my answer is a resounding “YES”!

Here are my top 10 reasons for doing a musical once, twice, or even three times this year (and in years to come). And they’re based not only on my personal experience through the years, but what I’ve heard from countless others over the last three decades:

  1. The Event Factor. Since musicals aren’t performed on a regular basis, whenever they are performed, they’re an event. They can build excitement and a real positive “buzz” in the classroom.
  2. Dramatic Impact. There’s no question we live now more than ever in a fast-paced, visual world. Drama—especially when connected with music—offers a way to tell a story that can leave an indelible impact on its performers and listeners.
  3. Greater Depth. A musical offers a longer time to “plumb the depths” of any given subject, so the potential impact on students is exponentially increased.
  4. Growth. Musicals tend to offer healthy musical challenges that students might not experience otherwise. This can contribute to a growth in confidence and musical understanding.
  5. Outreach. A one-time special event musical is a great excuse to invite friends, family, and community members and showcase your student’s hard work.
  6. Bonding. An event tends to “rally” a classroom together and generate excitement among students. Everyone becomes part of the musical ‘team.’ If there are a few extra rehearsals to pull the musical together, those offer an opportunity for greater bonding between the teacher and students.
  7. Wider Involvement. A musical offers a chance for parents and even more students to get involved, too! They can help with design, building or painting (if there’s a set); audio/visuals (sound, lights, PowerPoint, and/or video); costumes (if there are any, of course), and more.
  8. Encourages Participation. There’s no question that, in general, musicals sometimes take a recruiting process to get students to audition. Use the audition process as another means of outreach to excite students to be a part of the fun!
  9. Dinner or Dessert Theatre. Who doesn’t love the mixture of food and musicals?! Contribute to the ‘event’ factor by offering some appetizers and baked goods. Another great avenue to get the parents involved!
  10. Memories. Students will fondly recall the time they were the singing sidekick or a belting baritone! Memories are another way to help share the joy of making music for years to come.

Bottom line: Musicals—when carefully chosen, prepared, and performed—can create a lasting impact on those who experience them. And that is worth “the roar of the greasepaint, and the smell of the crowd!”

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Mark Cabaniss is a music publisher, producer, writer, and educator. He is President/CEO of Jubilate Music Group, based in Brentwood, Tennessee. Two of his elementary musicals (Tom Sawyer & Company and Gilbert and Sullivan Rock!) are published by Alfred Music. www.markcabaniss.com


 

 

Teaching Masterworks to Developing Choirs

Dr. Russell L. Robinson
Emeritus Professor of Music Education, University of Florida
Composer, Arranger, Consultant, Speaker

www.RussellRobinson.com

I have been arranging masterworks for young choirs for over 20 years, from madrigals to larger choral classics to recently arranged solo masterworks for choirs. It has been my goal to create choral music for young choirs (elementary through high school, and even college choirs who have many non-music majors) to help elevate their choral sound and be proud of their musical results.

You must start with a great piece of music. We cannot make great arrangements out of bad pieces. Classics that have stood the test of time are best. From some of my first arrangements such as: “Sing We and Chant It” (Morley/Robinson), “In These Delightful Pleasant Groves” (Purcell/Robinson), “Sing Unto God” (Handel/Robinson), and “How Lovely Are the Messengers” (Mendelssohn/Robinson) to lately taking solo works and arranging them for choirs. Pieces such as Faure’s “Pie Jesu” (ed. and arr. Robinson) and the Bach/Gounod “Ave Maria” (arr. Robinson) are good examples of this. These timeless melodies are often familiar to singers and audiences, but not in a choral setting.

Let me for the moment focus on the Bach/Gounod “Ave Maria.” As the performance notes say, this piece was originally written by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) as his “Prelude No. 1 in C major” for
piano (clavier) and later a melody was composed by Charles Gounod for solo violin. The traditional “Ave Maria” lyrics were added later. Since that time, such famous soloists as Placido Domingo, Jackie Evancho, Renée Fleming, Luciano Pavarotti and Andrea Bocelli have performed this piece. So, there is a good chance that many audience members will have heard the melody and perhaps the singers themselves. It’s timeless and beautiful.

So how does one arrange these masterworks, such as the “Ave Maria,” to be accessible for young choirs or inexperienced singers?

There are many considerations when writing such arrangements of classics regardless of their style. First, the ranges should be treated intentionally. If it is a 3-part mixed (where the third part is for changed or changing male voices and uses a range from F below middle C to D above middle C) or a SAB arrangement, and the boys/men’s voices can go lower, I try to “think like a young man” when writing their parts. Avoidance of great leaps in the intervals is essential. And, in the case of the “Ave Maria”—allowing parts other than the Soprano to sing the melody. In addition, the piano part should subtly (and sometimes not-so-subtly) reinforce the parts to assist the singers. An arranger of these masterworks should not alter the musical or lyrical qualities of the original piece. I always feel like the original composers are looking over my shoulder from above, and I want their “ok” in what I’m writing.

What about responsibilities of the director/teacher and singers?

Pure vowels are essential regardless of language! All vowels should be sung with a bit of “oo” in them. In other words, ah-vowels should be sung “aw”—ee-vowels should be sung with an “ee” in the inside of the mouth and an “oo” vowel on the lips to keep the vowel from spreading. For more information on these concepts, see these recommended Alfred Music publications: The Complete Choral Warm-Up Book (Robinson/Althouse), Creative Rehearsal Techniques for Today’s Choral Classroom (Robinson), and Middle School Singers: Turning Their Energy into Wonderful Choirs (Robinson).

Perhaps most importantly, pay close attention to dynamics and text accents. There should be an audible difference between piano and mezzo forte. I hear too many choirs that sing with a limited range of dynamics, usually from mezzo forte to forte. Dynamics contrasts are essential. And, text accents—no two syllables or words should be sung at the same volume, regardless of language. In just the two words “Ave Maria” we have an example of text accent treatment. “Ave” should be sung with an accent on the first syllable and a dramatically softer second syllable. The same with “Maria” where there are three syllables. The second syllable gets the accent and the first and third are unaccented.

Taking into account these considerations and steps—a great original masterwork, along with a well-written arrangement, and finally pure vowels, dynamic contrasts, and text accents will lead singers to making beautiful music with these classics.

12 Tips for the First Week of School

By the Alfred Music Choral and Classroom Editors

Last year’s school year is in the books and the upcoming year is waiting with promises of new music and fresh opportunities. Whether you’re returning to an established program or stepping into your classroom for the first time, start off on the right foot with these 12 tips for the first week of school, as recommended by the Alfred Choral and Classroom editors.

Learn your students’ names. Consider greeting each student at the door as they enter. For an especially large group, use nametags until you have every one learned. Students will be responsive and respectful when addressed by name.

Jump right into the music. Kick off your year with a fun song that can come together in just one or two rehearsals. Instant success will give students the confidence they need for more challenging repertoire. And opening the year with a “student favorite” will motivate them for the year ahead.

Provide a good model. If you desire rehearsals that start on time, start teaching on timeIf you value beautiful tone quality, demonstrate beautiful tone quality. If you enjoy positive and uplifting rehearsals, lead positive and uplifting rehearsals. Students will mirror what they observe.

Establish the rules. “Welcome to choir. We will start every rehearsal on time. Please throw away your gum as you enter the room. I expect you to have a pencil in your folder at all times. And thank you for not talking when I’m working with another section.”

Set the bar high. Why save the best stuff for performances only? Make the most of every rehearsal and class period by demanding quality at all times. Students will always rise to the challenge, and soon the highest of expectations will be met—and even surpassed!

Add music theory and history to your curriculum. This will raise student interest and provide both the context and background for them to gain a deeper understanding of the music they are learning. Inevitably, this will shine through, enhancing their performances during the year.

Get to know the support staff. Your school secretary will be so helpful when it’s time to print programs. Custodians will spend plenty of time setting up and taking down the choral risers. And many off-site performances will be made possible thanks to the head of transportation.

Schedule everything you can. Teachers, parents, and students are busier than ever. Take the time to put together a master calendar of all concerts, festivals, and other activities for the year that you are aware of, and then pass it along to everyone who needs to know.

Communicate with parents. Obtain students’ and parents’ e-mail addresses and telephone numbers. Organize the e-mail addresses in a folder on your computer so that you can immediately and effectively communicate details about your program.

Set up a substitute book. Absences are bound to occur during the school year, whether due to illness (yours or a relative’s) or a conference. Having a substitute book prepared will give you peace of mind and the knowledge that your sub has been provided with lesson plans that they can easily implement.

Reflect. Take some time at the end of the first week (or every week) to review each class/group, assess their progress, and affirm that you are heading in the right direction.

Remember that you aren’t perfect. We all have days when what we have planned for the classroom simply doesn’t work, and that’s ok! Learn from those  mistakes and continue to believe in yourself and your students. Celebrate the small victories along the way!

Alfred Music Joins Peaksware To Help The World Experience The Joy of Making Music

Andrew Surmani

By Andrew Surmani
Chief Marketing Officer, Alfred Music

Alfred Music is excited to announce today that it is joining the Peaksware Holdings, LLC portfolio of companies. This group includes MakeMusic, Inc., the developer of Finale and SmartMusic, bringing together the leaders in educational music publishing and music technology.

Both Alfred Music and MakeMusic will continue to operate independently. By sharing resources within the Peaksware group, additional investments and innovations will provide additional content and distribution channels for both companies. Specifically, this relationship will not change MakeMusic’s long-standing commitment to work equally with all publishing partners to provide the highest level of quality content for musicians and educators within SmartMusic.

“We are excited to be working with MakeMusic. Alfred Music truly believes in the MakeMusic products which is why we took over exclusive North American and UK distribution of the Finale suite of products in 2013. We also believe strongly in the SmartMusic platform, evidenced by the fact that we are one of its leading content providers. This partnership provides the resources needed to significantly enhance Alfred Music’s mission of helping the world experience the joy of making music,” said Andrew Surmani, Chief Marketing Officer of Alfred Music.” “We are combining the leading music education publisher with the industry leader in music technology to benefit everyone, from our music publishing partners, to music dealers, composers, arrangers, educators, students and independent musicians.”

MakeMusic owns some of the most advanced and patented technology solutions to support the composing, arranging, teaching, learning, and playing of music. Regular updates and innovations to Finale make it the industry standard for music notation software and the trusted creation tool for composers and arrangers around the world. With more than one million students and 20,000 teachers, SmartMusic is at the forefront of interactive learning technologies for the classroom. And, with their recent acquisition of Weezic, an Augmented Sheet Music innovator, SmartMusic will now be available wherever musicians are – on the web, Chromebooks, iPads, Mac and PC.

Alfred Music’s customers, dealers, and industry partners should expect business to continue as usual with no immediate changes. Alfred’s main office will remain in Van Nuys, California and additional offices will stay in their current New York, Miami, UK, Singapore, and Germany locations.

To stay current with further developments, visit the SmartMusic blog or follow Alfred on Twitter and MakeMusic on Twitter.

Hands-On Learning in Choir Rehearsal

By Melody Easter-Clutter, Teacher and Author

When I first began teaching middle school in Indianola, Iowa, I recognized that my students didn’t truly understand the rhythmic concepts in their performance music. They could echo me and learn by rote, but they had difficulty reading rhythms off the page and grasping the “feel” of more complicated patterns. So, I began to experiment with movement and hands-on learning, in an effort to stimulate sight-reading skills and develop rhythmic comprehension in my students. I wanted to keep the activities short enough to incorporate into my regular choral rehearsals, as well as “fun” enough that my students wouldn’t immediately tune out the information. I used everything I could think of—hand motions, body movements, tennis balls, beach balls, composition projects, etc.

My students loved the lessons! Not only did their reading, notating, and composing skills improve, but my enrollment was impacted as well, almost doubling in two years. Teachers often forget the value of learning by moving and creating, something that is very common in elementary school but fades as students age. I found that young men particularly enjoyed the movement-based activities, and they themselves ended up recruiting other young middle school men to join choir. It was such a joy to see my students excited to come to chorus!

These lessons became the basis for my book with Anna Wentlent: Ready, Set, Rhythm! It is comprised of 80 lessons, which develop sequentially through the basic concepts of rhythm. Each lesson is about ten minutes long, and is specifically designed to be inserted into regular general music classes or ensemble rehearsals as a warm-up, “break” in the middle of class, or concluding activity before dismissal. And the timeline is flexible as well. You may choose to work through a lesson a day, every other day, once a week, or on an as-needed basis to practice particularly troublesome rhythms. Each unit concludes with a reproducible student assessment, as well as all necessary supporting documents, such as student grade sheets. Click here for more information!

The International Phonetic Alphabet

Anna WentlentBy Anna Wentlent, Managing Editor of School Choral and Classroom Publications

For developing and mature singers alike, the International Phonetic Alphabet—commonly known by the abbreviation IPA—is invaluable. This standardized system contains a symbol for every vowel and consonant sound, precisely stipulating the way the sound should be formed by the mouth and tongue, voiced or unvoiced. It is a singers’ greatest tool for understanding the sounds of foreign languages.

The uniform and un-biased approach of IPA allows singers to develop a feel for the unique differences between languages. And in doing so, it far surpasses the usual method of spelling words phonetically using English-based sounds (such as “meh-nee” for the word “many”). This method is compromised by the endless dialects and variations of the English language. For example, every English speaker does not pronounce the word “boat” the same way. Further problems arise when trying to represent sounds that don’t exist in English—how does one spell out a French nasal vowel or a trilled R?

Using IPA with your students has many benefits. To begin with, the teaching process will be easier with a standard pronunciation system. The symbol [e] means [e], no matter the language. Having such a system in place will also help with motivation—your students will begin to feel that foreign language pieces are more manageable and approachable without the language barrier. What’s more, you will be endowing them with a valuable tool to take forward into future choral and vocal experiences. What a gift!

Whether you are just now learning the system or looking for a refresher, Alfred’s IPA Made Easy is a straightforward reference for the symbols used in IPA: what they look like and how they are pronounced. Example words for every symbol are included in English, Latin, Italian, German, French, and Spanish. And an online listening lab includes recorded demonstrations of every sound. It’s a clear and concise tool for singing in foreign languages, equally useful in the choir room and the vocal studio.

Thomas Dorsey: The Father of Gospel Music

Precious Lord, Take My HandThomas A. Dorsey (1899-1993)—not to be mistaken with the big band leader Tommy Dorsey—is often referred to as the “father of gospel music.” The son of a minister and a piano teacher, he started his career as a blues pianist in Chicago, working with local jazz groups. He eventually formed his own group, The Wildcats Jazz Band, which played regularly with the great Ma Rainey. During this same time, he also began recording. The way in which he combined blues and jazz rhythms with traditional hymns and spiritual songs resulted in a new “gospel” style. Some historians credit Dorsey with creating the term “gospel music.”

In 1932, Dorsey experienced a life-changing event that resulted in the creation of one of his most popular compositions. While on the road performing, he received a message asking him to come home immediately, as his wife Nettie, pregnant with their first child, had died. Two days later, his newborn son also died. Filled with grief, he penned the lyric “Precious Lord, take my hand. Lead me on, let me stand.” (He can be seen telling the story in the documentary Say Amen, Somebody.) This would go on to be one of his most famous compositions, along with the gospel standard “Peace in the Valley,” which was written for Mahalia Jackson. After writing “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” Dorsey devoted himself almost exclusively to the writing and performing of gospel music.

In addition to writing over 400 songs, Dorsey started a publishing company, Dorsey House of Music, and was a founder and president of the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses. He died in 1993 at the age of 93.

An SSAA arrangement of “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” by J. Reese Norris is newly available from Lawson-Gould.

Selecting Repertoire for Middle School Boys

Lon BeeryBy Lon Beery, Educator and Composer

Perhaps the most challenging issue facing middle school choral directors is finding appropriate repertoire for their choirs. No doubt the adolescent male voice change impacts middle school choruses more significantly than at any other level. Although many authorities have come up with specific ranges and labels, I find it more useful to think of voice ranges in practical terms as they relate to repertoire: what pieces and voicings will fit the variety of voice types found in the average middle school choir?

I like to think of adolescent male voices in terms of tessituras: high, middle and low. High voices include those boys who have voices that are unchanged or in the first stages of change. The A below middle C to the A above is a comfortable tessitura for most of these guys. I personally call them Tenor 1, even though they are actually more like altos. (I used to call them “cambiatas,” but over time, some of them came to think of that as a negative designation. Calling them a tenor took care of that, even though I know they are not really tenors!) There are also middle voice guys who are more comfortable around middle C, usually from the F or G below to the D or Eb right above. This is the range often referred to as Part III in three-part mixed pieces. I call these guys Tenor 2. Finally, there are those boys who have voices that have dropped lower, from around the Bb an octave below middle C to the A or Bb just below middle C. These are the Baritones.

There are also a few guys with voices that have changed quickly and have a hard time matching pitch, except for a few notes at the very bottom of the bass clef. Privately, I jokingly call them my “subterranean basses!” It is certainly difficult to consider these guys when selecting repertoire. They need individual attention and lots of encouragement! They often become great singers later, once their voices have stabilized.

When it comes to repertoire, one needs to make sure that there are parts for each of these broad categories. Unchanged voices can often sing the soprano part. However, I personally prefer to combine them with the beginning changed voices on the alto part. In my sixth grade mixed chorus, I often use specifically chosen two-part music in which the range of part II is generally A to A. With the voice change, two-part music with equal ranges just doesn’t work any longer.

But in most middle school mixed choirs, two-part music generally does not provide enough parts for the variety of voice parts present. One generally needs three or four parts. The higher guys can often still sing the alto part. And the beginning changed voices can comfortably sing the lowest part in most three-part mixed pieces. Too often, however, the new baritones get slighted in three-part mixed music. Fortunately, in the last several years, more and more of these voicings include optional baritone parts. This is the music I recommend most often for middle school mixed choruses.

I have also found it beneficial to actually separate the boys and girls at the middle school level. This allows the boys to go through the voice change without the potential embarrassment of singing in front of the girls. It also emphasizes that singing is a “guy thing.” As is the case with mixed chorus repertoire, one must be careful to select repertoire that has vocal parts for guys in all stages of vocal maturation. Personally, I believe that carefully selected TTB music is the best solution, using the ranges listed above. It is also helpful to combine grade levels for middle school male choruses. Each grade level has significant strengths and weaknesses. Sixth grade choruses will have more high voices and fewer low. In contrast, eighth grade choruses will generally have more low voices and fewer high. Combining grade levels together helps to achieve a more satisfying choral balance. With my current school schedule, I cannot rehearse them together, but when I put them together everything works out just fine.

In addition to vocal changes, these students are facing many other emotional and developmental transformations. And this will impact the type of text that speaks to them. Indeed, there is no age that presents as many challenges for choral directors as middle school. Finding repertoire that fits these students is a challenge, but it is the primary key to leading them to success and a desire to continue to sing for a lifetime.