Beginning children's Choirs:again
  • kevinfkevinf
    Posts: 1,094
    For the third time in 20 years, I will begin a children's choir program this coming year. Each time I have gone in more significantly deeper direction towards part-singing, reading and notation. In 2005, my last program went to Rome to sing at the Pueri Cantores gathering. They noted the use of chant and polyphony that kids from around the world had sung and were thrilled to be able to do it. My girlchoir (yes, I split them up by gender) got to the point that they could easily sing a NO liturgy or an EF liturgy each week and begged me to let them sing each week, but their parents balked.Yes, they learned to read and sing the propers, just were not allowed to use them.

    For this time, as in each before, I have used the Royal School of Church music curriculum, now called Voice for Life. It is not a cheap venture to say the least, but well worth it. The kids progress through a color-coded level process. In addition, I will use the Ward method for chant and notation. This will be the newest component but I believe the easiest, as test work with kids this past summer taught me that four line staves are easier to read for them than five line staves. There is no question that solfege in application to both notational systems will be applied.

    In addition, I have assembled a Book of customs for the kids to know. This book is actually a small book regarding how to behave at liturgy, what one does in terms of ritual behavior and preparing to go to Mass (vesting prayers as one puts on one's choir robe,etc). The parents have asked for these as well and proved to be useful all the way around. I have tests on these behaviors and they are part of their progression of the levels.

    I do use the ribbon system that RSCM advocates because, like Boy Scouts, we need public signs of our progression in knowledge and ability. I know some find it weighty, but I find the ribbons really encourage the work to get done.

    I also heartily advocate splitting by gender. Boys find it much easier to sing with boys and it does not become a "girl" thing to sing. The boys tend to be much happier with themselves. Also, the voices of boy trebles and girl trebles are very different for me.

    I will have a choir camp in the summer and begin with a week of long days. But it builds the group. This kind of program takes about 3-5 years to mature, but, hey its time. Also, this will begin the process of reform for the parish. The kids learn Latin while its still "easy" and connect to the larger tradition. Reform is easier with the kids than adults.

    Pray for us.
    Kevin in Atlanta
  • Best wishes for success. It seems like you know what needs to be done. When I was much younger, it was common for organist-choir directors to value positions that did not involve children's choirs. After accepting a position that required directing a children's choir - for more money of course, I was astonished to find that I actually received more satisfaction from them than my adult ensemble. You are right, children are more malleable and take to good music more readily than adults who haven't had exposure.

    You are lucky that your parish allows you to separate the boys and the girls. You've correctly touched on the benefits of that arrangement. I also like your Book of Customs idea as well. Wish I had thought of it years ago. Also the RSCM ribbon system signifying progression of skills is a proven incentive. Kids really are more likely to improve when there is something tangible to strive for. I know that at the choir school in Cambridge the annual 5th grade Investiture service is a big deal both for the kids and their parents. (At that service 5th grades are presented with white surplices, a cross and their own hymnal.)

    As some have already argued on this site, the instruction of children should hold priority in the effort to reform American liturgical music culture. More often than not, however, we don't follow up on our own words.
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    Kevin in Atlanta, would you share some more details on Ribbons? What do they have to earn it and how often, do they wear it at the parctice and the Mass? Maybe it's all explained in the RSCM? Where do I get info on Royal school music pragram?
    And is it possible to share the custom book? Can I buy it?
  • gregpgregp
    Posts: 632
    I would be interested in learning more about this as well.
  • I can tell you a few things:

    First of all, I think it's almost more worth it to develop your own graded program than to use "Voice for Life", primarily because of the cost.

    Cliff Hill Music sells the medals, but not the ribbons. Apparently you have to go out and buy your own ribbons. The color scheme hasn't changed so far as I know.

    The "cards tests" which go along with the different ribbons are given at the pace of each student, and privileges attach to each level attained. The VfL program uses a medal on a long ribbon worn around the neck when vested for Sunday; lapel pin ribbons are worn with blazer or other uniform.
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    Well, I give a cross necklace as a reward. Maybe I can give it to the ones who memorize the Ordinary parts to start. I''m sure I can modify the curriculum. But it's good to know more about the curriculum that's proven to be a success.
  • Kevin: congratulations on the wonderful work you're obviously doing with your choristers.
    There is certainly nothing like the RSCM 'Voice for Life' curriculum.
    It's a major organizational and financial commitment!
    I can attest to the usefulness of having separate choirs for boys and girls: many more boys participate and take pride in their treble voices rather than worrying that they 'sound like girls'.
    Would you be willing to share your book of customs?
  • kevinfkevinf
    Posts: 1,094
    The ribbons are color-coded. Each has its own requirements and advancements. Obviously, each level is more difficult. I add, in addition, Catholic " things" to the level and have them know vestments, parts of the church and demonstrate ritual behaviors. Admittedly, its a lot of work, but I have not yet found a better method.

    The ribbons are worn at Mass over their choir alb.

    After the new year, I will be happy to post my little book of customs. Its quite simple, but gets them into the behavior thing quickly.

  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    What 's the range of ages for your boy's group?
  • kevinfkevinf
    Posts: 1,094
    I have boys and girls in training choir in 1st and 2nd grades. 3rd grade they graduate to the boychoir and girlchoir. I keep them until voice change (generally 6-7th grades) for boys. Girls go about the same.