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Karen Fulmer asks for opening day suggestions; here are replies from two, Amy Fuller (Bonney Lake HS) and Brian Mitchell (Mark Morris HS)

Amy Fuller, Bonney Lake High School, Bonney Lake, WA

1. What activities do you do and say on the very first day of school?

On the very first day of school, I start with warm-ups.  This gives the singers an idea of my teaching style, and gets them singing on the first day. I ask them to introduce themselves, the school they came from and their musical backgrounds.  I introduce myself and my musical background as well as personal.  We sing a simple round, then I introduce the classroom to the singers.  Then we sing more rounds and simple warm-ups.  I give the syllabus on the 2nd day and play a name game.
2. What are your favorite activities for learning names and getting acquainted?

I love playing "Do you know your Neighbor"  Students sit in a circle with one student in the middle.  The middle person walks up to any other student and says, "Do you know your neighbor."  The students asks replies with the two people's names, then says, "I'd also like to know people who___________________________."  (Fill in the blank)  This could be anything from have a sister to snow ski, etc.  I talk about our strengths and differences in the choir.  We get to know names and a little more about each other.

We play two truths and a lie.  Each student names two things about them that are true and one that is a lie.  They repeat themselves and on the third time, we raise our hands for the one we think is a lie.  

I collect a fact card for each student that has parents names, phone number and even a few facts about each person, like something that no one knows about them.  I go through the facts and type up a list of some of the things we don't know.  They have to try to figure out who it is in the room.  

My favorite get to know you activity is "sectional songs."  I have each section take about 15-20 minutes to create a parody that represents their section.  They perform their sectional songs for each other that day.

The name game the students enjoy is "Who's on the other side?"  Students sit in two teams on each side of the room.  Two chairs sit facing each other in the middle of the room.  Each team sends one person to the chair for their turn.  Two people hold up a blanket to separate the sides while this is happening.  When the two are seated, drop the blanket.  The first to call out the other's name wins a point.  Pull the blanket back up and start over.  Super funny!  (If they really don't know the other person's name, I let the team say the first letter, then what it rhymes with.)

The name rhythm game is a good one for me to learn their names.  Have students put themselves in alphabetical order in a circle by first name without talking.  Check to make sure they are correct.  When each person says their name, have them clap the rhythm of their name.  For example, Amy would be two eighth notes.  Some longer ones are fun, like Stephanie.  Ask them to go in groups of four, then repeat all four together.  (Each name is one beat) Amy, Bill, Brandon, Chasity, Amy, Bill, Brandon, Chasity, etc.  Have everyone clap the rhythm and say their names.  After you have clapped the rhythm for every group of four, have the groups break off to make their own movement for their name that fits the rhythm.  For example, nod for Amy, flex for Bill, step forward for Brandon and back for Chasity.  They practice the movements together and perform for the class.  By the time they have clapped their names and danced to them, everyone in the class, including me, has their name down!

3. What are your favorite pieces of music to use at the beginning of the year?  Mixed as well as gender specific classes:

I like starting with songs that make the singers feel confident, so with my treble choir, I start with two part music.  They especially love "Firefly" by Audrey Snyder.  I also like "Rattlesnake Skipping Song" by Derek Holman.  It's a two and three-part canon with fun syncopation and a strong ending.  

With the concert choir, I start with something that has a lot of energy, like "Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel" (many versions are great!) and "Amani Utupe" by Patsy Ford Simms.

With the chamber choir, I give them simple four part pieces that are slower and help them create strong blend and tone within the choir.  I really like hymns and "Peace I Leave With You" Mendelssohn/Hopson and "The Pasture" Z. Randall Stroope.  

4. What preparations are absolutely necessary before the first day of school?

I have music picked out for each choir(although this could change), uniforms organized and ready for check-out, syllabus complete and ready to be distributed, I have pencils and extra binders for students in need, chairs set up in a circle, a calendar of events on the board which posts auditions for jazz choir and the musical.  

5. How do you set the tone (create class climate) from the very first day of school?

I set the tone by showing passion and enthusiasm for choir.  I share what music has done for me as a person and how I want others to experience a similar joy.  I encourage them to get their friends to sign up for choir as well.  

 We also play a awesome game called, "Music is..."  Each student gets 5 index cards (bright ones are the best) and a pencil.  I play soft music in the background and they write "Music is_________________" on each card.  When they finish writing on each card, they toss it into the center of the circle.  When we are all finished, they pick up cards near them and we popcorn read the cards.  After we are finished, we hold a discussion about music and diversity.  We tape the cards on the wall and throughout the year, I remind them why we are here by pointing to the wall.  

Amy Fuller, Choir Director, Bonney Lake High School, Bonney Lake, WA

Brian Mitchell, Mark Morris High School, Longview, WA

1. What activities do you do and say on the very first day of school?  (Sometimes only certain grade levels come on the first day - how do you handle this time versus the time when all the grade levels are in attendance?)

I have always met all of my classes the first day.  In my jazz group, we work on some very easy head chart and sing it with style.  In my top mixed ensemble, we learn a version of Happy Birthday, Halleluia Chorus style, and sing it for a teacher in the building the last 3 minutes of class.  Kids have to come together fast and work in sections to get the parts down quick.  It is fun and gets us singing and reading the first day.  In my younger choirs, we do some partner songs and rounds.  Just singing together as much as possible.  About the third day or so, we start in on the fundimentals of good singing, etc.

This coming year I will only see my classes the first day for about 20 minutes, I am still trying to figure out what we can do other than take roll.

2. What are your favorite activities for learning names and getting acquainted?

We do a human scavenger hunt.  we also have been in a large circle and tossed a ball around the circle, calling out the name of the person it is tossed to.  I also try and learn every kids name the first day and challenge sections to at least learn the new names of the kids in their section.

3. What are your favorite pieces of music to use at the beginning of the year?  Mixed as well as gender specific classes:  See #1

4. What preparations are absolutely necessary before the first day of school?
Names, folders, # of chairs, grade book set up, order music through the fall concert.

5. How do you set the tone (create class climate) from the very first day of school?

We sing, laugh, follow directions, high energy, great focus.  Do as I do, sing what I sing games.

Brian Mitchell
Mark Morris High School, Longview, WA
WA ACDA R & S Chair, High School Choirs


Creative Planning and Programming for High School Choirs
By Karen Fulmer, NWACDA  R & S High School Chair

fulmerHow did you spend your summer vacation?  Endless hours at your piano, reading through piles of single copy octavos, hoping to find something that would work for your high school choral groups while the warm sun and a cool beverage were begging you to get outdoors?  And now that the school year is underway, are you overwhelmed with additional work demands while your responsibility to plan and provide a quality choral music education for students feels like a heavy weight? What can you do to provide structure and organization to your concert planning while using your music search time more efficiently?  Perhaps the following idea as presented at a national ACDA convention interest session in Miami will help.

The presenter was a high school teacher who shared the idea of creating a grid to represent four themed concerts per year with a four-year rotation cycle.  Using this model, a student who participates in choir for four years experiences a wide breadth of literature and gains an overview of historical periods, composers and music genres.

Begin by creating a list of the types of music students should study. Here’s a start:

Early music/Renaissance
Contemporary/21st Century
World cultures (could have a continent focus)
International folk
American folk and patriotic
Broadway/Musical Theater

Next, create a four-year grid identifying the number of concerts or major performances planned for the year. Place a type of music in each grid so that over the four years, students study a wide variety.  This example is based on four concerts per year.

Year one
Fall Concert: American folk
Winter Concert: Holiday traditional, celebration
Early Spring: Early music/Renaissance
Late Spring: Jazz, Musical Theater

Year two
Fall Concert: World music
Winter Concert: Holiday, 21st Century
Early Spring: Baroque
Late Spring: Broadway, pop

Year three
Fall Concert: International folksongs, American patriotic
Winter Concert: Theme of peace
Early Spring: Classical
Late Spring: Contemporary

Year four
Fall Concert: Contemporary theme of seasons
Winter Concert: Theme of joy
Early Spring: Theme of romance, Romantic period
Late Spring: Theme of accomplishment, moving on

Of course you can mix and switch genres or themes, add and subtract, but if you start with a big picture of what your targets are going to be for the next four years, you create a focused approach to the search for music.  This approach also organizes learning goals that are embedded in state and national standards. 

You can enhance student learning by creating curriculum that requires students to study the composers and compositional characteristics of a specific time period or cultural style.  When you have specific topics for each year, the task of sorting and selecting music becomes targeted and can save huge amounts of time. 

A curriculum overview also enables you to demonstrate to parents and administrators the educational value for a student who participates in choir for four years. You will always need to review the basics of sightreading and music theory, but this plan enables you to quickly connect the targeted skills to literature. 

Many resources are available online to find music in each genre and in some cases, sound bytes are also included.  

In preparation for the reading sessions at the national ACDA convention in Oklahoma City next March, Repertoire and Standards Chairs were sent hundreds of octavos to read through and recommend.  My first consideration is the text.  What does it say to a high school student and secondly, the audience. 

Then I consider the vocal parts.  Are they the best fit for the voices I have at a particular time of the year?  Third, I consider the musical skills I can teach through each piece of music.  Then I consider the difficulty level, any unique characteristics, theme or genre. 

Listed below are several new pieces that should be considered in your search for literature.  The music ranges from easy to demanding since there is such a wide range of skill levels in our national high school programs.

For the national reading session, I recommended the following ten octavos:

Rise Up with Music from “La Fida Ninfa”, Vivaldi/arr Liebergen, 3-pt. mixed, Alfred

Although this piece is categorized as 3-pt, an optional bass part is written for low voices.  Two flutes, piano and timpani accompany the fairly simple vocal lines.  Good introduction to Baroque style for young choirs, text is positive, celebrates singing and music.

Autumn, Beck, SATB, Alfred

Good 4-part piece for a younger choir at the beginning of the year. Nice melodic parts in all voices, limited ranges, interesting piano accompaniment.

Earth Song, Tichel, SATB, acappella, Hindon Publication

Sing, Be, Live, See…Peace.  Interesting chords, positive message, reverent
Good for beginning of the year, intermediate choir, good introduction to acappella singing.

Loch Lomond, Lantz, SATB, keyboard with optional flute and cello, Fischer

Interesting setting of the Scottish folktune with optional instruments.  All voice parts sing melody at some point in the piece. Good for intermediate choir, women have short 3-part divisi sections.

Arise, My Love, Walworth, SATB, keyboard, flute, Colla Voce

The text is from the Song of Solomon and takes a sophisticated choir with mature men sound.  This is a love song, written for the composer’s own wedding.  Walworth is a Northwestern Division composer.

Chorus of the Servants from Don Pasquale, Donizetti, edited Kesling, SATB, Colla Voce

Fun, energetic scene from Act 3.  Good for introducing students to opera, entertaining for the audience and can easily be staged.  The piano accompaniment is demanding and occasional 3-pt men divisi.

Nesta Rua (On this street), Afonso, SATB divisi, earthsongs

Brazilian folksong that imitates guitar accompaniment with text that expresses a positive love story.  Acappella, this pieces demands a strong choir in all vocal parts.

Ah, el novio no quere dinero!, Wilberg, SATB acappella with percussion, Oxford

Written in Ladino, a Romance language, this 15th century Sephardic love song is rhythmic, energetic, percussive.  Sections are repetitive and climax is built by layering melodies, rhythms, percussion, and dynamics.  Great for teaching rhythms.

In the Bleak Midwinter, Betinis, SATB, s.a. solos, piano,

Building upon the Holst melody, a divisi accompaniment is created in harmonizing parts.  The piano accompaniment is harp-like and the two soloists provide an innocence over the choir hums in the last verse. Great for teaching line and phrasing.

Skylark, Carmichael/arr. Shaw, SATB, piano, Alfred

Alfred Publishing is reintroducing the world to many classic American pop, Broadway, movie, and jazz melodies.  In Skylark, all voice parts sing melody in addition to tight harmonies.  Good introduction to this style of music, piano accompaniment is not too difficult.  Shaw is a Northwestern Division composer.

Karen Fulmer e-mail


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