How To Start An Elementary Chorus
Have you wanted to start a singing group at your school, but don’t know where to start? Maybe you’ve taken some of the first steps, feel overwhelmed, and don’t know where to go from there.
If you can relate then this quick guide may help you finally assemble the chorus you’ve always dreamed of. The following is a collection of my experience and tips to start an elementary chorus.
1. Create an Interest Sign-up Sheet
The first thing to do is to give students an opportunity to sign up if they are interested in participating in chorus, so you can have a list of potential singers. Keep in mind that the number of students that will actually be in your group long-term may be MUCH smaller that the interest sheet. Depending on your students’ ability to get to rehearsals, your actual chorus may be half of the interest sheet or less.
Interest sheet questions:
What grades will be eligible to join chorus? (I personally chose 4th and 5th grade)
How will you let students sign up? (I send a sign-up sheet to each 4th and 5th grade teacher for students to sign up with a deadline to return it)
How will you notify parents that their students have signed up? (After collecting the names of students I sent a letter home, letting parents know that their students have signed the interest form and give audition information)
2. Draw Up Chorus Contracts
Next, determine what the standards and logistics for you group will be, and create a contract for parents and students to sign agreeing to these standards. If the standards of conduct are not met, then you have leverage to do what you need to do to ensure your chorus’ success.
Chorus Contract Questions:
Will there be concert uniforms? (Chorus shirts are an option, however personally I have my students wear a white dress shirt or polo, black pants/skirt, and black shoes)
Will there be a chorus fee? (If there is a chorus fee find out the steps from your school book keeper to stay in compliance with how your district handles finances [This can be a touchy subject] Personally I currently do not have a fee for my students. I suggest around $25 dollars for a chorus fee, and possibly a 50% discount for siblings.)
How will you handle Discipline? (Personally, I include a clause that states that students that are habitually disruptive will be dismissed from the group)
3. Determine Rehearsal Dates and Times
One big question for scheduling rehearsals is: Will you rehearse before school or after school?
Before school Pros:
You don’t have to worry about parent pick up because your students go straight to breakfast or class after
Students that can get to early auditions will likely be able to make it to rehearsals
Students are fresh mentally
Before School Cons:
Many students may not be able to get to school early if they ride a bus and don’t have other transportation
Students may be late
It may take longer for students to warm up and wake up
After School Pros:
Students are already at school, so more students will likely be able to participate
Students will be more able to be on time
Students who are in after school programs can go straight there afterwards
After School Cons:
You have to wait for every student to be picked up and parents may be late… Very, very late.
Students may be unfocused after a long day of school
Some students may not be able to participate because they have to catch a bus and have no other transportation
Other Rehearsal Questions:
What days will rehearsals be held? (I picked Tuesday and Thursday. Monday’s and Friday’s are often holidays.)
What time and how long will your rehearsals be? (My rehearsals begin at 7:15am and go until 8am. I planned my rehearsals 15 minutes earlier that previous years to account for the possibility of students trickling in late)
4. Hold Auditions
You can choose to either hold auditions or accept any student that signs up.
Pros of Auditions:
You can be selective of your chorus members, both with ability and behavior
You will likely have a more skilled group and less behavioral headaches
Cons of Auditions:
They take time and effort
You may have to tell students that they did not qualify for your group
When I hold auditions I listen to four students sing at a time, and sometimes have them sing certain parts of the song and solfege patterns individually.
I evaluate them on three criteria:
Pitch: Are they singing the correct notes?
Tone: Are they singing using head voice and characteristic child singing tone?
Style: Can they match correct musical style and rhythm with other students?
The last thing to consider when auditioning students is: What song will you have them sing?
The best option is usually a simple class folk song between Middle C and C in the staff. Personally I use the song Ha Ha This-A-Way Because I teach it to all of my students and they seem to really like it. By using the same song for every student they are all evaluated by the same standard.
5. Find Repertoire
The best way to find good songs for your chorus is to ask other teachers what works for them. Other options include searching online, and listening to recordings of performances looking for something that will work for your group. Here at Elementary Groovetracks I provide tracks and sheet music that can be used as performance pieces with your singing group.
Will I need an accompanist? (I currently do not use one, however using accompanists is a fantastic idea for your group)
Will I use tracks? (This is my current method)
What is an acceptable range for my students? (For 4th and 5th grade I try to stay between middle C and the D in the staff)
What is an acceptable level of difficulty for my group? (You have to know your students for this one)
6. Determine Concert Dates
Work with your administration to find out what events would be good for your chorus to perform for, and what dates and times will be best for the performances.
Performance event ideas include:
Christmas/ Winter Holidays
Valentines day Singing-grams
Black History Month Concert
Concert Date Questions:
How many rehearsals will I have before the concert? (This will vary)
What dates will give parents the best opportunity to show up? (Doesn’t hurt to ask)
How will you handle student transportation? (Make sure students have a way to and from the concert)
7. Find Out How To Communicate With Parents
Communicating with parents is crucial for full student participation in your chorus.
What the fees for chorus will be
What the uniform is and when they need it
Times, dates, and locations of concerts
How they can volunteer to help
How their students are doing in chorus
Questions to ask are:
What platform will I use to communicate with parents? (Currently I use Class Dojo, and I made a class for my chorus. Dojo is free!)
How much notice will you give parent of concerts and other events (I try to give at least 3 weeks notice)
These are some tips to get you started in putting together a strong singing group. There may be many things that I don’t have included here and other ideas that you have. Please leave a comment and share some other tips that you have in putting together a chorus and we’ll get better together.