Whether you teach elementary school or college students, working with a choir for the first time can be an overwhelming experience. Between laying out expectations, introducing music, and getting acquainted with singers, choral directors often justifiably feel overwhelmed the first day working with a new choir. New educators have it particularly rough because they haven’t developed the crucial teaching experience and prioritization skills they need to start things off right with a choir from the first day. Whether you’re new to directing choirs or have been leading singers for years and want to sharpen your introductory leadership skills, we’ve got tips on how to make your first day with a new choir a smashing success.
Set realistic goals for your first day
Monique Rio from the early music and dance blog Blow Thy Horn recommends showing up to the first rehearsal with a new choir armed with realistic goals and a plan. Even if your choir consists of attentive, mature singers, you probably won’t make much progress without clearly defined goals and a direction for the day. Specifically, measuring rehearsal tasks with a visible clock is a good idea. By sticking to a strict schedule, you’ll give yourself enough time for introductions, warmups, and material to be covered. The shape and strictness of the goals you’ll have for your new choir will depend on your experience and the age and educational context of your singers.
Decide if or when there’s a need to determine vocal ranges
Most traditional choral classes in schools typically require directors to engage in the daunting but completely necessary task of determining the vocal ranges of each and every one of their new singers. This process takes a long time, and, depending on the size and maturity of your choir, you won’t be able to make it happen in one day. To get the most out of your first day, you’ll need to decide first if there’s a need to determine ranges in your singers, and then if it’s worth starting the process the first day. Many directors reserve the first day with a new choir for things like warm ups, setting classroom expectations, and giving singers a lay of the land as far as what the year or season of working together will look like. Whether you decide to take part of the first day determining ranges or not, make sure you come in with a detailed action plan.
Start conducting your new choir from the very first warm-up
The music educator blog Smart Music recommends incorporating hand gestures and eye contact from the very beginning of working with a new choir. “The purpose of warm ups is to strengthen the musicians in your ensemble, whether it be breathing for singing, vowel unification, singing on the breath, range expansion, diction clarity, or blending and intonation. Why not also teach them to follow your gesture for phrasing?” This advice might seem obvious, but it can’t be understated. Especially for choirs comprised of younger students and inexperienced singers, setting the expectation for leading through conducting early and often is crucial.
Keep the mood light and engaging
First impressions are important whether you’re working with a choir of 1st-graders or undergraduate students. Projecting the right image and message about who you are and what you hope to achieve is important, but a delicate balance has to be struck between setting serious expectations and keeping the mood light. This applies to older singers, but especially to kids. There’s a way to be both serious and lighthearted on your first day teaching a new choir, and that’s by focusing on the fun of sharing music. If you can make your singers feel empowered, valued, and invested the first day of rehearsal, then you’ll be starting the relationship off with your choir on the right foot.