The Director of the church choir
A new choir parent, Mrs. McArthur, and her eight-year old son, Shelton, who feels nervous about joining the choir. [PHOTO 1] Director: Mrs. McArthur? Welcome to our church! And this is Shelton?" (He shakes the boy's hand.) "Hi, Shelton! Thanks for coming. Let me show you our super practice room." (He asks the choir librarian to show Mrs. McArthur around the church, so that he and the boy can get to know one another.) [PHOTO 2] TWELVE COMMANDMENTS FOR A SUCCESSFUL AUDITION 1. Take an interest in the boy's interests. Sit down at your first meeting to become less intimidating. `Well now, Shelton.," said the director as he led the boy towards the grand piano at the end of the room, `that's a bright T-shirt you're wearing. Where did you get it?" He sat down on the piano stool so that the boy would be less intimidated by him. "My Mom bought it for me after I'd won a game of tennis at school." "You play tennis, do you? That must be exciting." "Yes it is. We're playing a match against another junior school next Saturday." "How often do you do that?" "About once a month." "Do you win?" "Sometimes." He paused and the director waited for him to continue. "I'm starting piano lessons this term," he added. "That's terrific! You're pretty busy then?" "Yes! I sing in the school choir, too." [PHOTO 3] 2 Start unthreatenly by asking the boy to sing just one note. "Since you sing in the school choir," the director said, "I'm sure you can sing this note for me," and he played middle G and modeled an `Ah' vowel for the boy. What came out wasn't very good, but at least it was on pitch. 3 Don't tell the child what to do. Ask questions so the child can find out for himself what to do. "Yes, Shelton!" said the director encouragingly. "When you sing, should your mouth be open or closed?" "Open!" "Yes! Put two fingers in your mouth, like this," and the director again showed the boy what he wanted. "Now that's an `Ah' mouth! Try that note again with a super mouth." [PHOTO 4] 4 Introduce the singing of sustained notes for exact numbers of beats at the first lesson. Most children's choirs can't do this, but your kids will if you show them how simple it is. "Okay, now sing the same note while I count to four, like this," and the director sang the note for four counts, coming off on the fifth as he pointed rhythmically to the fingers of his left hand, coming off when he reached the thumb. The boy did it, but stopped too soon. [PHOTO 5] 5 Let the child figure out what he does wrong. "Was that wholly right?" asked the director. "No." "What did you do wrong?" "I stopped too soon." "Yes! If a note is four counts long, on which beat should you finish, the fourth or the fifth?" There was a pause while the boy thought. "The fifth." "Well done! Let's do it again." He did, and it was right. " 6 Show as much pleasure when the child tries hard but doesn't get it right as when he gets it right. "That was the right length - well done!" said the director with a grin. "But how was your mouth?" "Oh, it was shut." "Let's try three fingers in your mouth this time for a really good `Ah'." The boy grinned and tried it, then sang the note as the director counted on his fingers so that the boy could see exactly when to start and when to stop. "Was that right?" "Yes!" "Yes, it was indeed. [PHOTO 6] 7 Gradually extend the range of notes upwards, and added to the number of beats to the notes, so that the child Is challenged, but not threatened. For the next couple of minutes the director led the boy in singing G and a few notes higher, for five, six and even up to ten beats in length, always counting on his fingers so that the boy would be able to succeed. Occasionally Shelton forgot to open his mouth as much as he should, or he sustained a note for too long or too short a time, but each time the director followed the pattern of telling him what he had done right, then asking him what he had done wrong. (e.g. `You're making a great sound, Shelton, your mouth's super, but did you sustain that note for its full five beats?") 8 Start with a song the child knows. "Do you know `My Country, `Tis of Thee'?" asked the director, opening a hymnal. "Yes, we sing it at school," answered Shelton, becoming more talkative now that he was getting to know this man. "Oh, good! Then let's sing a stanza," and he played the opening chord lightly on the piano. [PHOTO 7] The performance wasn't good; the boy's mouth was almost shut again, the enunciation was barely discernible, and Shelton breathed also every other measure. Despite this, the director said, "Good!" a couple of times as the verse was being sung. "Do you know how many beats there are on the last note?" The boy looked at the music and said, after a pause, "Three!" "Yes, well done. And so if there are three beats on the word ring, on which beat will you stop, the third or the fourth?" "The fourth!" beamed the boy. "Good - then do it." And he did, unaccompanied, as the director counted the beats on his fingers again. 9 Give the child an out. "Well, now then," said the director, taking the hymnal from a rather exhausted but exhilarated Shelton, "you don't know if you want to join the choir yet, because you haven't heard them sing, have you?" "No," replied Shelton, slightly surprised. "And the choir doesn't know about you, does it, because it hasn't heard you?" "No!" said Shelton again, even more surprised. "Well how would it be if you came along to a few of our practices so that you could see if you like the choir, and." he paused, waiting for Shelton to complete the sentence. "And the choir could see if it likes me!" "Right!" smiled the director, encouragingly. "I'm sure they will, for you did jolly well today, didn't you?" "Yes, I enjoyed it." "Great! Well, let's go and find your Mom," and he stood up and led the way out of the practice room and found Mrs. McArthur waiting for them. 10 Give the parents an out, too, while assuring them how brilliant their child Is. "Well, Mrs. McArthur," said the director breezily, "you've got a singer in your family. Tell your Mom what you've been doing, Shelton." "I sang rrrring for three beats, coming off on the fourth!" "Did you really! said Mrs. McArthur, entering into the spirit of the game. "What else did you do?" "I sang Ah with a big mouth for ten beats!" "My goodness!" [PHOTO 8] "Yes, Mrs. McArthur," chimed in the director, "young Shelton did very well. But he doesn't know if he wants to join the choir yet because he hasn't seen them. And you all need to discover if our practice schedule will fit in with your family's schedule. "We wondered if you'd like Shelton to come along to a few practices to see what he thinks of us, and we can see what we think of him," he added with a smile. "After that you can decide together if he'd like to join us. What do you think?" "That sounds like a good idea," responded Mrs. McArthur. "Would you like to do that, Shelton?" "Yes, I would!" responded Shelton eagerly. "Okay," said the director, "our first practice for new boys is tomorrow at 3.30 and it lasts for forty-five minutes. Could you manage that?" [PHOTO 9] "Oh yes, we could," said Mrs. McArthur as she shook the director's hand. "We'll see you tomorrow." "Keep up that tennis practice, Shelton," said the director as they turned to go. "I want to hear that you've won next week's match!" [PHOTO 10] Dr. Bertalot's two best selling books on choirtraining may be ordered, in the US, from Clifford Hill, firstname.lastname@example.org, In England and the rest of the world from the Royal School of Church Music, email@example.com or from www.amazon.com.