One Squirrel At a Time
I've been frustrated at the lack of focus/discipline my freshman beginning choir has, and know that their progress is stunted because of it. Today, we discussed attention span and the fact that they have so many devices these days that they are hardly ever focused on just one thing. We joked that when they try to focus, they see something shiny, shout "Squirrel!" and get distracted. They agreed, and we decided that we would experiment today, and that they could only focus on one squirrel at a time!
I asked them how long they thought they could focus for rehearsal without totally "losing it." They agreed upon 12 minutes. I told them that if someone could not stay focused in that 12 minutes that I would gesture quietly for them to leave, so we could continue with the experiment. They wouldn't be in trouble. They thought that was a good idea. So, we worked on one piece for that 12 minutes. I kept things moving, we had fun, and not one person had to leave. They felt accomplished. No one wanted to be the one that had to leave, but it wasn't a negative motivator. It was a challenge to try to make it to 12 minutes with everyone still present. No one wants to lose a teammate. Success!
12 minute time-frames for rehearsal is nothing new, and as directors we know that long rehearsal periods of the same music can be too much, even for older singers. The key here is that THEY decided how long they wanted to focus, and made it a challenge for themselves. If I had been forced to remove someone, it would have hopefully been a motivator for that student to do better next time. Tomorrow, we will try it again, but each voice section has to try to "keep all their teammates in the game." If the tenors lose someone, they lose the game. The funny thing is, they see it as a game right now, but in reality it was just what rehearsal should ALWAYS be. I'm actually not doing anything different in rehearsal at all except manipulating the situation so that the choir starts to view being disciplined as a fun challenge rather than a chore. My hope is they will figure that out and be convinced they should always "play the game" because it works!
Leigh Anderson is the director of choirs at Mt. Vernon High School in Fortville, Indiana. Previously, she taught high school choir in Louisville, Kentucky. Leigh also directs an a cappella group, Locked Out, and directs vocal music for the high school musical productions.